If this isn’t the big one, it certainly ranks as a strange one – strange enough that parts of Yellowstone National Park have been shut down. A thermal spring that has only erupted three times in the past 60 years made the fourth a memorable one this week as it spewed enough steam, water, rocks and debris 30 feet into the air, forcing the park to close a popular observation boardwalk and other areas to protect tourists. This triggered other nearby geyser eruptions and comes on top of Steamboat Geyser, Yellowstone’s largest, shooting boiling water up to 300 feet in the air for an hour and fifteen minutes – the latest eruption in its most active year since 1982. And then there was the guy caught urinating into a geyser … is this really a good time to insult the supervolcano under Yellowstone?
"It's still in flux. There is still water flowing in new places and some of the springs that had been dormant have been erupting nearly constantly."
Park spokesman Neal Herbert told the Bozeman (Montana) Daily Chronicle that Ear Spring in the Upper Geyser Basin has not erupted to that 30-foot height since 1957 and this recent activity has caused new erupting vents and surface fractures which forced the closure of the boardwalk areas.
“Changes in Yellowstone's hydrothermal features are common occurrences and do not reflect changes in activity of the Yellowstone volcano. Shifts in hydrothermal systems occur only the upper few hundred feet of the Earth's crust and are not directly related to movement of magma several kilometres deep. There are no signs of impending volcanic activity. There has been no significant increase in seismicity nor broad-scale variations in ground movement."
As always, the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory and the US National Parks Service agree that they’re not worried about the geysers – except for tourist safety – nor the supervolcano. Their biggest concern is earthquakes, although they may be considering looking the other way if a minor tremor were to cause fools attemting to urinate into Old Faithful to accidentally fall in.
According to multiple reports, many park visitors watched and recorded Gabriel Villalva of Greeley, Colorado, get off the boardwalk (while it was still open), walk over to Old Faithful, lay down next to it and then stand up and appear to relieve himself in it. After being ticketed by park rangers for leaving the boardwalk, he left the park and drove seven hours to Cheyenne, Wyoming, where police saw him driving recklessly and chased him until he drove over spike strips, which set his SUV on fire, and then ran until being subdued with beanbag bullets.
Was Villalva a jerk (and possibly inebriated) or was Yellowstone trying to send a warning message through him to stop messing around and start being concerned about all of this recent geyser activity? Park officials and seismic experts say don’t worry .. nothing to see here … move along … the rest rooms are to the right.
Perhaps we should call in a geyser whisperer.