I strolled over to Old Faithful just a few minutes before it was expected to go off. There were benches on a massive boardwalk encircling Old Faithful and the few geysers adjacent to it. Two rows of benches spanned the area closest to Old Faithful. Most of the seating was full by the time I arrived, but I managed to find a spot in the second row behind a family. I could tell they had already been waiting for a while, as the kids had grown very antsy. The children were growing louder and more annoying to the surrounding tourists with each passing minute. Their parents were clearly running out of patience with both the geyser and their kids.
Meanwhile, steam began to spew from the geyser’s lip like a smoke signal from a campfire. That energized the crowd. However, a few minutes later, little had changed. People grew restless as the wait continued. Then Old Faithful’s cone began to bubble over. The boiling water gurgled as it surged out in waves several feet into the air. I looked around and saw dozens of cameras rise up.
The kids in front of me were beyond excited. They pointed and continued jabbering about the sight before them. Then the geyser stopped. The water finished flowing out of the cone. Even the steam above the geyser disintegrated into the air. The crowd waited in wonderment. Was that it? Was that really all Old Faithful had to offer? I saw cameras lower and people look around, bewildered, wondering if the show was over and it was time to get up and leave.
After about a minute it looked like the family in front of me was going to leave. Unlike most of the other spectators I had seen this before, so I knew what to expect. As more people around me began to stir, I finally readied my camera as the geyser came back to life.
A guttural rumble shook the earth beneath us and 200 degree water shot ten feet into the air. A second burst immediately followed, twice as high. Then Old Faithful exploded over 150 feet into the sky. Camera shutters were clicking all around. I had taken close to twenty pictures before the water even reached its peak.
The reaction of the crowd following the first few seconds of the eruption was an exciting event to witness in itself. While everyone was thrilled by the sight, people reacted naturally and involuntarily. Sure there were plenty of oohs and aahs, but there’s plenty more when you listen carefully. I heard people yell and scream, some laughter, and plenty of applause.
The pillar of boiling white water stood straight and tall for almost five full minutes. Water fell off its peak to the right beneath a cloud of 350 degree steam. Based on the length of the eruption it can be estimated that almost 8,000 gallons of water burst out of the ground. It was and is an amazing sight to witness. The spectators were not disappointed by the show.
Old Faithful’s statistics vary a bit from each eruption to the next. On average it goes off every hour and a half, but can range between 60 and 110 minutes. It has reached a height of 184 feet, but averages closer to 130 feet into the air. The duration ranges from one and a half to five minutes.
There were a few hundred people gathered on and around the benches surrounding the geyser basin. Half the crowd tapered off before the geyser was done. Once the water reached its highest point and stayed there for a minute or two it seemed most guests had seen enough. I couldn’t disagree.
Watching a geyser erupt and fill the sky with water and steam is an incredible and impressive sight. But once per visit is enough for me. After it was over I walked back to my car and made the drive north, back to my campsite in the Madison Campground.