A Scene: Gesyers in the Moonlight — Edwin J. Stanley, 1883

4 Upper Basin YDSF02998

Tbe Upper Geyser Basin.

Today tourists often stop at the Upper Geyser Basin just long enough to see Old Faithful, —just an hour or two—and then move on. But early travelers often camped near the basins for a week or more hoping to see ALL the geysers play and in all conditions: daylight, moonlight and firelight. Here’s how one man described what he saw in 1883.


There are hundreds of springs in the basin, all differing more or less in some particular.  On a calm, clear morning, at or just before sunrise, when all the springs are sending up their columns of steam of every magnitude, and all boiling and fussing and splashing away, as if trying each to attract the greatest share of attention, and while one or two of the larger geysers are piercing the heavens with their stupendous columns, the basin presents a lively and interesting spectacle.

The eruptions as witnessed by moonlight are truly sublime, though deprived of much of their glory, as it is difficult to distinguish between water and steam. Some of the party built bonfires and watched the eruptions by firelight, which were very fine, giving the rising volumes the appearance of fiery liquid hurled forth from the crater of a volcano.

It is not the most quiet and agreeable place for sleeping. One is frequently disturbed during the night by the alarming detonations and subterranean thunder, making an almost constantly rumbling noise as of heavy machinery in motion, the come and go of ponderous freight-trains, the hiss and rush of escaping steam, and the loud plash of falling torrents, as the geysers, the ever-vigilant sentinels on the outposts of old Pluto’s infernal regions, sound the alarm and spout forth in the darkness. This is more sensibly realized by sleeping on the ground, and, rest assured, the sensations are not always of the most desirable character.


— Pages 118-123 in Edwin J. Stanley, Rambles in Wonderland or Up the Yellowstone. New York: Appleton and Company, 1883.

— National Park Service Photo, Yellowstone Digital Slide File.

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— For more on this topic, click “geysers” under the Categories button to the left.

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