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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Kade

Old Faithful to Mammoth Springs

Updated: Oct 14, 2019

May 13, 2019

Old Faithful to Mammoth Springs and back

I was up at 5 AM. People were slamming their doors shut and I could smell coffee. I’m usually a tea drinker but I do love, especially in the morning, the smell of fresh brewed coffee.

Decided to see Old Faithful as our first stop of the day. Well, our Snow Lodge is a hop and a skip away.

Discovered in 1870, by the Washburn Expedition, Old Faithful geyser was named for its frequent and somewhat predictable eruptions, which number more than a million since Yellowstone became the world’s first national park in 1872.

Old Faithful is located in Yellowstone's Upper Geyser Basin in the southwest section of the park. The geyser-viewing area is the most accessible and visitor-friendly in the park with bench seating, a large parking lot, and a ranger station that tracks the time, height and length of an eruption to predict the next eruption.

Old Faithful is a cone geyser. It is at an elevation of 7,349 feet.

It was named in 1870 during the Washburn-Langford- Doane Expedition and was the first geyser in the park to receive a name. It is a highly predictable geothermal feature, and has erupted every 44 to 125 minutes since 2000. The geyser and the nearby Old Faithful Inn are part of the Old Faithful Historic District.

On the afternoon of September 18, 1870, the members of the Washburn-Langford-Doane Expedition traveled down the Firehole River from the Kepler Cascades and entered the Upper Geyser Basin. The first geyser that they saw was Old Faithful. Nathaniel P. Langford wrote in his 1871 Scribner's account of the expedition:

“It spouted at regular intervals nine times during our stay, the columns of boiling water being thrown from ninety to one hundred and twenty-five feet at each discharge, which lasted from fifteen to twenty minutes. We gave it the name of "Old Faithful."

In the early days of the park, Old Faithful was often used as a laundry:

Old Faithful is sometimes degraded by being made a laundry. Garments placed in the crater during quiescence are ejected thoroughly washed when the eruption takes place. General Sheridan’s men, in 1882, found that linen and cotton fabrics were uninjured by the action of the water, but woolen clothes were torn to shreds.

When does Old Faithful erupt?

Basic prediction of Old Faithful is dependent upon the duration of the previous eruption. During visitor center hours, geyser statistics and predictions are maintained by the naturalist staff. People speak of the average time between eruptions. This is misleading. The mathematical average between eruptions of Old Faithful is currently 74 minutes, but it doesn't like to act average! Intervals can range from 60-110 minutes. Visitors can check for posted prediction times in most buildings in the Old Faithful area.

More than 1,000,000 eruptions have been recorded. Harry Woodward first described a mathematical relationship between the duration and intervals of the eruptions in 1938. Old Faithful is not the tallest or largest geyser in the park; those titles belong to the less predictable Steamboat Geyser. The reliability of Old Faithful can be attributed to the fact that it is not connected to any other thermal features of the Upper Geyser Basin.

Eruptions can shoot 3,700 to 8,400 US gallons (14,000 to 32,000 L) of boiling water to a height of 106 to 185 feet (32 to 56 m) lasting from ​1 1⁄2 to 5 minutes. The average height of an eruption is 145 feet (44 m). Intervals between eruptions can range from 60 to 110 minutes, averaging 66.5 minutes in 1939, slowly increasing to an average of 90 minutes apart today, which may be the result of earthquakes affecting subterranean water levels. The disruptions have made earlier mathematical relationships inaccurate, but have actually made Old Faithful more predictable in terms of its next eruption.

The time between eruptions has a bimodal distribution, with the mean interval being either 65 or 91 minutes, and is dependent on the length of the prior eruption. Within a margin of error of ±10 minutes, Old Faithful will erupt either 65 minutes after an eruption lasting less than ​2 1⁄2 minutes, or 91 minutes after an eruption lasting more than ​2 1⁄2 minutes.

How high does Old faithful erupt and how long will it last?

Old Faithful can vary in height from 100-180 feet with an average near 130-140 feet. This has been the historical range of its recorded height. Eruptions normally last between 1.5 to 5 minutes.

The famous geyser currently erupts around 20 times a day and can be predicted with a 90 percent confidence rate within a 10 minute variation. Prior to the 1959 earthquake, Old Faithful erupted 21 times per day. That's a significant decrease in activity for geologists tracking each eruption, but to visitors seeing one or two eruptions... it looks just fine.

How many gallons of water are expelled during an eruption?

It depends on the duration of the eruption. Scientists estimate that the amount ranges from 3,700 gallons (for a short duration of 1.5 minutes) to 8,400 gallons (for a longer duration of 4.5 minutes).

How hot is the water?

During an eruption, the water temperature at the vent has been measured at 204°F (95.6°C). The steam temperature has been measured above 350°F!

Between 1983 and 1994, four probes containing temperature and pressure measurement devices and video equipment were lowered into Old Faithful. The probes were lowered as deep as 72 feet (22 m). Temperature measurements of the water at this depth was 244 °F (118 °C), the same as was measured in 1942. The video probes were lowered to a maximum depth of 42 feet (13 m) to observe the conduit formation and the processes that took place in the conduit. Some of the processes observed include fog formation from the interaction of cool air from above mixing with heated air from below, the recharge processes of water entering into the conduit and expanding from below, and entry of super heated steam measuring as high as 265 °F (129 °C) into the conduit.

Stopped at Gibbon Falls along the way. Gibbon Falls is a waterfall on the Gibbon River. The falls are located roadside, 4.7 miles (7.6 km) upstream from the confluence of the Gibbon and Firehole Rivers at Madison Junction on the Grand Loop Road.

When the Washburn and Hayden parties traveled through the Firehole River and Gibbon River basins in the 1870s, the Gibbon River above Gibbon Falls was barren of fish, the falls being a natural barrier to upstream migration. Unlike the Yellowstone drainage, the upper Gibbon was isolated from any connection to drainage on the Pacific slope. The absence of fish was overcome in 1890 when the first rainbow trout were introduced into the river above the falls. In 1920, Artic Grayling, native in the Gibbon and Madison Rivers below the falls were stocked in Grebe Lake at the headwaters of the Gibbon. Today, the falls still block upstream migrations of spawning trout from the Madison River, but the upper Gibbon has become a consistent trout fishery because of these introductions.

These pictures are so different from the ones I took on the photography class, during the snow storm.

When driving through Yellowstone, you should always be aware of movement. I made Michael turn the car around so I could get these pictures of a coyote hunting along the banks of the stream.

This coyote blended in so perfectly well with the surroundings.

The coyote finally did catch the prey. It had to be small as it didn't take long to eat it.

There was road construction but luckily we only had to wait a few minutes to get by.

Both grizzly and black bear cubs are born in the deep winter months, while their mother hibernates. In April and May, the begin to venture out with their mother as she digs for roots, insects and squirrels. Cubs stay with their mother for two to three years before striking out on their own.

Momma bear and her cubs were out and about along the roadway. If not for the few cars that stopped, I would have missed them. Not the best of pictures but I enjoyed watching them play for a short period of time. The little ones ran and ran and ran all around momma. They had so much energy!!!

Momma bear was very protective of her cubs! She didn't stay long in the area.

Beautiful scenery along the way.

South Twin Lake still had some ice.

Another waterfall along the way to Mammoth Springs. More snow in this area as compared to where we are staying at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge.

Mammoth Hot Springs was the destination for the day.

Mammoth Hot Springs is a very popular feature to see in part because they’re so different from other thermal areas in the area. This is largely because limestone is a relatively soft type of rock, allowing the travertine formations to grow much faster than other sinter formations. It has been described as looking like a cave turned inside out.

Named by Philetus Norris around 1880. He named it for himself, who first described it and opened the basin to tourists. Norris named many things after himself, many of which later were renamed.

Mammoth Hot Springs is a large complex of hot springs on a hill of travertine in adjacent to Fort Yellowstone and the Mammoth Springs Historic District.

It was created over thousands of years as hot water from the spring cooled and deposited calcium carbonate (over two tons flow into Mammoth each day in a solution). Because of the huge amount of geothermal vents, travertine flourishes. Although these springs lie outside the caldera boundary, their energy has been attributed to the same magmatic system that fuels other Yellowstone geothermal areas.

At Yellowstone each year, the rain and melted snow seeps into the earth. Cold to begin with, the water is quickly warmed by heat radiating from a partially molten magma chamber deep underground, the remnant of a cataclysmic volcanic explosion that occurred 600,000 years ago.

After moving throughout this underwater “plumbing” system, the now hot water rises up through a system of small fissures. Here it also interacts with hot gases charged with carbon dioxide rising up from the magma chamber. As some of the carbon dioxide is dissolved in the hot water, a weak, carbonic acid solution is formed.

In the Mammoth area, the hot, acidic solution dissolves large quantities of limestone on its way up through the rock layers to the hot springs on the surface. Above ground and exposed to the air, some of the carbon dioxide escapes from the solution. Without it, the dissolved limestone can’t remain in the solution, so it reforms into a solid mineral. This white, chalky mineral is deposited as the travertine that forms the terraces.

How Mammoth Hot Springs Was Formed

The hot water that feeds Mammoth comes from Norris Geyser Basin after traveling underground via a fault line. that runs through limestone and roughly parallel to the Norris-to-Mammoth road. The limestone from rock formations along the fault is the source of the calcium carbonate. Shallow circulation along this corridor allows Norris' super heated water to slightly cool before surfacing at Mammoth, generally at about 170 °F (80 °C). Algae living in the warm pools have tinted the travertine shades of brown, orange, red, and green.

Thermal activity here is extensive both over time and distance. The thermal flows show much variability with some variations taking place over periods ranging from decades to days. Terrace Mountain at Mammoth Hot Springs is the largest known carbonate-depositing spring in the world. The most famous feature at the springs is the Minerva Terrace, a series of travertine terraces. The terraces have been deposited by the spring over many years but, due to recent minor earthquake activity, the spring vent has shifted, rendering the terraces dry.

This was the one area where the smell of sulfur (rotten eggs or stale stinky farts) was prevalent.

Cleopatra Terrace

Water glistening in the sunlight.

Lots of walking and many steps up and down.

Mound Spring

Birds stood in the shallow pooling of water.

Nesting???? Resting???

Mammoth Hot Springs has two terrace boardwalks, the Upper and Lower. Approximately 50 hot springs lie within the area.

Interesting place to rest and read a book. Unfortunately, she was off the pathway.

This must be a favorite spot for the elk.

I always found time to stop and take pictures of the bison. Michael patiently waited. I'm sure he kept asking himself how many pictures of bison I could take. It was a very large number!

Yellowstone is the only place in the United States where bison have lived continuously since prehistoric times. Yellowstone bison are special because they are America's largest bison population on public land and have not been hybridized through interbreeding with cattle.

Bison eat primarily grasses and sedges and are well suited to both prairies and forests. With adult males weighing up to 2,000 pounds (907 kg), the bison is the largest land mammal in North America. This iconic ungulate is the National Mammal of the United States.

Yellowstone bison herds exhibit wild behavior, like their ancient ancestors. The herd is comprised of cows, calves, and some younger bulls. Mature bulls spend most of the year alone or with other bulls- except during the rut, or mating season. During the rut in July and August, mature males display their dominance by bellowing, wallowing, and fighting with other bulls. The winners earn the right to mate with receptive females.

After a gestation period of 9 to 9 1/2 months, calves are born in late April and May. Their orange fur makes them easy to see, even from a distance, and has earned them the nickname "red dogs".

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