Letting off some steam
Jacob reports from the North American Epic bike tour:
A thin plume of steam slowly rises from a rather ordinary mound of earth. It sputters and spits, but remains steady – quietly releasing gases and built up pressure from below the earth’s surface. A couple of convulsions push water a few feet out of the mound of earth, then it dies down again. Then, without much fanfare or announcement, a huge jet of steam and water erupts from the mound, reaching high into the sky. It looks almost synthetic, but it is not. This is the Old Faithful geyser in Yellowstone National Park, where the riders managed to take in some of this unique and spectacular feats of nature.
Old Faithful itself is rather at odds with its surroundings. A large semi circular platform with benches surrounds the small natural exhaust like a sporting arena. A few meters further back a large wooden lodge dominates the landscape. Up close and inside it feels like the Overlook Hotel that drove Jack Torrence mad in ‘The Shining’. Inside there is a gift shop, hotel, restaurant, and information centre. Each bench and window is focused on the quiet and persistent billow of steam in the centre of the arena. What makes Old Faithful popular is not it’s size, but the clockwork like regularity of eruptions, which can be predicted accurately within a few minutes. A small crowd gathers for each ‘scheduled’ eruption, which usually occurs on cue. This being America, it would be easy to expect some fireworks, perhaps a guitar solo, or something else extravagant to accompany the energetic display of nature. On the contrary, Old Faithful gurgles and stutters into its performance. Like a one trick pony humbly repeating the same routine.
For the throngs of tourists pointing their cameras and craning their necks, the eruption is mesmerising, peaceful, and serene. However below the surface, they are standing on what is called a ‘supervolcano’, a large buildup of magma over a very wide area between two diverging crusts. An eruption would be many times greater and powerful than volcanoes in previous decades. An eruption of the Yellowstone volcano would be so huge that it would forever change the geo-political landscape of North America and the world. There is nothing that can be done to prevent such an eruption, and nobody can be sure when it will happen. Some food for thought when browsing the gift shop with a view of the natural ticking time bomb that is the Old Faithful geyser.