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From Yellowstone Treasure: The Traveler's Companion to the National Park
By Janet Chapple
Granite Peak PublicationsCopyright © 2014 Janet Chapple
All rights reserved.
Biscuit Basin Loop Walk[??]
NOTE: [??] This hot spring area is accessible to wheelchairs, but has no curb cut. See the map on page 28.
The first area after the footbridge has been surprisingly active since 2006. Black Opal Pool erupted explosively in May 2009, causing geologists who happened to be present to debate whether it had an especially forceful eruption or a hydrothermal explosion. Late in the 2012 season Black Opal and the next two pools, Black Diamond and Wall, had merged into one large pool, at least temporarily.
In the distance near the river is a relatively new perpetual spouter informally called Salt and Pepper for its early tendency to throw out dark rocks in addition to water.
The once crystal-clear Sapphire Pool was delightful to watch. Visitors stood transfixed, watching a string of bubbles from far below, followed by an overall sizzling, and then a surging boil that engulfed the whole spring. Then, due to the 1959 Hebgen Lake earthquake, Sapphire began erupting 125 feet (38 m). These violent eruptions increased the size of Sapphire's crater, destroyed its unique "biscuits," and changed its shape from circular to oval. By 1964, the eruptions were much smaller, and a few years later it ceased any significant activity.
Take the boardwalk loop to the right beyond Sapphire to see several other features, including the deep cavernous vent of Black Pearl Geyser. Black Pearl was thickly studded with quarter-inch black knobs when it was named in the first part of the twentieth century. At the boardwalk curve is Mustard Spring, really two small geysers connected underground.
Avoca Spring is the grotto-like cone located near Mystic Falls Trailhead. Avoca was a boiling spring until 1959, when it developed into an erratic geyser.
Silver Globe Geyser, next to Avoca and connected to it, can mesmerize you when it has silvery white bubbles rising from deep within its clear pool. Here's proof of the erudition of early Yellowstone namers, especially of tour guide George Henderson: he called the geyserite arch in and over Silver Globe Geyser the Zygomatic Arch, because it reminded him of a human cheekbone.
A number of very hot features (including Avoca Spring and others to its south) are grouped into the Silver Globe Complex. Geyser expert T. Scott Bryan has suggested that a marked increase in activity here beginning in 1983 was linked to an Idaho earthquake of that year centered 150 miles (240 km) away at Borah Peak (Idaho's highest point).
Continuing around the boardwalk, you find Shell Spring (actually a small geyser). It has an irregular crater that may remind you of a clamshell. The crater has a mustard-colored lining from sulfurous deposits splashed on during its very frequent small eruptions.
Chances are good that Jewel Geyser (at the boardwalk junction) will erupt for you. Jewel generally erupts every seven to nine minutes, sometimes to 20 feet (6 m) high. In the 1930s, rangers found that Jewel would draw down a handkerchief placed in one vent and expel it from another during an eruption, but this practice was stopped when injuries occurred. (See "Black Sand Basin Walk" for the original Handkerchief Pool.)
Two more very active geysers are located near the Biscuit Basin parking area. Out on an island in the Firehole River to the south is Island Geyser, which erupts most of the time. Near the road is Rusty Geyser, with an iron-oxide-stained crater.CHAPTER 2
Black Sand Basin Walk[??]
NOTE: [??] This hot spring area is accessible to wheelchairs, but has no curb cut. You can see all its features by walking less than a mile (1.6 km). See the map on page 28.
If you take the sidewalk a short distance back along the entrance road, you'll see a couple of spouters, appropriately named The Grumbler (splashing angrily below the sidewalk) and Spouter Geyser. Spouter's runoff has fed the double oblong of Opalescent Pool, long a popular subject for color photographers. When Spouter is not very active, Opalescent Pool becomes smaller and less colorful.
The geyserite mound southeast of the parking area indicates that there has been a geyser here for a very long time. It's been seen (and heard!) to erupt enough times to earn the name Whistle Geyser. Its rare eruptions are characterized by a powerful steam phase, described in a 1931 newspaper article as sounding like "about four locomotives at a distance, with a shrill, ringing tone to it."
As you start along the main boardwalk, Jagged Spring and its smaller neighbor Ragged Spring are the first features you meet. Actually geysers, they play in unison almost constantly, and Jagged may erupt as high as 15 feet (5 m).
Cliff Geyser across the creek is likely to be erupting, and its major eruptions may go to 40 feet (12 m) from a full pool, then drain the pool suddenly and completely.
Large and sometimes gloriously colored Green Spring to the left (south) of the walkway can occasionally act as a geyser.
Turning right when the boardwalk forks, you'll see several bubbling and spouting holes. The most vigorous of these in recent years has been the formerly famous Handkerchief Pool. One hundred years ago tourists would place a handkerchief in the water near the edge, watch it be drawn out of sight by convection currents in the water, and then reappear, sometimes in another vent.
During the 1920s, someone jammed logs into Handkerchief Pool, effectively killing it. Some years later sufficient trash was removed from the pool to partially restore its activity, but it's now filled with sinter. Thick beds of cyanobacteria usually surround it. Occasionally in recent years, it's come back to life as a small geyser.
Rainbow Pool and Sunset Lake are brightly colored big pools at the boardwalk's end. Both of these have acted as geysers but have not erupted in the past several years. Sunset in particular sometimes boils up a few feet at its center, creating large steam clouds. When conditions are right and Sunset Lake is at its hottest, you'll see impressive concentric waves and reflections of color in the steam. As with all these hot springs, the colors around the periphery come from mats formed of archaea, bacteria, and algae.
A separate stretch of boardwalk to the south takes you to Emerald Pool. This is one of the most famous pools in Yellowstone and is a truly unusual deep emerald green at its center with orange around the edges. The bacteria can grow inside this pool due to its relatively cool temperature (around 150°F/66°C). But watch out! It's not cool enough to touch!CHAPTER 3
Firehole Lake Drive[??]
NOTE: [??] The mileage from the beginning of this side road is given in parentheses. All thermal features are accessible along this drive, which runs one way, south to north.
(0.0) The dead pines standing in this marshy area have white "socks," a result of absorbing silica from the hot spring runoff water surrounding their roots. Mature lodgepoles here were killed by thermal runoff dammed up by new road construction in the 1960s. Trees killed in this way may stand for decades.
(0.65) Broken Egg Spring resembles an upturned egg with the shell broken off.
(0.8) Firehole Spring is actually a perpetual spouter rather than a spring. In 1888, George L. Henderson, a tour guide and the namer of many Yellowstone features, wrote: "Every few seconds there arise great globes that seem to revolve like chariot wheels as they rise toward the surface. Then they come faster and faster until they seem to glide into each other and rise into one magnificent dome of liquid splendor...." The runoff channels are lined with some of the park's most beautiful, many-colored bacteria.
When you look northward, the beautiful mountain you see in the distance is 10,336-foot (3150 m) Mount Holmes. William H. Holmes (1846–1933) was an artist and geologist who climbed this mountain as a member of the 1878 Hayden Geological Survey, a government-sponsored expedition. In his later years, Holmes was most noted for his work in American archaeology.
(0.9) Surprise Pool is a deep black — not blue — pool. An 1895 observer wrote, "If a handful of gravel is thrown into it, it will bubble and sparkle, exactly like bromo seltzer." The modern visitor would substitute "Alka-Seltzer." You could stir the water with a stick for the same result. Please remember that throwing anything into a thermal feature not only destroys its beauty but is illegal. The phenomenon happens because any disturbance causes a bubbling reaction in superheated water, that is, water whose temperature is hotter than the boiling point.
The small creek flowing from the east under the road near Surprise Pool is named White Creek for the white sinter deposits lining it. Geologists have found that no cold water flows into the creek, since any rainwater in the area must percolate through hot ground before it reaches the stream. The White Creek thermal area is now closed to visitation due to excessive use of this sensitive area.
(1.0) P Great Fountain Geyser ranks today as one of the three highest-spouting active geysers in Yellowstone and in the world. While eruptions of the others — Steamboat Geyser at Norris Geyser Basin and Giant and Beehive Geysers at Upper Geyser Basin — are rare and unpredictable, Great Fountain is fortunately quite predictable. Eruptions usually range between 100 and 150 feet (30–45 m) high, but may go higher in an occasional superburst. The average interval between eruptions is now about 12 hours. The next predicted eruption time is usually listed at Old Faithful Visitor Education Center as well as at the geyser.
Although there may sometimes be a shortage of park rangers to write the predicted range of times on the signboard, a knowledgeable geyser gazer is often on hand to predict the next eruption, using a formula based on the duration of the previous eruption. She or he can refine the prediction after noting the length of time water overflows from the central vent. The eruption usually starts more than an hour after overflow begins. Your patience will be amply rewarded by a spectacular eruption! The beginnings of some bursts are accompanied by a so-called "blue bubble" at the base of the water column. Don't be in a hurry to leave — wonderful bursts may erupt from a seemingly empty crater during the next hour.
Even the crater of Great Fountain is impressive, with a vent 16 feet (4.8 m) across, surrounded by concentric rings of geyserite that extend to about 150 feet (45 m) in diameter. Its symmetry so impressed expedition leader Ferdinand V. Hayden in 1871 that he called this geyser Architectural Fountain.
This is perhaps the park's largest fountain-type geyser. Such geysers have a very broad pool rather than a cone or narrow vent, and they usually erupt in successively larger spurts, sometimes beginning with a dome-shaped surge.
(1.25) White Dome Geyser has a 20-foot-high cone atop a 12-foot-high mound (6 m atop 3.6 m), both built up from the deposit of sinter or geyserite. To build such a mound, a hot spring or splashing geyser must have deposited sinter here steadily for centuries before the present feature built the cone. White Dome is a cone-type geyser; that is, a geyser whose eruption emits a steady column of water from a narrow vent within a cone. Much of the actual cone is not white, but is stained pink from a manganese compound. White Dome's unpredictable eruptions (in recent years about every 15 to 45 minutes) go as high as 30 feet (9 m).
(1.3) The jumble of interlaced channels of hot water coming from the right is aptly named Tangled Creek.
(1.65) Pink Cone is very close to the road. Its eruptions, about once daily, last up to two hours, as high as 30 feet (9 m). It was rarely seen erupting until 1937.
In this area are a few other small geysers, including Pink Geyser, located back from the road near the trees, erupting 15–20 feet (5–6 m) every two to seven hours. Old Bath Lake is farther along the road on the right. Researchers believe prehistoric peoples used and perhaps altered it. Tree sections dam up the spring, creating surprisingly regular sides. Thermal areas to the right and left of the road are closed to all visitation.
(2.1) P Parking area for Firehole Lake and its associated hot springs (sometimes called Black Warrior Springs).
Take the boardwalk to the left of the road — and the left branch of the boardwalk — to experience being close to the Hot Cascades of water from Steady Geyser and see the black and red-brown algal streamers under the bridge. Steady Geyser is a perpetual spouter that may be the world's largest, sometimes erupting to 15 feet (4.6 m). In this area the small oval or scalloped formations (geyser eggs) are made of travertine rather than geyserite.
At your left is Hot Lake, which is primarily a collecting basin rather than a lake but may have hot springs within it. The outlet (western end) of Hot Lake is cool enough for Canada geese to swim on it. They sometimes nest on grassy hummocks next to the lake. The lake created by Steady Geyser's runoff is Black Warrior Lake, named for its unusual dark olive green or almost black lining.
Continue past Steady Geyser and cross the road to take the other boardwalk along Firehole Lake and its several spouting springs. Firehole Lake, like Firehole Spring (at 0.8 mile on this side road), got its name from the blue flamelike appearance of the large steam bubbles you can often see rising from within it.
Three small geysers on the edge of Firehole Lake may be erupting when you're here. Nearest the road are the many vents of Young Hopeful Geyser, erupting almost perpetually from two craters, which formed when it underwent a steam explosion in the 1970s. Close to Young Hopeful is Gray Bulger Geyser. Its numerous small vents constantly spray water or emit steam, making an entertaining racket. Farthest from the road is Artesia Geyser, whose eruptions are usually under 5 feet (1.5 m) high.
(3.3) Junction with Grand Loop Road. Opposite is the parking area for the Fountain Paint Pot area. Turn left for Old Faithful, right for Madison Junction.CHAPTER 4
Fountain Paint Pot Loop Walk [??]
NOTE: [??] Visitors in wheelchairs should be aware that there are stairs at the point farthest from the parking lot.
In this half-mile (0.8 km) walk, you can see all four main types of hydrothermal discharge: geysers, hot springs, fumaroles (steam vents), and mud pots.
Celestine Pool (probably from Latin celestinus, meaning heavenly or sky blue) is the large, quiet pool nearest the parking lot. A tragic event occurred here in 1981, when a young man tried to rescue his dog after it jumped into the pool. Both man and dog died as a result of contact with the scalding water.
Walking straight up the boardwalk, you come to Silex Spring, a large, pale blue pool that sometimes erupts as a geyser. Silex means "silica" in Latin. Although called a spring, Silex was known to erupt until 1979, reactivated in 2000, and continues to have periods of activity.
Fountain Paint Pot is the largest easily accessible mud pot. These occur in areas of limited water supply, where gas bubbles of carbon dioxide and rotten-egg-smelling hydrogen sulfide rise and, helped by bacteria, form acids that break down the tephra (material ejected during an explosive volcanic eruption) into fine clay and silica. The paint pot is delicately tinted by oxides of iron, nickel, aluminum, and manganese. The fascinating bubbling activity depends upon the amount of ground water available, usually decreasing as summer progresses. The boardwalk sometimes has to be moved as the paint pot grows.
A nineteenth-century visitor, Gen. John Gibbon, remarked that the paint pots are like "a group of politicians, each one trying to outdo the other" — and he said something about mudslinging in the same connection.
At the top of the hill, you can often hear a loud, high-pitched, and persistent hissing sound coming from a jumble of rocks next to bubbling mud. This is a fumarole, a vent where steam and other gases escape from deep underground.
Red Spouter formed in a grassy area soon after the 1959 Hebgen Lake earthquake. When the water table is high, its two large vents or pools are perpetual spouters. A perpetual spouter erupts continuously. When there's less water, Red Spouter's pools become noisy fumaroles. The gray crater sometimes sports bright red patches.
Leather Pool was named for the brown bacteria that used to line it. But after the 1959 Hebgen Lake earthquake, it became a clear blue pool. The brown color has returned to the rocks lining the pool, but the water remains fairly clear. A trace of the former pipeline to Fountain Hotel can still be seen.
Excerpted from Visiting Geyserland by Janet Chapple. Copyright © 2014 Janet Chapple. Excerpted by permission of Granite Peak Publications.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Black Sand Geyser Basin,
Firehole Lake Drive,
Fountain Paint Pot,
Mammoth Hot Springs: Lower Terraces Walking Tours,
Mammoth Hot Springs: Upper Terrace Drive,
Midway Geyser Basin,
Mud Volcano Area,
Norris Geyser Basin,
Norris Geyser Basin: Back Basin,
Norris Geyser Basin: Porcelain Basin,
Upper Geyser Basin: Geyser Route One,
Upper Geyser Basin: Geyser Route Two,
West Thumb Geyser Basin,
More about Geysers,
List of Maps,
Geyserland's Hydrothermal Areas,
Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces,
Norris Geyser Basin,
Upper Geyser Basin,
West Thumb Geyser Basin,