By M. Mark Miller
Most Yellowstone tourist who kept journals struggled to describe geysers. Some relied on quantitative descriptions of such things as how high water was hurled snd how much time separated eruptions. Others chose adjectives—”stupendous,” “astounding”—and left their readers to imagine what they meant. And many simply used phrases like “words cannot describe ….”
John L. Stoddard was a professional writer who revealed his emotions and used figures of speech to describe what he saw. Stoddard was a world traveler who turned his experiences into popular lectures that he delivered across American. He published them is a series of books entitled Stoddard’s Lectures. Here’s his description of Fountain Geyser.
“Show me a geyser!” I at last exclaimed impatiently, “I want to see a genuine geyser.” Accordingly our guide conducted us to what he announced as “The Fountain.” I look around me with surprise. I saw no fountain, but merely a pool of boiling water, from which the light breeze bore away a thin transparent cloud of steam. It is true, around this was a pavement as delicately fashioned as any piece of coral ever taken from the sea. Nevertheless, while I admired that, I could not understand why this comparatively tranquil pool was called a geyser, and frankly said I was disappointed. But even as I spoke, I saw to my astonishment the boiling water in this reservoir sink and disappear from view.
“Where has it gone?” I eagerly inquired.
“Stand back!” Shouted the guide, “she’s coming.”
I ran back a few steps, then turned a caught my breath; for at that very instant, up from the pool which I had just beheld so beautiful and tranquil, there rose on great outburst of sublimity, such a stupendous mass of water as I had never imagined possible in vertical form. I knew that it was boiling and that a deluge of those scalding drops would probably mean death, but I was powerless to move. Amazement and delight enchained me spellbound. Talk of a fountain! This was a cloud-burst of the rarest jewels which, till that moment had been held in solution in a subterranean cavern, but which had suddenly crystallized into a million radiant forms on thus emerging into light and air. The sun was shining though the glittering mass; and myriads of diamonds, moonstones, pearls, and opals mingled in splendid rivalry two hundred feet about our head.
Read more tales of early travel in Yellowstone like this excerpt from John L Stoddard’s Lectures, Volume 10, in M. Mark Miller’s Adventures in Yellowstone: Early Travelers Tell Their Tales.