The Geyser erupts.

Old Faithful Geyser of California

Field review by the editors.

Calistoga, California

In a world of modern plumbing, it's hell being a geyser. Travelers of past centuries stood and watched, agog, as heated water blasted heavenward from rocky fissures. It was a true mystery. Today you get the same effect from a broken fire hydrant or the fountain show at the Bellagio.

With a geyser, it's important to keep in mind that the phenomenon is not manipulated by Man: it's an underground river encountering hot magma deep in the earth and squirting for its own amusement -- not your vacation convenience. Three geothermal geysers in the world are predictable, erupting as if set on clocks, and are called Old Faithfuls.

Historically, California's Old Faithful erupts every 45 minutes -- at least since it was fenced off years ago and offered back to the admission-paying public. An impressive entrance gate and ample parking suggests California's Old Faithful is a popular Napa Valley attraction, a stop on a day trip that might include a one of several hundred local wineries and the nearby Petrified Forest.

Sign explaining how the geyser works.

The attraction property wraps around the single geyser; there are a few llamas and fainting goats (used to visitors and no longer faithfully fainting). As we arrive, spending no more than 20 seconds eyeing the goats, we hear a bassy rumble and gurgling ahead.

The geyser is erupting! We doubletime it to the clearing, just as the geyser finishes its performance. We fear a full 45 minutes stands between us and the next mighty eruption.

But no, the wait today is... 5 minutes! Up spouts the 350-degree plume of water, perhaps 60 feet into the air. Five minutes later, and away she goes again! This is way faster than we've seen elsewhere (at Old Faithful in Yellowstone Park, large crowds assemble to witness its mighty 180 ft.+ spew every 80 minutes).

California's Old Faithful has the bladder of an old person! Five minutes, then 20 seconds of aerial whizzing before the geyser sputters and stops. It's too fast for a crowd to gather, or anticipation to build. And there's not enough time between eruptions to feed the llamas or watch the orientation video.

We're not really complaining -- just curious... is Old Faithful broken? The manager explains: Rainfall in recent weeks shortened the eruption interval (Precipitation is one factor in eruption frequency, but timing can change preceding earthquakes, too).

Geyser erupts again.

Keep clear of the side where the wind is blowing if you want to avoid the scalding vapor cloud. An old carved wooden sign warns: "Keep your distance from The Geyser. Heat and steam pressure can cause serious body injury. Throwing rocks or debris into the Wonder of Nature is sabotage... punishable by a heavy fine or imprisonment or both. Thank You, The Management."

Plastic chairs and picnic benches are arranged at a safe distance for visitors to sit and watch as many eruptions as they desire.

Old Faithful Geyser of California

Address:
1299 Tubbs Lane, Calistoga, CA
Directions:
2 miles NW of downtown Calistoga, E of Hwy 28 on Tubbs Lane.
Hours:
Daily 9 am-6 pm. (Call to verify)
Phone:
707-942-6463
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
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October 1, 2014

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