Posted on

Waiting for New Crater/Steamboat


Since the start of the latest period of activity of New Crater/Steamboat, I've managed to see fourteen of the eruptions, all from the start, and all from my chosen viewpoint (platforms or the bridge). The amount of time waiting for each has varied considerably. I've seen enough eruptions that some statistics on the waits can be gathered.

First, there are two ways to determine how long is a wait. It can either be the amount of time waiting for an eruption since the previous eruption, or the amount of time waiting since the last observed eruption. Going by the first, I've waited 24 times, and didn't see anything ten of those waits. Only three times did I see an eruption on the first day of waiting after seeing the previous eruption.

Since I have seen eruptions from the start, I don't feel the need to wait in the cold and dark to experience a lot of noise with not much of a view. So I'm not going to arrive much before dawn, and will clear out around dark. (That I'd rather drive as little in the dark as possible, especially in the evening, is another factor. I have no desire to encounter a bison on the road.)

The amount of daylight varies depending on the season, but even in October there can be as much as nine hours of daylight. In June I have put in close to fifteen hour days.

The shortest waits were less than a day. In October of the first year of activity I actually had a wait of 2h20m, and in several other cases I got the eruption in the middle of the day or early evening.

On the other hand, I've had long waits. The most for a particular eruption, without seeing it, was early in 2020, when I waited almost 55 hours without success. I've also had other waits well over 30 hours with nothing to show for it.

When looking at just the amount of time put in since the previous eruption, things get worse. I had to put in 154 hours, going back to the start of September last year, for the first eruption I saw in 2020. In the middle of the summer of 2019, there was another 62 hour stretch.

Date Seen? Days Wait Time Total Wait
2018 May 27 Seen 2 19h05m 19h05m
2018 Jul 20   1 9h45m  
2018 Aug 04 Seen 3 22h50m 32h35m
2018 Sep 07 Seen 2 12h50m 12h50m
2018 Sep 17 Seen 1 5h35m 5h35m
2018 Oct 08 Seen 1 2h20m 2h20m
2018 Oct 15 Seen 3 16h40m 16h40m
2019 May 20 Seen 2 12h05m 12h05m
2019 May 27   3 34h45m  
2019 Jul 24   1 12h20m  
2019 Jul 30 Seen 2 15h40m 62h55m
2019 Aug 27 Seen 2 17h10m 17h10m
2019 Sep 03   2 27h25m  
2019 Sep 11   3 37h35m  
2020 May 31   4 54h40m  
2020 Jun 29   2 26h00m  
2020 Jul 03 Seen 1 8h30m 154h10m
2020 Aug 03 Seen 1 3h40m 3h40m
2020 Aug 09   3 30h50m  
2020 Aug 14 Seen 1 9h30m 40h20m
2020 Aug 20   1 9h35m  
2020 Aug 26 Seen 3 40h10m 49h45m
2020 Sep 01   1 13h05m  
2020 Sep 09 Seen 3 30h15m 43h20m
Totals 14 (24) 48 471h30m Ave: 33h40m

That's a total of over 471 hours, not quite ten hours per day, spread over 48 days. Or 33h40m per eruption seen, or 19h40m for each wait.

The whole point of this is that there is no "luck" involved in when a person sees sees so many eruption. I wasn't the only person who spent a lot of time on that platform, and ended up seeing as many or more eruptions. We all put in a lot of time out there.

The wait time for the first eruption I saw also doesn't include the time I spent in 1982 and didn't see anything. It was late August/early September, and I was in Yellowstone for a two week vacation, before going back to work in Oregon. At the time there weren't that many gazers, so Fred Hirschmann, the head naturalist at Norris, let us sleep out on the old middle platform, as long as our gear wasn't visible when visitors were around. His rationale was that it was better to have us out where our locations would be known, rather than our skulking around in the woods and becoming bear bait. (Despite this, at least one person still insisted on skulking about during the night.) I ended up spending about 100 hours, straight, on that platform waiting for nothing to happen. Occasionally would wander over for Echinus, but didn't want to be out of sight any more than necessary.

That was the year some those of us waiting got so tired of the constant repetition of the same questions that we started pinning cards with answers to those common questions on the railing. (A FAQ before the term was invented.)

I finally gave up when I had just a couple of days left in my visit, just so I could see something else erupt. As it turned out, the eruption finally took place about two days after I left. Other than stopping by while visiting Norris for other reasons, I never did wait again until 2018.

So in some sense, I put in about 120 hours for that first eruption, in two sessions spaning 36 years.


Posted on

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.


  • Posted on

    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.


    Posted on

    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.


    Posted on

    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.


    Posted on

    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.


    Posted on

    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.)


    Posted on

    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.


    Posted on

    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.


    Posted on

    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.