Norris Geyser Basin was our destination for that day, one of the major attractions of Yellowstone National Park. It required an early start to the day as it was at least a two hour drive from the ranch and we wanted to do the Ranger-led tour of the Back Basin section that started at 9:30 AM.
Norris Geyser Basin is one of the hottest and most volatile areas of Yellowstone's hydrothermal areas. Not only is it part of one of the world's largest active volcanoes, it sits on the intersection of three major faults. The features here in Norris Geyser Basin are unpredictable, undergoing dramatic behavioral changes. Let's look at some pictures!
Our Ranger tour started in the Back Basin area, and as we walked to the basin he noted the rolling hills off to our right and how they were monitoring changes within these hills that showed hydrothermal activity taking place below the surface.
Steamboat Geyser is the world's tallest active geyser, but is extremely unpredictable. Days, months, even years pass between major eruptions. At the time we were there it had been over a year since the last eruption. When it does erupt, it throws water more than 300 feet high. For hours following its rare 3-40 minute eruptions, Steamboat will thunder with steam. On September 3, 2014, it erupted in the middle of the night. Lucky visitors were able to witness the clouds of steam billowing from the geyser the next morning. Steamboat Geyser
The run-off from Steamboat runs down the hill, under the boardwalk...
into this pool area.
Our Ranger tour lasted over two hours and took us all around the Back Basin area.
I enjoyed seeing the details such as these terraced rocks rimming Echinus Geyser.
Visitors are warned to stay on the boardwalks as the ground is very fragile and not only can you damage it, you can become severely injured if you step through the earth's crust....boiling water can be immediately below the surface.
Puff'n Stuff Geyser
Green Dragon Spring
Blue Mud Steam vents
This cute little geyser is Vixen Geyser. Its not big or awesome, but does have a really cool feature which we had to wait for. It goes off pretty regularly, lasting anywhere between 90 seconds to approximately 50 minutes. The cool thing about it is that once the water is finishing spouting, you can actually hear the water running back down inside the geyser's natural plumbing....we waited just over nine minutes. It is one of only two geysers in the world that you can hear this.
The last stop on our tour was at Minute Geyser. It was, at one time, a very predictable geyser, so much so that the Park Service had a road going past it making it easier for visitors to see it. Over time, so much debris and coins had been tossed into the geyser that the plumbing is plugged up, effectively killing the geyser. Our Ranger was quite adamant about the need to be vigilant against people who are being disrespectful of the environment, defacing and destroying natural elements. Its a shame people feel the need to be like this.
Porcelain Basin is the other section of Norris Geyser Basin and it is beautiful. Rainbow colors, hissing steam and strong odors assault your senses.
This basin pulsates from steam and boiling water barely beneath the surface.
The milky blue pools are saturated with silica, the primary component of glass. The thermal pools here at Norris contain the highest concentrations of silica in Yellowstone.
Geyser runoff channels provide the clearest thermal and chemical gradients. The brilliant green belongs to acid-tolerant thermophiles (100-126 degrees Fahrenheit), The rusty red mats are colored by iron oxide.
I found the entire are completely fascinating, as we walked boardwalks over hot, acidic waters. Yes, it was another geyser basin such as the one we visited at the Old Faithful area, yet was different.
Cracklin' Lake anchored the end of our walk through Porcelain Basin. By now it was after noon, and as we headed back to the car the parking lot was filled to over-flowing and visitors were circling, trying to find a spot to park. We quickly headed out of there, and found a picnic area to have our lunch in before meandering south. We had several areas we wished to visit still!
Artist's Mudpots was our next destination, and now it was our turn to jockey for the elusive parking space :-). It was amazing to us how many people seemed to walk to the end of the boardwalk, which would be at the very top of this picture, look around, and then head back to the parking lot. But in order to see the mudpots, you had to follow the foot trail around the basin, UP a pretty good climb to the ridge before you could see them. This picture is taken from the top of the ridge looking down at the basin. I can only imagine how they went back to their cars, shaking their heads and wondering what the big deal was...
so here you have it...hot, bubbling mud :-)
oh what the heck, here's another picture!
Gibbons Falls are very easy to find, being right on the Grand Loop Road...no hiking involved. It drops 84 feet over the remains of the Yellowstone caldera rim.
A short drive along Firehole Canyon drive yielded a view of the Firehole Cascades. Further up the Firehole River was a very popular swimming area. Being a warm sunny day, it was very crowded!
Fountain Paint Pot Area was our next stop. Being an easy, half mile boardwalk trail, we figured a pretty quick stop....
Beautiful blue waters of Silex Spring, and a healthy bacterial mat surrounding the spring where a thriving community of thermophiles reside.
Fountain Paint Pots, mudpots that change with the seasons. In the spring they are thin and watery from the rain and snow. By late summer they are thick and gummy.The mud is composed of clay minerals and fine particles of silica. Acids in the steam and water break down the rhyolite into a clay mineral called kaolinite, which the Crow tribe used to paint their tipis with, hence the name "paint pots".
As we strolled along the boardwalk reading the guide (do you know how many people walk along these trails without a guide...it's only 50 cents and holds a wealth of information!), we came to Clepsydra Geyser which erupts almost without pause since the 1959 Hebgen Lake Earthquake.
Now we had walked past a large "dead" looking geyser. As we looked over to our left....
we read that Jet Geyser may erupt before an eruption of Fountain Geyser, the one that had no action going on. We saw Jet bubbling away, with sporadic eruptions. There also seemed to be a few people kind of casually "hanging around" the area, so we thought we would wait awhile and see if anything happened. We chatted with a few folks for awhile, and decided it was time to continue on our path. As we turned to go, we got maybe 10 feet, when Fountain Geyser decided it was time to blow off!
Fountain Geyser is one of the most impressive geysers in Yellowstone when it does erupt, and we were lucky enough to have been here :-).Eruptions reach 50 feet or higher and generally last 25 minutes or more.
The small spurt to the rear left of the picture is Morning Geyser, which when it erupts fully will spout upwards of 200 feet....today was just what I called a "sympathy spurt" along with Fountain!
As Fountain was gushing, the water at the base was making waves as it rolled away from the hole.
What was really cool was we noticed this pool to the lower left of Fountain Geyser, which was full of water when we first arrived, had emptied as Fountain erupted, and then the runoff from Fountain poured back down into the emptied pool. It was so neat to see how everything inter-connected.
We finally tore ourselves away from this fascinating geyser and finished our trek around the boardwalk. It also amazed us, as we were watching this phenomenon, how many people just casually walked by, glancing at the geyser, barely pausing in their conversations. I wonder if any of them even realized how special this was??
It was getting pretty late in the afternoon by now, and after a drive down Firehole Lake Road (which had been closed earlier in the summer because the heat below the road had melted it!) we headed towards Old Faithful Village to find some dinner. One last view of Old Faithful Geyser, and we headed south towards home again. It had been another fun and interesting day of exploration in Yellowstone National Park!