Of course, on my first trip to Yellowstone National Park, I wanted to see Old Faithful.
This very predictable geyser is one of the park’s major attractions, and so the first priority upon arriving at the Visitor Center was to see how long it would be until the next eruption.
There’s a big placard that tells you when the next show will be, just like a train timetable, just like a dolphin show, just like a circus. The next eruption was expected in under twenty minutes, which was good, if entirely accidental timing.
I walked towards the geyser. The whole thing very much had the feel of a major attraction, with benches filled with a seated audience, patiently waiting for the show to begin. These seats are very far back from the cone geyser, which is a sensible precaution, given the real possibility of some idiot deciding to achieve YouTube immortality via an incredibly unpleasant steam-burning death.
But the safe distance of the viewing area does take away from the drama.
When I went to see the geysers in Iceland a few years ago — the country that is home to Geysir, the original spouting hot spring that became known to Europeans and gave this geothermal feature its name — visitors were able to get much closer to the star of the show, Strukkor. It was very casually roped off, and I was able to see the water bubbling up from the chasm a few inches at a time as it got ready to blow, and then push higher and higher and higher. It was quite dramatic when Strukkor went into its full show, shooting steam up a hundred feet or so, and the crowd ooohed and aaahed accordingly.
Safety and fidelity are admirable qualities, in, say, a spouse. But these characteristics in combination, and when applied to a spectacle, are simply not terribly exciting.
When Old Faithful did its thing, the crowd watched impassively, and dutifully pointed their cameras and cell phones and video recorders. If they exclaimed at all, it was quiet enough that I didn’t hear it. Within a few minutes, it was over, and then, in the sulphurous air, the crowd vacated the benches and walked away.
Alison J. Stein
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