Saturday, September 6

Old Faithful

The world’s largest concentration of geysers can be found in the Upper Geyser Basin of Yellowstone Park. The local trail guide lists at least 13 active geysers, plus another four irregular and unpredictable geysers. Yellowstone is one of only five locations worldwide where geysers can be found. Garry and I have previously seen geysers at three of these locations; New Zealand, Chile and Iceland. The fifth location is on the remote Russian peninsular of Kamchatka.

I recall seeing the Pohutu geyser in Rotorua as a young man.  The geyser and its neighbouring hot springs were fascinating. However, I’d never really appreciated just how unique this childhood experience was until recently. Despite our best efforts Garry and I still find it hard not to chuckle every time an American tourist squeals in delight at the sight of bubbling mud or a steaming cliff.

Tonight we’ve based ourselves in Old Faithful Inn, the park’s first modern tourist lodge. It opened in June 1904. The original structure has since been expanded twice; once in 1913 and again in 1927. It’s an extraordinary building. The entire building has been constructed from local pine logs. It’s main lobby rises more than 76 feet, the height of the mature logs that support its roof.

In the middle of the lobby rises an enormous chimney which vents two equally impressive fireplaces. An incredible 500 ton of local volcanic rock was used in its construction. A series of mezzanine floors encircle the lobby, each trimmed with golden pine banisters. Even the roof is constructed from half round pine logs. I’m sure none of our photos will do it justice.

The lodge offers free 30 minute tours of the building throughout the day.  We joined one to learn more about the building's incredible history and its maintenance.  We were fascinated to learn how the entire hotel is closed up for winter.  It's ground floor windows are boarded up and the building is left to it fate while almost five feet of snow falls.

Outside the lodge, a path takes you directly to an arc of seating in front of Old Faithful’s white sinster cone. This geyser is known around the world. It erupts with a high degree of reliability every 90 minutes or so. Each performance lasts up to five minutes, with jets of water shooting as high as 55 metres. The performance attracts a huge crowd who encircle the geyser's white sinter dome up to four people deep.  Since we arrived I’ve watched it erupt three times. It’s a delight to watch.

Garry and I were also fortunate enough to see the White Dome geyser erupt earlier in the day in the Lower Geyser Basin. We arrived minutes before the show began. We noticed water beginning to bubble over its five metre high cone and decided to linger. We weren’t disappointed. In no time at all a white jet of super-heated water was blasting into the sky.

The visitor’s centre at Old Faithful posts predictions for five local geysers in addition to Old Faithful. Some are less accurate than others. For example, the largest of the regular geysers, Grand Geyser, is predicted within 90 minutes of its actual eruption while other predictions have a window of plus or minus two hours or more.

Other highlights today included a quick return visit to the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Centre. We wanted to catch the animals being more active after breakfast. They duly obliged. We saw three active wolves and five bears. One bear even caught a live fish from the pond in its enclosure. Garry loved every minute of it.

The Grand Prismatic Springs were another memorable sight. This is Yellowstone’s largest hot spring and easily its most dramatic. An array of temperature tolerant thermophile bacteria live along the edge of its steaming pool. Their colonies create vivid rings of yellow, green and orange that constant perfectly with the pool’s deep blue depths. It’s easy to see why the spring has become Yellowstone’s iconic poster image.

UPDATE: 7 September
The moon is almost full at the moment.  This meant Garry and I were able to venture out after sunset to watch old Faithful erupt in the moonlight.  We witnessed one eruption before going for dinner, then returned shortly after dinner to watch a second.  It's simply mesmerizing to watch this geyser do its thing; again and again.

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