A Series of Underwhelming Attractions: The Geysir of Calistoga

Published: May 3rd 2018
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I’ve been to the fountain head. Literally. Ten years ago on a visit to Iceland I was fortunate enough to witness the Great Geysir in the Hauladalur Valley as part of the classic Golden Circle tour. A fifteen minute period of apprehensive underground brewing was rewarded when a huge plume of water erupted with attendant billowing clouds of steam. The shock of the thing makes you take a couple of steps backward. An automatic salute is stimulated as you shield your eyes to get a better view of this amazing spectacle.

And then on to this.

The Geysir at Calistoga is undoubtedly the poor cousin it’s more famous namesakes in Iceland, New Zealand and Yellow Stone. It rather resembles a superior ruptured garden hose or burst water main. However, what is lacks in size it certainly makes up for in regularity. On arrival, the geyser was erupting like the clappers, going off every five minutes or so with almost adolescent indecency. We walked around the site in both clockwise and counterclockwise directions to better appraise what we were seeing. Closer examination, leaves you with a few nagging concerns. The area around the Geysir looks suspiciously managed with liberal use of concrete and strategically spaced rocks. The whole effects makes a look like a highly denuded rockery or lightly landscaped parking lot.

In February, the overall attraction has a rather run down, end-of-the-pier feel. There are a few faded infrmation boards dotted around with explanative notes (local fauna, local flora and hydrothermal geology 101). The field next to the geysir has a few oddly horned few goats lying prone and ruminating. There is also a rather imperious looking Llama which has Greta Garbo expression. Nothing looks too friendly and the effect is one of a passive-aggressive petting zoo.

There is often something charming about second-tier attractions. You root for them like under-dogs and under-achievers who are still game, still contenders, still wanting attention. There is the curious feeling of a reluctance to leave, a strange inertia as if things may actually get better.

I have to say, in the case this goodwill is somewhat eroded by the rather cheeky admittance charge of fifteen bucks.


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