Lonely Planet Writer

Yellowstone geyser spews up objects from the 1930s in rare eruption

One of Yellowstone National Park’s least active geysers suddenly came to life on 15 September. Onlookers were thrilled when Ear Spring geyser erupted with a blast shooting 30 feet up in the air. They were less thrilled, however, when the geyser also spewed out human-generated trash, including a baby pacifier from the 1930s.

Some of the items discovered in Ear Spring’s recent eruption. Image by Yellowstone National Park / Facebook

Ear Spring is the least active geyser in the area and in the past 60 years it has erupted just four times. The last time it erupted was 2004 and last month’s eruption was the strongest one since 1957. Naturally, visitors and park officials were thrilled to witness the most recent explosive spectacle. The eruption caused sprays of steaming water (at 200 degrees Fahrenheit/93 degrees Celsius) to leap as high as 30 feet (nine metres) in the air while people watched on in awe. However, joy turned to shock when it was discovered that as well as steam and natural rocks, the geyser was spewing up a number of foreign objects.

“After Ear Spring erupted on September 15, employees found a strange assortment of items strewn across the landscape around its vent! Some are clearly historic: they’ll be inventoried by curators and may end up in Yellowstone’s archives,” park officials said on their Facebook page.

Among some of the items discovered were 100 coins, a cement block, aluminium cans, a drinking straw, plastic cups, cigarette butts, a rubber heel insert, old metal signs and a baby pacifier from the 1930s. Park officials say that the objects could kill the geyser, regardless of whether they ended up there accidentally or were deliberately thrown in.

A close-up of some of the coins discovered in Ear Spring geyser. Image by Yellowstone National Park / Facebook

Yellowstone supervisory park ranger Rebecca Roland told CBS News, “you might think that if you toss something in a hot spring or in a geyser that it disappears, but it doesn’t disappear. It stays in there and what normally happens is you can actually plug up a feature and kill the feature. And that’s happened in many places in the park.” On Facebook, park officials urged visitors to be more careful: “the next time Ear Spring erupts we hope it’s nothing but natural rocks and water. You can help by never throwing anything into Yellowstone’s thermal features.”

Steamboat geyser minor eruption in Yellowstone National Park. Image by Shutterstock

Geysers are a rare occurrence. There are only about 1000 of them in the world, half of which are located in Yellowstone National Park. They erupt when magma heats up gases and water in a reservoir beneath the Earth’s surface, sparking sprays of water and steam. Ear Spring, named for its resemblance to the shape of a human ear, is one of dozens of hot springs, geysers, and fumaroles in Yellowstone’s Upper Geyser Basin. The park’s most famous geyser, and the world’s most active, is Old Faithful, which has enchanted visitors to Yellowstone for generations with its frequent explosions.

You can follow Yellowstone National Park on Facebook for more update’s about the park activities. If you’re planning a visit, you can check the predicted eruption times of select geysers at the visitor centre ahead of your arrival.