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Steamboat Springs & Chicken Soup

Recently on eBay I picked up an interesting item. It's a flyer for the old Steamboat Springs Spa. The mention of access via passenger service on the Virginia & Truckee RR puts the date of this flyer before 1950, as that's the year the railroad ceased operations.

But what interested me was the mention of "Chicken Soup Springs". Don White mentions it in one of his USGS Professional Papers on Steamboat Springs [#458-C, 1964, pg. 74], as being #33, a spring located near Steamboat Creek south of the present-day spa buildings. I never visited it myself, as we always avoided the spa grounds.

White says that during the 1950s the discharge from this spring was fairly high as long as the discharge from nearby wells was low. The water in that spring must have been pretty bad to taste that way, and I doubt it had much nutritional value.

On the other hand this history of the Compstock Silver Lode & Mines claims that there was a "Chicken Soup Spring" located at Shaw's hot springs "a mile west of Carson City". (Waring, in [USGS PP-492, Nev.#59], lists it as 2 miles north of Carson City.) It also mentions another spring known by that name near Elko. So it may be that "chicken soup spring" was almost a generic term applied to any foul tasting or smelling spring in Nevada.

So now the question becomes, did Spring #33 acquire the name because every location with brackish springs in Nevada require it, or was it an original name that spread to other areas? And why doesn't Yellowstone have a spring with such a name?

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The name of the most famous geyser of its day, Geysir at Haukadulur in Iceland, ended up becoming the generic term in many languages for all erupting, boiling hot springs— the word "geyser". I propose that something similar be done to identify and distinguish artificial geysers, or erupting wells, from their natural counterparts.

Most of these features are out of the way, neglected, or at best, local curiosities. But there is one with delusions of grandeur, and I propose that it's name become the generic term for all of these features.

Throughout the Western U.S. are a number of these features. They can be the only feature, as at Lakeview, Ore., or the dominant feature with other, natural springs nearby, as at Green River, Utah., or one feature among many natural features, including natural geysers, as was the case at Steamboat Springs and Beowawe, Nev. The driving mechanism can either be heat and boiling temperatures, as at the Nevada sites, or gases in the water, as in Utah.

Located in Northern California is a tourist trap based on an eruptive feature, the so-called "Old Faithful Geyser of Calistoga." Billed as a true geyser, it is the last of what seems to be several erupting wells in the Calistoga area in the early 20th century. Early 20th Century postcards make reference to a whole host of them, including one card that shows two features erupting together.This feature should not be compared to Old Faithful Geyser, but the name "the Firehose of Calistoga" just doesn't have the same effect.

But we should give this feature some credit, I've proposed that an erupting artifical features be refered to as "a calistoga". The word has a nice ring to it, and in the realm of true geysers, is otherwise completely meaningless. And because the word has been in use as a placename for over a century, it doesn't have the artificial feel of modern corporate names, or of deliberate attempts to coin a descriptive term.

About a decade ago, there was even a calistoga in the Old Faithful area. Well, sort of one.

1998 July 27

If the specifications require that a fire water line be laid at a depth of six feet to prevent freezing, do so, even if the ground is so hot that small thermal springs are breaking out in the trench. This is what happened when a new fire line was placed along the service road behind the Lower Hamilton's store around 1978-1979. Immediately afterwards several hydrants behind the store along the service road were found to be so hot that they were unusable for emergencies. Some still are. Around some of the hydrants, the discoloration of thermal alteration of soil and rock, normally only visible around natural thermal features, are easily visible.

These photographs show another one of the results that were a common sight in the last few years of the 1990s — pressure build-up that several times a week had to be released by NPS maintenance. After a few years, like most thermal features, it went dormant as the heat and pressure subsided.

There might be some who object that the hydrant wasn't a true calistoga, since eruptions had to be initiated by someone using a wrench to open a valve. But many other calistogas are subject to human control (most notable, Lady Knox Geyser in New Zealand), and that is hot water being thrown in those photos.

[Parts of this posting appeared on 2002-Apr-19 in an earlier version of this weblog.]

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Webcam Update

The Old Faithful streaming webcam came back. At the left are the latest image from the old still camera, and below it is a snapshot from the new camera. That still image can become a live image by clicking on the green button at the bottom right of the image. Clicking on the red button will stop the stream. Clicking anywhere else on the image will take you to a full webcam image page where you can do other things. The black button turns on the audio commentary stream. The blue button will zoom the image to full screen. Clicking on the still image will zoom it to full size. The status bar from that image is also being displayed at the bottom of the streaming image.

Displaying real-time images like this is CPU intensive, and I decided that on the front page it was better for visitors to this site to have the option of turning off the stream, as the only other alternative was to close the page. And driving people away from my webpages seems counter-productive.

If anyone wants to add similar support for this webcamera (or others) using Silverlight, please don't just steal my work. You are welcome to contact me for help, advice or even a copy of the code.