Camping, Hiking, Hot Springs, National Parks & Monuments, State Parks, United States, Waterfalls, Wyoming, Yellowstone National Park

Caldera Tales – Day 4: Biscuit Basin, Mystic Falls, Black Sand Basin, & Upper Geyser Basin

September 9, 2021

I feel like I have to begin the blog for this day with a huge confession…

I did not watch Old Faithful erupt on this trip.

Whew, now that my confession is off my chest…

It is geyser basin day! Chasing all the geysers, all day long! Naturally, I got an early start, as early mornings in Yellowstone are my favorite. First, the landscape is all steamy, and second, the record crowds would be a bit less (September 2021 would set an attendance record I would come to find out).

Looking towards Fountain Paint Pot area from the highway before sunrise

I worked my way down to the Midway Geyser Basin, where I made a quick stop even though its not like Grand Prismatic Spring is very visible in the mornings due to the steam. This geyser basin is darn near impossible to visit later in the day unless you have a level of patience that I do not have for waiting for parking, or walking down from the highway.

Looking over the Firehole River to the north on the bridge at Midway Geyser Basin
I think this can count as a waterfall! Excelsior Geyser’s runoff channel down to the Firehole River
Into the mist
Excelsior Geyser’s crater is massive and discharges 4000 gallons a minute into the Firehole River. However, the geyser no longer erupts.
There you are, Grand Prismatic! I won’t lie, I love photos that show the colors of the spring reflecting in the steam and mist.
The downfall to early mornings at Grand Prismatic is you get photos like this mostly. But you’re not fighting 500 people for boardwalk space, either.
But these bacterial mats!!!!!
Opal Pool
Turquoise Pool
Looking south down Firehole River at the bridge

After my jaunt around Midway, it was time to explore Biscuit Basin, which is one of my favorite geyser basins. My main goal was to get to Mystic Falls. When I visited last summer, I hiked up to Mystic Falls in the late afternoon, which meant I was shooting into the sun at the waterfall. I knew the morning would be better in the lighting aspect, so I was super excited to head one of my favorite waterfalls. But of course, I had to explore some hot water first, which included “yogging” (running without actually running as I call it, because I’m clumsy and running sounds a bit too dangerous around boiling water) towards a playing Mustard Spring which I spotted from across the boardwalk. Of course, a watched pot never boils, and it stopped playing once I was in front of it and I finally gave up watching.

Salt & Pepper Geyser from the parking lot
Rusty Geyser is a frequent player near the parking lot at Biscuit Basin
This lighting!!!!!!
Island Geyser erupts steadily
Goldfinger Pool
Black Opal and Black Diamond Pools
Boardwalk to my hydrothermal dreams
“Bobby sock” trees
Jewel Geyser erupts frequently
East Mustard Spring playing! Time to yog like a weirdo towards it!
My watched pot that decided not to boil anymore…
West Mustard Spring
Acova Spring
Another angle of Acova Spring
West Geyser

Okay, enough hot water for now! I enjoyed the first bit of the short hike up to Mystic Falls with a couple from the east coast, before my fast walking and ability to breathe at the altitude of Yellowstone caused us to go our separate ways. I once again chose the most direct route to the falls, foregoing the overlook loop to save my feet for a long day of hustling to geysers.

You can actually walk all the way to Fairy Falls from Biscuit Basin if you have the legs for it!
The trail descends gradually along the Little Firehole River
Mystic Falls, always a fave!
Mystic Falls from the upper vantage point
Hydrothermal activity on the banks of the river

After enjoying some quality waterfall time, it was back to Biscuit Basin to enjoy some more thermal features, and then it was onto Black Sand Basin. This geyser basin I had a short trip to in 2020 due to a thunderstorm that rolled in and dumped hail, so I was looking forward to taking my time this trip under sunny skies.

Shell Spring playing
Sapphire Pool
Another view of Sapphire Pool

Black Sand Basin is named as such due to black sand made from obsidian that is found in the area (but alas, I do not find it to be too black sandy). Right near Old Faithful, it doesn’t seem to get nearly as much attention, though it has several gorgeous pools and Cliff Geyser, which erupts on the banks of Iron Spring Creek. You can access this basin from the Old Faithful area, and it is about a one mile walk from Daisy Geyser. Or you can be like me, and drive there and park in the nice parking lot!

Sprouter Geyser putting on a show
Sprouter and Cliff Geysers playing together
Opalescent Pool
I am not sure if this is Sunlight Geyser or not as googling “sunlight geyser” doesn’t return anything helpful.
Ragged Spring playing
Cliff Geyser erupts frequently and has its own observation platform. It is well worth it to gawk at it for awhile!
Jagged Spring was being feisty when I was watching it, but always stopped once I brought the camera to my face.
Green Spring
Cinnamon Sprouter
Emerald Spring
Wide angle view of Emerald Spring
Rainbow Pool. You can see the tracks of the old boardwalk that was rerouted in the foreground.
Sunset Lake abstract. It was still cool enough that too much steam was coming off of it for a better photo of the whole darn thing.
Another view of Cliff Geyser

Black Basin in the sunshine (yay for no hail!) wrapped up, it was time for Disney World… I mean, the Upper Geyser Basin, which is home to Old Faithful. I grabbed some gas and then found a parking spot in the massive expanse of cars and RV’s. There’s solid cell service here, so I called my parents, and then popped into the visitor center for passport stamps, before realizing I forgot my hat and water bottle in the car. I hustled back to the car and grabbed my forgotten items.

There’s something about geese and Yellowstone, ha!

I snapped a photo of the geyser prediction times and was pleased to see I would be able to geyser chase some new ones. I was in the window for Castle so I yogged in that direction, with one detour around a bison (the park rangers don’t mess around in Disney World, they make sure you don’t get anywhere near the fluffy cows).

My pro tip is to snap a photo of this as sometimes the NPS app doesn’t work great if the cell network is busy (or you just don’t get good cell service in Yellowstone)

Oh Castle… I baked in the high altitude Wyoming sun for 90 minutes and you never erupted, just a few splish splashes as the crowd waited impatiently. Castle is becoming less predictable, and it never did blow. Thankfully Beehive Geyser did give everyone a show in the distance! Yay, new geyser eruption for me!

Castle teasing, but never giving us the full show.
Luckily Beehive Geyser saved the day for me and treated me to this eruption off in the distance! This is a big one, often reaching 190 feet! And its loud!

I finally gave up on Castle (which worked out as it never erupted that day), and got treated to Sawmill Geyser playing for the first time in years (I think since 2017!!), with Tardy Geyser getting in on the action, too. I know the big geysers are the main attractions, but I like these smaller ones a lot, especially if they’re not regular players.

Shield Spring. I can’t resist admiring a big blue hole in the ground.
Tortoise Shell Spring playing on the left, and Castle Geyser not doing anything on the right.
Crested Pool is a beauty, but I always think of the kid that fell in in 1970 and was never recovered. There’s handrails now in place to prevent the unfortunate accident from happening again.
South Scalloped Spring
Sawmill Geyser
Tardy and Sawmill Geysers
Twilight Spring
Spasmodic Geyser

I made my way over to Grand Geyser which was gathering a crowd, and found a spot to sit on the boardwalk above the run off channel (and in the shade!). My biased review that is if you’re going to see a predicted geyser in the frontcountry, you should opt for Grand, as it is absolutely spectacular! Yes, more spectacular than Old Faithful!!!

Turban Geyser entertaining the crowd as we patiently wait for Grand’s vent to fill
We have eruption!
Grand Geyser is the tallest predictable geyser in the world
Vent Geyser begins its play behind Grand
The show goes on and on at Grand!
West Triplet Geyser begins playing in the foreground
West Triplet, Turban, and Vent Geysers continue on after Grand is done
Closer look at Vent and Turban
Why yes I had a snack on the run at Grand while Vent and Turban Geysers played

After Grand, I watched Sawmill a bit more, and then wandered a little around Geyser Hill before heading back to Disney World, I mean, the area around Old Faithful. I stopped by the photography store for more passport stamps, and got in line for a snack. Sadly there was no huckleberry ice cream to be found, but I did get a huge flatbread pizza and a huckleberry float.

Belgian Pool
Liberty Pool with Castle Geyser in the background
Rubber Pool
Heading towards Geyser Hill on the boardwalk
Well 😛 to you, too, Fluffy Cow!
Sponge Geyser
Ear Spring
Aurum Spring close up
Doublet Pool is one of my favorites for detailed close ups!
Run off from Doublet Pool
Doublet Pool
Sponge Geyser’s run off
Crossing the Firehole River and heading back for snacks!
After yesterday’s hike, I realized someday I should probably read this book.
Huckleberry float! I can’t believe I didn’t take a photo of the flatbread as it was huge and more than enough food for me. Multiple people could share it!

My feet were tired and I was battling my blisters from the day before. I was hot, and just overall tired, and debated going to see Riverside Geyser. Then I realized it was closer to hike from the Biscuit Basin parking lot to Riverside Geyser than to get there from Old Faithful, and that I shouldn’t wimp out on my final geyser chase of the day. Back in the car I jumped, and drove up to Biscuit Basin where I nabbed a parking spot and crossed the highway.

(Wait, why didn’t you watch Old Faithful, Heidi? Honestly, it was just way too peopley for me. All the benches were packed shoulder to shoulder, and I just didn’t want to sit in that crowd in the sun. And with seeing Sawmill, Beehive, and Grand, I was satisfied with geyser chase thus far.)

Previously I had walked up this part of the trail to Artemisia  Geyser, so I looked forward to going the whole way. I was treated to following a couple who stuck their hands in multiple hot springs, learning that they are all really hot at the beginning before completing the rest of the hike in solitude. The sun was not in an ideal spot for photos, so I mostly strolled along and enjoyed the sights without a camera in my face.

Mirror Pool
Sprite Pool
Gem Pool (background) and Pinto Pool (foreground)
Artemisia Geyser is a beauty! Atomizer Geyser is in the background.
Artemisia Geyser close up
Sentinel Geyser on the banks of the Firehole River
Morning Glory Pool is definitely one of the weirdest things on this planet if you ask me.
My nerdy geyser gazer self
Fan Geyser

I had about an hour wait at Riverside Geyser, but I had shade to wait in, and enjoyed chatting with a couple from Howell, NJ, nearby where I had lived, hyping up Iceland as a place they should go and complaining mutually about the traffic in the park.

Riverside Geyser is very predictable, with an interval of about 6.5 hours. Though I had debated coming to watch it, I definitely recommend making the time for it as its unique and offers a chance at a geyser-bow photo opportunity.

Riverside Geyser begins its show!
Some geyser-bow action!
Riverside plays long enough that you can take the chance to move around and photograph/observe from several different angles. I highly recommend trying to capture the rainbow!
The end of the show.
West Sentinel Geyser in the background as I began my journey back

A successful day of geyser chasing complete, I headed back to the car and began the trip north back to Madison Campground. Another “fun” evening of Madison Junction travel awaited me. I timed it this trip, and it was 40 MINUTES to go 1.5 miles. 40 MINUTES. Luckily I had some Cheez-its and trail mix in my car so I could snack. Absolute ridiculousness. Like the previous day, I drove the last quarter mile on the wrong side of the road so I could get into the campground.

This would be my final night at Madison, which I was a little sad about as it is in such a great location for all my geyser chasing, but I also really didn’t enjoy my campsite too much since it was so close to others so I was happy to make a change and hopefully have a bit more space and privacy. I chatted with the gentleman from Flagstaff across from me who told me how he comes to Yellowstone twice a year for two weeks at a time (so jealous!), and then delved into dinner (which I didn’t photograph as the packet of chicken I used made it not look appetizing but it was delicious otherwise!). I did take a quick walk down to the Madison River, but didn’t stay long as someone was blasting some music ridiculously loud and it was ruining the whole experience (and to be fair, the sun set). I think there was still traffic backed up trying to get into West Yellowstone by the time my head hit the pillow…

Sunset on the Madison River

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