Frequently Asked Questions: Norris Area

When will Steamboat Geyser erupt?
Steamboat's major eruptions (more than 300 feet high) are unpredictable and often many years apart. Its most recent major eruption occurred September 14, 2014. Its frequent "minor phase" eruptions eject water 10 to 40 feet high.

When does Echinus Geyser erupt?
Once very predictable, Echinus's eruptions are now months to years apart, but could become frequent again.

Why is Norris so colorful?
The colors here, like in other hydrothermal areas, are due to combinations of minerals and life forms that thrive in extreme conditions. At Norris, silica or clay minerals saturate some acidic waters, making them appear milky. Iron oxides, arsenic, and cyanobacteria create the red-orange colors. Cyanidium glows bright green. Mats of Zygogonium are dark purple to black on the surface where they are exposed to the sun, bright green beneath. Sulfur creates a pale yellow hue.

Is Norris Geyser Basin within the Yellowstone Caldera?
Norris is not in the Yellowstone Caldera, but it is close to the caldera rim, with its associated ring fractures and faults. The northern edge of the first caldera lies near the southern base of Mount Holmes, which is north of Norris. The Yellowstone Caldera's rim is south and east of Norris.

What is the "thermal disturbance" at Norris that people talk about?
Periodically, Norris Geyser Basin undergoes a large-scale basin-wide thermal disturbance lasting a few days to a few weeks. Water levels fluctuate, temperatures and pH change, color changes, and eruptive patterns change throughout the basin. No one is sure what causes a thermal disturbance. It might be caused by a massive fluctuation in the underground reservoirs providing water to the basin's features. In the fall, this may happen when surface water levels decrease, causing a decrease in pressure in deeper, underground thermal water. This may allow the deeper thermal waters to mix and flow to the ground surface.

How did Norris get its name?
The area is named for Philetus W. Norris, the second superintendent of Yellowstone, who provided early detailed information about the hydrothermal features. Two historic buildings remain in this area: The Norris Geyser Basin Museum and the Museum of the National Park Ranger, which is located in the Norris Soldier Station, one of the only remaining soldier stations in the park.

What caused the roar of Roaring Mountain?
Visitors during the late 1800s and early 1900s would recount "roars" from Roaring Mountain, a large, acidic hydrothermal area (solfatara) with many fumaroles. The number, size, and power of the fumaroles were much greater than today. The fumaroles are most easily seen in the cooler, low-light conditions of morning and evening.

What will I see on Virginia Cascade Drive?
This one-way drive east of Norris follows the Gibbon River upstream, alongside outcrops of volcanic rock (Lava Creek Tuff). Here, you are close to the Yellowstone Caldera's rim. Virginia Cascade is formed by the Gibbon River as it crosses the tuff.

Are mudpots in this area?
Yes, at Artists' Paintpots, which is located 3.8 miles south of Norris Junction. The trail to the mudpots is steep, and one-mile round-trip.

What animals can I see in this area?
Black and grizzly bears are sometimes seen. Grizzlies feed on carcasses of elk and bison that died in the hydrothermal areas during the winter.

Norris is one of the few areas in the park where sagebrush lizards live. They can survive here due to the warmth of hydrothermal activity. Listen for chorus frogs in spring.

Killdeer are found in the basin year-round, taking advantage of the brine flies and other insects that live in the warm waters.

Historic Areas and Structures

  • Norris Soldier Station (now the Museum of the National Park Ranger)
  • Norris Geyser Basin Museum


Did You Know?