Geyser Gazers

Yellowstone National Park
May 26, 2018

Dozens of people are camped out reading books and playing cards. They are eating packed lunches and seeking shelter from the sun under compact umbrellas attached to their collapsible chairs. It feels like a tailgate we weren’t invited to, but there isn’t a football field for miles. This must explain the enormous backup in the parking lot where we found cars oddly draped in plastic tarps, a seemingly strange idea for a sunshade.

In Virginia Beach, we spend Memorial Day weekend drinking cold beers on the hot beach. In Wyoming, they spend Memorial Day weekend sitting around for hours waiting for a geyser that may or may not erupt. Steamboat is the world’s tallest currently active geyser. While scientists cannot predict its erratic eruptions, something very unusual is happening in 2018 as it has been Steamboat’s most active year since 1982. You could feel the thick anticipation in friendly conversations we had with these enthusiasts, many of them happy to educate and share their notes with you. I chuckled when I first heard the term “geyser gazer,” but Mom and I later learned that this spectator sport greatly helps park rangers accurately record and predict future eruptions. While researchers are still trying to understand this current scientific significance for Steamboat, it must be fascinating to witness such an incredible display of nature.

Steamboat can reach 300ft (91.4m), but often has minor eruptions of 10-15ft (3-4.6m). When it explodes, enormous amounts of hot water and steam spew from the ground with dense ash falling in the aftermath. Apparently, this reside can destroy car paint and is extremely difficult to clean from windows before it sets as a hard filth. The windshield tarps now make sense. Everyone’s excitement resonated with us as quickly as it died once we found out previous eruptions occurred either extremely early in the morning or overnight. While I wasn’t about to say it aloud, I did not foresee great chances for Mom and me witnessing an eruption firsthand. Besides, the beauty of the Norris Geyser Basin amused me far more than watching the backs of a dozen heads. Every geothermal feature here felt unique from the other and the stunning colors and variety of Porcelain Basin mesmerized us.

The mighty Steamboat Geyser having a snooze

After a beautiful drive north along the eastern side of the park, we arrived at Mammoth Hot Springs. The barren landscape here drastically contrasted with the lush green plains we found buffalo roaming on only a short drive away. Buffalo Bill directed us to the upper terraces first where we found some of Yellowstone’s most exquisite features. White and tan hues blanketed the landscape in a dry, crusty sprawl. Trees grow here during periods of hot springs inactivity and stand today like oversized twigs due to large amounts of calcium deposits in the earth. We also found it incredible that hot water flows here from Norris Geyser Basin, the hottest geothermal area in the park, about a 45-minute drive south. It’s another fascinating reminder of how the landscape here is constantly changing. After exploring both terraces, Mom and I enjoyed dinner and drinks in town at the Mammoth Hotel. We saw all the elk, then we ate all the elk; a great way to end to another day in the world’s first national park.

Upper terraces at Mammoth Hot Springs
Lower terraces at Mammoth Hot Springs


West side of Yellowstone: Canyon Lodge → Norris Geyser Basin → Mammoth → through Tower Junction in a loop back → Canyon Lodge


Next up: “Old Faithful Happy Hour”

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