Getting There - Aneel's Travelogue

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Geysers Yellowstone National Park, WY, Tuesday, 06 September 2011 7:51pm

I had planned to see the whole west side of Yellowstone today, with stops at the Grand Prismatic Spring and the Mammoth Hot Springs. However, it was bitterly cold at 7am when I woke up, and a quick motorcycle ride to the showers made it clear that I wasn't going anywhere until the Sun had a chance to warm things up a bit. When I did hit the road, I decided to stop in the Old Faithful area, expecting to be there a little while and then move on.

I did a short hike up to a viewpoint and watched Old Faithful erupt. It's pretty impressive, but I don't think the remoteness of the viewpoint really does it justice. I liked the little (4 feet high, compared to Old Faithful's 150) Solitary Geyser on the hike back down better.

I walked around the geyser basin for a while, watching various small geysers erupt and looking at bubbling pools and the like, the whole while thinking that I needed to take off some layers. I was wearing thermals under my jeans, which was still cold while riding in the morning, but while hiking in the noonday sun...

I was about to make the turn that would take me back to the parking area (where I could drop off some excess clothes at my bike), when I realized that it was 1:20 and the prediction for Grand Geyser's next eruption was 1:40. I made the other turn and sat down to wait for it. I hadn't paid enough attention when I read the board with the eruption predictions. Old Faithful's eruptions are predicted with a window of +/- 10 minutes. It turned out that the prediction for Grand was +/- 2 hours.

Grand is part of a cluster of geysers. Every 20 minutes or so, one of them erupts. Most of the time, it's Turban, a small geyser right next to the pool that Grand erupts out of. However, if the water level in Grand's pool is high enough, Grand may erupt instead of (or in addition to Turban). So you get into this cycle of watching the pool as it rises and falls, hoping that it will stay deep enough for Grand to erupt, and talking with everyone else sitting there about whether it was or wasn't deeper this time, and commiserating when Turban erupts instead of Grand. I ended up doing this for almost four hours.

In the end, Grand erupted at 5:03pm. Grand is the tallest regularly-erupting geyser in the world, often topping 200 feet tall. Unlike Old Faithful, which puts out a constant fountain of water, Grand shoots off pulses in bursts that last about ten minutes. Most of the time there is only one burst, but occasionally there will be a brief quiet period at the end of a burst, and then Grand will erupt again before its pool empties. It tends to reach its highest heights in the first pulse of the second burst, if there is one. There are a few recorded instances if Grand erupting for more than ten bursts. We got to see two!