Geysers/hot springs, Yellowstone National Park
Black Sand Basin is a nice, small geyser and hot pool area that will not take you very long to walk. Named for black volcanic glass, some of the most popular and beautiful springs in Yellowstone are in this small basin. Be sure to see Emerald Pool and Rainbow Pool while in the area.
Photo two shows the beautiful Emerald Pool located in Blank Sand Basin
Not far south of Mammoth Hot Springs we drove across this concrete trestle on Highway 89 in Kingman Pass. This has always been the main direct link south for tourists heading out to see Old Faithful, resulting in the need for good transportation links at this choke point. The previous wooden trestle that was built here at “The Golden Gate” (named for the colours of the rocks and lichens, although you would never know it looking at my photo!) was built by the US Army Corps of Engineers under the direction of Lieutenant Dan Kingman in 1883.
Several miles beyond the Golden Gate we reached 7,400-foot Roaring Mountain (2nd photo), not far north of our destination of Norris, so we stopped for a look at this mountain with steam coming out of its side! The mountain is made up of volcanic rock from an eruption that took place between 12-30 thousand years ago and is located in one of the areas of hotter magma in Yellowstone NP, partly because the magma is only about 2 miles below the surface. The result is that water from rain or snow trickles down into the mountain cracks and becomes heated past the boiling point by the acidic magma , rising upward again as a fumarole and emerging from the mountainside as acidic steam. The acid brought to the surface tends to leave a lunar like landscape (3rd photo). By the way, the difference between a fumarole and a hot spring is that the water in a fumarole turns to steam before it reaches the surface.
We reached Norris Geyser Basin at about 11 AM and the sun was already getting very hot on this last day in July – no complaints though! This is where some of the world’s finest thermal features can be found and it was certainly different than the Mammoth Hot Springs area. After finding a spot in the almost full large car park area, we set off on a footpath through a forested area to explore this part of Yellowstone (and we had lots of company). Our first sighting, the 27-ft (8-m) deep Emerald Spring, was very impressive with its crystal clear waters presenting a beautiful sight. This is quite a hot spring at 78 C but it gets its colour due to the sunlight being filtered by the water to blue, which in turn is reflected off the yellow sulpher bottom which makes it appear as emerald green water! It is presently in a dormant phase but several decades ago it erupted with a plume of 70-ft (20-m).
A walk further down the trail showed us that it had good company in the form of Steamboat Geyser (2nd and 3rd photos). I always thought Old Faithful was the world heavyweight champion, but Steamboat Geyser can blow as high as 380-ft (110-m) with a mighty roar when it feels like having one of its rare major eruptions – the last time being in 1991. We did manage to see it ‘burp’ a few times while we were there! We were really feeling the heat beating down by then, but we still had another stop to see before we continued our drive through Yellowstone.
This view of Porcelain Basin was taken from the hillside Ranger Office, after we had returned from our Emerald Spring walk, and shows a distant boardwalk with tiny visitors exploring the area. The 2nd photo shows a clearer view of the boardwalk as we began our hike down the footpath from the Ranger Office. With its wide open area devoid of trees, this hottest thermal area in the park is completely different from the area we had just walked, mainly because of the lack of plants due to the effects of the thermal vents and acidic water found in this basin. We enjoyed our walk on the boardwalk as we were constantly amazed at how different each of the thermal pools were and by their vibrant colours (3rd and 4th photos).
The thermal activity here contributed to the name of this geological wonder, thanks to the minerals that are brought to the surface by the various vents and then settle out as a ‘milky’ evaporated layer over the flat terrain.
After leaving Norris Geyser Basin, we continued our drive south and passed through Madison, where visitors from the west (Idaho) can easily access Yellowstone. We did not even stop for lunch, because our main objective at that stage was to reach Old Faithful in time for its next eruption! However, about half-way between Madison and Old Faithful we came upon the one-way Firehole Lake Drive, so decided to do a bit of exploring there. Shortly after we turned off the main highway we came across two motorcyclists stopped beside the Drive and could not believe it when we saw that they were the same two guys from New England that we had enjoyed a long conversation with the night before, at our motel in Gardiner!
Continuing our way on the Firehole Lake Drive we saw Great Fountain Geyser actually having a major eruption as we began to drive towards it! The eruption did not last long so, by the time we actually got close to it, all we could see was a close-up view of its cone (2nd photo). We were happy enough to have seen what we did, because it normally erupts every 9-15 hours and we just happened to be on Firehole Lake Drive by chance. When it does blow its top, the plume can be as high as 75-220 feet.
Only a half hour later, as we continued our drive toward Old Faithful, we came upon another geological treat of Yellowstone that we had not yet encountered. This time it was the Grand Prismatic Spring flowing into the Firehole River with such colour that we simply had to stop once again! There is a footbridge there that will allow passers-by to access the largest hot spring in Yellowstone – the 370-ft diameter Grand Prismatic. According to park literature, its name came from “the deep-blue colour of the pool and the rings of yellow- and orange-coloured thermophiles surrounding it”. Little did we know at the time that according to Wikipedia “The Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park is the largest hot spring in the United States, and the third largest in the world next to those in New Zealand.” So much to see, so little time.
The 21-mile long Firehole River was so-named by early fur trappers because of the steam that rose above it. In reality, that steam was caused by the many geothermal features of Yellowstone that empty into it, causing its waters to become as hot as 30 C! Not knowing that we were missing a major attraction, we took these few photographs and continued southward to our main objective.
At Steamboat Point on the northern shore of Lake Yellowstone we had our last view of the geo-thermal activity of Yellowstone before leaving the park. The hissing and roaring of Steamboat Springs made an appropriate farewell to Yellowstone, and beyond the springs we had a great view across the lake to Lake Yellowstone Hotel where we’d spent the last couple of nights, and to West Thumb where, coincidentally, we’d had our first sight of the magic of Yellowstone a few days previously.
Nearby you can drive one mile up a side road to Lake Butte for even more spectacular views of the Lake and the surrounding mountains, including the Grand Teton range to the south.
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.
Norris Geyser Basin is home to some more awesome geothermal features. First of all, you will find Emerald Spring here (see pic on the Intropage) whose emerald colour is caused by the blue reflections of the water, combined with the yellow sulphur deposit.
Another highlight is Steamboat Geyser, which when it has a major eruption, is the tallest Geyser in the world (up to 300 feet; 90 metres). However despite its constant activity, these kind of eruptions only happen once every few years. In the meantime waterbursts of a couple of metres can be seen often.
Lots of other springs and pools can be found in this area as well.
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.
Black Sand Basin was named for the black volcanic glass that can be found here. It's a small basin with a few geysers and springs, but definately worth the stop. Some of the most beautiful spings in the park are located here. One of my absolute favorites was Emerald Pool. It is a gorgeous green color (most of the springs are turquoise). I loved it, could have spent hours looking at it. Rainbow Pool is also located here,it's a large turquoise pool, it is also very pretty. Cliff Geyser, so named for the wall like structure that separates it from the creek, goes off almost constantly. Unmarked Handkerchief Pool got it's name from long ago visitors who would throw in their hankies and have them spat out again "clean" (Not the way I would clean my hanky, but whatever...throwing anything in any of the springs is now against the law)
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.
The Upper Terrace Road circles back on itself, so we decided to park our car at the entrance parking lot and get out for a proper look at impressive looking Angel Terrace. There is quite a large network of boardwalks there that allow good exploration of a number of interesting geological features. We started off with this view of its brilliant white formations intermingled with colorful bacteria left behind during major underground thermal activity. The 2nd photo shows just one of the many boardwalks, this one leading to a sharp drop-off into the distant valley and also showing how widespread the thermal activity is at this location. I finally made it down to the boardwalk (3rd photo) for a stroll toward that impressive canyon. The last two photos give a good idea of how varied Angel Terrace is with its weird flow-shapes, beautiful colours, stark skeletons of dead trees, dripping formations and waterfalls. There was so much to see that it was difficult to take it all in. Well, at least we tried but – by 10 AM we had to get on the road south to Norris as we had more exploring to do along the western side of Yellowstone’s loop roads.
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.
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.