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Old Faithful Area Geologic Highlights

Evidence of the geological forces that have shaped Yellowstone are found in abundance in this district. The hills surrounding Old Faithful and the Upper Geyser Basin are reminders of Quaternary rhyolitic lava flows. These flows, occurring long after the catastrophic eruption of 600,000 years ago, flowed across the landscape like stiff mounds of bread dough due to their high silica content.

Evidence of glacial activity is common, and it is one of the keys that allows geysers to exist. Glacier till deposits underlie the geyser basins providing storage areas for the water used in eruptions. Many landforms, such as Porcupine Hills north of Fountain Flats, are comprised of glacial gravel and are reminders that as recently as 13,000 years ago, this area was buried under ice.

Signs of the forces of erosion can be seen everywhere, from runoff channels carved across the sinter in the geyser basins to the drainage created by the Firehole River.

Mountain building is evident as you drive south of Old Faithful, toward Craig Pass. Here the Rocky Mountains reach a height of 8,262 feet, dividing the country into two distinct watersheds.

Yellowstone is a vast land containing a landscape that is continually being shaped by geological forces.

Shoshone Geyser Basin

Shoshone Geyser Basin is reached by a 17-mile roundtrip hike that crosses the Continental Divide at Grant's Pass. This basin has no boardwalks, and extreme caution should be exercised when travelling through it. Trails in the basin must be used. Remote thermal areas, such as this, should be approached with respect, knowledge, and care. Be sure to emphasize personal safety and resource protection when entering a backcountry basin.

Waterfalls

Kepler Cascades is the most easily reached waterfall in the district. A marked pullout just south of Old Faithful and a short walk from the car offers the visitor easy access to view this 125-foot cascade.

Other natural features:

  • Old Faithful Geyser
  • Upper Geyser Basin
  • Lower Geyser Basin
  • Midway Geyser Basin
  • Lone Star Geyser Basin
  • Firehole River

Old Faithful Historic District

This designation applies to the developed area adjacent to Old Faithful Geyser, which contains many historic structures.

Old Faithful Lodge

Unlike the Inn, the current Old Faithful Lodge is a result of numerous changes dating back to the early days of tent camps provided by companies like Shaw and Powell Camping Company and Wylie Permanent Camping Company. These camps were erected throughout the park and offered shelter before hotels and lodges were built. Both companies had facilities at Old Faithful. By 1917, auto traffic into the park was increasing, and it was decided that some camps could be eliminated. Yellowstone Park Camping Company emerged and operated on the old site of the Shaw and Powell camp, the present day site of the Lodge. In 1918, a laundry was built on the site and construction continued on the facility until 1928 when the Lodge reached its present configuration.

Cabin-style accommodations are available at Old Faithful Lodge. Often confused with the other two hotels in the area, Old Faithful Lodge houses a cafeteria, gift shop, coffee shop, and the front desk where guests check in.

The lodge is currently operated by Xanterra Parks & Resorts. Information regarding reservation procedures is available through their website.

Lower Hamilton Store

Built in 1897, this is the oldest structure in the Old Faithful area still in use. The "knotty pine" porch is a popular resting place for visitors, providing a great view of Geyser Hill. (The oldest building at Old Faithful was built as a photo studio in 1897 for F. Jay Haynes. Originally located 700 feet southwest of Beehive Geyser and about 350 feet northwest of the front of the Old Faithful Inn, it now stands near the intersection of the Grand Loop Road and the fire lane, near the crosswalk.)

The Old Faithful Visitor Education Center

The new Old Faithful Visitor Education Center features exhibits on hydrothermal features, life in extreme environments, volcanic geology, and scientific investigations of these phenomena.

Evening ranger-led programs are presented during the summer and the winter seasons. The Yellowstone Association sales outlet here provides a large selection of their merchandise.

Other historic sites:

  • Old Faithful Inn

Howard Eaton Trail

Named for an early park outfitter and guide, the Howard Eaton Trail paralleled the Grand Loop Road in many places. Remnants of this old horse trail are maintained and used by hikers today. Here in the Old Faithful District, the trail provides a less traveled route to Lone Star Geyser from the developed area.

Nez Perce Creek Wayside

This exhibit tells the story of the flight of the Nez Perce through Yellowstone in 1877. A band of 700 men, women, and children entered the park on the evening of August 23rd, fleeing 600 Army regulars commanded by General O.O. Howard. The Nez Perce had been told to leave their homeland and move to a reservation. They fled their ancestral home in the Wallowa Valley in northeastern Oregon on June 17, 1877, and by the time they entered the park, several battles, including a fight at Big Hole (another NPS site), had occurred.

During the two weeks they were in the park, the Nez Perce bumped into all 25 known people visiting the new park at that time, some more than once. Camps were plundered, hostages taken, and several people were killed or wounded.

After leaving the park, the Nez Perce tried reaching the Canadian border but were stopped by General Nelson Miles, who had reinforced General Howard's command. Some Nez Perce were able to slip into Canada, but the remaining 350 tribal members led by Chief Joseph surrendered to General Miles. This is where Chief Joseph gave his famous speech, "I will fight no more forever." The 1,700-mile flight that included Yellowstone National Park had come to an end. Today, Nez Perce Creek and the nearby wayside exhibit are reminders of their visit.

Craig Pass/Isa Lake

Both names are used to describe the same location seven miles south of Old Faithful on the Grand Loop Road. At 8,262 feet along the Continental Divide, Isa Lake is a uniquely confusing feature. During spring runoff, it drains into both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans at the same time–and backwards, too! The west side of the lake flows into the Firehole drainage and, eventually, the Atlantic throughout the year. During the spring, the east side flows toward the Snake River drainage and the Pacific.

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