I read a travel article some years ago, defending taking the “more travelled” road occasionally. I quite agree: as much as I like to get off the beaten track and away from “tourist spots”, there is something to be said for seeing iconic places for oneself.
So it was with Old Faithful, Yellowstone National Park’s best known geyser. The postcards and travel shows might do it better, but there is nothing quite like being part of the crowd, sitting or standing under a relentless Wyoming sun, waiting for the trusty geyser to erupt.
Old Faithful was named by members of an early exploratory team, the Washburn Expedition of 1870, for its consistency. Today, the park rangers calculate and post the expected time of the next eruption, plus or minus 10 minutes, so visitors know when to gather around the viewing platforms.
Intervals between eruptions vary from 50-127 minutes, and eruptions last from one and a half to five minutes. The performance started with what looked like smoke signals, as puffs of steam rose into the air. Then the boiling water followed before it all went quiet again.
“Is that it?” asked a little boy in the crowd.
I confess, I felt a little let-down myself. But that wasn’t it; there was more.
Yellowstone National Park is home to the world’s largest concentration of hydrothermal activity: geysers, hot springs, mud pots, fumaroles (steam vents), and travertine terraces – and it was thanks to Old Faithful and these other features that the land was protected in the first place, as we learned from one of the park rangers.
Ranger Darlene had her audience transfixed as she related the story of the park’s early history, complete with wildlife poaching and the almost-complete-demise of the buffalo. Although over two million acres was set aside as the world’s first National Park on March 1, 1872, the idea of preserving the wildlife that lived in the area came much later.
The Upper Geyser Basin, which includes Old Faithful, has four other geysers as well as examples of hot springs, mudpots and steam vents. Just a short climb to Observation Point and a walk around Geyser Hill gave us easy access to many of these. We couldn’t believe the beauty and variety of natural forms and colours.
Old Faithful and the assortment of geysers and hot springs in the immediate area were so much more amazing than we had anticipated. The facilities are beautifully designed and managed, making much of this area accessible to almost anyone. This is one time when the “more travelled” road is well worth following!
Of course, as I said earlier, the park comprises over two million acres. It is so much more than just Old Faithful – but that will have to wait for another time.
‘Till then – Happy Travels!
Pictures: 13 August 2012