"Show me a geyser!" I at last exclaimed impatiently, "I want to see a genuine geyser." Accordingly our guide con-ducted us to what he announced as "The Fountain." I looked around me with surprise. I saw no fountain, but merely a pool of boiling water, from which the light breeze bore away a thin, transparent cloud of steam. It is true, around this was a pavement as delicately fashioned as any piece of coral ever taken from the sea. Nevertheless, while I admired that, I could not understand why this comparatively tranquil pool was called a geyser, and frankly said I was disappointed. But, even as I spoke, I saw to my astonishment the boiling water in this reservoir sink and disappear from view.
"Where has it gone?" I eagerly inquired.
"Stand back!" shouted the guide, "she's coming."
I ran back a few steps, then turned and caught my breath; for at that very instant, up from the pool which I had just beheld so beautiful and tranquil, there rose in one great out-burst of sublimity such a stupendous mass of water as I had never imagined possible in a vertical form. I knew that it was boiling, and that a deluge of those scalding drops would probably mean death, but I was powerless to move. Amazement and delight enchained me spellbound. Talk of a fountain ! This was a cloud-burst of the rarest jewels which, till that moment, had been held in solution in a subterranean cavern, but which had suddenly crystallized into a million radiant forms on thus emerging into light and air. The sun was shining through the glittering mass; and myriads of diamonds, moonstones, pearls, and opals mingled in splendid rivalry two hundred feet above our heads.
We soon approached another of the many geysers in the basin. They are all different. Around one, a number of colored blocks, exquisitely decorated by the geyser's waves, appeared to have been placed artistically in an oblong frame. When I first beheld them, they looked like huge sea-monsters which, startled by our footsteps, were about to plunge into the depths.
What is there in the natural world so fascinating and mysterious as a geyser? What, for example, is the depth of its in-tensely-colored pool of boiling water ? No one can tell. One thing, however, is certain; the surface of the pool is but the summit of a liquid column. Its base is in a subterranean reservoir. Into that reservoir there flows a volume of cold water, furnished by the rain or snow, or by infiltration from some lake, or river. Meantime, the walls of the deep reservoir are heated by volcanic fire. Accordingly the water, in contact with these walls, soon begins to boil, and a great mass of steam collects above it. There must, of course, be some escape for this, and, finally, it makes its exit, hurling the boiling water to a height of one or two hundred feet, according to the force of the explosion. Imagine, then, the amount of water that even one such reservoir contains; for some of these volcanic fountains play for more than half an hour before their contents are discharged! Think, also, that in this basin there are no less than thirty geysers, seven-teen of which have been observed in action simultaneously.
Thus far we had seen merely geysers that arise from pools; but, presently, we approached one which in the course of ages has built up for itself a cone, or funnel, for its scalding waves.
"That," said our guide, "is the Castle Geyser."
"That rock a geyser!" I exclaimed incredulously, "it looks like an old ruin, without a single indication of activity; save, possibly, the little cloud of steam that hangs above it, as if it were the breath of some mysterious monster sleeping far below."
"If you doubt it," he replied, "go nearer and examine it."
We did so. I scrambled up its flinty sides, and found an opening in the summit three feet wide. I touched the rock. It was still warm and yet no water was discernible. No sound was audible within its depths.
"If this be really a geyser," I remarked, "it is no doubt a lifeless one like Liberty Cap."
My comrade smiled, looked at his watch, then at his notebook, and finally replied: "Wait half an hour and see."
Accordingly, we lingered on the massive ledges of the Castle Geyser, and learned that it is the largest, probably the oldest, of all the active geyser cones within the Park. Once its eruptions were no doubt stupendous; but now its power is waning. The gradual closing up of its huge throat, and the increasing substitution of steam for water, prove that the monster has now entered on the final stage of its career; for here, as on the terraces, in the summit three scrambled up its flinty sides, and found an opening
I touched the rock. It was still warm, and yet we are surrounded by specimens of life, decay, and death. The young, the middle-aged, the old, the dead, — they are all here!
The fiery agitation of the pool and the impulsive spurts of water are indicative of youth. A steady, splendid outburst proves maturity. The feebler action of the Castle shows the waning powers of old age. Last of all comes the closed cone, like a sealed sarcophagus, and that is death.
Meantime, the thirty minutes of expectancy had passed; and, suddenly, with a tremendous rush of steam, the Castle proved that its resources were by no means exhausted. At the same instant, half a mile away, the Beehive Geyser threw into the air a shaft of dazzling spray fully two hundred feet in height. I realized then, as never before, the noble action of our Government in giving this incomparable region to the people. If this had not been done, the selfishness and greed of man would have made a tour here almost unbearable. A fence would, doubtless, have been built around every geyser, and fees would have been charged to witness each wonderful phenomenon; whereas, to-day, thanks to the generosity of Congress, the Park itself, and everything that it contains, are absolutely free to all, rich and poor, native and foreigner, —forever consecrated to the education and delight of man.
But no enumeration of the geysers would be complete without a mention of the special favorite of tourists, Old Faithful. The opening through which this miracle of Nature springs is at the summit of a beautifully ornamented mound, which is itself a page in Nature's wonder-book.
The lines upon its wrinkled face tell of a past whose secrets still remain a mystery. It hints of an antiquity so vast that one contemplate s it with bated breath; for this entire slope has been built up, atom after atom, through unnumbered ages ; during which time, no doubt, the geyser hour by hour has faithfully performed its part, without an eye to note its splendor, or a voice to tell its glory to the world. Old Faithful does not owe its popularity entirely to height or beauty, though it possesses both. It is beloved for its fidelity. Whatever irregularities other geysers show, Old Faithful never fails. Year in, year out, winter and summer, day and night, in cold and heat, in sunshine and in storm, Old Faithful every seventy minutes sends up its silvery cascade to the height of about Of all the geysers know'n to and perfect. Station yourself one hundred and eighty feet. man this is the most reliable before it watch in hand and, punctual to the moment, it will never disappoint you. Few realize on how large a scale the forces of Nature work here. At each eruption, Old Faithful pours forth about one million five hundred thousand gallons, or more than thirty-three million gallons in one day! This geyser alone, therefore, could easily supply with water a city of the size of Boston.
Within this area of the active geysers is a place called Hell's Half Acre. It is rightly named. Rough, perpendicular ledges project over a monstrous gulf of unknown depth, from which great clouds of steam are constantly emerging. When the wind draws back for a moment a portion of this sulphur-laden curtain, the visitor perceives a lake below, seething and boiling from internal heat. For years no one suspected this to be a geyser; but suddenly, in 1881, the underlying force hurled the entire lake up bodily to the height of two repeated the eruption exhibition ceased, and In 1888, however, it energy, ejecting at each hundred and fifty feet, and even frequently. After some months the all was calm again for seven years. once more burst forth with prodigious explosion more boiling water than all the other geysers in the Park combined. Even the surrounding ledges could not withstand this terrible upheaval, and tons of rock were sometimes thrown up, with the water, more than two hundred feet. It is not strange, therefore, that this is called Excelsior, the King of Geysers. It is the most tremendous, awe-inspiring fountain in the world. When it will be again aroused, no one can tell. Its interval would seem to be from seven to ten years. Said an enthusiastic traveler to me: "If the Excelsior ever plays again, I will gladly travel three thousand miles to see it."
I have a vivid remembrance of my last night at the Upper Basin. The hush of evening hallowed it. Alone and un-disturbed we looked upon a scene unequaled in the world. Around us liquid columns rose and fell with ceaseless regularity. The cooler air of evening made many shafts of vapor visible which in the glare of day had vanished unperceived. So perfect were their images in the adjoining stream, that it was easy to believe the veil had been at last withdrawn, and that the hidden source of all this wonderful display had been revealed. No sound from them was audible; no breeze disturbed their steadfast flight toward heaven; and in the deepening twilight, the slender, white-robed columns seemed like the ghosts of geysers, long since dead, revisiting the scenes of their activity.
But geysers do not constitute the only marvels of these volcanic basins. The beauty of their pools of boiling water is almost inconceivable to those who have not seen them. No illustration can do them justice; for no photographer can adequately re-produce their clear, transparent depths, nor can an artist's brush ever quite portray their peculiar coloring, clue to the minerals held in solution, or else deposited upon their sides. I can deliberately say, however, that some of the most exquisitely beautiful objects I have ever seen in any portion of the world are the superbly tinted caldrons of the Yellowstone.
Their hues are infinitely varied. Many are blue, some green, some golden, and some wine-colored, in all gradations of tone; and could we soar aloft and take of them a bird's-eye view, the glittering basin might seem to us a silver shield, studded with rubies, emeralds, turquoises, and sapphires. Moreover, these miniature lakes are lined with exquisite ornamentation. One sees in them, with absolute distinctness, a reproduction of the loveliest forms that he has ever found in floral or in vegetable life. Gardens of mushrooms, banks of goldenrod, or clusters of asparagus, appear to be growing here, created by the Architect and colored by the Artist of these mineral springs.
The most renowned of all these reservoirs of color is called the Emerald Pool. Painters from this and other lands have tried repeatedly to depict this faithfully upon canvas, but, finally, have left it in despair. In fact, its coloring is so intense, that as the bubbles, rising to its surface, lift from this bowl their rounded forms, and pause a second in the air before they break, they are still just as richly tinted as the flood beneath. Accordingly this pool appeared to me like a colossal casket, filled with emeralds, which spirit hands from time to time drew gently upward from its jeweled depths.
Close by this is another boiling pool called the Sunlight Lake. On this I saw one of the most marvelous phenomena I have ever looked upon. The colors of this tiny sheet of water appeared not only in concentric circles, like the rings of a tree, but also in the order of the spectrum. The outer band was crimson, and then the unbroken sequence came: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet in the centre! More-over, the very steam arising from it (reflecting as it did the varied tints beneath) was exquisitely colored, and vanished into air like a dissolving rainbow. All these prismatic pools are clasped by beautifully decorated curbs of silica, and seem to be set in rings of gold, with mineral colors running through them like enamel. So delicate are the touches of the magic water, as the persistent heart-beats of old Mother Earth propel it over their ornamental rims, that every ripple leaves its tiny mark. Hence it is no exaggeration, but literal truth, to say that beautiful mosaic work is being formed each time the films of boiling water are dimpled by the passing breeze.
The great variety of wonders in our National Park was a continual source of pleasure and surprise to me. Thus, in the midst of all the pools and geysers in the Upper Basin is one known as the Mammoth Paint Pot. The earth surround-ing it is cracked and blistered by heat, and from this rises a parapet five feet high, enclosing a space resembling a circus ring. Within this area is a mixture of soft clay and boiling water, suggesting an enormous caldron of hot mush. This bubbling slime is almost as diversely tinted as the pools them-selves. It seemed to me that I was looking into a huge vat, where unseen painters were engaged in mixing colors. The fact is easily explained. The mineral ingredients of the volcanic soil produce these different hues. In a new form, it is the same old story of the Mammoth Terraces. Fire supplies the pigments, and hot water uses them. All other features of the Park are solemn and impressive ; but the Mammoth Paint Pot provokes a smile. There is no grandeur here. It
seems a burlesque on volcanic power. The steam which oozes through the plastic mass tosses its sub-stance into curious Liliputian shapes, which rise and break like bubbles. A mirthful demon seems to be en-gaged in mold-ing grotesque images in clay, which turn a somersault, and then fall back to vanish in the seething depths. Now it will be a flower, then a face, then, possibly, a manikin resembling toys for children. Meanwhile one hears constantly a low accompaniment of groanings, hiccoughs, and expectorations, as if the aforesaid demon found this pudding difficult to digest.
Soon after leaving the Upper Geyser Basin, we approached a tiny lake which has, in some respects, no equal in the world. With the exception of some isolated mountain peaks, it marks the highest portion of our country. In winter, therefore, when encircled by mounds of snow, it rests upon the summit of our continent like a crown of sapphire set with pearls. So evenly is it balanced, that when it overflows, one part of it descends to the Atlantic, another part to the Pacific. This little streamlet, therefore, is a silver thread connecting two great oceans three thousand miles apart. Accordingly, one might easily fancy that every drop in this pure mountain reservoir possessed a separate individuality, and that a passing breeze or falling leaf might decide its destiny, propelling it with gentle force into a cur-rent which should lead it eastward to be silvered by the dawn, or westward to be gilded by the setting sun.
On either side of this elevation, known as the Continental Divide, the view was glorious. In one direction, an ocean of dark pines rolled westward in enormous billows. The silver surfaces of several lakes gleamed here and there like whitecaps on the rolling waves. Far off upon the verge of the horizon, fifty miles away, three snow-capped, sharply pointed mountains looked like a group of icebergs drifting from the Polar Sea. They did not move, however, nor will they move while this old earth shall last. They antedate by ages the Pyramids which they resemble. They will be standing thus, in majesty, when Egypt's royal sepulchres shall have returned to dust. Forever anchored there, those three resplendent peaks rise fourteen thousand feet above the sea, and form the grand tiara of our continent, the loftiest summits of the Rocky Mountains.