Yellowstone National Park – Norris Geyser Basin

By now, we have encountered four major geothermal features in Yellowstone National Park. They are Geyser, hot springs, mud pots and fumaroles.

Porcelain Basin

Norris Geyser Basin is the hottest, oldest and most dynamic thermal area in the park. It is also the location of the world’s tallest active geyser.

When Steamboat Geyser erupts – which is entirely unpredictable – it can rocket a column of scalding water 90-120 meters into the air – two to three times the average height of Old Faithful. Only Waimangu Geyser in New Zealand has rocketed to greater heights, more than one hundred years ago.

Cistern Spring

The nearby Cistern Spring and Steamboat Geyser are linked underground. Normally, Cistern is a beautiful blue pool from which water continually overflows. However, when Steamboat Geyser has a major eruption, the deep pool of the Cistern Spring almost drains completely.

Water from the surface seeps into the earth through cracks in fractured rock, heated by the Magma – lying 3-8 miles (5-13 km) beneath Yellowstone’s surface. Hot Spring is formed.

Veteran Geyser

Geysers are hot springs that periodically eject boiling water and steam into the air.

Veteran Geyser

For a hot spring to erupt as a geyser, a narrow zone or constriction is crucial.

Vixen Geyser

The constriction keeps water within the system from circulating to the surface for cooling. Eruptions occur as a chain reaction: Water, held within the geyser’s plumbing, becomes super-heated (heated beyond boiling) and rapidly expands in volume as it changes into steam; then steam bubbles force themselves – and the water above – past the constriction and up into the air.

Fascinating isn’t it? Perhaps I should mention that in the back area of the Norris Geyser Basin there exists a Minute Geyser, which used to erupt every 60 seconds. Nowadays Minute Geyser erupts irregularly, because the large west vent was clogged with rocks tossed in by early park visitors.

Fumaroles are hot springs without enough water to erupt or overflow. The small amount of water boils away, leaving only steam and hissing gases to escape.


Fumaroles in Norris Geyser Basin have measured up to 280 °F. The highest temperature yet recorded in any geothermal area in Yellowstone was measured in a scientific drill hole at Norris: 459°F (237°C) just 1,087 feet (326 meters) below the surface! There are very few thermal features at Norris under the boiling point (which is 199°F at this elevation).

In addition to being the hottest thermal area in the park. Norris Geyser Basin is also one of the most acidic.

Echinus is the largest acid-water geyser in the world. Its waters are almost as acidic as vinegar with a pH ranging from 3.3 to 3.6. Millions of spine-shaped deposits surround Echinus Geyser. Iron, arsenic, manganese, and aluminum are all found in the acidic fountain of water that showers the landscape. With each eruption, these metals help build miniature rust-colored sinter spines.

Echinus Geyser

Acid geysers are extremely rare with the majority of the planet’s total being found here at Norris Geyser Basin.

Monarch Geyser

Hardy microscopic lime-colored heat-loving algae thrive in the overflow channels of these warm acid waters. These and other microscopic life forms are links to the emergence of life on earth billions of years ago. They are also a focus of research in the fields of medicine and criminal investigation. Thermus aquaticus found in these runoff channels, produces an enzyme used in DNA ‘fingerprinting’ and testing for the virus that causes AIDS.

Whirligig Geyser Runoff

In June 2016, a 23- year old Oregon man, ignoring park signs, wandered 225 yards away from the boardwalk into an isolated area in Norris Basin. He slipped into a hot spring when bending over to check the temperature of the water. The recovery of his body was deterred by an overnight thunderstorm. They returned the very next day, only to find his body completely dissolved in the acidic spring.


And yet, somehow, in this extreme and unforgiving environment, life finds its way!


Next up, Yellowstone Falls and a Bear!

23 thoughts on “Yellowstone National Park – Norris Geyser Basin

  1. These pictures are amazing! I have always wanted to go but have most my time off in the fall and early winter and have been told that is the worst time to go… I think a family road trip is in the cards for next spring!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. A wonderfully fascinating place to visit. Park visitors do not really understand the power or heat produced by these natural features. It is hard to imagine the power that is lurking just beneath the surface here. Great photos and explanations of these features. I must go back again to explore more of this National Park.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Awesome pictures. It is a pity that South East Asia (at least the areas I have visited so far) lacks geological diversity. The only hot spring on the Singapore mainland is a little tap connected to pipes. =[ Grateful if you could support my blog too!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. We really have to check out our national parks. I found winter safaris we’re curious about in Jackson Hole. I’d like to see the national parks in winter and spring/summer.

    People get so careless in nature. I’m know I’m too scared of most things but be smart, it can be deadly out there. In Iceland some tourists were running out into the ice lagoon and we were all told not to.

    Beautiful pics!

    Liked by 1 person

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