Geysers/hot springs, Yellowstone National Park
This isn’t the most spectacular of the geyser basins by a long way but is nevertheless well worth a stop, especially if like us you enter the park from Grand Teton through the South Entrance, as it will be your first opportunity to get a sense of what Yellowstone is all about. The excitement as you pull into the parking area and see the steam hissing from a vent beside the road is just a foretaste of all the buzzes of excitement you will experience on your visit!
The basin's location at the edge of Yellowstone Lake gives it its unique character and provides some rather different photo opportunities from other areas of the park. There are a number of boardwalks across the basin offering good access to the various hot springs and colourful pools. It's a great place to get some close-up shots of the amazing colours caused by the different chemicals in the water.
This is the largest geyser basin on the shores of Yellowstone Lake. The heat source of the thermal features in this location is thought to be relatively close to the surface, only 10,000 feet down.
This two mile one-way road takes you a little off the beaten track and past geysers, hot springs and the hot lake that gives the drive its name. The geysers include the sixth of those predicted by the Old Faithful staff: Great Fountain. You’ll need to be more patient than I’m afraid we were to see its 100 foot plus display – the eruptions only happen at 9-12 hour intervals, and within a 2 hour +/- window of opportunity. Apparently the pool starts to overflow during the hour before the eruption, so seeing no signs of this we decided not to wait!
White Dome Geyser, a little further along the route, is less spectacular but much more frequent in its eruptions, and the large white cone is a good example of the formations that can build up around the geysers. Further still is the parking lot for Firehole Lake itself, with a short boardwalk across the steaming lake.
This is a short boardwalk around the hill that lies just beyond Old Faithful and is well worth doing. There are a number of smaller geysers here, including Anemone, which erupts up to 10 feet (3 meters) every 7-15 minutes. There are also some much bigger ones such as Giantess, but we weren’t lucky enough to see one of its much rarer eruptions. There’s also the colourful Doublet Pool, and of course a different view of Old Faithful from that down on the path below.
We saw our first bison here, and although we were to see many others over the course of our visit, the first was not only the most exciting but also one of the best opportunities we had for a photo, as he wandered across the path in front of us.
One bonus of this walk is that it’s near enough to the parking lot for even visitors in a hurry to fit into their schedule but far enough away that many don’t bother (or in some cases, can’t manage the short climb up or find it off-putting). So there are considerably fewer people up here – though don’t expect to feel you’re off the beaten track in any way!
The loop is a little over a mile and is very easy once you've made the short initial climb. There are lots of other trails in the area - there's a helpful map in the Old Faitful Area trail guide available at all the visitor centers or in advance from the online bookstore http://www.yellowstoneassociation.org/store/
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
This was probably my favourite of the various geyser basins we visited. There’s a lot of variety: mud pots, fumeroles (steam vents), hot springs and geysers, all in a short walk (about half a mile). Secondly, we saw four geysers all erupting at once around us, including Fountain which drenched us with its spray. I found this so much more exciting than watching Old Faithful, although it was considerably smaller in height (c. 50 feet). For one thing, it’s less predictable so took us by surprise. Plus you can stand much closer so get a far better idea of the power behind the display. And although there were plenty of other people around it didn’t have the “staged” feeling that I got at Old Faithful.
The other geysers that put on a show for us here were Clepsydra (an almost constant performer), the small Spasm and mid-sized Jet. All in all it was an amazing, hot, smelly and very steamy experience!
Also on this walk you can see a bleak area with dead lodgepole pines whose interesting shapes make for some good photos.
Grand Geyser is the largest predictable geyser in the world. On average it erupts every 7 hours with a margin of 1 1/2 hours earlier or later, but definitely worth the wait. Once you have seen this one, Old Faithful is peanuts (although still nice).
An average eruption lasts 9 - 12 minutes and consists of 1 - 4 bursts/sessions, sometimes reaching 60m. So it might seemed finished and then burst again for a grand finale.
Often Grand Geyser and close-by Castle Geyser (within sight of eachother and about a 10 min walk) are predicted to erupt at approximately the same time. What we did was wait at Grand since the eruptions here last shorter than Castle. Castle erupts for about 50 minutes. So you have plenty of time to walk to Castle once it erupts. FYI when we were there they both erupted more or less at the predicted time.
Castle Geyser lies in the Old Faithful Area and is yet another great predictable geyser. On average it erupts every 7-8 hours with a margin of 1 1/2 hours earlier or later.
It has the largest cone and may be the oldest of all geysers in the basin. A water eruption frequently reaches 90 feet (27m) and lasts about 20 minutes. This water phase is followed by a noisy steam phase lasting some 30 minutes.
Often Castle Geyser and close-by Grand Geyser (within sight of eachother and about a 10 min walk) are predicted to erupt at approximately the same time. What we did was wait at Grand since the eruptions here last shorter than Castle. As said Castle erupts for about 50 minutes. So you have plenty of time to walk to Castle once it erupts.
Next to the geysers and the Yellowstone Lower Falls, this is THE thing that shouldn't be missed when in Yellowstone. It is rather close to the road, so even with little time, be sure to stop here.
Grand Prismatic Spring is located in the Midway Geyser Basin and is the most spectacular spring/pool of Yellowstone. The blue water of the spring is surrounded by fringes in tones of yellow, brown and red. Click on the pic for a panoramic view.
Due to its size, the pictures hardly give you an idea what Grand Prismatic Spring really looks like. Therefore, I added a postcard picture with an aerial view of Grand Prismatic Spring at the end of my tips.
Fishing Cone is a hot spring located in the West Thumb Geyser Basin. It get its name from an earlier practice (now banned for good reason!) of visitors who would catch fish from the cold lake and cook them by dangling them into the spring while still on the hook.
The cooking-on-the-hook feat at Fishing Cone became famous. For years it was demonstrated it to tourists, and they would often dressd in a cook's hat and apron to have their pictures taken at Fishing Cone. The fishing and cooking practice is regarded today as unhealthy and is now prohibited, but the cone’s unusual location actually in the lake at West Thumb is still worthy of a photo or two.
This fairly small basin contains one of the most colourful and photogenic pools we saw in Yellowstone, Sapphire Pool. The basin takes its name from the biscuit crust-like edge that this pool once had, which were lost in an eruption in 1959. There’s also a small near-constant geyser, Jewel, which I found rather sweet ;)
Iron Spring Creek runs between the parking lot and the geyser basin itself, and the banks of the creek make a pretty setting for a picnic.
You can walk to this basin from the Old Faithful area (see the Old Faithful Area trail guide, available from the Visitor Center, for a clear map); alternatively it’s a 3 mile drive to the north.
Firehole Lake Drive is a two mile one-way drive that will take you past a small group of pools and geysers. We drive through here whenever we are in the area, as it is a quick drive and one of our very favorite geysers, Great Fountain Geyser is located here. Even when not erupting, the beauty of this geyser can be enjoyed, especially if you catch it as the sun is setting. Eruptions average 100 feet (31 m), but sometimes a rare burst of 200 feet (61 m) or even more can be seen. This geyser when in its active cycle, which includes bursts of hot water alternated with calm periods, lasts for 45 to 60 minutes. Although Great Fountain does go through periods of irregularity, generally it erupts about every 9 to 12 hours. As fountain geysers typically do, the pool slowly fills. About 70 to 100 minutes before the eruption starts the pool will begin to overflow, and violent boiling begins before the first burst. If you are not able to catch Great Fountain Geyser, you may be able to watch White Dome Geyser erupt. This is a very nice geyser, with a large cone, indicating that it is an old geyser. White Dome averages an eruption height of about 30 feet, with the eruption lasting about 2 minutes. White Dome usually erupts every 15 to 30 minutes. Be aware, however, it can vary to more than 3 hours.
Porcelain Basin forms the lower half of the Norris area. There is a 3/4 mile dirt and boardwalk trail which leads across an incredibly bleak and in places haunting landscape, where the few trees are dead and steam hisses constantly.
Stop for a general view of the Basin as you descend the short steep path. Immediately below is Black Growler Steam Vent, and it’s easy to see, or rather hear, how it got its name. There are a number of geysers, none of them very lively when we were there, and the intriguing blue Crackling Lake named for the popping sounds made by the springs around its edges.
Artists Paint Potss is sort of an off the beaten path place, in that people on a short time schedule tend to skip this one so that they can see the larger geyser basins. Here you will walk a short trail that climbs to a high point where you can see some wonderful mud pots. I like these best in late summer and fall when the pools are filled with thick, gray, mud that just spits out blobs and flat plate like disks of mud from their centers. It is just fascinating to watch. Unfortunately mud pots vary with the season. In spring and summer these areas are watered down from rains and snow melt, so the mud is more like gray colored water, and you do not get the full pleasure of watching the thick stuff just plopping up. As the season goes on and the ponds get drier, that is when the show is really fun to watch. Besides these wonderful mud pots there are also a few pretty hot pools to enjoy.
Fountain Paint Pot Geyser Basin has an easy half mile loop boardwalk. Here you can see a variety of hot springs, geysers, and fumaroles (steam vents). Fountain Paint pots contain mud pots, but remember that mud pots vary with the season. In early summer and spring these are thin and watery from the rain and snowmelt. By late summer and fall they have thickened, and often become quite thick. This is when mud pots are really fun and interesting to watch. But be careful, if you are visiting them when they are thick, sometimes the mud bursts plot mud right over the guardrail and onto your shoes! Fumaroles will be hissing and roaring as you walk past them, pools contain beautiful colors, and you may catch a geyser as it erupts. The erupting geyser in this photo is Clepsydra.
Part of the Norris Geyser complex, the Back Basin is an extensive area of geysers, fumeroles etc. A 1.5 mile trail of boardwalk and dirt encircles the basin and leads past a number of features scattered among the trees. The first one you come to is Emerald Spring, a deep blue-green in colour. The next, Steamboat Geyser, is at its highest the world’s tallest active geyser, but these dramatic eruptions are rare. However is is a pretty regular performer and we saw it in action spouting to about 30 feet. Nearby Cistern Spring is a lovely blue pool surrounded by dead trees. Towards the end of this trail you get some great views of the other half of Norris below: Porcelain Basin.
The various features of the Back Basin are more spread out than in some of the other basins which means that this walk is a little less travelled and consequently offers an opportunity to get away from the crowds – although you’re unlikely to find yourself completely on your own.