Ranger Kathryn's Arches

February 3, 2015

Twelve-geyser day

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 10:43 pm
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Beehive Geyser, west wind, rainbow

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

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 the cappuccino depicts erupting geysers.

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?

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Geyser photo credits: Ranger Chris Dyas

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January 18, 2015

Wishing I had more than five senses…

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 7:58 am
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Morning steam rises from Crested Pool in the Upper Geyser Basin.

Morning steam rises from Crested Pool in the Upper Geyser Basin.

My eyes scan the geyser basin, pondering the vapors being belched from somewhere deep below. In winter the steam is abundant, clinging to trees and boardwalks, coating animals and plants in ice, making trails slippery. The mists move down-valley on the back of invisible currents, obscuring and revealing. A billowing plume rises over every thermal feature.

Grotte Geyser, belching dragon's breath.

Grotto Geyser, belching… dragon’s breath?

My ears sharpen, picking up odd sounds that seem out of context. The small geyser bubbling between eruptions sounds just like a pot of eggs boiling rapidly on the stove. I hear Beehive, a dramatic cone geyser, before I see her, roaring like a firehose at full blast, sending spray 175 feet in the air for minutes at a time. I ski pass Grotto Geyser, with multiple cave-like openings, Middle-Earth-like; some frightful leviathan occupies its depths, whump-whumping as it thrashes. Ga-WHOOMP goes its tail, which is probably not a tail but a reservoir of super-heated water remaining under great pressure. At least that’s what my brain tells me; my neck hairs know differently.

My nose, accustomed to the pure clear air here, catches whiffs of “rotten egg” smell at some pools. Underground deposits of sulfur are plentiful, acidifying some thermal features, helping create mudpots.

Ski right by the famous Morning Glory Pool if you like.

Ski to the famous Morning Glory Pool if you like.

My face tingles in the crisp air as I ski, and when a steam cloud envelops me on the boardwalk I can feel the temperature jump for a few seconds. It is no wonder the bison hang around these warm spots in winter.

Taste? A tiny feast — fresh snowflakes on my tongue!

———————

If you could add a sixth sense to enhance your enjoyment of the natural world, what would it be? 

January 14, 2015

Dazzled indeed

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 2:12 pm
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“Still, what I want in my life

is to be willing

to be dazzled —

to cast aside the weight of facts

and maybe even

to float a little

above this difficult world.”

— Mary Oliver

 

It’s the dead of winter. My newly-waxed skis slip rhythmically across the shining snow; out-of-practice muscles welcome the exertion.

A coyote ambles past, making its circuit, following its nose, and a lone bison munches on green grasses it exposed using its massive head as a snowplow. Two trumpeter swans ply the Firehole River. Plumes of steam, rising like “the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps,” confirm that I am in the Upper Geyser Basin of Yellowstone National Park.

Yellowstone is a geothermal hotspot atop an active super-volcano, its immense magma chamber roiling just a few miles below the surface. Here, geysers expel super-heated water; hot springs burble and boil, fumaroles hiss, mudpots blurp. The ground feels quite alive under me, sounds and smells and sights emanating from a mysterious subterranean labyrinth.

Dazzled I am; few places can astound the senses like wintry Yellowstone can. I have the extreme privilege of being at Old Faithful, deep in the interior, visiting my beloved who is a winter seasonal park ranger. Fewer than 100,000 visitors — not even 3% of annual visitation — brave the obstacles to experience Yellowstone in winter. This is the solitude season, surely the most stunning of them all.

Leave a comment: What stops you from considering a winter visit?

July 25, 2013

When the familiar is in the rear-view mirror

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 7:11 pm
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Arrowleaf Balsamroot in full bloom sets off the Grand Teton range in mid-June.

“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.”

So goes the quote attributed to Augustine of Hippo. Whether he really said those words or not, I’ve been unable to verify, but I resonate with the thought behind them and find that I become restless if intervals without travel occur in my life. Preferably travel with plenty of unknowns: where you’ll end up, what the weather or road conditions may be, whether campsites will be available, what wildlife might be encountered. The rugged, ragged edges of such adventures are what thrill me.

Hot springs galore are to be found in the Norris Geyser Basin area of Yellowstone National Park.

Geothermal features galore are to be found in the Norris Geyser Basin area of Yellowstone National Park.

As Chris and I studied the Lonely Planet guide for the Canadian Rockies, and dreamed of heading to that beautiful country, we couldn’t have known that it would snow on us in Yellowstone National Park in late June and rain on us every day for a week north of the border. That hardly anybody sells block ice in the area we visited. That my credit card number would be stolen at a petrol station in Kootenay. That campfires (as American a tradition as apple pie) cost $8.80 each in Canada. Or that a persistent toothache would muck up the last days of our trip.

We also couldn’t have predicted that we’d travel during peak wildflower bloom and maximum waterfall volume, hike our way to the top of a couple of mountains, and have at least seventeen wonderful experiences for every not-quite-wonderful one. We’d also learn to say “eh?” and pronounce the word “about” differently after spending nine days among the friendly, helpful, delightful people of Canada.

You? Grab a travel magazine at the library. Type in a new destination on Google. Maybe it’s time to read another page of the world.

June 29, 2013

Smattering

From the Jasper Municipal Library (Alberta), I have just enough internet signal to put up a few pics of our camping trip so far. Stories shall have to wait for later; suffice to say the Canadian Rockies are a WONDERFUL place to explore!

August 14, 2011

The bike and I

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 7:23 pm
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A boiling water spring in Yellowstone lures me off my bike for ten minutes.

Tossing my dirt-caked gear and sweaty clothes into the back of my car, I felt changed. Tired but invigorated. Spent but refreshed. Somehow made more ready for whatever was to come, as a result of this five-day bike trip in Montana and Yellowstone NP.

One of my paradigms has subtly shifted. I’ve never viewed bicycling as a legitimate way to travel more than a few hours’ journey at a time, for me — and that had better be on level ground. Something happens in one’s brain when you join a group of folks who know better.

I’m sold. Self-powered journeys are remarkably satisfying. In the spirit of full disclosure, let it be known that I used the support vehicle on Days 1 & 2 for some long uphills… but managed on my own the remainder of the time, to my great delight. Got top-notch mountain biking instruction from my guides, lots of encouragement from my fellow bikers, and basically couldn’t stop smiling on this adventure. Highlights to come; stay tuned.

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