Yellowstone Visitor Education Center Open

The hub of Yellowstone National Park is centered around Old Faithful. It includes a $27 million visitor education center that opened in August 2010 and several hotels, including what the park considers its most glorious structure: the shingle-coated Old Faithful Inn. This is the original “Old House,” built in 1903, with its seven-story lobby and banisters and rails made from gnarled and twisted lodgepole pine branches. Staying here for most, means sharing a bathroom, though others can opt for more traditional rooms in connected wings.

Even if you don’t stay there, try to take one of the several hour-long tours offered each day. The area is a central point to miles of boardwalks and roads to several geyser basins. Old Faithful truly lives up to its name because a half-dozen other major geysers erupt on a less precise schedule that ranges from about every three hours for the Daisy Geyser to a dozen times a year for the Giant Geyser.

For the average visitor, seeing an eruption is a matter of luck. Last spring we saw Daisy Geyser twice. We sat on a bench in awe to watch Riverside Geyser, which is on the bank of the Firehole River and erupts about every six hours, arching a 75-foot stream of steaming water into the frigid river for 20 minutes.

As for the rest, including the Grand Geyser — which erupts about twice a day with bursts going up to 200 feet — we were never near them when they put on a show. But we did spend time with another park attraction — geyser gazers.

These men and women, mostly retired, spend months at Yellowstone, sitting in chairs for hours by their favorite geyser and keeping a log of when it erupts. They then contact rangers, who update information on a large board in the visitor center. The geyser gazers said no one day or eruption is the same, and they love being out in nature. They tell stories of the most memorable eruptions and pass their time reading or chatting with visitors.

While the geysers draw the crowds, some of the most beautiful features in the park are the thermal pools, or hot springs, in which the water is several shades of breathtaking blue, from deep sapphire to bright teal. The colors that surround them, orange, brown, green and yellow, get their hues from bacteria and other organisms living on the rock. The Grand Prismatic Spring is the largest hot spring in Yellowstone, and its brilliant colors are best appreciated from viewing photos taken from above the 360-foot spring.

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