Old Faithful Geyser

Upper Geyser Basin

WyoJones'  Yellowstone Geyser Pages










Old Faithful is probably the most photographed geyser in the world. It is the geyser equivalent of a supermodel or celebrity. As hard as it is for me to understand some people only see one geyser on a visit to Yellowstone and usually that geyser is Old Faithful.   The village and hotels in the Upper geyser basin take it's name, Old Faithful. In fact many tourist don't know they are in the Upper Geyser Basin when they are at Old Faithful.. Even when they are looking at the other geysers in the Basin they say they are at Old Faithful. Why is this geyser so famous? It was not the first geyser discovered. it does not have the highest eruption. It does not discharge the largest volume of water. It is not the most frequent geyser. It does not have the widest eruptive column of water. It is probably not the oldest geyser. It does not have the highest or largest cone. It is not the hottest. Nor despite its' name is it the most regular of all the geysers. However, Arguably, it could be the most famous geyser in the world. (Some would give that distinction to Geysir in Iceland, which is the namesake for all geysers). It is however impressive. It is tall, beautiful, relatively consistent and performs over 15 times a day. Its fame come from the fact that it is the most frequent, tall and large geyser in the world and it is relatively easy for visitors to see without long waits. ( Although I have heard many complaints about a 90 minute wait which in the world of geyser gazing is short). It is photogenic and beautiful. It is nearly a geyser in captivity. It is bordered by a semi-circle of hotels and buildings. It is often surrounded in the summer and sometimes these days in the winter by a circle of camera-toting visitors with diverse cultural backgrounds ( see photos numbers 5, 8.and 9 on the left side of this page). On a summers day it looks like the crowd at elephant feeding time at the zoo. Crowds of people jockey for the best camera positions. Seats on the benches  around the geyser are often hard to find anytime near the predicted eruption time. It hard to say whether geyser watching or people watching is the best thing to do. Both are fun and I mix a little of both into my visit to Old Faithful. Keep your ears open because people say the funniest things. On any given summer day there may be more Old Faithful watchers for a given summer daylight eruption than the number of residents of my Wyoming hometown or county. As a boy these were the biggest crowds I had ever seen (obviously, my pre-Mardi Gras experience) so I looked for ways to avoid them. Photos numbers 3, 6 and 7 show the eruption from Geyser Hill. This is usually a un-crowded area to view the eruption. The trail on the north side of Old Faithful can also be less crowded and offers the potential for non-populated photos like #4. A hike up to Observation point on the east side of Old Faithful can offer a usually less crowed almost aerial view. Nighttime eruptions under a full moon can be unforgettably beautiful and there are usually few people. Likewise a visit in early spring after the roads open or in late fall just before the roads close can also be lonely with few people to obstruct your view. No matter when or where you see it, the scene and the eruption are hard to forget. It is truly a must-see sight in the Park. 


Wyo's Historical Photos of Old Faithful Page

Name Interval Height Duration Type
Old Faithful--There is no record of who first saw the geyser but it was named in 1879 by members of the Washburn Expedition "because of the regularity of it's eruptions." (Whittlesey, 1988, p115) Current average interval is around 90 minutes. The shortest recorded interval is 33 minutes. Longest recorded interval is 120 minutes. Currently the interval normally ranges ranges  between 68 and 93 minutes. Range 90 feet to 184 feet-- 1.5 to 5 minutes. The length of eruption helps determine the interval. T. Scott Bryan reports if an eruption lasts less than 2 minutes the interval will be around 55 minutes. If the eruption last 4.5 minutes the interval may be around 88 minutes.




References: Bryan,1995, p.26-29; Marler,1969; Marler1978;Whittlesley,1988, p.115; Trail Guide to the Upper Geyser Basin (pamphlet); personal observation.
Other Statistics--Water temperature--204 degrees F before eruption; 3,700 to 8,400 gallons of water discharged during an eruption; Depth of tube is 70 feet to constriction.


Eruptions-- Old Faithful starts with a playful "pre-play". Water splashes from the vent and cameras rise to the ready. The last of these splashes is heavier than the preceding splashes and lasts a few seconds accompanied (in summer daylight hours anyway) by the sound of camera shutters. The eruptions then begins with the geysers suddenly spouting water up and it quickly reaches maximum heights. The eruption is joined now by a chorus of camera shutters and oohs and ahs (at least during peak park visitation). Then after about a minute the height slowly drops. The eruption can last less than 2 minutes or up to 5 minutes but usually in the 3 minute time range. Old Faithful has been known to tease the crowd with longer pre-eruptive splash display of 10 to 20 minutes. It generally, however, is business like, erupting shortly after a few splashes. The eruption generally ends with about a minute of post-eruptive water jets and a short steam phase that is weak when compared to Castle Geyser. Occasionally, in one of its teasing moods, it can shut right off, particularly after a short-lived eruption. Sometimes it will jet low columns of water for a couple of minutes following a long eruption. Just enough variation to keep visitors on their toes but not enough variance to disappoint its fans. Like the celebrities in Hollywood, Old Faithful may keep its audience waiting a few minutes in order to build anticipation or it may erupt a minute or two early just to surprise its fans. Contrary to popular belief it does not erupt every hour on the hour. It does however, after an eruption, erupt again after a rest of about an hour and a quarter to an hour and  a half most of the time. Data does suggest that Old Faithful's average interval has increased from about 64 minutes before the 1959 earthquake to around 90 minutes now, however, it seldom erupts exactly on the average. Predictions can be made based on the statistical relationship of duration of the eruption and interval between eruptions. Rangers at the Old Faithful Visitors Center use a chart based on the last eruption's duration to predict the time to next eruption. The algorithm used has proven to be accurate, plus or minus 10 minutes, 90% of the time.

Old Faithful erupts over 15 times a day making it the easiest naturally erupting LARGE geyser in the world to see.

As you listen to the passing tide of people you may hear that the eruption is getting shorter or does not erupt as high as when grandpappy saw it in  "nineteen- hundred- and-something". Data suggests that Old Faithful has not lost height over the years. The Park Service however has moved the viewing area back further away over the past  years. This could be why some swear it is not erupting as high. Some will claim it is losing it's oomph. However the data suggests that despite a slightly longer interval, it has been amazingly consistent over the years. The eruptions are variable and if you watch several in a row you will note differences. Old Faithful, just like an actor, tries to keep each performance just a little different to keep the public from getting bored. Recent mathematical models suggest that Old Faithful exhibits chaotic behavior and, while it is predictable in the short term, it may not be predictable in the long term.

After over 40 years of going to Yellowstone, Old Faithful can still excite me and as an early visitor said, "help me forget my personal woes". I am never bored by one of its commonly seen eruptions.

Old Faithful continues faithful despite abuse it has received especially at the hands of early park visitors. According to Whittlesey (1988) debris, such as logs stones, stumps and rubbish, were put in the vent so visitors could watch the mighty geyser throw it out during an eruption. Blankets and laundry were placed in so they could be wash in this natural fountain. It is amazing that this geyser was not damaged beyond repair. Other thermal features have been destroyed in this manner.
References on the web:

Page on Science magazine article that reported on some of the findings from geologic studies of Old Faithful that included running a miniature video camera down the throat of the geyser.

References ( No not electronic references but hard copy references, you know, books, newspapers and periodicals. Yes, it is terribly old fashioned of me...) :

An article by The Associated Press  in The Seattle Times, Tuesday, June 23, 1998 . Article reported on changes in thermal activity after a small earthquake near Old Faithful in  January 1998.



(External Links)

1-Massimo Casulini's photo

2- Karen Lawrence's photo

3-Beautiful photograph of Old Faithful's winter eruption for U of Utah site.

4-autumn photo by L. Ross

5- Old Faithful geyser and starry sky with Hale- Bopp Comet visible--beautiful and unusual pic from  Dewey Vanderhoff.

6- Here the photographer decided the crowd was more interesting than the geyser-- Definitely a people-gazer; not a geyser-gazer.

7- Old Faithful on the Cover of SCIENCE NEWS-- The geyser equivalent of being on the Cover of the ROLLING STONE.--


Dewey Vanderhoff's beautiful and unusual photograph of Old Faithful with Hale- Bopp comet overhead. This photograph used with the permission of the copyright holder, Dewey Vanderhoff. For more information or to purchase prints contact Dewey Vanderhoff at: deweyv@trib.com.


All photos by Gregory L. Jones unless noted. Photos are copyrighted and unauthorized use is strictly prohibited.



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Copyright 1996, 1997, 1998, 2006[Gregory L. Jones]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 03/02/06