Sitting on top of an almost 4,000 square kilometer caldera, Yellowstone understandably hosts the most dense collection of geysers in the world at 300, or an estimated 2/3 of all geysers on the planet. When somewhere claims that title, you have no choice but to experience it. It would be like going to The Lourve and not seeing the Mona Lisa (or the copy, or the copy’s copy). With very little idea of what to expect, we headed out to see the sights.
Before we could ever reach the geysers, however, we started our first traffic jam by sighting a coyote! Of course, we called him a wolf until someone corrected us, so apologies to those who we misinformed. Either way, seeing the coyote put our day off to a good start.
Wildlife sighted, we headed off to the parking lot for Old Faithful. Every American knows it; it is the Mona Lisa of the example above. Every lodge in the park lists eruptions times for it and the other predictable geysers and we were lucky enough to arrive 5 minutes before an eruption. The visitor’s center here provides superb information on geyser formation and an excellent children’s exhibit, so if you are looking at a wait (Old Faithful erupts roughly every 90 minutes) then there is plenty to do until the next eruption.
With four hours until the scheduled eruptions of Grand and Castle , we decided to visit other springs around the park. Driving through Yellowstone, parking lots for sights appear every 2-3 miles. It’s tempting to stop at every one and after a couple of days of traveling through, I almost have to recommend that you do. If you have more time, bicycling or walking between the sights would be the way to go. Every place has parking, but with the vast number of people visiting the park, parking lots are pretty much always full.
The parking lot for the Grand Prismatic spring is a perfect example. We didn’t even try to turn into the lot for all the cars waiting in line and instead opted to park on the side of road (like many, many other people) and walk over. A walk from the Old Faithful parking lot would be a superb way to do it as well and provide countless picturesque pools.
Whether you park or walk, the Grand Prismatic spring and close by Excelsior Geyser Crater will leave your jaw hurting from the drop.
It’s simply stunning.
One quick note about geyser viewing at Yellowstone, though. Don’t wear a hat! Or if you do, wear one with a string! The lost and found here must look like a second-hand millinery because every single place we visited, we saw at least four hats on the rocks that had been blown off of people’s heads. They ruin photos and rangers have the come and pick them up, so don’t wear hats! See?
Perfectly beautiful spring, ruined by a hat!
Stray hats might ruin a photo, but they won’t ruin the experience. We stopped by a couple other springs and every single one impressed. If you don’t know what to do or where to go, all you have to do is get in the car, park somewhere you haven’t been, and walk around. There will be something there that amazes you.
While driving, you’ll see cars parked on the side of the road looking at something. it will be an animal. After a day or tow, you’ll develop a sense of which animal by the number of cars. 3-5? Probably bison. 10ish? Most likely elk. 15-20 with a huge traffic jam? Congratulations, you get to see a bear!
Driving back from Prismatic Spring, we saw not only a bear, but two cubs as well! They were hunting for food across a river at noon on a sunny day, which made for perfect picture taking.
Giddy with our first bear sighting, we hopped in the car to return to Old Faithful.
Old Faithful is simply the most famous of the geysers in its area, but there are plenty of other geysers, some of them predictable. As you can see from the above photo, around 5:15 Grand and Castle were both predicted to erupt, so we walked around the boardwalk looking at pools while waiting for other geysers.
Honestly, I found Old Faithful a little disappointing. Not so with Grand, which puts on quite a show. There’s the main geyser, but once it gets going two other geysers join in. So much water spews forth from this 5-10 minute eruption that the river of run off water steams from the heat. It’s pretty neat.
The predictions for every geyser come with windows, and Grand and Castle’s are 45 and 90 minutes, respectively, so we weren’t sure whether we could see both. These two lay within eye-shot of each other, however, so while waiting for Grand we checked over at Castle, or at least we did until Grand started erupting. Once it finished, we checked over to Castle only to see water in the sky. We had to get there fast!
Or so we thought. Castle erupts for 15-20 minutes, so after running out there and parking the stroller to let Fin run around, we spent another 15 minutes watching this beast hurl water upwards. It’s basically trying to make a cloud right in front of you. For sheer awe and inspiration, Castle can’t be beat. The plume shoots high and the wind stretches it our for tens upon tens of feet (if the wind blows right you get to stand in a nice, warm mist and get soaked), but what really impacted me was the time.
It just keeps going.
It’s a ~25 meter tower of water shooting up for 15-20 minutes, so search me for how many liters that makes, but it’s a lot. After 10 minutes, pretty much the only thought going through my head was “Holy fuck, that’s a lot of water.”
It was awesome in the original sense of the word.