Faithful "Geyser" of California (also known as Calistoga "Geyser",
Little Old Faithful, or Mt. Saint
Helena "Geyser") is a popular tourist attraction found at the head
of the Napa Valley near Calistoga California. Contrary to the
belief of many this "geyser" is man-made. The photos above show
at the turn of the century erupting from the casing of the a well drilled
in the late 1800's. Old faithful of California is one of several artificial
"geysers" found around the world. It may be best classified, not
as a geyser, but as an erupting geothermal well. There were at least
two such wells drilled at the site of Old Faithful of California as
documented in old photographs. Dr.
John Rinehart in his book, A GUIDE TO GEYSER GAZING,1976 p.49
concedes that the feature called Old Faithful is a drilled well even though he
starts by saying "There has always been some question as to
whether the geyser is in reality a natural one or a drilled
well." He continues "In any event according to to
accounts, an early settler was nearly blown to bits when it began
erupting while he was drilling" (probably for water).
Rinehart, then speculates that the settler may have "simply
opened up a dead geyser". Certainly legends
and rumors of geysers in this part of
California have existed since the early settlers and the opening
of a dead geyser is a possibility. However all indications are
that no geyser was reported until after the well was drilled
sometime around the turn of the century. Reinhart
also confirms that there was casing in the 70 meter deep well.
Fran Rache and his wife Grace observed this geyser starting in
1906 and according to Rinehart kept it alive. Rinehart reports
"the geyser, because it sits in a sedimentary basin" (I
read pool here), "fills up with debris every few years, closing off the well casing at about the 13 meter
level". Fran would clean it out by reaming it. Reinhart
continues "However in 1970, he (Fran) did a major overhaul
after some boys stopped the geysers action entirely by jamming
the opening with broken pop bottles". What exactly Fran did
is not clear in Reinhart's book but he apparently fixed the
sediment problem and restored the "geyser" eruptions.
Current photographs show a cone sitting in the runoff pool. In
1974 The Raches sold their ranch and geyser to Howard and Olga
Cream, two avid geyser gazers, who converted it in to the tourist
attraction it is today. The Cream's successful development of the site was not
the first attempt to draw tourists to erupting wells in Calistoga. Old postcards, such as the one shown
below, document an earlier attempt by E. T. Plummer to commercialize an erupting well .
However, even though the "geyser" vent is artificial, it tapped into a natural hydrothermal system. Recent reports indicate that behavior of this geyser may change prior to earthquakes. Further studies are underway to see if geyser behavior may be an indicator of impending earthquakes. This very significant theory is based on detailed observations of the "geyser" made by the Olga (Cream) Kolbeck and other gazers starting in 1974. Old Faithful of California though not of natural birth is an important thermal feature.
Wyoming Jones, Aug. 1997.
At least two separate wells that have
acted as geysers have been present at the Calistoga site. This postcard shows
both erupting. The one on the left is the geyser shown above with the concrete
steps towards it shown in photo A above. The one on the right is the well with
the cone shown in photo B above. The feature on the right is the currently
erupting well that is called Old Faithful of California.
Link to current photo of "geyser" (external link) "Old Faithful Geyser of California" Calistoga California
Another recent photograph of Old Faithful of California
Links to visitor information and more pictures: "Old Faithful Geyser of California" - Calistoga California
If you have further photos, know more about the history of the Calistoga wells, or know of any corrections or clarifications to the information on this page please email WyoJones.
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