We live within shouting distance of Yellowstone National Park. I can’t even count the number of times that I’ve visited the Park – at least once a year for some 20 years. There’s a “thing” when you visit and learn about the geysers, especially – a group of people who are routine visitors who quietly call themselves “geyser gazers”. These folks move from one eruption to the next, guided by their walkie-talkie network and ephemeral friendships, and they are usually the first on the scene when an unpredictable geyser erupts, because they know the signs, because they spend weeks in the Park, gazing.
For one or two summers, my son and I joined the geyser gazer network. It was huge fun, like fitting the pieces of a great puzzle together. We learned to read the pre-eruption signs; we brought our walkie-talkies and linked with the other geyser gazers; we waited (sometimes for hours) for a particular eruption; we made those ephemeral friendships with people from all walks of life.
Just a few weeks ago, the world’s tallest geyser, the highly unpredictable Steamboat, erupted for the first time in 3 years (check out the videos in this link). I wish I’d been there. Watching a geyser is like nothing else. The ground shakes, the sky is blotted out by steam, the noise is like a freight train, the air is rich with the smell of sulfur. Steamboat’s eruptions can reach the height of a 30 story building, so you’re also at risk of getting wet.
My upcoming picture book, VOLCANO DREAMS: A STORY OF YELLOWSTONE, explores the reason why there are so many geysers in Yellowstone. The Park lies above a super volcano’s giant magma chamber, which heats to boiling the rainwater that seeps down through cracks and fissures. I’m excited about sharing this window into science with readers.
But there’s also something magical in being a geyser gazer in a place like Yellowstone, beyond the geysers and the volcano. Sharing a fantastic (and not dangerous if you obey the rules) natural phenomenon with total strangers takes everything to a basic level of trust and companionship. There is no room for politics. There is no place for discrimination. There is only the thrill of communally watching our amazing earth perform a splendid feat.
That’s why I’m strongly opposed to raising the entry fees to our National Parks. All children – and their families – should be able to witness this magic, and should experience it with a broad spectrum of fellow citizens. This is not a right of the privileged few. We all “own” our Parks.
I hope you have the chance to come to Yellowstone and see a geyser for yourself. And give geyser gazing a shot! It’s super fun. Oh! – And come see me this August in the Park. I’ll be signing VOLCANO DREAMS.