Venting About Yellowstone

Venting About Yellowstone

Now that I touched on the wildlife, you might be wondering “what about the geysers in Yellowstone, aren’t those the main event?” Well, here you go geyser enthusiasts, this one’s for you! Yellowstone has several fabulous geyser basins, including Midway Geyser Basin, West Thumb, the Upper Geyser Basin, the Fountain Paint Pots, Norris Geyser Basin and so many more! I cannot describe how crazy it is to look just off the trail because you heard a strange noise and see a hole in the ground start spitting boiling water and venting steam. In one of the geyser basins, there was even a small geyser under a manhole in the parking lot (I could tell because the manhole was steaming). The geysers are most prevalent in the southern loop, but I haven’t been to the north loop because of the floods. The floods were good for one thing though, they pushed a lot of the visitors out, giving us an incredible and relatively crowd-free experience experience in the accessible parts of the park. In this post, I will try to summarize each basin’s highlights so you know which basins you want to spend 2 hours trying to park at (you don’t want to waste 2 hours, right?).

One of my favorite geyser basins was actually the first one we went to, Fountain Paint Pots. As I walked onto the boardwalk from the parking lot, I looked down the path and saw my first impression of Yellowstone, and boy was it a good one! The areas off of the boardwalk were all shades of vibrant, steaming red and orange, with pools of deep sapphire blue running rivulets through the blazingly colored floor. Then, we got to the Fountain Paint Pots, and I was amazed. The mud splattering and bubbling like a fairy-tale witch’s cauldron… it was an incredible sight to behold. This basin has some of my favorite geysers (Justin stamp of approval for this place) including its namesake geyser, which looks like a bubbling cauldron full of molten, splattering chalk, and Red Spouter. Red Spouter is just after the Fountain Paint Pots on the boardwalk, and was almost constantly spraying burnt orange mud into the air. The area’s other geysers are also really cool, but the Fountain Paint Pots and Red Spouter are my favorites because of just how unique they are, even in an already outrageously unique national park.

Fountain Paint Pots

Red Spouter

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Another incredibly strange geyser basin (perhaps the strangest in the park) is Norris Geyser Basin. This place has some of the weirdest geysers in the park, including an always-smoking chimney-like fumarole (Ledge Geyser), Steamboat Geyser, Sunday Geyser (super stinky, if Garfield came here, he would hate Sundays too), Porcelain Geyser, Congress Pool (a fitting name, congress is a hot steaming mess sometimes), and plenty of others. As I walked through the gate at the top of the canyon, I looked down and was rewarded with a scene straight out of a post-apocalyptic sci-fi novel. The interior of the canyon was riddled with geyser holes and wreathed in steam, making it look like the sight of a spaceship crash or a future war. It had started to rain, but I ignored it as I walked down to the noisily fuming Ledge Geyser that was spewing smoke into the air constantly. Then I walked onto the side trail to Porcelain Geyser and the moment was ruined (thanks a lot, Sunday Geyser, you stink, and in more ways than one). After that unfortunate stench problem, the whole thing went off without a hitch, we walked the entire boardwalk through the eerily beautiful landscape, and we saw almost no people there (courtesy of going in the middle of a rainstorm).

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If you have read the previous paragraphs, you might be thinking “are all geysers in steaming wastelands?” No, to answer your question, most certainly not. Take West Thumb, for instance. It is right up next to a lake, nestled into a little forest, and is basically a steamy beach. One of these geysers, Fishing Cone, was even used in the past by lake fishermen to cook their fish on the spot for a quick lunch while fishing here. Now, I doubt sulphur tastes great on fish, but, to each their own, I guess. The geyser is now submerged and off the boardwalk, so you cannot try the “Yellowstone fisherman’s geyser lunch,” but, it is just an interesting historic tidbit that I thought would be fun to share. Another weird thing about this basin was the abundance of animals in the area around it. We saw several deer eating some of the vegetation in the geyser basin, and some swallows had even landed on the bleached rocks around it.

Now, for a more traditional geyser basin that was still really awesome, the Upper Geyser Basin! The upper geyser basin is famous for Old Faithful, but some of the other geysers may be cooler. Like Beehive Geyser, which is almost impossible to predict the eruptions of, but can shoot water up to 300 feet in the air (Old Faithful reaches about 100 feet). The upper basin also has a trail to an incredible sight, Morning Glory Geyser. When we finally walked there (I thought the walk was very long) we were rewarded with the incredible sight of this beauty. When I (finally) saw the sign, it was like I got a cup of coffee’s worth of energy (without the gross bitter flavor added) and I propelled myself up the stairs to get a good look. The pool below me looked like a rainbow portal traveling through the floor, with incredible colors blossoming from the deep turquoise center, gradually going back out to crimson and burnt orange at the edges, like a whirlpool ate a rainbow and was in the process of spitting it back out. It was definitely worth the walk, as we also got to see a ton of other geysers along the way, like Grand, Beehive, Castle, Catfish and tons of others. Also, if you see people with yellow backpacks near Beehive Geyser, follow them, as it is likely to erupt, which is spectacular (or so I’ve heard, anyway). Also, if you get lucky, you may get a room at the Old Faithful Inn (if you stay there) with a geyser view of Old Faithful.

Morning Glory Geyser

Now for my favorite basin, Biscuit Basin. On the first day we came here, we liked it at this basin already, but the second day was spectacular, with it easily becoming my favorite basin. It contains some spectacular geysers, including Sapphire Pool (which used to have biscuit-shaped rocks that gave this basin its name, but began erupting violently a while ago and all these formations were destroyed) and Mustard Spring (an unassuming little pool with weird knobby rocks around it that can produce awesome bubbly eruptions that splash all over the place). A hidden gem of this place is the tiny pool on a side boardwalk that has colors similar to Grand Prismatic spring or even Morning Glory Geyser. I named this little geyser Lesser Prismatic, as it had incredible colors and was not named (as far as we could tell). As we walked past Sapphire Pool, we heard a strange bubbling and gurgling coming from the direction of Mustard Spring. We reached this little geyser just in time to see it start spurting little jets of water into the air like a fountain. It didn’t have an enormous eruption (what did you expect from a hole only 1 or 2 feet from edge to edge) but it lasted longer than you would think, which surprised all of us. After this, on the way out, we were surprised to discover that a herd of bison were sleeping in a field near this basin, and gave us a great opportunity to take a photo of them with the basin in the background. We nicknamed this group the “biscuit bison” and made (relatively bad) jokes about them the whole way back to our hotel room.

Sapphire Pool

Mustard Spring
“Lesser Prismatic”

“The Biscuit Bison”

The Midway Geyser Basin is actually a strange one. Compared to the other basins I have seen, it has barely any labeled geysers, but has two positively enormous geysers that are amazing! These two geysers are Excelsior and Grand Prismatic. Both share the traits of being incredibly large and having viewing problems due to mist. Excelsior had a strange history, it used to erupt violently and frequently, but its inner workings were damaged due to an especially large eruption and now sits motionless and shrouded in way too much steam to see it at all. If you have seen pictures of Yellowstone, you have probably seen pictures of Grand Prismatic Spring on postcards. This place is enormous and has a lot of mist that hides its incredible colors in the early and late hours. In the middle of the day, the geyser area is the most crowded, but also incredibly beautiful. There is an amazing lookout at the top of a hill (accessible through a separate parking lot) that is also very crowded and overlooks Grand Prismatic Spring. This lookout was amazing, and gave us a great view of the ginormous, vibrant geyser off the cliff below. I remember we had this basin all to ourselves (basically) by going during a downpour. It was incredible to see the enormous, beautiful spring looking like an uncut agate (without any annoying tourists crowding the rail). The actual rain part was less nice, and it was a downpour, and by the time we reached the car, I was a cold, drenched mess, but it was worth it.

Grand Prismatic Spring

Believe it or not, humans aren’t the only ones that like the geyser areas. A lot of the local wildlife have learned to live around, and even exploit the benefits of, these thermal areas. During winter, for example, the deer and bison have learned to use the geyser areas to melt the snow to find vegetation near them. This may be why the deer we saw at West Thumb and the bison at Biscuit Basin were in those particular areas. I actually remember that a bison had laid down on a boardwalk at a smaller geyser basin near Lake Yellowstone and effectively shut off an enormous amount of the boardwalk (rude, we wanted to walk there, mister) and caused us to have to walk by an especially stinky section of the basin.

Deer eating near a geyser in West Thumb
Bison on a geyser shore at Sulphur Cauldron

Yellowstone is famous for these incredible geysers, and for good reason, too! The ability to be able to look over and see the ground start spraying boiling water is an incredible opportunity, and I understand the public’s obsession with the place. Now, Grand Teton (which I will touch on later) is better for wildlife, but Yellowstone is unique in its own, unforgettable way. Yellowstone doesn’t even seem to belong in this world at all, and visiting it is an otherworldly experience I will never forget. As far as I can tell, Yellowstone is the closest you can get to feeling like you’ve left this world entirely. The various geyser basins here are once-in-a-lifetime sights that will stay with you forever.