Yellowstone National Park
Grand Loop Drive:
Driving Time: 30 minutes
Distance: 14 miles
For that feeling that only Yellowstone can offer-the sense that the world is still reeling in a primordial soup of creation, caught up in some kind of marvelous conflict between inner and outer Earth absolutely nothing beats a visit to Norris Geyser Basin. At the Norris intersection, turn right (west) on a short spur road to a large parking lot departure point for reaching the self-guiding trails through the area's two geyser basins.
To the south is Back Basin, to the north Porcelain Basin, the latter named for the beautiful white geyserite that covers a portion of the area. In the Back Basin is Steamboat Geyser, its 300- to 400-foot-high eruptions making it the tallest geyser in the world. Unfortunately, Steamboat is very unpredictable, erupting as frequently as every four days, or sleeping months, or even years, with no activity at all.
The Norris Geyser Basin Museum is located between the geyser basins and offers a fine collection of exhibits about the features you will be seeing at Norris Geyser Basin, the perfect primer for those looking to better understand geothermal geology. Books, maps, and other interpretive materials are available for sale at the nearby Yellowstone Association bookstore.
Before you head out to the geothermal features, beware that there is scalding water here lots of it active not only in the features themselves, but often just underneath ground that may look solid, but is in fact nothing but a thin crust of earth that cannot support your weight. Please, for your own safety, do not step off the designated trails, and keep your children under control at all times. Finally, remember that pets are not allowed on any Yellowstone boardwalk or trail.
About 3 miles south of Norris, just past the parking area for the Artists' Paint Pots Trail, the road enters the dark reaches of Gibbon Canyon, cut by the Gibbon River through a massive lava flow of rhyolite and welded ash. At a point about 4 miles south of Norris, on the right (west) side of the road, is lovely Beryl Spring. With a temperature that hovers above the boiling point, this is one of the hottest springs in all of Yellowstone. The spring gets its name (pronounced"Burl") from a blue-green gemstone.
The Gibbon River continues to be your companion for much of this segment of the Grand Loop; at a point roughly 7 miles south of Norris, on the left (east) side of the road, the river makes a headlong 84-foot tumble, forming spectacular Gibbon Falls. This water actually falls over the rim of the Yellowstone Caldera; the rock wall on the other side of the road is a portion of the caldera's inner rim.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication