The first time Alan Glennon saw the geysers of Yellowstone National Park in 1994 he wasn’t that impressed. It wasn’t until he picked up The Geysers of Yellowstone, by Scott Bryan, in a park gift shop and learned how geysers work and how rare they are, that he became fascinated.
Today Glennon is a “geyser gazer” who regularly visits Yellowstone to watch and voluntarily document geyser eruptions. Glennon, who lives in California, attributes his love of geysers and Yellowstone to simply learning more about thermal features. The more he knows the more he loves the park.
A new app by Yellowstone National Park could ignite the same fascination Glennon feels in thousands of other visitors, by putting geyser information at their fingertips. The free app provides prediction times, photos and facts for six geysers: Old Faithful, Grand, Castle, Daisy, Great Fountain, and Riverside. It also allows you to watch Old Faithful and the Upper Geyser Basin area via webcam streaming.
About 10,000 people a day visit Old Faithful and the visitor’s center in the summer, and the area is packed, said Katy Duffy, an interpretive planner with the park. She was an advisor in developing the app, working with Brett Oppegaard from Washington State University in Vancouver and the University of Hawaii.
Rangers post estimated times online for geyser eruptions, but the format isn’t as easily accessible as an app on a cell phone. Visitors typically arrive at Old Faithful with cell phones out and ready to take pictures. They watch the eruption and leave, never knowing why geysers exist or what else they can see in the area. The prediction times are the hook, but the app teaches about Yellowstone’s geology and basic geyser science. The more people know, they more they feel a connection to the park, Duffy said.
“Thermal features are a window into the earth,” Duffy said. “They tell us what’s going on beneath our feet. I always saw it as an incredible privilege to see Old Faithful or any other geyser erupt.”
The app is also meant to help people see geysers other than Old Faithful. If a visitor knows when Grand geyser might erupt and he learns it’s the tallest and most predictable geyser in the world, he’s more likely to visit the geyser.
“The app’s meant to get people to be curious and know more about what’s going on and to marvel at it,” Duffy said. “It’s their national park and there’s more to it than Old Faithful.”
In fact, Yellowstone is home to about half of the world’s geysers. But only a few are predictable within an hour’s time. The geysers featured on the app are all easily viewable and have relatively small windows for eruption times. Old Faithful, for example, erupts about every 90 minutes, plus or minus 10 minutes. Grand Geyser has a plus or minus of about an hour for its eruptions.
The prediction times on the app use current information logged by rangers. That means when the visitor’s center is closed there are not updated predictions. From December through March rangers will update the data for the app as often possible, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., but there won’t always be predictions for all six geysers.
Glennon, a self-described “super nerd” when it comes to geysers in Yellowstone, doesn’t need the app, but he’s looked at it and thinks it’s enough of an introduction to geysers to get people excited and more interested in Yellowstone’s thermal features.
He often sees visitors waiting at a geyser and, not knowing when it might erupt, move on not realizing what they will miss.
“The app unlocks a part of Yellowstone that just hasn’t been as accessible as before,” Glennon said.
— “Peaks to Plains” is a blog focusing on Wyoming’s outdoors and communities. Kelsey Dayton is a freelancer and the editor of Outdoors Unlimited, the magazine of the Outdoor Writers Association of America. She has worked as a reporter for the Gillette News-Record, Jackson Hole News&Guide and the Casper Star Tribune. Contact Kelsey at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on twitter: @Kelsey_Dayton
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