By Janet White
Many first-time Yellowstone Park visitors are surprised to learn the spray from Yellowstone geysers that reaches them on the boardwalks can be cool and refreshing on a hot summer day. But if you think about it, that superheated water (hotter than the normal boiling point of water due to underground pressure) is tossed high into the air as tiny droplets that cool quickly. A hundred feet up and a hundred feet back down can cool a fine mist in a hurry, giving adventurous Yellowstone visitors the chance to experience a unique shower.
So where should you stand to run through the spray? Downwind.
While waiting for a geyser to erupt, pay attention to the wind direction. Some geysers that sit farther away from the boardwalks, like Old Faithful, just give you a “geyser kiss” on a windy day. But those that are closer to boardwalks, like Beehive Geyser or Lion Geyser, can drench you to the skin with a curtain of spray.
If you’re looking to stay dry, keep in mind too that a slight shift in the wind can catch many geyser gazers off guard, giving them an unexpected soaking.
But if you plan to take a “geyser shower,” just be sure to stay on the boardwalks, since any spray that reaches you there should be safe to stand in. Any closer, and you risk getting scalded (or worse) by hot spray.
Many geysers are capable of giving at least a kiss, but a reliable drenching happens in a few geysers, including: Beehive, Lion, Fan and Mortar. Occasionally, if the wind is right, you can also bask in the spray from Castle Geyser and Penta Geyser.
The water in many of the geysers contains silica, the mineral that builds up to form the cones and platforms you see throughout Yellowstone’s geyser basins. If allowed to dry on camera lenses or glasses (or cars, in the case of Great Fountain Geyser), siclica is difficult to remove. So be sure to protect those surfaces and wipe them off quickly before the water has a chance to evaporate and leave behind a lingering residue.
Some visitors bring an umbrella or poncho to their favorite geysers and some dash away to avoid the spray. A few stand their ground and joyously get soaked. In case you’ve never tried it, the good news is that your next Yellowstone visit will offer many chances for a geyser blessing, complete with its own version of holy water.
Janet White is the creator of GeyserWatch.com.