Beehive Geyser, west wind, rainbow
A typical Yellowstone visitor might see one, two, or even three geysers erupt during their visit; this was to be an epic day for me. It began with a humble goal of observing Grand Geyser in action, a spectacular fountain-style spouter that erupts every 5.5 to 7 hours. I knew its approximate eruption time from the previous day, so I skied out in what I thought might be its window of opportunity.
And there is where I had the extreme good fortune to run into some folks from GOSA — Geyser Observation and Study Association. These amateur geothermal junkies hang around the park with two-way radios, documenting every possible detail about each eruption they see. They update a website in real time, as well as calling the visitor center. And they love to share their passion with bystanders.
If I had known I’d be waiting 85 chilly minutes for Grand, I might have changed my mind. But in those 85 minutes I learned a lot from the GOSA geyser-gazers.
Old Faithful, sunrise
Penta Geyser (#1) and Tardy Geyser (#2) were erupting nearby when I arrived, and soon they were reporting others. “Churn Geyser, 10:22, one-zero-two-two, Churn Geyser.” I hadn’t even been aware of what was behind me, but there was Churn (#3), bursting forth. Sound and steam tip them off to eruptions. “Bulger Geyser, 10:40, major eruption.” (#4.) Now I’m skiing back and forth among the spouters, standing at each for a few minutes to watch the show. In between the other events, I get a lesson on reading the subtle signals that Grand is getting ready. “You see that pool at its base? It needs to fill up another inch or two. And Grand goes only when Turban is erupting behind it, which happens in 20-minute cycles.”
Soon I hear him radio in: “Grand pool is full. Grand pool is full.” The other observer climbs up on a bench and announces, “Waves on Grand. I see waves.” Their excitement is palpable. It’s about to happen. Well, Turban had a delay, and the pool level dropped, and GOSA-guy explained that when that happens, Grand is usually reluctant 20 minutes later so perhaps we should hope for the 40-minute-away cycle. I made a mental note that geysers are complicated.
A huge steam cloud rose from across the Firehole River. “Castle Geyser, start, 10:55,” he radioed. I skied over to Castle (#5) and got there in time to see the end of its minor eruption. Glorious stuff. Skied back to Grand. “West Triplet, 11:14.” (#6.) This bubbler is on the same mound as Grand so I asked whether it might be an indicator. “Sometimes yes, sometimes no; depends…” came the reply. Geysers are complicated, I thought, as I watched hot water flow beneath the boardwalk.
And then, at the 40-minute mark, everything started happening at once. Percolator Geyser (#7) started percolating right in front of me, waves became visible on the very full pool, and then one vigorous introductory BLOOP released the pressure-valve and Grand (#8) flung boiling water 125 feet into the air with furious intent. Turban (#9) went off behind it, and Vent (#10) started shooting sideways next to it. It was geyser overload, five at once, a ten-minute show like no other.
Even my cappuccino inadvertently depicts an erupting geyser.
I will admit that I squealed involuntarily with delight.
As I skied back to the visitor center wondering how my day could have been so exquisite, Beehive Geyser (#11) sent up its huge noisy once-a-day jet, and Old Faithful (#12) burst into the sky one more time for me. I felt a tear of gratitude roll down my cheek, fall to the ground. A lovely thought came: in about five centuries, that teardrop may be recycled as geyser water. I wonder who will be at Yellowstone then?
Geyser photo credits: Ranger Chris Dyas