Today I decided to write about geysers. Half an hour later I wished I hadn’t selected this topic. Geysers are too unreliable. They can stop erupting at any time, and that’s why Yellowstone’s Old Faithful is such a miracle. It has been reliably throwing boiling hot water into the air every 60 to 90 minutes up to 200 feet for many years. It is not, however, the highest geyser in Yellowstone National Park. What I concluded is that geysers are usually accompanied by thermal pools and have waterfalls nearby.
Old Faithful is the first geyser I ever saw. The second was far more anemic and in Iceland. The first time I went to Iceland I took a tour to Gullfoss, which was at that time a series of frozen waterfalls. Then we went on to see a thermal field with an erupting geysir. It was a huge disappointment. The guide told us in all seriousness that geysers were found in only 3 places in the world. That may have been true at that time, but today 5 countries are said to have active geysers. By the way, I spelled geyser as geysir for a reason. This is the original Icelandic word for this phenomenon. Geysir is one of the few Icelandic words to find its way into the English language.
So…what is a geyser? it’s a vent in the Earth’s surface that ejects hot water or steam. Steamboat is Yellowstone’s highest geyser. It has been known to erupt 400 feet into the air. This is the world’s tallest currently active geyser. The largest geyser in recorded history, however, is Waimangu. It was near Rotorua, New Zealand. Between 1900 and 1904 it sent steaming hot water 1,500 feet into the air before becoming extinct. See what I mean? I’ve been to Rotorua, where I interviewed a hotel manager. She told me that her biggest problem is Asian guests who check into her hotel in mid-afternoon because the first thing they do is fill the bathtub.
There are currently 23 geysers in Yellowstone National Park, but Yellowstone has 10,000 hydrothermal features. As recently as 2016 a man left a Yellowstone boardwalk and slipped into a hot spring. He died. Not alone, he was one of at least 22 people who have experienced a similar fate. A good source of information about the world’s 1,000 geysers is Geology.com.
Geysers are mainly in 5 countries–The USA, Russia, Chile, New Zealand, and Iceland. There are 2 in Alaska, 4 in California, and 2 in Nevada. One of the ones in Yellowstone has been experiencing recent periods of dormancy. I didn’t know until today that there is such a thing as a cold-water geyser.
There are 20 to 29 active geysirs in Iceland. On our last trip there, we saw none of them, but we saw lots of steam pots and waterfalls. If you want to tie yourself in little knots, try to determine the closest geysir to Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital city, where there are geothermal vents in town. Currently, Strokkur is the most active geysir in Iceland. It steadily erupts every 4 to 10 minutes. For now.