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Observations for 26 May

After a string of single burst eruptions, this morning it tossed in a three. And considering the weather, it was pretty good: no rain and calm. Also the sky behind the water column provided some contrast making the water column visible. But following the eruption, I was left with the bigger question— what to do next? By 09:00 it was obvious that the best choice was to head home.

I think I need to get over to Geyser Hill more. Shortly after making the last posting, I talked with Scott Bryan who informed me that the water level I'd seen in Vault was normal, at least for the last few years. It dropped to that level a few years ago after a series of independent Vault eruptions.

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Observations for 25 May

It's a lot easier going out into a cold, rainy day when you've got a good night's sleep. The early morning Grand eruption of course started just as the rain picked up, and the rain ended soon after Grand did.

The channel leading to the new drain for Old Tardy's runoff appears to be wider and deeper than it was last week. The hole itself doesn't seem much changed, but I have yet to see Old Tardy in eruption, either. The vents by the bridge aren't as murky as yesterday. I'm assuming that that means there's not been an eruption recently. (Alternative is that they are erupting frequently enough to start to clear out the system.)

The river seems higher and murkier than it had been yeserday, but I guess the cold, steady rain is having its effect.

Probably the best indication that Giant is not going to erupt soon is that all the people who in previous Mays (or previous days) would have made an effort to go down and wait for something to happen instead today went to see Great Fountain. (You know the basin is empty when no one reports a Plume eruption on the radios.) Not that that wasn't a good decision. I killed an hour down there. The amount of splashing from Giant is impressive. On several occasions it slopped out the front, leaving a steaming pool at the base of the cone that could almost have been mistaken for the result of hot period activity. But when it came time for the hot period, everything looked wrong. The southwestern platform vents preceded Feather by over a minute. Bijou didn't even try to slow down. If it had any reaction to the hot period, it didn't show it until the end. That's when it went into a nice steam phase which in previous years would have followed an eight to ten minute long hot period. Otherwise, Bijou reminds me of its appearance back in the 1980s.

Since it seems a waste to be here for only a couple of days and not be out and about, I decided that I should make an effort to visit various parts of the basin. Another sign of how dull things were is that I did something I probably haven't done in close to two decades. I waited for an eruption of Riverside. It was too steamy to see much, so maybe it shouldn't count.

Paid a visit to Geyser Hill: walk the loop, catch a Plume and get lucky with anything else. In this case, got to see a nice eruption of Lion that started while I was down by Depression. (There was an Aurum while I was at Plume, but that doesn't count.) But what I found interesting is that both Vault and Infant were down about 3 inches from their respective rims. It seems a bit long for them to have not recovered from the Giantess eruption. Or have my Geyser Hill visits been so rare that I no longer even know what is normal for them?

While waiting for the late evening Grand eruption, I got to witness a perfect example of how people get themselves lost.

The sun had already set but it still wasn't totally dark. There were three other people besides me waiting for the eruption, when up from the Sawmill Group up walked a man. From accent it was obvious that his native language came from somewhere in East Asia. But language didn't seem to be an issue. He asked the couple, "is this the way to Old Faithful?"

Now at this point all that could be seen down basin were the whitish splotches of various steam clouds. Behind him were all the lit up buildings of the Old Faithful area. He was told, no, you need to go back the way you came. But he insisted that he needed to keep heading downbasin, despite repeated attempts to make clear that he was wrong.

The second woman waiting even gave him simple instructions, "go back to the junction, go right across the river to the paved trail, then left towards the lights." The last we saw of him, he was headed towards Geyser Hill.

The man asked for information and directions multiple times, yet every time he got an answer that he didn't like, or didn't fit what he needed to hear, he'd asked again. It would seem obvious with it getting dark that the way to civilization was toward the lights, yet he wanted to go farther into the dark. Why did he bother to ask us when he wasn't prepared to listen? What would he have done, how far downbasin would he have gotten, if no one had been waiting at Grand?

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Observations for 24 May

Today showed a number of the ways that things can go wrong on a weekend trip, or at least how they can not be as good as they could be. Nothing catastrophic, like for last year when my old truck immediately needed repairs the day I arrived. Just a bunch of annoyances.

First, I left from home too soon, so I arrived in the park while it was still dark. I'd forgotten what nighttime driving here can be like. It's something I've never liked it, even if it's the one time of day that the roads are free of other vehicles. The odds of meeting up with a bison are just too great. To make things worse, there was thick fog almost the entire way from West Yellowstone. Doing 30mph was more than fast enough, but some stretches, like the Firehole south of the canyon until the Lower Basin, seemed to go forever.

And the bison still made their presence felt. There must have been a large herd using the road as a trail just a few hours earlier, because the lower part of my truck behind each wheel on the left side was thick with manure. I will definitely be visiting a carwash when I get home.

So I figure the best time to arrive would be just before sunrise.It will be light, but before the bison and most visitors are up and about and blocking the road. Last weekend I arrived after the ranger-in-a-box went on duty, and had to deal with both varieties of obstruction. I want to set up a nice routine that gets followed every trip, so I keep the thinking about it to a minimum. (The same goes for prepacking needed items not used at home, and making checklists for the stuff that I need to gather up.)

The weather wasn't nice either. The fog turned into gray overcast skies, which turned into precipitation. Unfortunately, it warmed up just enough so that it was rain and not snow. This continued off an on all afternoon, although it could actually be nice when the sun broke through and the wind died down With a limited amount of time, it seems a waste to be sitting and waiting to go out, but if there is nothing to wait for, there's also no point in getting soaked and chilled. This was typical weather for late spring, and one of the reasons I have usually avoided long visits this time of year. (Last year being an exception due to job commitments that worked out well.) I knew from the forecast it was going to be scattered rain. Just means in future years, springtime trips will be limited and subject to cancellation.

Then there were the petty annoyances: I broke the wire on the bike's odometer. It's horrible not knowing how far I've gone and how fast I'm going. On the other hand, I can get it fixed or replaced before the next trip, and will also figure out how to prevent it from happening again.

Perhaps for the best to get all these things out of the way. It does help set a baseline for what to expect, and I always prefer being pleasantly surprised when things go right. Having to use the rain and cold weather gear did show that I'd packed the right items And I've got another day and a half this trip, in which thngs can go either right or wrongl

And what about the geysers themselves? I saw another Penta, which is always nice, even if I missed the start. On my way there I finally got to see activity in those features on the other side of Sawmill's runoff at the end of the bridge. I'd seen it before, sometime in the early '90s, but that had been from the walkway just below Crested. This eruption only lasted 39 seconds, so you've really got to be there to see it. The second vent between it and the river drained, then refilled to the rim only to drop down a foot. The water also turned a milky white in all the vents. During the Penta eruption, Churn filled as the rest of the group dropped, but no eruption.

There's also a new feature over on Geyser Hill at the north of that expanse of sputs between Depression and Arrowhead. At least I've never seen it before, and didn't see it last week. I really should try to get to Geyser Hill more often,and for more than just Beehive, especially since it's an easy walk from the Lodge Cabins. There's something about not being able to bike over there that keeps me away.

Grand at least waited until I could get out there this morning. I caught the end of Rift, which was probably the reason. The next Grand was during one of the aforementioned rainstorms. I tried to catch Daisy but a wind shift meant I saw a lot of steam, and not much Daisy. Giant is going to be a great timewaster for the next few weeks. It looks so impressive with all the activity until you realize its been essentially unchanged all month.

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Old Tardy's Drain

Thanks to both Beehive and the bear closure, I was slow in getting downbasin for the morning Grand prediction, and so saw the start from north of Crested Pool. But as I walked toward the eruption through the Sawmill Group, I noticed something that hadn't been there when I left last July: a small hole near the point where the Old Tardy and the Crystal Spring runnoff channels combine.

Old Tardy Drain

Old Tardy Drain

Old Tardy Drain

Old Tardy Drain

Old Tardy's new drain, 2008 May 18

Once the Grand eruption ended, I got the chance to examine it more closely. From the lack of a splash zone, I quickly decided that it was not any sort of explosion feature. The erosion was clean, but was also fairly deep. I assume it was something that broke out a few weeks to several months ago. So I was a bit surprised when Scott Bryan told me that he hadn't noticed it just two days earlier. This implies that the opening was only a few hours old.

The opening is about 15 to 20 cm across, and a nice round shape. From the walkway, it appears to be undercut and layered in a manner similar to those openings that have over the years appeared across the walkway from Scalloped Spring. Early Sunday morning it could be seen steaming gently, but that could have been the result of all the hot water pouring into it. And a lot of hot water poured into it. During the Old Tardy eruptions that I saw, I would estimate well over half, but less than 90% of the water that would have gone into the runoff channel went down the hole instead.

Back in 1990 I sketched out maps of all the features in the Sawmill group, and on the one for the Old Tardy area I noted a couple of areas of steaming ground. One of these developed into the small slit in the runoff into Oval. (Which was spitting nicely during the Penta eruption Sunday morning.) Another one of these corresponds to the area of this new hold. So it's not really new, just that the lid has finally been removed. But unlike other holes in the area, this one has all that water flowing into it.

All that water is going somewhere, and, at least for a while, having a considerable effect on down below. That water has to go somewhere, and as it moves, ti will be causing erosion like that in the gravel on the surface. This could cause further holes to the surface to develop, or break into the plumping system of some of the other features of the area. But most likely I would expect we'll see nothing obvious. Still, it'll be interesting to see what happens next. We know that Slurp is a part of the Sawmill Group, and this drain lies between it and the rest of the group.

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Observations for 18 May

After returning from last night's Grand eruption, I figured that today not only could I get a slow start, but would have several hours to head down basin to take a look at Daisy, Grotto, Giant and other points of interest. Except it didn't turn out that way.

As I was getting up and about in my cabin, I heard Scott's voice on the radio announcing that Penta was in eruption at 06:44. Knowing that most eruptions of Penta last well short of an hour, I was resigned to not seeing it erupting. So I was surprised when I biked up past Castle and there it was, still going strong at 07:30. I figured I had at least an hour before it was time for Daisy, so I could head over there and catch Penta draining away. Instead, it just kept going, with all the other members of the Sawmill Group full.

Penta/Sawmill 2008 May 18

Churn 2008 May 18

Penta/Sawmill 2008 May 18

Churn 2008 May 18

Penta, Sawmill & Churn Geysers, 2008 May 18

It was at the time that I noticed that the overflow of the vents by the Thumping Hole had ceased that I looked over and caught Churn in eruption. It had been going for a while, and like yesterday, wasn't able to get a picture. But now things were getting interesting, but at the same time, my plans for the morning were ruined. Unlike yesterday, Churn didn't have a series of eruptions. A hour later, however, Sawmill started. I wanted to get pictures of both Penta and Sawmill in eruption from several angle. I went down towards Belgian, and right after I turned around, I saw the first splashes from Churn. Gettting all three into a single frame with my ancient camera was a bit of a challenge, and you can see my best efforts aren't that good.

The Churn eruption seems have been the key to getting Penta to finally quit. As the window for the next Grand eruption was approaching, I took the opportunity to head back to the gas station to prepare for another wait. Sawmill was still going as I returned, but as it seems to do far too often, it quit about the time I passed Scallloped Spring.

Speaking of Grand. Both last night and today's series of Turban eruptions were quite similar. In both cases there was a "Two Turban Delay". Instead of heavy overflow and waves as in years past, in these cases there was visible bubbling in Vent along with what appeared to be a full pool. In both cases, the duration of Turban was short (less than 4 minutes) despite what appeared to be vigorous activity. The following Turban intervals were short, around 17 to 18 minutes, with the Turban eruption lasting around 6 minutes, which is typical activity in such a delay mode. The bubbling in Vent is hard to see unless you know where to look and what to look for, but I wouldn't mind if this became a preferred delay mode. (Sure beats the 7 Turban Delay which takes 10 or more...)

The photos of the new drain vent near Old Tardy will have to wait until tomorrow. I've discovered that, thanks to software upgrades in the last year, I only have one computer that can still read the old Kodak KDC format. And that requires and it can't connect directly to the computer I use to post these messages. So it's become a convoluted task, and probably the incentive I need to finally get a new camera.

I also confirmed that, with my iPhone, I can add geyser eruption times to my Geyser Log database while in the basin and during the actual eruption. The speed is modem-slow, but I can make things a little faster/better by changing around the webpage.

The drive home was exactly what was expected: 6 hours of dullness that ended in my garage.

Other Geyser Times

18 May 2008

  • Penta, 06:44ie, d>2h15m
  • Churn
    • 07:45ie, d>30s, during Penta
    • 08:54, d=1m16s, during Penta and Sawmill
  • Sawmill, 08:52, d=55m05s

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Observations for 17 May

A weekend visits to the park is always different than a long stay. They always seem to feel too hectic,at least for me, and I've always prefered the long stays. It's okay to miss the an eruption that takes place as you arrive, whereas with a weekend, that's a significant portion of what you came for. But when a weekend is all you can get, you take it. Earlier in the week it became farily obvious that this was going to be a really nice couple of days, perhaps the best of the spring, and a good time to figure out how to prepare for future weekend trips this summer. What t I didn't count on were the bears getting in the way.

The entire basin was closed yesterday because there were a couple of bears seen roaming about, including one which earlier in the week had take down a baby bison in full view of visitors up on Geyser Hill. So when I arrived, tthat closure was still in effect, and the choices for what to do were severly limited. I decided the Beehive overlook was the best place to spend my exile. The advantages are that it is near something erupting (Geyser Hill), you can see most features down basin (at least their steam clouds), and Beehive was probably going to erupt this morning. Fortunately, the three hours I spent there resulted in my missing nothing interesting down basin, as Castle had a minor as I arrived and Grand waited until well after the opening. (The less said of Giant and Fan & Mortar, the better.)

The indicator preceded the 10:39 Beehive eruption by only 19 seconds, and was maybe a couple of feet high at most. Beehive was already sloshing heavily when it started, and it quit moments after it became obvious that Beehive was in eruption. It did awaken for a bit later in the eruption, but due to the wind, I was not in a position to see much of it. So while Beehive has been fairly reliable erupting every day, the amount of actual warning you get may be none.

The Sawmill Group was interesting, too. During my exile, I noticed that Tardy was always on every time I looked down basin. So the wet runoff channels but dropping pools was no surprise. Looked like Penta might have a chance during the next cycle. Instead, as I was leaving the area, I saw Churn erupt for the first of three eruptions in the series. The first eruption even had that dead fish smell even though I was told that Churn had been active earlier in the week. During that same series, I saw a Bulger major, the first one I've probably seen since the 1990s.

Penta was not to be, however, as the pool levels didn't look right and Sawmill had a steady stream of small bubbles reaching the slowly rising surface. Sure enough, Sawmill began eruting while well below overflow.

Even worse, Rift started an eruption while I was there. I didn't see when West Triplet started, but it was active when Rift started, but quite within a few minutes of Rift's start. It seems typical of the Grand Group for West Triplet and Rift to reactivate in mid-to-late May, but why can't it ever wait until after I get to see West Triplet as an intermittent spring?

But the most intriguing thing is a new hole in the Old Tardy runoff channel, just before it joins the Crystal Spring/Slurp runoff. THis hole is about 8--12 inches across, and has that same layered appearance that the holes near Scalloped Spring exhibit. When I first saw it, I thought that it might have been a feature that appeared over the winter, but Scott Bryan said that it wasn't there when he was in the basin on Thursday. From where the ground is wet or dry, it appears that it might be a drain for all of the Old Tardy runoff that used to flow in that direction. Years ago there were some patches of steaming ground around Old Tardy. I'll have to go through my old notebooks to find the maps to see if any of those places correspond with this hole. (And I'll try to post pictures of it tomorrow.)

There's a lot of snow still on the ground. Coming in through Island Park, it seemed that if there wasn't snow, then there was standing water But the Madison and Firehole Rivers don't seem all that high, at least compared to some of the seasons I remember. The shelf in the Firehole at the Sawmill Bridge is just barely under water. So perhaps the worst is yet to come. (And if there's standing water around here like there is in Island Park, gonna be a long, nasty mosquito season.

Other Geyser Times

17 May 2008

  • Churn
    • 12:01, d>1m
    • 12:21, d=1m22s
    • 12:40, d=1m18s
  • Rift, 12:57
  • Oblong
    • 08:12ns
    • 14:00
  • Castle
    • 08:01, minor, d≈3m
    • 11:39

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This morning the webcamera shows an eruption of Giantess, the first eruption in about 22 months. Based on the nature of the play from Giantess, and that I think I saw activity in Vault, it appears that the eruption started in the early morning hours.

Update: 10:45

Well, it appears that the activity was the final stages of a steam-phase eruption that started early last night (say around 22:00). The OFVC seismograph should have the start time, so let's see how wrong I am.

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Waiting for Giant

During the height of the summer season, the wait for an eruption of Giant can attract quite a crowd, one that slops out of the Monkey Cage and all the way back to the main walkway. For some people, like me, that's a sign that it's time to find alternate places to wait.

The key to picking a place is to make sure you won't miss anything. WIth the radios, this has become a lot easier, as one no longer needs to be in a clear line of sight with Giant's platform. But a lot of people don't want to rely on the reports of others, so they tend to stick to places in easy reach: Oblong and Grotto. Grotto may not have a clear line of sight, but it does have shade, and on a hot day, that matters.

But some locations are just too remote and too long a walk to be a good place to stay. And that place is called Geyser Hill. Grand is about my limit for fast walking distance, and it does have the advantage that, while the vents on the platform are obscured by trees that survived the 1988 fires (bad planning there), you can see Mastiff, so not wholly dependent on someone with a radio to find out when to move in.

Bicycles can also play a part. They shorten distances, especially when there's someone with a radio at Giant. Fan & Mortar have their adherents, because with a bike, they are almost as close as Grotto. The same could be said for Riverside, but without the beeping lights, Riverside just isn't that entertaining. Castle works, too, and from there you do have views of just about everything else of interest in the basin.

I've found that either walkway at Daisy works pretty well, but neither is perfect. The southern side has a good view of Giant, but the place to sit are limited by the lack of boardwalks. The north side has plenty of places to sit, but no good view. Even so, I've always preferred the north because of the proximity to Splendid (and, like Grotto, the afternoon shade, too.)

With the bikes and radios, one can range even farther afield. Anyone who really wants to see Beehive eruptions as their preferred Giant waiting activity must have both, and be willing to settle for the view from the other side of the Firehole. But once that hot period starts, getting down to Giant is easy. You can even wait well into the hot period before moving, just to make sure it's not a false alarm. I know from experience. In 2001, after weeks of what seemed like Giant's platform was preforming a little script with events all happening at the same time, we finally got a hot period that was different. I was in the cab of my old Datsun at the time, but when Dave Leeking, who was the only person down basin that evening, started to report deviations from the script, I realized it was time to move. (And who wants to to have to admit that they ignored Leeking the one time it mattered?). I was able to round the bend and pass the last stand of trees just as Giant began its eruption. Not only that, but I later learned that a group of people sitting on the Ham's Store porch, when they saw me take off, realized that maybe it was time to move, and so arrived much sooner than otherwise.

Then finally, one can always wait back in your room in the Inn or cabin in the Lodge. Last year I was already up and about when the call came in that the expected post-Grotto Marathon hot period had started. it took me a few minutes to finish my preparation, so I was only in front of the Lodge when the eruption started. But on subsequent occasions, I found that by having everything ready to go. I could be down by Castle by the time the call announcing the end of the hot period came on.

Of course, it's been a while since one could wait this close.

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Not Splendid

Well, it appears that whatever that was, it wasn't Splendid, as T.Scott Bryan reports that the slime around Splendid is thick and alive, and the marker from previous years still in place. And I was so looking forward to having a nice, quiet place to wait for Giant eruptions this summer.

This demonstrates one of the problems with observing geysers from unfamiliar locations and under unfamiliar conditions. It can just be hard to tell sometimes what's going on, especially when the geysers themselves are acting a little different. Combine all three, and sometimes all one can say is, "I saw something weird, and I have no idea what it was." Spend enough time in the geyser basins, and you will never stop seeing steam clouds you can't quite place.

The problem is worse with the camera, as it affords only a limited field of view, and if the operator doesn't pan around or widen the view, one can have no idea where exactly it is pointing. And it's from a vantage point from which almost no one has spent any time in person.

Back in the mid-1980s during one of Splendid's active periods, I put in quite a bit of effort keeping an eye on Daisy's intervals. (This was pre-radio days, mind you. It wasn't until 1986 when I was able to say in a CB borrowed from Railey that I "saw something erupting in the Giant Group.") Since I was staying in the Box behind the Lodge, an ideal vantage point for these frequent checks was the fencing to the west of the Lodge, not to far from where the camera is now. For every predicted eruption I'd head over to that same spot, wait a few minutes for the Daisy eruption, then go back to what I was doing. If I didn't see Daisy after 5 or 10 minutes, it was time to head down basin, or at least the the Visitor Center to learn if it had had a short interval. I know that on several occasions, gray stormy days with the wind pushing steam in different directions, I couldn't be sure what I was seeing. Sometimes I relied on the fact that the length of the eruption matched Daisy's 3m43s average in order to not have to make that wet trip down basin. Conversely, a two minute duration was good news, and it meant that it was time to head down. (And if it hadn't been for these frequent Daisy checks, I'd never seen that eruption of Big Cub.)