Geyser Postcards

Though there are more than 300 geysers in Yellowstone Park, most people never see the eruption of more than one or, if they are lucky, two or three. Click on any image to download a 300- to 500-KB PDF of the postcard.

Coming from Gardiner and Mammoth, travelers first visit the Norris Geyser Basin, home of more than a dozen geysers. If they walk through the basin, one of the first geysers they will see is Constant Geyser, so named because of its frequent eruptions. When Asahel Curtis took this photo for the Northern Pacific, it was called Minute Man Geyser, but that name is now used for a much more remote geyser. This card is postmarked 1924 and has a message from someone planning to spend five days in Yellowstone, then California, then up the coast to Canada, then the Canadian Rockies.

Norris Geyser Basin also has the world’s tallest geyser, Steamboat, which can be 300 feet high. Steamboat erupts so irregularly that it probably didn’t get on a Northern Pacific postcard in full eruption. Here it is in a partial eruption going under the name “New Crater Geyser.” Although this and most of the rest of the cards are undated, all but one are the same vintage as the Minute Man Geyser card.

From Norris Geyser Basin, the Gibbon River flows to Madison Junction where it merges with the Firehole River to form the Madison River. Most of Yellowstone’s geysers are near the Firehole River, including Fair Geyser. I can’t find any modern reference to this geyser, so perhaps its name was changed as well.

The most famous geysers are in the Upper Geyser Basin, including the Grotto Geyser. This is the only postcard today actually issued by Northern Pacific as opposed to using a Northern Pacific photo, and it probably dates to about 1910.

The trail from Grotto Geyser to Old Faithful first passes by Giant Geyser, which be close to 250 feet high. Like Steamboat, it is very irregular, erupting more than once a week in 2007 but not at all in 2009. Since it is hardly gigantic in the 1912 photo on this postcard, it must have been taken during a relatively dormant period.

Grand Geyser is the next major geyser on the hiking trail. At 200 feet, it is not as high as Steamboat or Giant, but it is much more predictable, erupting two or three times a day.

Castle Geyser is only about 90 feet high and erupts about twice a day. Curtis apparently didn’t wait around for an eruption as the steam shown in this photo is much lower than actual geyser.

Old Faithful typically erupts about 150 feet high, making it taller than most but not as tall as Giant or Steamboat.

Cliff Geyser is in a separate little geyser basin called the Black Sands Basin located a bit west of (and easily walkable from) Old Faithful. Although only 30 to 50 feet tall, it apparently erupts pretty frequently.

Another feature at Black Sand Basin is the Emerald Pool, which can be very colorful.

Several miles beyond Old Faithful is Yellowstone Lake, which has a tiny geyser basin known as the West Thumb Basin. Although the vent of Lake Shore Geyser is pretty when the water level is low enough, this geyser hasn’t had a major eruption since 1970.

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