Saturday, February 27, 2010

Upper Geyser Basin - Yellowstone National Park

Upper Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park is probably the most popular geyser area in the park, with a lodge, inn, visitor center and numerous stores and restaurants available to the visitor. It also contains most of the largest and most predictable geysers in the park, with iconic Old Faithful at the forefront.

Old Faithful is a spectacular geyser - always impressive in its eruptions and emitting a chorus of "Oohs" and "Awes" from the crowd each time it erupts. It is the symbolic icon of Yellowstone, even having its own web cam for people all over the world to witness its display of power and beauty over the Internet.

On average, Old Faithful erupts every 76 minutes. Its eruptions last between 1-1/2 and 5 minutes, and reach a height of 150 feet. A path completely circles the geyser, allowing viewing from all sides.

The south side is the most popular viewpoint for the geyser, namely because it is the first area reached from the parking lot and is complete with benches and open areas for viewing

From a photography standpoint, there are more interesting sides for composing the geyser. I found the north and east sides particularly attractive. But with geysers, more things come into play than compositions, starting with the direction of wind.

Another important thing to keep in mind when shooting geysers is the direction of blue sky. Eruptions tend to get lost in cloudy skies. Blue skies are preferred to add contrast and allow the fountain of water to really stand out. If you have mixed skies, this is important to consider.

Not far from Old Faithful is Castle Geyser - a beautiful geyser that often offers a rainbow in early morning and late afternoon. Eruptions from Castle Geyser last for about an hour, amazingly enough. So you'll have plenty of time to play with different compositions and angles. My favorite angle in the afternoon was from near the trail junction on the west side.

Castle Geyser in one of the oldest geysers in the park. It's cone measures 25 feet in height. It errupts every 10 to 12 hours at a height of 90 feet.

Just a short distance north from Castle Geyser is the first of several colorful pools - Crested Pool. Crested Pool is deep blue in color and surrounded by geyserite formations, mostly orange in color.

Pools are generally best photographed in the late morning, afternoon and evening when the air is warmer. Thermal features are difficult to photograph in the morning when steam developes due to the cooler air.

Be sure and bring your wide angle lens for the pools, especially if you want to include backgrounds in your compositions. I was fortunate enough to have a very interesting sky, allowing me to include the valley of the Firehole River in the background. This was my favorite composition of Crested Pool.

I've also forgotten to mention the importance of polarizers for bringing out the geyserite colors and deep blue and emerald water. Don't leave home without them!

Further north is Beauty Pool and Chromatic Spring - both intoxicating candy to the eye (and camera!). Beauty Pool offers a wide palete of colors ranging from green and blue to red, orange and yellow. It also requires a wide angle lense to capture the pool in its entirety. Again, a polarizing filter will help bring out these colors. I also found a warming filter to be a useful tool.

Of the two pools, I found Chromatic Spring to be my favorite with its color-rich spectrum and geyserite patterns. I played with a couple of different lenses here. There are many pattern elements that can be isolated here for some interesting compositions. Of course, a wide angle showing the interesting overall patterns under a blue sky are also quite captivating.

At the end of the trail is probably one of the most colorful pools of them all, Morning Glory. It is a prize indeed, and probably the most beautiful hot spring in the park. The boardwalk is very close to this pool, offering a very up-close and personal view. It also can creep into your pictures if not careful, and the photographer must keep this in mind while working the various angles for their composition.

While this might be the end of the trail, it is certainly not the end of the sights. The spur trail to Daisy Geyser and Punch Bowl Spring can be taken to Black Sand Basin, or one can retreat back to the car and drive to the Black Sand Basin parking lot. Either way, it is a very worthwile destination.

Black Sand Basin contains several attractive springs and geysers, most notably Emeral Pool. Emerald Pool is one of the most beautiful pools in the park with its deep green waters ad colorful runoff stream.

This is the third part in a series I am posting from our wonderful visit to this park last June. I hope you are enjoying it and finding the information useful, perhaps for your own trip planning.

Next Up: Midway and Lower Geyser Basin!


  1. Great stuff, Don. Those pools are amazing.

  2. Thanks Greg! They really are amazing. Very fun to photograph!