Steamboat throws a rock that splits the sign

by | Jun 18, 2019

Exciting things are happening at Steamboat Geyser. I headed in on the 12th and was lucky enough to catch that eruption and not be hit by the stray rock Steamboat tossed out. Then on the 15th, Steamboat erupted again for what looks like the shortest interval ever. I’ve waited to write and post this information until we knew more of the outcome of the incident with the rock.


The eruption on June 12th was the third eruption with a 5-day interval in a row. Due to a busier schedule, I only had that particular day to spend at Steamboat. I arrived a bit later than intended, but still managed to find a parking spot. Unfortunately, I knew it was one in the “splash zone,” but decided to take it anyway (blog post to come about prepping your car for Steamboat).

On the last eruption I caught, I spent a lot of time capturing photos from various angles and locations. On this day, I was more tired and decided to find a spot and just stay there. Steamboat didn’t look very promising as I started to watch, but it does cycle with pushes of energy. I found a place and settled in. It happened to be right by the sign for Steamboat on the lower observation platform.


Around noon, the activity in Steamboat picked up. I noticed the grumbling from Steamboat increased. By 12:18, there were some nice, sustained vertical splashes from the South Vent (the one on the right). At 1231 we had a “woo hoo” splash that got everyone’s attention. At 1233, there was a push that got many of us thinking this was it (an “OMG” splash that very much looked like Grand Geyser)

At 1235, I took note that I heard and felt a “ker-whump” in the rumbling from Steamboat. After that, I could better feel the rumblings as I was sitting on the boardwalk. At first, I thought it might just be the people on the boardwalk, but I had paid attention to it before this. It did feel more like it was coming from below, but in all reality, that’s hard to say for sure.

At 1237, there was another nice “Woo hoo” event – and it was clear that we’d know soon if this build up of energy would result in an eruption or if we’d need to wait another few hours.

At 12:52, the eruption began. Love watching the columns of water climb to unbelievable heights.


Relatively speaking, this is still a young geyser – having shown up in 1879. Other thermal features in the park are estimated to be 5000-10,000 years old. On every eruption, Steamboat Geyser throws out rocks. This eruption was no different. Most are smaller ones, but occasionally there are larger rocks the size of a football or so, but those don’t reach very high. Other smaller rocks ride one column up and then fall to another column and hop their way upward before falling to Earth.

One rock in this eruption that was about the size of a softball landed on the sign on the lower platform, breaking the sign in half. This happened about a foot in front of me. The man next to me is a storm chaser and did notice it. I was shooting images when I heard the calls of warning from him, but there wasn’t time to really react, or anywhere to go.

While I realized the potential of danger, that danger had passed, and I continued to enjoy the eruption. Looking at that split sign, I was quite sure the park service would need to evaluate the safety of the lower platform. The force with which that rock struck, could have easily killed someone – me, the storm chaser, or the young boys next to me.

Incidentally, we do have great footage of this incident thanks to the storm chaser’s camera.


I waited until other people mentioned the incident online before sharing my photos. Waited to write this blog post. The park service would need time to evaluate the situation. As of now, the lower platform is closed except for the walkway that takes you down to Cistern Spring and the rest of the Back Basin at Norris.

Some geyser gazers complain that the park service is continuing to close off access to locations in the park. There is a truth to this – and at least the previous superintendent was very much for management through closures. But in this situation, I agree with this decision – for the moment.

Closure decisions are made by law enforcement with the input of other rangers. That gives them time to evaluate the situation and generate solutions. Perhaps we’ll end up with an even better viewing area, or they may conclude that in all the activity that’s happened since that platform was built, this was simply an unusually stray stone. I trust that the current superintendent isn’t going to close Steamboat off completely.

The bottom line is that Yellowstone has unique dangers and we’re all ultimately responsible for our own safety. Will I choose to stand at the front of the platform again during a Steamboat eruption? Maybe. Maybe not. But I do like having that choice.


Added to all of this – following the eruption on the 12th, Steamboat had the shortest interval ever with the next eruption on June 15. Cistern Spring refilled incredibly fast after the eruption on June 12. Thanks to the geyser gazers who are working in the park this summer, we have wonderful regular reports coming out of Norris that have helped many (including me) catch eruptions. All the books and signs say intervals from 4 days to 50 years. That now needs to be changed to 3 days.

Some say this shorter interval may be a sign of a disturbance to come (when other thermal features at Norris tap into the same water source that allows Steamboat to erupt). Time will tell.