The weather was approaching dreariness. What had started out as a gorgeous fluffy cloud weekend in the mid-60s had deteriorated to a low-50s, grey mist situation. Not that I’m opposed to cold weather; after the recent Dallas penchant for 100 degree humidity, coldness was a decent change. In fact, we welcomed the cold greyness — miserable cloud cover means we can nap instead of seek epic sunsets, because even I know where to draw the line.
One of my personal landscape photography mantras is something like “be there, because you never know what’s going to happen.” There’s been a couple times that Travis has wanted to leave and I refused, only to have the weather clear miraculously at the last moment before sunrise (a few times that come to mind are the Grand Canyon and L.A. Skyline). There was also another time when I was ready about to call it at Mt. Hood and a local photographer convinced me to stay, only for the crazy fog to clear up at the last possible moment.
I love these moments as a photographer, because it helps me to feel more dedicated than the average person with a camera. I like knowing that hanging around that extra 30 minutes has a chance to get a shot no one else has.
We started off our day with a 5:37am sunrise at Washburn Hot Springs Overlook (central east Yellowstone) and toured everywhere from the Lamar Valley (northeast exit) down to Old Faithful (southeast Yellowstone) without our coveted midday nap.
Around 3pm the “isolated thunderstorms” promised by the weather people had decided to concentrate resolutely in our area. We decided to check into our hotel, the Old Faithful Inn, where we had a lovely geyserside view (read: slightly obstructed view of Old Faithful). While the weirdly rippled window glass and tree in the direct center of our view prevented us from lazily shooting the geyser from the hotel room, we could get a pretty good grasp on when the next eruption might occur by the movement of the other tourists in the area.
Around 3:30pm we decided quite a few people were making their way out to the geyser, so I decided I would check it out. We learned from some nearby people that the next predicted window was 3:42pm, +/- 10 minutes. Perfect. We found a spot to squeeze into the crowd and we waited. And waited. Okay, so we didn’t wait that long, but when you have a (formerly) hot cup of tea waiting for you back in the hotel room you certainly wish the geyser would erupt towards the beginning of its 20 minute window rather than 5 minutes after its conclusion.
Anyway, Old Faithful finally erupted a bit late. It wasn’t anything exciting with the overcast skies. Afterwards, we checked the prediction times for the other regularly erupting geysers and then went back to the room to discuss our plan for the evening.
Old Faithful is one of the most agreeable geysers in that it puts on quite a show about every hour and 20 minutes, but there are several other geysers with predictable eruptions. The ones that we were eying for the evening were Riverside Geyser (5:45pm +/- 30 minutes) and Daisy Geyser (6:15pm +/- 30 minutes). There was also the Grand Geyser, whose window was from 7:15pm – 10:15pm (3 hours!). The other geysers were Castle Geyser (predicted for 5:45am +/- 60 minutes) and Great Fountain (10:00pm +/- 2 hours).
We decided to grab a mini-picnic from the hotel deli, then tour the Upper Geyser Basin area and try to see both the Riverside Geyser and Daisy Geyser. Eventually we would eat the picnic (presumably while waiting for a geyser), and then maybe watch sunset.
We made it over to Riverside Geyser around 5:45pm, about halfway through it’s window, so in theory it would erupt in the next 30 minutes. Storm clouds were here and there, some blocking the sun, some eventually bringing rain showers over where we were camping out for the geyser. The rain didn’t last long, and my ultimate rainbow seeking abilities found an almost-rainbow beginning in the sky before more clouds inevitably blocked out the sun and it disappeared. My rainbow-finding skills are top notch. Anyway…
So we waited… and waited… a trend for geyser eruptions, it seems. Anyway, the prediction window ended at 6:15pm, and aside from the one man loudly shouting at the geyser for being rude, the rest of us waited somewhat patiently. At 6:21pm, Riverside Geyser decided to erupt, spewing out a 75-foot column of water right as the sun disappeared behind another dark cloud. Figures.
Luckily Riverside Geyser erupts for about 20 minutes, so about 5 minutes into its eruption the sun came out and we got some glorious rainbow geyser over the river. Suddenly the wait was entirely worth it.
After we were content with Riverside, we ran over to Daisy Geyser at 6:40pm. Daisy’s window was 5:45pm – 6:45pm, but once we got there we found that it had already erupted. In retrospect, after I looked at the sites of Daisy vs. Riverside I was happy we chose to go with the one on the river.
So after that we decided to wander over to the Grand Geyser (7:15pm – 10:15pm eruption). We were not optimistic about geysers at this point as both Riverside Geyser and Old Faithful had been late, and there was no way we were waiting around until 10:15pm. We arrived there about 7:10pm and decided to eat our sandwiches. The sandwiches are actually fairly decent despite being park food, and when you get sandwiches to-go you don’t have to spend 2 hours in the park dining room banging your head against a table trying to get service. Anyway, I digress…
Sandwiches, yum. Sun… gone. Weather? Cold, very cold. Or cold in the 50-degrees, I don’t have a jacket way. Or the 50-degrees, I brought a jacket but Travis never brings a jacket way. Anyway, we ate our sandwiches, it was now 7:30pm. We joked that we had waited 1/12th of Grand Geyser’s 3 hour window. I proposed that we go back to the hotel room and drink the local beer we’d picked up from the gift shop (Old Faithful Ale, anyone?). We would then go back out for sunset if the weather looked happier.
We stood up. Grand Geyser gurgled a little. We glared at it, and scoffed — surely it was not erupting only 15 minutes into its window. We started walking for the hotel, when suddenly the geyser started spouting streams of water over 100ft in the air. We were surprised, to say the least. The sun didn’t come out to play during its eruption (what can I say, I’m picky about these things), but we were pretty excited for a geyser to actually work in our favor.
After the geyser, the sky started doing this really epic dark storm cloud on one side with fluffy clouds on another with the sun shining elsewhere. I decided I simply could not leave. I ran around all the geysers taking awesome pictures of the weird, stormy light, while Travis unenthusiastically limped along.
At some point, around 8:22pm, the storm appeared to be heading directly towards our area. As much as I believe I’ll probably get struck by lightening or eaten by a bear someday, I do my best to stay away from these situations whenever possible. We decided to walk briskly back to the hotel, thoughts of our chilled Old Faithful Ale on the mind.
The rain came, not too strong (definitely not like one of these ultra windy Texas-sized hail storms I’ve become accustomed to), but in the interest of keeping my camera equipment dry (and my Travis) we decided to pick up the pace. As we were jogging, we suddenly saw a rainbow forming over the Old Faithful Lodge. Or perhaps we didn’t see it ourselves, but rather were alerted to it by parents of some little girls who had been debating what leprechauns and pots of gold were lurking at the end of the imaginary rainbow for at least a portion of the afternoon at our geyser stops. They had kept saying “look! a rainbow!” when there was no such thing — I’m glad their parents finally found them a rainbow.
Anyway, I immediately stopped caring about the rain, lighting and Travis and changed directions, repositioning myself to get a view of the rainbow behind the recently-erupted Old Faithful.
After that, I turned around to see some beautiful storm-cloud clearing light over the geyser basin (this was around 8:45pm), and with sunset being at 9:06pm I decided we’d have to rough it out until the end.
I tried to be lazy and just stay on the path near Old Faithful, but Travis coaxed me back out to the Upper Geyser Basin, and I’m super glad he did. There’s a lot more angles to get a cool view up there, and as the sun was setting behind the mountain Lion Geyser decided to erupt in the middle of my frame.
The evening was the ultimate of “be there, because you never know what’s going to happen.” Every time we were about ready to call it, something happened and we had to stay a bit longer. It was a great evening, and if you’d like to know we eventually did make it back to drink our Old Faithful Ale while we recovered from our 5 hour journey around the Upper Geyser Basin. And then we slept, kinda. And then I woke Travis up at 5:15am for sunrise, and you can bet we were exhausted.