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Rules and Advice for Newcomers and other Geyser Groupies

Here's something I wrote in February 2002 in response to the question "what can I do that will be helpful to the group while we are [in Yellowstone]?" I was reminded of it during a recent New Crater/Steamboat wait by a gazer who wanted to quote some of my comments. Some of it has been obsoleted by events and advances since then, especially in regards to dissemination of information via GeyserTimes. Other parts are even more applicable nowdays. I'm reposting it because much of it is still relevant. At the end I will add some updates and other commentary on this, presented as I wrote it back then--

Rules and Advice for Newcomers and other Geyser Groupies

The following comments are based on a couple of decades of experience. [Now close to 40 years.] While entirely my own opinions, I know a number of long-term gazers who agree with the sentiments of many of them, if not the actual cases. I'm just not as polite as they are. And if anyone takes personal offense to these, consider that maybe it's because you know you'e been guilty of violating them at times.

  • 1) "When did Grand erupt?" is not an appropriate greeting. Use at your own risk.
  • 2) Long-term gazers are not mobile log books or recording devices. Just because the NPS services are out of your way, or closed when you get there, doesn't mean that I am responsible for keeping you informed.
  • 3) Rick Hutchinson's 3 laws--
    1. Never say never.
    2. Always say maybe
    3. Lay low for Joe.
  • 4) Asking for details on some Lower Basin sput is not appropriate 18 minutes after the previous Turban.
  • 5) Don't take it personal if people don't recognize you or your name the first few years. You try dealing with a new, different group of faces every week or two for an entire summer.
  • 6) Listen more than you talk, Learn by observing (Watching a Giant Hot Period from the Bijou Monkey Cage as it's being described on the radio by someone knowledgeable is the best way to learn what's what.) A good description can be as useful as being there. Leeking's [description of a Giant eruption in 2001], before hysteria set in, got me within view of the start for that eruption.
  • 7) If your goal is to impress gazers, you'l have more success by observing and figuring out on your own. Conversely, word that you have just been a jerk will quickly get around to all the people who matter.
  • 8) There will always be someone who has seen it before you, someone who has been there before you, someone who has put in more time than you, someone who has seen more eruptions of that geyser than you, someone who knows more about a feature than you. And that includes me, too.
  • 9) People who spend their time in the Upper Basin don't care about anything at Norris except New Crater/Steamboat.
  • 10) Going out at night is an acquired taste. Prepare for it properly, otherwise stay in the Bear Pit. [Dress properly, 'cause it's really colder than you expect.] Flashlights should only be used to illuminate the path directly in front of you. Let your eyes dark-adapt, and you might not even need the light. Expect to be on your own, as many gazers are decidedly less social at night. And be prepared to stay awake.
  • 10A) Tourists are rarely out until after the first Ol' Filthy after 09:00.
  • 11) If a long-term gazer give you some free advice, especially in an unusual situation (like what to do at the start of Giantess), consider using it, even it it seems counterintuitive. Conversely, don't assume that my behavior is best for you, and must be imitated.
  • 12) Bring a bike to the UGB if you can. All the really good stuff is at least 3/4ths of a mile away. With a bike, you can get from Ham's Store to Giant before the eruption starts. With a bike you don't feel trapped at Fan & Mortar all day.
  • 13) If you are going to use a radio, use it consistently-- if you report geyser times, report them all (within reason, nobody gives an [expletive deleted] about [Split Cone] times. Report any activity which is predictive-- F&M minor activity, Giant hot periods, Beehive Indicators, or activity that's unusual and long enough that people can see it-- Penta eruptions [, or Spa eruptions], for example. If you are the only person to see something unusual, report facts, not feelings. Help others figure out what's going on [, and what happened].
  • 13A) A lot of us leave our radios on at night. It's amazing how only the words "Giant hot period" [, or "Beehive's Indicator] can wake a person up. (It's 8.5 minutes from being sound asleep in a Lodge cabin to being fully dressed and biking past the Lower Ham's, by the way.) So try to treat the nighttime radio use better than during the day.
  • 14) Pay attention to sight lines and vantage points. People have developed their favorite places to sit for a reason, and blocking their view, or taking the spot of the "alpha monkey" will not win you any points.
  • 15) If you can't answer some visitor's question, do not, under any circumstances, point at the "expert" and direct that visitor there. Never point out NPS personnel who are off-duty and out of uniform. Don't expect a gazer who is also a person of authority with the NPS or [Xanterra] to do you any favors, just because you are interested in geysers [, or they've been friendly to you out in the basin].
  • 16) Because you appear to be knowledgeable about the area, you will be held by the NPS to a higher standard than the average touron. You won't get away with pleading ignorance. Accept it, [and act accordingly,] but don't allow them to require you to do things that aren't required by every other touron, too. If you do decide to break the rules, and get caught, don't expect much sympathy. [Don't be surprised if you become "an example", either]. And as with #8, whatever scam [or rule-breaking] you come up with, it's probably nothing new. (Case in point-- camping in the basin is prohibited-- don't expect gazers to look the other way if you do it. And if you do try it, you will probably do it all wrong, [and don't expect me to tell you how to do it right].)
  • 17) Converse to #16-- spend enough time (we're talking years to decades of summer seasons here) and behave yourself, and you just may get a few treats, [or invites] you don't even know about [, or thought could ever happen].
  • 18) The difference between good equipment and the best equipment is far greater than the dollar amount of their costs. This goes especially for things like shoes, raingear, cold weather clothes, optics and electronics. Nothing can make a trip Hell faster than having to fight with faulty equipment at the wrong time. Don't expect gazers to share their equipment either. It's not my problem that you didn't bring any raingear, or that Grand's eight Turban delay put the eruption well after sunset.
  • 19) If you see a problem, say of vandalism-- speak up. Don't wait to let one of the long-term gazers handle it. Especially don't say afterwards how glad you are that they did something, because I know I don't like doing other people's dirty work for them. And if someone does speak up, back up that person. Let the vandals know they are outnumbered.
  • 19A) Then again, don't overdo it. Pick your fights carefully. If you confront every smoker and dogwalker, you may discover that gazers will let you go it alone. As far as I'm concerned, a butt that end up in a pocket is not litter, and a canis caloricus is evolution in action.

    Here are some comments, or updates based on how things have changes in the last couple of decades.

  • 1 & 2) These would appear to no longer be a problem, since anyone should be able to consult GeyserTimes, especially early in the morning, or in the evening. Yet, on the radio, there are still people who insist asking, "When's the latest [geyser name]?" And we've still got people interrupting conversations to ask things like "when was the last Turban?"
  • 3) These still apply, Especially #3-- you can never be sure how your behavior will affect relations between gazers and the NPS, so assume the worst.
  • 5) This is even more relevant these days when people whose sole exposure to geyser activity is through social media and the webcam. We've already had too many people showing up who get the idea that being out in the basins in person willbe just like interactions they had sitting at their desks with other webcam observers.
  • 7) This is especially true for people like myself who never use social media services. This means I won't recognize your screen name or other pseudonyms, or all the activity you've contributed to various chat pages and threads, and I will be less than impressed by how many thousands of posts you've made.
  • 10) The new, bright lights have their own problems. You still aren't going to see Grand's water level, so stop blinding people. Some people like to see geysers in the dark, or by moonlight, especially in the days around the full moon. So don't take offense if asked (requested?) to turn it off.
  • 12) Unfortunately, this is the first season in years where one can get away with not using a bike in the UGB.
  • 13) Why are you reporting a geyser on the radio at a time when no one will be able to use that information? No one cares that you've just seen Tilt in the dark, or Corporal while waiting at Norris. No one is going to rush out to try and see the eruption you are reporting. No one is going to try to catch the next eruption because of your report. Use GeyserTimes for letting your few fellow enthusiasts for that sput know that you just saw.

    Also, wait until the geyser actually starts erupting before yelling it out on the radio. This applies especially to features that can have false starts, like Lion. Again, no one is going to know or care you actually waited five whole seconds to get it right.

  • 16) If you are going to break Xanterra's rules, or NPS regulations, or the law, shut up about it. Especially don't talk about it on the radios or online in social media or in your GeyserTimes posting. (If someone like me, who's never used Facebook, hears about your stupid exploits, that means you are an idiot blabbermouth, a disaster waiting to happen, and I'm gonna avoid you at all costs, and anyone with any smarts should do likewise.)

    I was expecting the situation at Norris to get out of hand by now, but it appears that the disturbance effect lasting for much of August cut back on the number of people feeling the need to sleep out in the parking lot. But now that it's fairly regular and predictable, that has changed, for the worse. This month I expect some gazers to get fined for illegal camping. I almost hope someone volunteers to be the example, and the only reason I don't want that to happen is that there's a good chance that the NPS will also decide to impose punishments on all the rest of us for this stupid behavior.

    Some new topics now--

  • 20) Names-- don't. Stop trying to come up with cutesy names for ephemeral features, or every little hole. Naming is not a competition. Names occur naturally when there's a need. And learn to use the right names for features. If you don't know, ask around for clarification, or to find out who might know.
  • 21) GeyserTimes--

    This is something we didn't have at the time of the first posting. So while it helped fix some of the issues I mentioned (like gazers being treated as mobile log books, or being greeted by "when did it erupt?", it has created a few problems of its own.

    One of the issues is that some people think entering times is a competition, and they "win" if they are first. The problem is that their initial report are the least detailed, and they end up masking reports that can contain a lot more information, things like durations, heights, other related events, or conditions and comments. It gets tiresome to see my detailed report on Grand's eruptive activity hidden behind some newcomer's report of a time, and nothing else, not even a burst count (even though they could enter "1" and be right most of the time.)

    If you are going to report times, then get it right, too. If you think that being off by a minute is "good enough", then please stop reporting times.

    Learn the difference between the start time, an "ns" time and an "ie" time. An "ns", or "near start" was initially intended for those times when you didn't see the start, but you know it was within the last 30seconds or so. "ie" means that you have no idea when it started, so you are reporting the time you first saw it.

    There's also the issue of noise. Entering information about the water level in Sawmill at a single time is worse than useless, unless what you are reporting is out of the known range of behavior. (see Point 8 above). It just clutters up the database. If you want to enter in such data, then report on the ranges and changes in activity over a period of time, and how it relates to other features.

  • 22) Being a member of a social media group does not make you a geyser gazer. It especially doesn't make you any sort of expert. No matter how much you have read there, you still haven't done any field work, and have no idea what you are talking about. All you have is enough knowledge to figureatively get yourself into trouble, but not the knowledge of how to get out of the trouble you've made.
  • 23) Think twice about posting photos. There are enough features that have become "must see" and we don't need any more areas being abused. Besides, the policy of the NPS these last few years seems to be-- if something becomes known on social media, then close it down and restrict access.
  • 24) If you bring your non-gazer friends and co-workers out into the basin, be aware that their behavior will reflect on you. Maybe stick to the Bear Pit or employee Pub where they will stay warm and can be as loud and stupid as they want. Even more important, don't send them out and not be with them and have the expectation that gazers out there will keep them informed and entertained.