A Day at Steamboat Geyser

Last Friday, I headed into Yellowstone intending to spend the day at Steamboat Geyser in hopes of catching the 100th eruption since this activity started in 2018. I’ve typed up my observations here in preparation to add these to my field journal.

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12 June 2020 | Drive from Cody to Norris Geyser Basin and back. | 212 miles
Weather – Overcast, to partly cloudy and very warm. The wind picked up throughout the day.

As I drove through the Wapiti Valley, I didn’t see any mule deer at all and guessed they were higher up by now. The North Fork of the Shoshone isn’t nearly as muddy as it was a week and a half ago. It looks like we’re past the peak runoff. On my way up, I noticed in bloom: Evening Primrose, Arrowleaf Balsamroot, Buckwheat, Indian Paintbrush, Flax, Chokecherries, and Lupine around the UXU Ranch area.

It was 52° F at the Sylvan Pass sign at the top of the pass at 0852. Talus Fall has a strong flow to it. There was still the thinnest layer of ice on Eleanor Lake, indicating the nights are still below freezing up here. There wasn’t any ice on Sylvan Lake, however. Snow remained on the banks. As I passed by the calm waters of Sylvan Lake, I could see the first leaves starting to emerge on the willows. The first Glacier Lilies dotted the areas free of snow with their bright yellow contrasting wet brown ground, reminding me of stars in a night sky.

I kept an eye out for bears all along the way down to the lake in hopes of spotting Snow or Raspberry, who, from the sounds of it, may have a cub with her this year. No such luck, though. At Sedge Bay, the pretty blue Jacob’s Ladder is starting to bloom. It won’t be long until that blue lines both sides of the road.

The boreal chorus frogs sang as I round the corner to Mary Bay. Driving with the windows cracked, and the radio off lets me hear a few more Yellowstone sounds. Canada Geese are here – as they are almost everywhere in the park. While a part of me enjoys seeing them, another part of me feels they’re here like a gang that’s pushed out the other birds.

The thermal features at Mary Bay have high water levels. The perpetual spouter still splashes about a foot or so. As I reached the construction, I saw it wouldn’t be long until we start to move with the long line. Traffic is still light for this time of year, but there are many more RVs and motorhomes on the road. Traffic has picked up, though, since my last visit on 31 May. Boreal chorus frogs sang as I reached the far side of the work at Pelican Creek.

After a quick stop at Canyon, I headed to Norris. As I started to walk down to the basin, I could hear Ledge Geyser in steam phase. I decided to head over there first to capture a few photos and videos to document. There are many small steaming holes steaming around the main red vent of Ledge Geyser – I’m not sure if those were there when I watched it erupt four or five years ago. Jetsam Pool had a slightly lower water level in it, and the boardwalk is wet. I’ve been told by someone who’s kept a closer eye on Norris than I have over the past couple of years that Ledge cycles from steam to water and back to steam. This amount of dampness on the boardwalk/path does make me wonder if it’s actually having full eruptions or not. I suppose the steam can also leave quite a bit of water there. I watched Ledge for about ten minutes to see if it might shift to spitting water or not. All I saw was a medium-loud steam phase.

I walked back up to the museum and started down toward Steamboat. As I passed Emerald Pool, I wondered if there might be more microbes starting to grow farther down in the vent. I knew I’d have to go back through photos. It seems it’s a bit hotter with fewer microbes on the top ledge that may have had me notice the microbes farther down in the vent a bit more. It’s not as hot as it looked back in mid-August 2019, though.

Emerald Pool at Yellowstone's Norris Geyser Basin on 12 June 2019
Emerald Pool at Yellowstone's Norris Geyser basin on 08 Aug 2019
Emerald Pool at Yellowstone's Norris Geyser Basin on 19 May 2020
Emerald Pool at Yellowstone's Norris geyser Basin on 12 June 2020.

There were a few geyser gazers there at Steamboat Geyser’s middle viewing platform, with some space between them. I found a place and settled in and started to take notes. I’m using the term “Fountaining” – meaning that the south vent splashes in more of a shape familiar with a fountain type geyser – in particular, it often reminded me of Fountain Geyser in the way it sent up splash after splash. These “fountaining” splashes were more often than not more vertical than angled and reached 10-20 feet high, but there were some angled wide splashes as well. It seems like this is a broader column of water than last year – or perhaps it’s just how this part of the cycle is splashing. I recall seeing more slender jets last year. The overflow channels have changed. Steamboat carved them out over the winter, moving some of the rocks and logs that were used to monitor overflow. It seems finding continuity in how to refer to activity may not be possible.

South Vent initiated splashes more than North, or simply splashed on its own. In the photos, North Vent is on the left, and South Vent is on the right. I didn’t write down small splashes consisting of thin, angled jets from the vents. There were also periods when there was no splashing. I would notice Steamboat was quiet a few minutes in after some angled jets. I’m not sure yet how to document that, but the gaps show up in these notes. I know others use codes for their records – which I may switch to. However, when starting new observations this year, I wanted to just see what I noticed so I can analyze it later and find ways to improve. This is the process of field journaling.

1125 | South Vent fountaining.
1127 | Good splash from both vents with a bit of fountaining from South.
1142 | A bit of fountaining from South Vent.
1149 | Nice vertical bounce from North – South fountaining.
1155 | Small sustained splash from South (or small fountaining).
1209 | South Vent fountaining.
Talking and not taking notes,
1230 | South Vent fountaining.
1237 | South Vent fountaining.
1300 | Small fountaining from South Vent
1302 | North Vent vertical bounce sustained, followed by South fountaining.
1308 | Nice splash together from both vents.
1316 | South Vent fountaining.
1317 | Small fountaining from South Vent.
1323 | Vertical bounce from North Vent. South vent fountaining.
1325 | South Vent fountaining.
1327 | South Vent fountaining.
1332 | South Vent fountaining.
1333 | Percussion heard.
1334 | South Vent fountaining.
1336 | Percussion heard. North and South Vent started simultaneously.
1337 | VERY NICE TRY. Suddenly both vents shot vertically to the tops of the trees. Those at Steerage reported the overflow to be a 3.5 that wet the grassy knoll channel (to the right of what was “Elvis”).
1339 | Percussion heard.
1341 | South Vent fountaining.
1400 | Quiet percussion heard followed by a nice splash from South Vent.
1402 | North Vent had a weak vertical splash. South Vent had light fountaining.
1407 | South Vent fountaining.
1414 | South Vent fountaining.
1418 | South Vent fountaining.
1422 | South Vent fountaining. Nicely sustained a bit longer.
1425 | North Vent splash. South Vent fountaining.
1426 | Both vents started simultaneously with South Vent fountaining at the end.
1430 | North Vent started with a weak splash followed by some nice splashes that had lovely verticalness to them. Didn’t build, though.
1437 | Light splashing from both – North started.
1439 | South vent splashed.
1441 | Both vents started simultaneously
1445 | Rumbling seems less. Later in the same minute, it returned. How long had it been less until I noticed that?
1454 | Both vents started simultaneously – good splash, but not sustained.
1502 | South Vent fountaining.
1505 | South Vent lightly fountaining.
Talking and not taking notes.
1528 | Nice splash from both vents (simultaneous start)
1532 | Nice splash from South Vent
1533 | Nice splash from both vents.
1537 | South Vent fountaining briefly.
1546 | Small fountaining from South Vent.
1553 | South Vent fountaining. It seems to be doing more consistent splashing, but nothing very vertical.
Talking and not taking notes.
1618 | South Vent fountaining.
1625 | South Vent fountaining.
1626 | South Vent fountaining – North Vent tried to join in but disappeared.
1629 | South Vent fountaining.
Back to the car to eat dinner.
1834 | NICE vertical from both vents. Lasted for about 30 seconds, but just didn’t build.

This last vertical splashing was the best I saw all day – and I happened to be trying to capture a good photo of the “fountaining” when it started. Since I had the DSLR in my hands set for stills, I just went with that rather than try to switch to video.

1900 | I left to head home.

Lots of elk near the roads this time of evening. A cow elk with a calf crossed the road in front of me near Canyon. There was a bear jam just south of Canyon. I was told there were three black bears there, but I only saw one. Perhaps a sow with cubs and the cubs were hidden in the sagebrush.

A black bear near Canyon Village in Yellowstone
Bison near Canyon Village in Yellowstone

In Hayden Valley, people were looking through scopes at dots in the distance, but due to the time I didn’t stop. The great blue heron was at Elk Antler Creek.

Great Blue Heron at Elk Antler Creek in Yellowstone's Hayden Valley

A mule deer darted across the road in front of me near Pelican Creek. My eyes followed her into the woods where I noticed three or four elk there as well. More elk were seen at Indian Pond. Bison were sprinkled throughout the drive from Canyon to Fishing Bridge. The most surprising bison seen was heading east along the North Fork at about 3-Mile Campground. I wondered what he was doing heading that way.

Bison heading east along the North Fork of the Shoshone.

I pulled in at dusk, wondering if I would head in the next day or not. Steamboat made the decision for me by erupting overnight.

Be Outside • Take Notes


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