Monday, November 13, 2023

Yellowstone NP - Upper Geyser Basin

One goes to Yellowstone National Park to see many things - wildlife, unique landscapes, beautiful scenery.  But most of all people visit for the geysers.  Yellowstone is home to more than 10,000 hydrothermal features, 500 of which are geysers.  That's about half of the world's geysers - the largest concentration of active geysers on earth.

So yes, you're going to see more geysers in this post.....

Steaming geysers in the morning chill

After spending the night at Old Faithful Inn, directly adjacent to the most famous geyser of them all, Kim and I awoke and after a quick breakfast hustled outside to watch Old Faithful erupt for a second time.

Old Faithful, pre-eruption

Although it was early June, the morning was quite chilly, causing lots of steam to emit from the nearby geothermal features.

Old Faithful, building up pressure

This time I chose a viewing position more conducive to better photographic light.  After waiting about 10 minutes past the predicted eruption time, Old Faithful began spewing water, building up to a tall column against the morning's blue sky.

Full eruption height

The show was just as magnificent as it had been the previous evening!

Lovely steam cloud against the blue sky

Now on to see more of the geyser basin surrounding Old Faithful.  After checking out of our room, and packing up my car (luckily no bison adjacent to it this morning!) we left it parked in the lot and embarked on a walk around the entire area.

Castle Geyser

There's a large concentration of geothermal features north and west of Old Faithful called the Upper Geyser Basin.  It's about a 3-mile walk to see most of them.  But Kim and I had all morning, so we set off to visit as many as we could.

Crested Pool

Beginning on a  paved path near the parking lot, we first came to the tall cone of the Castle Geyser.  A very large, impressive structure made of the mineral geyserite, the rock layers formed stair-step terraces down its sides.  Although it erupts on average every 14 hours, the Castle Geyser was only steaming heavily that morning.

Round Spring 

Kim and I had just passed the Castle Geyser when we met a woman traveling the opposite direction.  She warned us that she'd just seen a bear.  As we looked past the next hot springs, sure enough, Kim glimpsed a black bear running away from where we stood.  I quickly tried to switch to my zoom lens, but by the time I had my camera ready, the bruin was long gone.

Morning view of Firehole River

Our first bear sighting in Yellowstone!  We took this as a good omen as Kim and I continued our walk along the geyser basin.  First past an interesting feature called the Crested Pool, whose water was so hot it prevented most bacterial growth, resulting in amazingly clear, blue water.  Then past another blue hot spring called Round Spring.  The path followed the Firehole River, occasionally giving nice views of this non-hydrothermal water feature.

Grotto Geyser

Next on our geyser agenda was the very unusual Grotto Geyser.  It had a very tall, funny-shaped cone formation, thanks to lots of geyserite.  I later read it was one of the more predictable geysers in the park, erupting about every six hours.  When we first passed by, it was just steaming a lot, so much so that the cone was hard to see.

Grotto Geyser pumping out a lot of steam

Past Grotto Geyser, we wandered by a few smaller, unnamed hot pools.  

Unnamed geyser

There was a large barren area containing several rusty-colored hot pools.  Our map noted this was the "Chain Lakes."

Chain Lakes

A small flow of hot, siliceous water created a colorful slope at the lake's edge.

Colorful outflow

Our path crossed over the Firehole River, where I was surprised to see two fisherman wading into the waters.  I didn't think people were allowed to venture off the paths!  Obviously the river itself wasn't hot enough to hurt people (or fish), and it appeared that fly fishing was allowed.  Steam was venting from the bank nearby, and it didn't look like a safe place to me.

Fisherman in Firehole River

When I was a kid, my family visited Yellowstone twice, and I remember my favorite geothermal feature was a brilliantly blue hot spring named Morning Glory Pool.  I liked the pool so much I even took a few really terrible photos of it (back in the film days when you rationed your pictures).  So when I saw Morning Glory Pool on the map of Upper Geyser Basin, I told Kim this was one feature we were definitely visiting.

Morning Glory Pool

The pool was located at the end of a long trail.  A wooden boardwalk encircled about half of its perimeter.  I was surprised to see Morning Glory Pool looked much smaller than I remembered.  And it wasn't nearly as vivid either.

One of my favorites!

I later read that this colorful feature has become a victim of vandalism.  Over the years park visitors have thrown tons of coins, trash, rocks, and logs into the pool.  The debris became embedded into the sides and vent of the spring, reducing water circulation and causing water temperatures to fall.  The cooler water allowed orange and yellow bacteria to thrive, changing the water color from its lovely blue.  (Sigh....this is why we can't have nice things!)

Riverside Geyser - Can you spot the buffalo?

Although from Morning Glory Pool Kim and I could've walked farther to explore Biscuit Basin, it was another mile away.  There were quite a few geysers yet to see on our return trip, so we turned around and worked our way back towards Old Faithful.  On a short detour from the main path, we looped over to take a gander at Riverside Geyser, on the banks of the Firehole River.  We spied a buffalo sitting peacefully in the grass right above its steaming vent.

Grotto Geyser erupting

Our route again passed by Grotto Geyser, and this time we got to see it erupt.  A small plume of water shot into the sky again and again, giving me many opportunities to photograph the sight.

From here our paved path transitioned to a wooden boardwalk, a familiar feature throughout Yellowstone National Park.  Designed to allow visitors to view the thermal features safely (as long as they stayed on the boardwalks.)

The eruption continues...

Next up on our geyser basin tour was the appropriately named Giant Geyser.  It had a huge geyserite cone over its vent that was merely steaming.

Giant Geyser

Some of the larger and more regular geysers had eruption predictions posted on signs by park employees.  However, in the case of the Giant Geyser, the date of the last eruption was the only data noted.  Apparently eruptions from this geyser have become erratic, thus the reason for the lack of a timeline.  I did later read that the Giant Geyser is capable of spectacular eruptions, reaching up to 250 feet in height and lasting over an hour.  Wouldn't that be something to see?

Some of the larger geysers had eruption times posted

Sadly the Giant Geyser was not in eruption mood that day, so Kim and I continued down the boardwalk to the next thermal feature.

Where to go next?

Next, we passed by two lovely hot springs, named Chromatic Pool and Beauty Pool.

Chromatic Pool

Apparently these two springs are somehow linked, because during energy shifts, the level of one pool rises and the other lowers.

Another view of Chromatic Pool

Another fun fact:  Beauty Pool apparently shows its brightest colors during higher water temperatures.

Another view of Beauty Pool

It certainly was a beauty!  And Beauty Pool's waters must've been very hot that day because it displayed many shades of brilliant colors.

This wins the prize for dumbest geyser name....

I'm not sure who named all geysers in Yellowstone, or how the names came to be.  Some are pretty self-explanatory (such as Giant Geyser, Beauty Pool, etc.)  So when I passed by one little geyser named the "Economic Geyser" I thought to myself "What's the story behind that?"  I'm sorry but in my opinion that's gotta be the dumbest geyser name ever!

We didn't stick around to watch this one erupt

Moving on.....The nearby Grand Geyser was one of the thermal features with posted eruption estimates.  It had the distinction of being the tallest predictable geyser in the world.  I'm told an eruption lasts 9-12 minutes and can reach heights of 200 feet.  But since an eruption wasn't predicted until midafternoon, we weren't about to wait around half the day to see it.

Pretty blue pool - but forgot the name!

Not all the thermal features had signs adjacent to their pools.  There were several tiny, colorful hot springs that appeared to be unnamed.  (In light of the "Economic Geyser" debacle, maybe the park service employees ran out of names)

The geyser wasn't much to look at but I loved it's name!

Speaking of names, I didn't get a photo of this geyser, but it's sign made me laugh!

Interesting dead tree roots 

The forest fringes surrounding the Upper Geyser Basin had quite a few dead or dying trees.  I'm assuming when the hot water gets too close to their roots it kills the tree.  There were a few gnarled, grey-barked pines that made interesting photo subjects.

This little geyser was putting on quite a show!

Kim and I approached the area nearest to Old Faithful, a concentration of thermal features nicknamed "Geyser Hill."  There were all kinds of steaming vents and boiling springs to gawk at - and photograph!

Spasmodic Geyser

One was called Spasmodic Geyser - I'd love to know how it earned that name!

Sawmill Geyser

Some of the geysers had tiny round mineral formations around their perimeters.  Not sure why these formed and not a tall cone - I guess more research is in order.

Lion Group

A larger geyser on "Geyser Hill," the Lion Group consisted of four different geysers, all named with a lion theme.  The Lion, marked by a tall cone, is the largest, and will shoot water 70 feet in the air when erupting.  And apparently it makes a loud roaring sound when it begins an eruption.  

Another look at the Lion Group

Another lovely blue hot spring, Heart Spring was very photogenic.

Heart Spring

Since now we were not far from Old Faithful, Kim and I noticed the boardwalks were getting more crowded.  We'd kind of enjoyed having the far-away geysers mostly to ourselves, so sometimes waiting for a spot to view a thermal feature took some getting used to.

Cute little hot pools

Beehive Geyser

With a rounded cone, the Beehive Geyser lived up to its name.  Apparently the Beehive's eruptions put on quite a show, projecting tall water columns.  After we'd walked to the far end of the boardwalk, this little stinker decided to erupt.  I got a glimpse of the water plume from afar.

Interesting colors and shapes in this outflow

The colored minerals around the geysers and hot springs were so interesting.  A lot of them were an orangish shade and deposited in all kinds of shapes.  Also very photogenic!

Plume Geyser

On the high point of Geyser Hill, I looked over and could see the barren plain surrounding Old Faithful.  Thinking it would be neat to see it erupt from this vantage, I kept a close eye on its smoking cone as I continued along the boardwalk.

Anemone Geyser

The Anemone Geyser looked like it had a bad case of acne.

Water spurts from Sponge Geyser

The Sponge Geyser was really spurting - not tall bursts, but very consistent.  (And again, another weird geyser name!)

Old Faithful erupting from afar

While at the Sponge Geyser, I looked across the hill and noticed Old Faithful was erupting.  Thanks to my zoom lens, I was able to get some photos of the event.

Colorful stream bank

Kim and I finished up our long morning of geyser exploration crossing the Firehole River back towards Old Faithful Inn.  On top of the riverbank was a tiny geothermal called Chinese Spring.  Its flow of hot water and minerals had killed all the surrounding trees and created a colorful white and orange striped outflow into the river.

Chinese Spring

It was now past noon and we were both hungry and quite geysered-out.  Time to find some lunch and then go explore more of the park.  Which I'll recap in the next post.

Hope I haven't bored you too much with all the geysers!  The next post I promise I'll have photos of other things I saw in Yellowstone NP.


  1. I've enjoyed seeing the huge variety in the various geysers - I'd always assumed that if you see one you've seen them all - that clearly isn't so. The colours are particularly surprising to me. Looking forward to seeing other aspects of the area.

  2. Wonderful memories from my childhood! Thanks for a great post!

  3. ...Linda, you captured gorgeous images of this beautiful place. I'm amazed to read the many reports of what stupid tourists do at Yellowstone.

  4. I just love all the colors and unique shapes of the geysers! Yellowstone is such an amazing place.

  5. You captured the beauty of Yellowstone. I enjoyed seeing the geyers and it doesn't surprise me that people don't know how to behave. Humans tend to mess things up. Thanks for sharing this wonderful post.

  6. Not bored at all, just in total awe of this geothermal area, the variety of geysers, the creation of the boardwalks, your photography and sharing of all its features.

  7. It is surprising how different they all look. I thought they would all be the same colour just differ in size.

  8. You got some great photos! Fun to see all the different names of the Geysers!


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