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September 09, 2019

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.
  • September 01, 2013

    Radio Rant

    Seems that I have to make this post, or something like it, every few years. Maybe I'm just too sensitive to what's wrong, and actually do care that the status quo is bad, and no one else seems to care enough to make it better. Maybe I'm just old and cranky. Anyhow---

    This time it's the play by plays at Fan & Mortar. It's one thing to announce the occurrence of a possible event-- Bottom Vent eruption or Main Vent splashing or something definitely out of the ordinary. But there is no reason, especially this year when those geysers are semi-dormant. There is no reason to keep announcing the exact same sequence of events, down to the timing in some cases, when none of them has ever lead into an eruption. At some point you've got to conclude that the sequence of events doesn't lead to an eruption, no matter how hard you wish for it.

    The same goes for walking up onto what you think is an event, and beginning the play-by-play. The people who tend to go to see Artemisia early in the morning are the worse culprits in this regard. Last year, when F&M were active, one person reported several events, in loving detail, the day after an eruption. There has never been an eruption on an interval anywhere close to that short since the late 1970s, so there is no reason to think that you are the lucky person who just happens to walk up on the one that establishes the new record short interval. The proper conclusion upon seeing such activity is assume that you are not going to see the eruption, to wait, and enjoy your incredible good fortune of seeing activity with Powerball level odds.

    One the main culprits told me that I could always turn off my radio. Fine. I'll do that. And I'll also not announce any unusual activity I do see. And I've seen more than just about anyone. When I get on the radio to make an announcement, it's because it matters, and I want people to know about it. Last year it was for the long delay in Vent's start. At the time, it was something so new in Grand's behavior that I had absolutely no idea what could happen next. After bursts? No Vent at all? I wanted to make sure that anyone who cared had the chance to share in what could be a unique event. (That it turns out nothing else happened is beside the point.)

    This year I have called out as many F&M eruptions as anyone else has. True it was in the middle of the night, but people were listening, and were able to act on that info. But if people think the solution to their stupidity is for me to opt out, then I will opt out all the way. And I will enjoy those eruptions of Giant, and Giantess, and Link, and Splendid and Purple Pools and not feel any guilt about no one else there with me.

    What is the point of the play-by-play? Years ago, when Giant was active, we (and I did it too) gave out play by play of the activity during a Giant hot period. I know that in 2001, it became almost a joke about how every hot period was the same, lasting about 4 minutes and ending in disappointment. But it was the time that Dave Leeking announced a hot period that lasted longer that got my attention. Something different happened, and that meant that hanging around in the Lower Ham's parking lot was not a reasonable thing to be doing. I got only bike and got down to Oblong and saw the start of one of the few Giant eruptions that year. (Several people saw me take off, and figured out that something unusual was going on, and got down there right behind me.)

    I'm not looking forward to that part of the reactivation of Giant, because it is going to also get the play-by-play treatment, especially in the early years when eruptions are infrequent. On the other hand, when it or Fan & Mortar are active, and the opportunity that this could be the eruption is great, I do want that info.

    It's true that I don't announce mundane geyser times. Mostly for two reasons. One is I don't feel the need to be first to announce any time (even before the eruption actually starts, in some cases.) There always seems to be someone, somewhere, who ends up making the announcement, so why should I contribute to the noise and chatter I find so distasteful. The other is that I don't think the radios should be used as some sort of electronic log book with the VC acting to transcribe these announcements. If people want an automated log book, there are better, more efficient and less obtrusive ways to do it with modern phones. (I know, I'm in the mobile applications development biz and have done some of those things, and investigated others.)

    What we need is the use of some actual judgement (I understand these days that being "judgmental" is a mortal sin for a lot of people, but I don't belong to that religion, either.) Make the event call. Maybe make a second call like we started doing with Beehive's Indicator. (Note that I was one, if not "the" person who suggested doing that, after I missed an eruption because I missed the first call.) Then not say anything until either something different happens, or it become obvious that no eruption is going to happen. (The latter provides some closure.)

    The judgement in this case is on actually providing useful information. It's obvious, by the lack of anyone actually going down to F&M to see these events in person that the information is not useful.

    But another solution would be to make the event announcement, then switch out to a separate channel for the play-by-play. Switch back if things look good, or maybe just every 15 minutes or so give a quick update, especially if there really is a chance of activity. Then anyone who doesn't want to go down to F&M or Giant or whatever feature it is can hear the play by play, and maybe change their mind. And the rest of us won't have to listen to as much radio chatter.

    I've also got a solution to the Visitor Cathedral's incessant "repeat the call", but it's a nuclear option that I will give another year before I exercise it. But I'm putting on notice, that come next year this time, if a solution there isn't found, I'm using it.

    As for "switch to 5"-- don't be so furshlugginer cheap and buy a radio with a scan option. You get a good one for the price of a single night in a Lodge cabin. Stay on your private channel with all your friends and hangers-on and scan both it and 4 for info. Switch to 4 to announce a time, then switch back. Or use your phones, especially in the off hours when calls usual get through.

    August 12, 2011

    Naturalist Landis Ehler

    Over the years, despite my growing and deserved distain for the National Park Service, I've always advocated "respect for the uniform", that gazers should defer to Naturalists whenever possible. For example, if a Naturalist makes a misstatement about some geyser or activity, keep quiet about it until you can privately correct them. But respect has to be mutual, and I hear too much that tells me that the NPS does not respect those of us who care about the geysers and the area.

    Today after the mid-day Grand we had example of why it can get so frustrating out in the basin. After Grand had finished, we saw four bicycles being walked from Grotto. It's so rare to see any Naturalist actually out in the basin beyond Old Faithful. Fortunately, today there was Naturalist Landis Ehler out at Grand and so he could take care of this. So we thought. My response would have been to ask then to return back the way they came, but I've grown accustomed to people just being directed to head toward Castle. So figured that was what he told them.

    I was at Sawmill when they passed through the junction, headed toward Geyser Hill. I pointed out that the bike trail was the other way, and they should be headed that way. They grudgingly changed direction. As far as I was concerned, by attempting to continue on their way, they were the ones not showing "respect for the uniform", and by insisting they follow the rules, I was.

    At Castle they met up with the rest of the group, and started talking amongst themselves about how horrible it was, and how maybe they don't allow strollers either and about the "grumpy guy." . I should have kept my mouth shut, but their attitude annoyed me into a response. For example, one of the group, not part of the boardwalkers, also lied about how they'd already been Geyser Hill, so they couldn't have been headed there.

    By then Naturalist Landis Ehler had also arrived, and took their side, saying that "I've already taken care of it." I pointed out that he didn't because they didn't listen to him. If he'd "taken care of it", I wouldn't have had to point out they weren't headed to the bike trail. But he wasn't i interested in any of that. I later learned form other gazers who were both at Grand and Castle, he seemed more interested in "making contacts" with these folks, talking up their visit, the evening program and other things that would be more appropriate for people who hadn't just screwed up.

    So I think the real problem here is the combination of double standard in the application of the rules, coupled the feelings of being ignored, at best, by the NPS. It's tiresome to keep seeing people screwing up, and knowing that there's nothing that anyone can really do about it except in rare occasions, like this one. Only to find out that even on those nothing was done, because of a lack of will to confront. Also to know that it's more important to suck up to people who might file a complaint, than it is to someone who wants to see the rules enforced. Someone who could also file a complaint instead of just posting to a rarely read weblog, by the way… But Naturalist Landis Ehler's behavior is just another symptom of a larger problem, and maybe part of that problem is "respect for the uniform" when the uniform isn't even trying to earn that respect on its own.

    August 11, 2011

    Another reason...

    I didn't think it was possible, but I've discovered another reason to consider the Visitor Education [sic] Cathedral to be an architectural monstrosity.

    Several days ago in the morning I'm riding my bike past the Inn on the way to the cabins when I notice what sounds like an extremely loud bus running its engine in the West Lot behind the Inn. But as I approach the VE[sic]C, I realize that the noise is not from behind the building, but from the building itself. It's as if a loud bus were parked up under the roof of the north end beside the Inn. And the sound seemed to be directed straight out into the basin and at Old Faithful.

    A recording I made doesn't do justice to how offensive this was. The bass rumblings could be felt as much as heard. If Old Faithful had erupted then, it would have overwhelmed its sounds. I'm sure folks on Geyser Hill were treated to it, too. It was a sound that a Harley fan on his way to Sturgis could envy.

    I'm sure this wasn't intentional. Then again, I've been told that much of the design of that building was to "showcase" its "green" aspects. One thing that seems to not be "green" are esthetics, considering how this eyesore is now shown that it can also a noisy nuisance.

    Years ago the little building across the road from the Lower Ham's Store and gas station, the "Lift Station", used to have a pressurized pump in it that would occasionally (and in the evenings, frequently) vent itself with a sound that could heard all over the southern end of basin, especially at night. It took years for it to finally be silenced. The NPS has now thoughtfully provided a new replacement for that we are going to have to endure for decades to come.

    July 26, 2011

    Radio Rant

    Time for the annual radio rant.

    The use of radios in the Upper Basin is broken. Here are some of the problems, and even some ideas for solutions.

    First is that some people just need to realize that you can't always broadcast in your own speaking voice. Sometimes you've got to speak up to be heard. If you are broadcasting and can't be heard, you are wasting everybody's time and batteries, including your own. It's frustrating to have the radio adjusted so that most people's broadcasts are at a reasonable volume, then not be able to hear calls because some people insist on not speaking up.

    The worst part is that even after they've been told that they can't be heard, these people do not make any effort to change their habits. It's inconsiderate on their part, unless their goal to to talk into a box and every time they do, they have people call back asking what they'd just said.

    A similar problem is poor reporting. If you are going to start calling out activity at Fan & Mortar (or Giant, should it ever wake up), you've got to follow through. People are making decisions on whether or not they are headed down based on your calls. Long periods of radio silence are worse than too much information. Silence makes one wonder what is going on, or if that just means the opportunity has passed.

    A few years ago I pointed out that just calling Beehive's Indicator at the start was not enough. A person could miss the first call, and end up not seeing Beehive. (I speak from experience, as that was prompted by having missed a call by being in the shower.) The simple remedy is to announce that the Indicator was "ie" at about 5 minute intervals. Most people are doing that these days, and it's nice to hear.

    Also, is it really necessary to yell out geyser times at the exact moment the eruption begins? A couple of times these past few weeks I've heard people have to retract their calls when it turns out that Oblong or Depression or Aurum wasn't really starting. And misidentification is inexcusable. You can wait a few moments to be sure that the steam cloud you see is Riverside start, and not a Grand that erupted two hours ago.

    Another problem is early morning radio calls. There are people who want to get up in the night, or early morning, for Beehive or Fan & Mortar (or Giant or Giantess…). They leave their radios on at night, for those possibilities. But they don't care about Riverside or Daisy or Plume or Old Faithful. Or most of all, requests to "switch to five". The rule of thumb should be that until 07:00 or so, the only announcements should be those that would cause people to change their day, or to see something erupt.

    It's scary, but by that criteria, Oblong and Fountain might qualify…) But if that's what people find useful.

    And now we come the the real problem: The National Park Service and its Visitor Education Center [sic] personnel.

    Here's what usually happens: Someone shouts out a geyser time. A few moments later comes a call from the Cathedral asking for a repeat of what was just said. If lucky, they'd understand the first response, but far too often they'll say the response was garbled or unreadable or they'll repeat back the wrong information, thus starting the cycle again. So what started as yelling into the aether turns into an Abbott and Costello routine.

    Sometimes they don't acknowledge, and then a half hour later you get a request for information about Daisy, or Riverside, or Grand. This will start an exchange as before. Or, they'll hear some body ask about a geyser, and interpret that as an eruption call, again setting off a cascade of back-and-forth.

    Add into all this the reported attitude that those managing the Cathedral (the rectors?) really don't care about the geysers, and if reports are accurate, believe that they don't really need anyone other than paid staff to do a good job. Why do people want to tolerate or enable such an attitude to continue?

    The solution is simple. The Cathedral should have its own channel. Any information for them would be sent on that channel. Ideally, one would ask for their attention, get it, and then give them the geyser eruption time or info.

    If their book doesn't have a Daisy time, the the reason is either a) they didn't answer the attempts to give it to them b) it hasn't erupted yet, or c) no one saw it.

    People could still shout into the current channel at the very start, but they'd do so knowing that they should not get any response. No longer would that have to ask what's going one after every trivial broadcast of "switch to five". It would be true that reporting information would not be as free and easy anymore, and would require a little more effort, and that's going to be the excuse for most people not doing something like this.

    If the radio situation got cleaned up, I might even participate beyond announcements of F&M in the middle of the dark.

    May 28, 2010

    Geyser Groupies

    A geyser groupie is someone who has developed a liking for geyser activity, and has spent more time in the park than your average visitor. They've spent enough time to know a few things, to have witnessed an usual eruption or two, and to have met a number of people who spend a lot more time in the park. It's also a pejorative term.

    One of the reasons for my antipathy to geyser groupies is the asymmetry of the relationship. I've been going to the park, often spending weeks or months at a time there, for three decades now. Your typical geyser groupie will spend a week or two a year, and maybe a holiday weekend. During any season, there are lots of weeks and several holidays, so there is a constant turnover of groupies. Many know of me or remember me, but to me they are just part of a faceless blur that's made little impression on me over the years. (Those that have made a positive impression usually graduated from being groupies…) So I am constantly being greeted by people who I don't recognize or whose name I don't know.

    Another asymmetry is that groupies are almost useless to me, but I can be useful for them. My not having visited the park for a number of years, and having radios, seems to have broken them of the habit of greeting me with "When did Grand erupt?" But the radios also demonstrate an asymmetry in which I refuse to participate.

    It used to be that if you really wanted to see one of the more unusual geysers (even one as common as Beehive), meant that you had to put some effort into waiting and in waiting in adverse conditions. Now days I see too many people who seem to appear out of nowhere at the announcement of "river pause", or "indicator" or "water in Mastiff". These are groupies who are letting others do their waiting for them, only scurrying out when a wait can be minimized. (Nothing wrong with that, I scurry as much as anyone. On the other hand, I've waited more than most anyone.)

    Fortunately, and perhaps I shouldn't mention it, but despite this ease of geyser gazing, the number of people out and about in less than ideal conditions really hasn't changed. Your typical geyser groupie keeps regular business hours, never to be seen on a cold morning, a damp evening and especially at night. One way for a groupie to earn some respect is to go out in those conditions, and not in a herd, either.

    Here's what I don't like, and what has triggered this little diatribe: I've been plopping myself at essentially the same spot at Grand for close to three decades now. The reason for that is that it's where I've found I can best take my observations at day and at night, and be consistent. It's "my spot" and I'll be damned if I'm going to be driven away from it.

    So what seems to happen far to often is that a second person or a friend sits down there near me to strike up a useful conversation. Which is okay, sometimes it's nice to share information and such, especially with people I've known for a long time. But then some geyser groupies sees us there, and settles in too. That in turn attracts other groupies, and various hangers-on, and suddenly I'm in the middle of a noisy bunch of people who are more interested in gossipy socializing than in the geysers, and many of whom I don't even know.

    This last Tuesday was the worst, especially for so early in a season. The only people I really know of that bunch are Jim and Tara, and they start to appear at just as I make a quick check of the WTriplet water level (which I forgot to do while I was dodging bison just to get there). I return and not only have people usurped my location, but there are various tourons who've attached themselves to that group. I had to blow up, because quite frankly, these people are too oblivious and having too good a time to realize what they are doing.

    To those of you who claim you've tried "to be my friend" and failed, here's some advice: sit down and shut up. I realize quietly sitting is as hard for most two-year-olds as it is for most groupies, but you'd earn some respect if you did. Here's some more: sit-down and shut up and wait in the rain. Not a storm that catches you off guard during a long Grand wait, (which you are at only because there nothing to see in the Lower Basin) but actually going out in less than ideal conditions. Or,how about being out and about before I, or anyone else, gets to a location? Show that you are actually interested in geysers as a phenomena, not as an excuse to socialize.

    So I'm going to hurt some people's feelings with all this. Guess what? I no longer care. I've tried being nice to people who haven't been nice to me, I've tried to avoid them, and I've tried to be less than friendly, and nothing has worked. So if I develop a reputation that causes geyser groupies to want to avoid me, then I'll say that I've succeeded in this year's project. (And those others of you who want to also avoid the groupies, and I know who some of you are, you are welcome to join me any time, just don't become like them in the process.)

    May 21, 2009

    Observations for 21 May

    Let's start this year's visit with a rant.

    Every first visit of the season seems to have one thing in common. I get to find out what has changed since I left in the fall. Not changes in the geysers, that's a given. Changes in the way the place is run. Rarely does it seem that the changes are for the better. It's not just nostalgia for the way things were a quarter century ago, either. It seems that every year, there are more restrictions, more inconveniences, more actions which would get businesses cited by OSHA or the EPA, more cutbacks in service. The little things do matter. Sometimes I get the feeling the motto should be "for the benefit and enjoyment of no one but us."

    This year has been no exception.

    Let's start with the removal of trash containers, like the one at the Lower Ham's. The excuse is that it takes too many hours to service all the trash cans. While that may be true, where will those freed up hours be used? What is the average visitor, who doesn't seen any obvious receptacle going to think or do? I expect another increase in the general shabbiness of that area.

    Then there's the large trash dumpster, a replacement for some of removed trashcans in front of the Inn which is blocking one of the paved access paths between the parking lot and the bike trail. I guess it's convenient for the trash crews, but what about those of us who used the bike trail as a bike trail?

    Speaking of bike trail. In front of the new Visitor Temple (a monstrosity that will deserve rants all its own...), the cement bike trail and path to Old Faithful is all torn up and closed as a "construction zone". I assume that the powers that be have decided that a new building deserves a pretty new walkway all the way out to the boardwalk. (Wonder how much that's gonna cost...) In any case, the only way between the current VC and the Lodge and the rest of the basin is either on the boardwalk itself, or you have to ride all the way over to the Snowlodge and then behind the Inn. There is simply no alternate route provided. (And I found out the hard way, that plastic walkway at Old Faithful is extremely slippery on a bike.) Can you imagine some business doing this and getting away with it? "We're the NPS. You just get in the way of our job."

    All the boardwalks from Biscuit Basin to Fountain Paint Pots are closed, "due to bear management". Bear Management being the all purpose excuse for not bothering to actually provide visitor services in the springtime. This particular closure came about because, supposedly, someone noticed that the bear closure regulations which have been in use for decades include those walkways, and for some reason, now we must enforce the exact letter of them. As opposed to the Superintendent amending those regs to keep those walkways accessible.

    Maintenance of course, took that closure opportunity to redo the Fountain Paint Pots walkways. Which would seem, at least, that someone was looking ahead and taking advantage of an existing closure. But as anyone who saw the speed at which the boardwalks were rebuild in the Upper Basin a few years back would tell you, they are not finished, and apparently not even close to finished. So the trail there will stay closed.

    "I feel much better now, I really do."

    What about the geysers? Both Giant and Fan & Mortar are not going to erupt any time soon. Bious is powerful and continuous. Penta appears active almost every other day, with frequent Tardy cycles in that group. Today Beehive provided a bonus eruption in the evening with a nice wind direction, no shifting, and a full arc double rainbow.

    January 03, 2009

    Earthquake Swarms and Instant Experts

    So for the last few days, all sorts of websites are getting all excited about the latest Yellowstone earthquake swarm that happening at and under the north end of Yellowstone Lake. What's missing from all the accounts, though, is any historic perspective. All seem to concentrate on the sensationalistic aspects, about how it is taking place within the caldera, and should the caldera erupt, that could have dire consequences. Oh, and the odds of a caldera eruption are miniscule, so let's not talk about the norm.

    As of right now, there hasn't been a quake that's part of this swarm in over 24 hours. Is it over? Will they get bigger should it restart? I have no idea. But I can examine the past record and use the scientific method and reasoning to make some guesses. (Which is more than I can say about most of the reports I've seen.)

    In my experience, the norm for these events is that the swarms happen every few months to years. They last for a few days to weeks, and often stop as suddenly as they start. Their location varies, and don't seem to have any relationship to surface features or thermal areas. I'm not interested enough to do the actual research, but I do remember that in the past these swarms have taken near such varied places as Grant Village, west of Norris, Shoshone, in the Bechler and even near West Yellowstone.

    Similarly, I know that in the past changes in thermal features have been ascribed to nearby swarms, but offhand I can't remember any of significance. There are so many changes in the geyser basins that it can be easy to assume that a particular change has a particular cause only because they happened at about the same time. Kevin Leany mentioned that a few years ago Depression Geyser dropped its interval down to around 2 hours, but considering where that interval is today, that change didn't last. This particular swarm is probably too far from all the major thermal areas to have much of an effect.

    What bothers me the most about these postings I've come across is the number where the writers assume that enthusiasm is all that's needed to have an opinion. None has any expertise in this subject, or even opinions based on past experience like those I've presented in the above paragraphs. Yet, for some reason, these people believe that their opinions matter, and somehow have gotten an instant reputation as experts on a subject about which they know absolutely nothing. It's just a fad, and within a few weeks of the end of this swarm, it'll all be forgotten. Until the next one happens and then we'll see a repeat performance.

    December 03, 2008

    A Yellowtone Fantasy

    Came across this little article in the Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune from 23 Nov 2008.

    Controversy erupts like Old Faithful

    Imagine if the fastest, most efficient way to meet the nation's need for clean energy was to tap into its most treasured natural resource: Yellowstone National Park.

    Self-proclaimed problem-solver Steve M. Green claims that the geothermal energy of the Yellowstone caldera could generate enough steam-powered electricity to power man's needs across the globe.

    "While the United States currently uses about 4 trillion kilowatts annually, the energy produced from just 3 percent of the caldera via steam generators would provide 10 trillion kilowatts a year," said Green.

    Green's idea: Carefully locate hundreds of steam-powered generators over the caldera and distribute the power throughout a rebuilt electrical grid providing access for home use as well as powering stations for electric automobiles and trains.

    Green said this Manhattan Project of energy ideas would create and sustain millions of jobs and revitalize the U.S. automobile and steel industries.

    "We have the most powerful source of energy on the planet here in the United States," Green told the Star-Tribune. "If we choose to properly use that energy and we can demand of our leadership to utilize this energy -- then we won't have to demand anything from abroad. In fact, all of this could have been for less than the $1 trillion we just spent on this bailout."

    That's just an excerpt, but it's enough...

    I'm not going to waste my time on a detailed rebuttal to this, because there's no reason to. Quite simply, this ain't gonna happen, and there's no need to get all worked up about it.

    First, I see nothing in that article that tells me anything about Mr. Steve M. Green's background or expertise, or if he's speaking for himself or some group or organization. I'd also like to know, for example, how he arrives at the numbers he cites. I also need to know why he'd think that his politically impossible solution to a non-problem should be considered.

    Second, his prescription works just as well for hydroelectric dams. And unless he's claiming there's some benefit to centralizing all his powerplants in one remote location with a fairly harsh climate, dams would probably be easier to build and maintain..

    Third, this would make any argument about preserving areas for the sake of preserving them moot. If you want to make that argument, then fine. But that means that you then can't tell me that all sorts of places are exempt from other forms of energy extraction. That means a dam across the Yosemite Valley and the Grand Canyon, drilling rigs off the coast of Florida and in the Alaskan arctic and changes to every other national preserve that can produce electricity.

    Fourth: Yellowstone is the same place where snowmobiles are anathema because of their noise and smell. Has anyone who thinks this is a good idea actually heard the noise made by a geothermal plant?

    So like I said earlier, I'm not gonna get worried and upset about this. Because quite simply, there's no reasonable or rational combination of economic and political circumstances which would make this happen. We'll see a nuclear powerplant in every town long before we got to even considering doing this.

    October 16, 2008

    More Camera Foolishness

    So the camera was down for a few hours. When it finally came back (or at least, I was able to check and see it was back), what was I treated to? The camera operator focusing in on some dancing fools with cell phones. (13:18 on 16 Oct to be precise.) I've noticed more and more lately that the camera operators have been zooming in on people, like later that afternoon on a couple with the two large dogs walking away from the camera after an eruption. It's getting kinda creepy, actually. And not in a good way.

    Hi Matt
    When the still camera went online years ago, some morons at the VC thought it would be cute to change the OF prediction to say "Hi Matt!". They were treating the camera as a personal toy, and this is no different. I watch it to see geyser activity, not to see people playing games with it, not to snoop on people minding their own business, and definitely not to see people make fools of themselves. And in this case, make fools of themselves with the help of the NPS.

    Why do I complain about this? Keep it up and there's going to be an incident that gets this camera turned off. Anybody remember the advertising fiasco? The NPS's first reaction is to always panic, assume the worst, and then to clamp down. By focusing in on friends acting stupid, the camera operators are only making sure that that incident, and a reaction to it, becomes more likely.

    September 21, 2008

    Breaking Traditions

    It was interesting to see how much of the building of the new Old Faithful Visitor center had progressed over the summer. By the last visit a few weeks ago, it was apparent that the naked steel beams make it look like it's going to be a massive block sitting there. Maybe not as ugly as the old visitor center, but right now it sure doesn't look like much of an improvement, either. But will have to wait until next year to see how right or wrong that impression has been.

    I also discovered that, unlike the old building, the new one will be named after someone. In this case, a someone who has no connection to the Old Faithful area or geyser. A person to be honored for... being the bureaucrat who pushed to get the new building built. A person who is not dead. A person who is still working for the National Park Service at the park headquarters in Mammoth. Talk about an advanced case of Monument Syndrome.

    One naming tradition of Yellowstone is that geysers and other thermal features are supposed to never be named after persons. Sure it was violated a few times, and those examples, if anything, help reinforce this tradition. Fortunately, the days when the superintendent can go about naming just about one of every type of landmark after himself are gone, and we should not be resurrecting them by proxy.

    Considering that the focus of the area is Old Faithful, the geyser, why is it necessary to name this building after anyone? It's not the Robert Reamer Inn. Sure all the other major buildings in the area are named after Old Faithful, and that can be a bit confusing if you don't quite get the difference between "lodge", "snowlodge" and "inn." Yet there has not been a need to differentiate them by naming any of them after people, living or dead. Visitors have never had a problem figuring what "Visitor Center" meant. (As for "Lower Hamilton's Store", that's a descriptive term there, referring to the now former owners, not any particular person.)

    If the NPS really must name that building after someone, how about naming it after a person who is dead, who died in the performance of his duties in Yellowstone, and who had a close association with Old Faithful Geyser, the Old Faithful Area and geothermal features in general. What's wrong with the the name Roderick A. Hutchison Memorial Old Faithful Visitor Center, anyhow?

    (Note: if anyone wants to organize such a naming effort, please let me know and I'll post contact info here.)

    September 12, 2008

    Webcam Complaint

    Now that it's being controlled by a variety of people, I have a complaint about the aiming of the streaming web camera. I would prefer that it not be aimed with the intention of allowing people to pose in front of Old Faithful. I have it on to see geysers, not people making fools of themselves. Even better would be to position it so that the bottom of the frame is just above the tops of the crowd's head.

    July 07, 2007

    One last posting

    This is probably the last posting here. Since I'm no longer in the park, I don't have access to any of the information necessary to make them. I attempted to see if I could interest anyone else in helping to continue it after I left, but found no takers. I am getting some information on Grand, Giant and Beehive and such, but in the "Current Activity" panel, I've disabled several other geysers on which I won't be getting any up-to-date information. The postings will stay here for the foreseeable future.

    If I have accomplished anything, it was to show that doing these things, right from Yellowstone, is not only possible, but fairly easy. (I've learned that one can also buy web modem-like access through some cellphone providers, too.) With cellphones and text messaging, it should be possible to set up a server on which people can report geyser times and info, which doesn't require them yelling into a radio and the Visitor Center starting yet another Abbot and Costello "Who's On First" routine. Which then raises the question, why doesn't an entity like GOSA do it? A cynical guess would be because most groupies are happy with the current chaos, both within the park and from home. More likely, it's just because it's not occurred to anyone to try this, and leadership has always been lacking among gazers (not an opinion here, but fact based on a couple decades of experience). I'm open to some consulting and when it comes to commercial programming, my rates are reasonable and competitive.

    July 01, 2007

    Some Advice for Geyser Groupies...

    ... who want to progress to the next level.

    In no particular order, here are some words of advice for those new to Yellowstone's geyser activity:

    • "When did Grand erupt?" is not an acceptable greeting.
    • Carrying around Scott Bryan's Geysers of Yellowstone does not make you an expert.
    • Reading Scott Bryan's Geysers of Yellowstone does not make you an expert.
    • Finding a mistake in Scott Bryan's Geysers of Yellowstone does not make you an expert. (Although this might change with the next edition...)
    • Just because we both like geysers does not automatically make you my friend.
    • The socializing benches are over there. Use them.
    • Someone else saw that particular activity before you. Someone else saw that feature erupt before you. And it almost certainly has a name.
    • Enthusiasm is not a substitute for accuracy.
    • Accept the fact that there's a long list of people who'd like special privileges (like housing or access to restricted areas) and that you are on the bottom of the list. The only way to move up is to keep at it for years, and pay your own way in the process.
    • If you make a wrong decision, or other obligations get in the way, deal with it. No one wants to hear you whine about how you were at Grand when Beehive erupted. No one forced you to be at Grand.
    • If you aren't prepared for the nighttime conditions (and you won't be), know when to give up. Your constant twitching futilely trying to keep warm gets annoying Try a moonlight Grand or Castle first so you know what you are getting into.
    • Bright lights won't help you see large areas or generalities, only specifics.
    • Turn off the light and let your eyes adapt to the dark.
    • Radios — Don't get me started, but this also applies in person: Try shutting up and listening.
    • Words mean things, and geyser terms have specific meanings. If you are unable or unwilling to learn to use them properly, then please don't spread your ignorance around.
    • Don't bother trying to impress tourons, because you will never see them again. People who are interested in geysers won't need to be sold on seeing Grand.

    June 15, 2007

    Names Mean Things

    Maybe it's because I've been gone for a while, but these past few weeks I've heard some geyser gazers I've not seen before using terms I've never heard of, terms that aren't needed, terms about a geyser which I know extremely well.

    I've always heard of Grand's eruptions being referred to as being a "one burst", or "two burst", or "three burst" or even "eight burst" eruption. Yet there are people using terms like "single" or "double" or "triple" to describe the number of bursts in an eruption. That's just wrong, and not just because I don't like it.

    It's not just because I have proprietary feelings towards that part of the basin. The terminology for Grand eruptions has been long established, I would assume by Marie Wolf or Suzanne Strasser, or even someone earlier. There is no reason to change that terminology. For one thing, if a miracle occurred and Grand went back to the pre-1960s type eruptions with up to a couple dozen bursts, or if one just wants to refer to eruptions from that era, that terminology breaks down, or at least becomes very silly.

    Besided "double" and "triple" and such implies equality between the bursts, which is not the case. The first burst, at least during the last few decades, is decidedly different, and plays a different role in the eruption, as witnessed by its length. And "double" implies the full term, "double eruption", which makes no sense. Compare that to "one burst eruption", which makes sense as either " one burst" or even "one", as in "Grand had another one this morning."

    Proper communication requires using agreed upon terms and other criteria. Using multiple terms for the same phenomena serves only to confuse.

    Sit around the basin long enough, and you will inevitably witness this scenario: A family walks by, and one of the children gives a silly name to a feature. An adult compliments them, even though there's a sign right in front of them. They are on vacation, none of this really maters, and it'll all be forgotten within the hour.

    I can understand the desire to want to name things, or the misguided attempt to clarify unnecessarily, as seems the case here. But if a person really wants to do that, they should at least put in the effort to demonstrate why the change is necessary, and to persuade others, not just off and start using new terms used by no one else (especially one not used by those who have studied the feature and become fairly knowledgeable about it.) Doing that is little more than the tourist family giving out pet names.

    June 08, 2007

    Grand Frustrations

    Maybe I should have gone out to the middle of the night eruption. At least I'd almost certainly not had others around, and the wait would have been shorter and the weather nicer.

    How annoying? Well, nothing in particular, but just the way all the little things added up.

    Start with a West Triplet delay that doesn't want to seem to end. Hours of Percolator quiet and Turban just killing time. The weather is overcast, cold and blustery. I forgot my water bottle. Add in all the stupid human activity. Down by West Triplet is a large, extended family whose kids earlier were running wild, including one poking at the runoff with a stick, who are now singing loudly. On one side is are some geyser groupies who know just enough to be dangerous, and are willing to share that limited knowledge with every touron who wanders by. So you get to hear the same mangled information over, and over, and over and over. Then there's the guy biking who can't leave his whole kit behind, but at least he's walking the bike and not wearing Lycra. Can't forget to add in hearing two hours of some twit keying their radio mike. I thought the NPS chatter was annoying, but this stupid twit found a way to exceed them.

    On the other side I've got this fat, pontificating blowhard leading a class passing along gossip, misinformation, mangled facts and his opinions as if they were facts to his ignorant students. It pushed me over the edge when he tried to portray Splendid's 1997 activity as somehow related to road removal (did you know 25% of pavement in Yellowstone has been removed over the last few decades, and that buildings downbasin were removed as part of the 1970 UGB road relocation? That old photos show Old Faithful had a much bigger cone?) Got as far a way as I could from that pompous windbag.

    Then to top things off, you've got the geyser groupie who thinks calling in Grand before it actually starts (with an inaccurate watch, no less), is going earn him the bonus points to get that 10th Level Gazer award he so desperately craves. (A Grand start is when the surging becomes continuous and keeps rising, not when you see the first boil. Sheesh.)

    No dogs, though. The only thing left to make this day complete is for there to be a group of idiots at Grand this evening with bright lights and too much booze in them.

    June 04, 2007

    How Trouble in Yellowstone Starts

    Spend enough time paying attention to Yellowstone in the news, and you will hear reports of people having gotten themselves into spots where they need professional extraction. When I hear them, I can't help but wonder, how did they get there in the first place. Today I got a lesson on how that's done.

    So I'm at Grand this morning, sitting and minding my own business when one of Xanterra's finest interrupts my reading by asking if I can answer a question. That being, "does the powerline trail go all the way to Midway?" I tell him not only don't I know that, but i'm not taking responsibility for answering him in any case if he's going to go off established trails. Is retort is something to the effect that "but the powerline is an established trail." (If he knows that, then why's he asking me?)

    He makes some comment about how he's seen me out here a lot, and because of that assumed that I knew things about the Park. I reply that I know things about the geysers, and if he wants trail information, the proper place is the Ranger Station or Visitor Center. He said he already asked them, and they didn't know, either. (You'd think he'd take that as a sign? And not just ask some guy sitting on a bench?)

    So off in a huff to the goes to the north to enjoy a hike along the scenic powerline. I hope he has a good time, and we don't hear about him over the NPS radios or on the news.

    What happened here, it seems, is that he kept asking for answers from people he thought knew more than him, yet when those answers weren't the ones he expected, he reacted negatively and just kept going ahead with his plans. Now if he'd asked me why I though his hiking there was bad, I could have pointed out that the powerline is deliberatly place to be out of sight as much as possible, and that the linemen use powered ATVs to service them if necessary, and that wires and poles don't care what sort of terrain is underneath and between them. They aren't designed for human hiking. But that's okay, by the time I make this posting, I figure he'll have figured both out, and not had to be rescued in the process.

    May 30, 2007

    Unsolicited Advice to FRS Radio Users

    Here are tips based on my observations on how these have been used the last week or so:

    • Talk slowly and distinctly. Speak up, because my volume control only goes up to 10.
    • Don't press the "Send" button and immediately start talking. Receivers can take a second or two to recognize your carrier signal, and start playing what you are saying.
    • Repeat any times, or even spell out the digits the second time.
    • Give people time to write down the first time before you announce the second.
    • Figure out what you are going to say before transmitting. Get to the point. Don't spend the first 15 seconds doing your William Buckley impression
    • To get the maximum range, hold so that the antenna is vertical. (Don't nod down to talk into a radio held at an angle.)
    • Put your radio where you won't keep hitting the [expletive deleted] "Call Button". You know, the one that makes a chirping sound in every radio at Grand or Giant. Even, better see if the instruction manual says you can disable it completely. Don't make me come find you...
    • If people keep asking you to repeat, or to have your reports relayed, that is a good sign that you're doing something wrong, or that your radio isn't working right.
    • If someone is calling out Giant hot period information, your Plume or Atomizer time can wait.
    • And if someone does call out one of those times during a hot period, they've already made their decision on where they'd rather be, so don't respond by telling them to get to Giant.
    • Why is it that people who, in person can't shut up, on the radios think that saying nothing during a Giant hot period is being descriptive?

    Actually, the general behavior is a lot better than my last times here, without all the yakking between the same two or three people asking their friends to "switch to five." If anything, the yakking there is comes from the NPS, not gazers.

    May 24, 2007

    The Old Faithful Visitor Center

    Why can't they just leave it just this way as a sort of monument to the NPS?