Geysers of the Yellowstone National Park
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The wonderful variety, the great number, and the large size of the geysers of America, found in the Yellowstone National Park, demand a somewhat longer account of this region. The geysers are found in detached groups, occupying basins or valleys of the great table-land which forms the central portion of the park, a region whose heavy forests and uninviting aspect, combined with the rugged nature of the encircling mountain ranges, so long proved a barrier to exploration, even to those adventurous trappers and prospectors of the Great West.

GIANT GEYSER. Photograph by F. J. Haynes.

The geyser "basins," as the localities are termed, conform, in their relations to the surrounding high ground and their coincidence with lines of drainage and the loci of springs, to the laws governing the distribution of the same phenomena in other parts of the world. The park itself is a reservation of about 3,500 square miles, the central portion being an elevated volcanic plateau, accentuated by deep and narrow canyons and broad, gentle eminences and surrounded by high and rugged mountain ranges. This central portion, whose average elevation is about 8,000 feet above the sea, embraces all the hot-spring and geyser areas of the park. The volcanic activity that resulted in the formation of the park plateau may be considered as extinct, nor are there any evidences of fresh lava flows. Yet the hot springs so widely distributed over the plateau are convincing evidence of the presence of underground heat. There is no doubt that the waters derive their high temperature from the heated rocks below, and that the origin of the heat is in some way associated with the source of volcanic energy.

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The various geyser basins, or "fire holes," as they were called by the first explorers, each possess individual peculiarities which give character and interest to each locality. The most noted of these basins is, however, that known as the Upper Geyser Basin of the Firehole River, one of the headwaters of the great Missouri. The Upper Basin, as it is generally called, lies a little westward of the center of the park. It is a valley 1-1/2 miles long by one-half mile broad, inclosed by the rocky cliffs or darkly wooded slopes of the great Madison Plateau and drained by the Firehole River, along whose banks the largest geysers are situated. The whole floor of the valley is fairly riddled with springs of boiling water, whose exquisite beauty is indescribable. Light clouds of fleecy vapor curl gently upward from waters of the purest azure or the clearest of emerald, and, encircling rims of white marblelike silica, form fit setting for such great gems. A large part of the valley floor is covered with the white deposit of silica known as siliceous sinter, deposited by the overflowing hot waters.1 The weird whiteness of these areas, the gaunt white trunks of pine trees killed by the hot waters, the myriad pools of steaming crystal, and the white clouds floating off from the chimney-like geyser cones, form a scene never to be forgotten by those fortunate enough to behold it. Within this basin there are nearly 30 geysers, presenting many variations of bowl or basin, mound and cone, and whose eruptions are equally diversified in form and beauty.

1See "Formation of Hot Springs deposits," W. H. Weed, Ninth Ann. Rept. Director of U. S. Geological Survey, 1889.

SPONGE GEYSER, UPPER BASIN. Photograph by F. J. Haynes.

Sentinel, Fan, Riverside, Mortar, and Grotto greet one on entering the basin either by quiet steaming or by flashing jets. Giant, Splendid, Castle, Grand, Giantess, Lion, and Old Faithful are but a few of the wondrous fountains of the place. The last is most deserving of its name. Ever since its discovery, in 1870, it has not failed to send up a graceful shower of jets at average intervals of 60 to 75 minutes. Its beauty is ever varying, as wind and sunlight play upon it, and the mound about its vent is adorned with delicately tinted basins of salmon, pink and yellow, filled with limpid water whose softness is enticing. It is the geyser of the park, and indeed of the world, and many a visitor to "geyserland" departs without seeing any other of the many spouters in action and yet feels more than repaid for the journey. For beauty of surroundings the Castle will perhaps be awarded the palm; its sinter chimney or cone is formed of exquisite cauliflower or coral-like geyserite, whose general form makes the geyser's name appropriate. Its eruptions are now irregular. A stream of hot water is thrown up to a height between 50 and 75 feet for about 30 minutes, followed by the emission of steam, with a loud roar that can be heard for miles.

ECONOMIC GEYSER,1 UPPER BASIN. Photograph by F. J. Haynes. 1No longer active.

The greatest geyser of the park, and indeed the grandest of the whole world, was Excelsior, some 25 miles beyond the Norris Basin. Unlike the less capricious and more fountain-like geysers of the Upper Firehole, this monster of geysers did not spout from a fissure in the rock, nor from a crater or cone of its own building. It was a monster of destruction, having torn out its great crater in the old sinter-covered slope, builded by the placid and beauteous Prismatic Lake. The walls, formed by the jagged ends of the white sinter layers, were lashed by the angry waters that were ever undermining the sides and enlarging the caldron. The eruptions were so stupendous that all other geysers are dwarfed by comparison. The grand outburst was preceded by several abortive attempts, when great domes of water rose in the center and burst into splashing masses 10 to 15 feet high, while the waters surged under the overhanging walls and overflowed the slope between the crater and the river. Finally, with a grand boom or report that shook the ground, an immense fan-shaped mass of water was thrown up to a height of 200 or more feet, great clouds of steam rolled off from the boiling water, while large blocks of the white sinter were flung far above the water and fell about the neighboring slopes. Unfortunately, this monarch of all geysers has ceased to erupt.

EXCELSIOR GEYSER.1 Photograph by F. J. Haynes. 1Ceased playing in 1888.

Everywhere, save at the Norris Basin of the Yellowstone Park, geyser vents are surrounded by cones, mounds, or platforms of white siliceous sinter which, though built up into very beautiful forms, hides the true relation of the geyser vent to the fissures in the rocks, so that it has been generally believed, as stated by Tyndall,1 that the hot springs built up tubes of siliceous rock, that made them geysers. That this is not true is shown by several great fountains at the Norris Basin, that spout directly from fissures in the solid rock, notably the Monarch, Tippecanoe, and Alcove geysers.

1Heat as a mode of motion.

Prominent geysers and springs, based upon observations during season 1920.

Name.Height of
Duration of eruption.Interval between


Black Growler

Steam vent only.
Constant15-355 to 15 seconds20 to 55 secondsQuiescent in 1920.
Congress pool

Large boiling spring.
Echinus303 minutes45 to 50 minutes
Emerald Pool

Beautiful hot spring.

Minute Man8-1515 to 30 seconds1 to 3 minutes.Sometimes quiet for long periods.
New Crater6-252 to 5 minutes
Whirligig10-15   doNear Constant Geyser.

Black Warrior
Small, but interesting geysers.
White Dome101 minute40 to 60 minutes
Clepsytra10-40Few seconds3 minutes
Fountain Geyser7510 minutes2 hours
Firehole Lake

Peculiar phenomena.
Great Fountain75-15045 to 60 minutes8 to 12 hoursSpouts 4 or 5 times.
Mammoth Paint Pot

Basin of boiling clay.
Excelsior200-300About 1/2 hour
Ceased playing in 1890.
Prismatic Lake

Size about 250 by 400 feet; remarkable coloring.
Turquoise Spring

About 100 feet in diameter.

Artemisia5010 to 15 minutes24 to 30 hoursVaries.

Beehive2006 to 8 minutes3 to 5 times at 12-hour intervals following Giantess.

Quiet again.
Castle50-7530 minutesIrregular
Cub, large608 minutesWith LionessShort chimneys to Lion and Lioness.
Cub, small10-3017 minutes1 to 2 hours
Daisy703 minutes80 to 90 minutes
Economic20Few seconds
Seldom in eruption.
Fan15-2510 minutesIrregular.
Giant200-25060 minutes6 to 14 days
Giantess150-20012 to 36 hoursIrregular, 5 to 10 days.
Grand20015 to 30 minutes10 to 12 hours
Grotto20-30Varies2 to 5 hours
Jewel5-20About 1 minute5 minutes
Lion50-60About 2 to 4 minutesIrregular.Usually 2 to 17 times a day.
Lioness80-100About 10 minutes   doPlayed once in 1910, once in 1912, once early in 1914, and once in 1920.
Mortar304 to 6 minutes   do
Oblong20-407 minutes8 to 15 hours
Old Faithful120-1704 minutes60 to 80 minutesUsual interval 70 minutes.
Riverside80-1005 minutes6 to 7 hoursVery regular.
Sawmill20-351 to 3 hoursIrregularUsually 5 to 8 times a day.
Spasmodic420 to 60 minutes   doUsually 1 to 4 times a day.
Splendid20010 minutes
Not played since 1892.
1 minute3 minutesA small but perfect geyser.
Turban20-4010 minutes to 3 hoursIrregular.

Notable springs.—Black Sand Springs (about 55 by 60 feet), Chinaman, Emerald Pool, Morning Glory, Punch Bowl, Sponge, Sunset Lake.

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Last Updated: 02-Apr-2007