Geysers/hot springs, Yellowstone National Park
Castle Geyser has the largest cone of any in the park. Along with Grand Geyser and Sawmill Geyser as well as several others it makes up the Castle-Grand Geyser Group. The name was given to this Geyser by the Washburn Expedition. They believed that it looked like "an old feudal tower partially in ruins." The Eruptions of Castle Geyser can be shot up to 100 feet in the air and it erupts approximately every 10-12 hours with 15 to 20 minute durations. For eruption times check at the Old Faithful Visitors Center or hike to the geyser and read the prediction sign which is updated daily.
Near the geyser is Crested Pool at 42 feet to the bottom before the vent. It has a rim which encircles its edge and has a beautiful blue/green color. This pool is very hot and in 1970 a young boy died from burns suffered while trying to swim in this very pool.
Sawmill Geyser is not one of the well known geysers in the park. Its eruptions are only 3 to 40 feet high. The interesting factors that make this geyser one worth seeing are its duration and its peculiar eruption. The geyser erupts every 1 to 3 hours and typically last 30 to 50 minutes that translates to it erupting about 30% of the time.
The form of its eruption is also something that makes it unique. The water erupts in a spinning motion in its crater because it erupts from one end in an arc to the other then is circulated to the vent again. The Spinning motions along with the whistling sound are what inspired a topographer named Antoine Schoenborn to name the geyser.
Sawmill Geyser is connected in a group with several other geysers nearby. The other geysers: Tardy, Churn, Spasmodic, Penta, Old Tardy and several other small geysers also can erupt at the same time or in alternating eruptions.
Grand Geyser is the tallest predictable geyser in the world. Its eruptions occur every 7-15 hours. For eruption times check at the Old Faithful Visitors Center or hike to the geyser and read the prediction sign which is updated daily. It is a fountain type geyser unlike Old Faithful its eruption is more fan-like than column-like. The eruption comes in spurts rather than a constant flow.
Each eruption lasts from 9-12 minutes and can have multiple bursts where the flow will stop entirely and then suddenly start again, sometimes having 4 or more of these stagnant periods. The main drawing card here is the height that the water is thrown into the air. It consistently reaches heights of 160 feet (48m) and has been known to reach 200 feet (60m).
There are two other geysers that share the same subterranean plumbing in the Grand Group, Turban and Vent Geysers. The more active Turban Geyser erupts every 15 to 22 minutes. Each eruption of Grand Geyser occurs at the onset of one of Turban's eruptions. Geyser hunters will undoubtedly be scouting out this monster and when each eruption of Turban Geyser begins they will become frantic hoping it's the one that will begin Grand's eruption. Upon the eruption of Grand Geyser the third geyser will come to life. It shoots water to 75 feet (23 m) and will sometimes continue to erupt for an hour after Grand has stopped.
There will likely be many of the hardcore Geyser hunters that I was speaking about. They scout out the geysers and intend to see every erruption. If you happen to be waiting for an eruption for any length of time these very knowledgeable people will likely start telling stories of the best eruptions they have seen and when a certain irregular geyser last erupted. Listen in on their conversations for more info and ask them for tips on what other geysers may be erupting soon. They will have the most recent information on current trends and they may even suggest what ones you would be likely to see during your visit.
We really enjoyed taking these one way roads. Getting off the loop road for a little exploring with a bit less of a crowd was wonderful. Firehole Lake Drive was probably the busiest of the one way roads we took. There are many pulloffs on this little road so you can stop and walk the boardwalks and hopefully see a geyser erupt. White Dome Geyser is a good bet at anytime. It goes off about every 15 minutes. (at least that was what I was told by another visitor, the website seems to disagree) It was the first eruption we saw. Also along this drive is the pink cone geyser, great fountain geyser, one of the tallest in the park (for which predictions are posted, it goes off about every 12 hours or so) among other attractions. Firehole lake is worth getting out of your car to have a look around. All of the colors from the bacteria are really intense.
You could spend almost an entire day just exploring Norris Geyser Basin. Norris is the hottest geyser basin in Yellowstone. It is rather large basin with two loop trails passing by tons of thermal features. Unfortunately we did not have time to see them all. We visited Norris on two occasions. The first time it started to hail and thunderstorm so we cut our visit short, and the second we just didn't have enough time to see everything. We did manage to get through the Back Basin Loop. There we were able to see such beautiful and interesting features such as Echinus Geyser, one of the most regular geysers in the park with a beautiful rust color along it's edges, Steamboat Geyser, the tallest in the world, but it has no regularity, Emerald Spring, and the green Dragon Spring, amongst others. Next time we will be sure to see the Porcelain basin, which is supposed to be otherworldly.
UPDATE! We have been back to Norris and were able to explore the porcelain basin! more desciptions to come!
There is also a small Museum and Book Store at this stop. Midday, the bathroom lines can be brutally long.
We managed to squeeze in a little visit to West Thumb Geyser Basin just before a big thunderstorm came through. This basin sits just along the edge of the West Thumb section of Yellowstone Lake. Some of the Geysers such as Big Cone and Fishing Cone, so named for the fisherman who would catch a fish then immediately dunk their catch into the boiling water of the geyser to cook it, (this practice is now strictly forbidden of course) are actually in the lake . Their cones protude up from the waters surface. It's very interesting to see. Besides these features, the basin is also home to a few gorgeous, deep turquoise pools such as Blue Funnel Spring. When we visited their were a few elk wandering through the spring areas. Two does and an immature male (only 4 little points!) It made a picturesque area even more so. There are also a few glopping mudpots, but they are a bit watered down.
The West Thumb Geyser Basin is a short stroll though on boardwalks. I would highly recommend a visit.
The Geyser and springs here are not as dramatic as other areas but what makes this unique is its location on the banks of Lake Yellowstone. Many of the Geysers are on formations a little ways off shore.
Along this 16-mile section of the park, you will be able to view the Lower, Midway & Upper Geyser Basins as well as the Firehole River. This area contains the four types of hydrothermal features: geysers, hot springs, fumaroles and mud pots.
Since our time was limited, we parked the car and viewed this large area of hydrothermal activity on foot by walking along the boardwalk trail at Fountain Paint Pots. As luck would have it, the geysers were erupting and we ran into a herd of about 20 bison (of course tourist didn't heed warnings and were way to close to the animals).
This is one of the most dramatic of the Norris basin geysers. It also happens to be one of the most regular and predictable of the Norris geyser. Thus, making it a favorite stop for tourists. It erupts every 30-60 minutes. If you are in the Norris area for any amount of time, you are sure to be able to catch it.
Norris Geyser Basin is the hottest geyser basin in Yellowstone, with many of the hot springs and furmaroles (steam vents) having temperatures over the boiling point. Norris is divided into two sections. These are the Back Basin, which is in a more forest like setting; and Porcelain Basin which is beautiful, yet desolate looking, lacking vegetation. No plants can live in the Porcelain section, because of its hot, acidic water which springs from many thermal features in the basin. The Norris Geyser Basin is constantly changing, due to the many earthquakes in the area, usually so small that you won’t even feel them. Each year hot springs and geysers become dormant, while others appear or become active once again, once clear springs may become muddy or even temporarily become geysers. Usually these earthquakes are just a disturbance and after a few days or a little over a week the featured once again returns to the previous state. Sometimes, however, the earthquake is large enough that permanent changes are created. Steamboat Geyser is the one we really would love to see. When we moved to Cody, Steamboat was considered to be dormant, possibly to never erupt again. However, one year it once again sprang into action. This is the world’s tallest active geyser, throwing water more than 300 feet (90 m) high. The eruptions, however, are not predictable, and are very rare. When it does erupt it is usually active for 3 to 40 minutes. It is common, however to see it throwing bursts of water from 10 to 40 feet in height. Of the geyser’s I have seen erupt in this basin, Echinus is one of my favorites in the park. Echinus use to be predictable, regularly erupting about every hour. Unfortunately an earthquake has permanently interrupted this regularity, and Echinus is now unpredictable. If you are lucky enough to catch an eruption, it is worth the time. This is a fountain geyser, so if you can, watch the entire show. The pool slowly fills and then it begins to boil, next it begins to erupt with bursts of water that last from 3 to 5 minutes. Then the water drains back into its opening like water flowing down the drain of a sink. Please be aware that this geyser is the largest acid-water geyser known, with its waters almost as acid as vinegar. For this reason you will want to protect your camera lenses.
My second photo is of Cistern springs, located in the Back Basin. This springs has a variety of colors created by the algae and bacteria living in it. Each one requires a different temperature, so those living near the hottest area, will be different from those on the edge. My Third photo is of Emerald Springs, also in the Back Basin. This is a 27-foot deep pool, which is lined with yellow sulfur deposits. The yellow color, combined with the reflected blue color of sunlight, gives this springs its beautiful, emerald green color. Photo 4 gives you an example of the more wooded look of the Back Basin. Photo 5 is another overlook view of Norris Back Basin.
Be sure to check out my short video featuring Porcelain Basin, which is located in Norris.
Also, take time to view this excellent 4:15 minute video on Norris Norris Geyser Basin
Besides the wonderful geysers in the Upper Geyser Basin you will see beautiful hot water pools, and bubbling hot springs. As an example, with temperatures over 299 degrees F, Crested Pool is almost constantly boiling. Because of the high temperature, less bacterial growth can live in this pool making the water a crystal clear blue color. Morning Glory Pool a long time favorite of people visiting Yellowstone, is also located in the Upper geyser Basin. Unfortunately people throwing coins and trash into the water have damaged Morning Glory. These become embedded into the sides and the opening of the spring has been reduced. This in turn has caused the water temperature to cool some, allowing orange and yellow bacterial to grow in the now cooler water. These are just two of the wonderful pools to gaze into. Look into the pools and enjoy the variety of colors and textures of each
Check out my video, titled Chinese Spring. This hot spring, located in the Upper Geyser Basin, is a small spring, that is 12.5 feet deep. The story behind this spring is that the name came from a Chinese laundryman who unintentionally caused this spring to erupt while using it to do laundry. Under normal conditions, this spring does not erupt, so enjoy the bubbling, but don’t expect to see an eruption.
I would plan at least two hours to walk the boardwalks and trails around the Upper Geyser Basin.
West Thumb overlooks Yellowstone Lake, and although a small basin, contains some interesting and beautiful features. Below the surface of Yellowstone Lake are hot springs and hydrothermal vents. Some of these are just offshore in West Thumb. If you look closely, you may be able to see some of their swirling patterns on the water’s surface. This geyser basin pours an average of 3,100 gallons of hot water into the lake every day, but despite of this the lakes average below the surface summer temperature still remains at 45 degrees F. Again, the colors that you see in the spring waters here are due to the heat loving microorganisms, called thermophiles that live in the springs.
Mud Volcano is not the most beautiful of the active areas in the park, but it is interesting. I especially love the Black Dragon’s Caldron, and the mud volcano is so much fun late in the summer or in the fall, when the waters are not watered down by spring rains and snow melt. I read once that the mud volcano sometimes would hurl football-sized blobs of mud. I have never seen this, but I have seen it when it is thick and plopping out tennis ball size pieces of mud. The Dragon’s Caldron is not very pretty to look at, but the sound that it makes is worth the stop.
Midway Geyser Basin is another interesting, but small geyser basin. You can stroll this boardwalk in about 20-minutes. In Midway you will see the large crater of Excelsior Geyser, which last erupted for two days in 1985. Today this huge pool produces about 4,000 gallons of scalding water each minute. Grand Prismatic Springs is another popular site in this basin. 370 feet wide, this is the largest and one of the most beautiful hot springs in the park. The algae and bacteria that live in the hot water causes the wonderful colors that you see in the pools. My photo shows what some of these bacterial mats look like.
Biscuit Basin is not as popular as Black Sand Basin, and has no large explosive geysers, but when we first visited this little basin we were surprised how much we enjoyed it. There is a lovely meandering river by this basin, where if you are lucky you may see an Osprey hovering overhead in mid flight, looking for a fish dinner. We found pools such as Black Opal Spring, Wall Pool, Sapphire Pool, Shell and Mustard Springs quite lovely, and the colors of the run off from the springs are a beautiful yellow and rusty orange. This is a nice, quick, side trip if you are in the park for a number of days.
Photo two shows the lovely Sapphire Pool within Biscuit Basin.
For a view of Shell Spring, a small, bubbling hot springs in Biscuit Basin, see my video, Shell Spring in Biscuit Basin.