If the above looks like some sort of plastic spray fountain at a children’s water park, don’t be fooled: that is a 100-percent natural geyser. Well, sort of.
In 1916, the Fly Ranch was just another piece of arid land along the western edge of Nevada’s Black Rock Desert. That year, an irrigation well was drilled on the property. The pocket of water that was tapped was geothermically heated, creating an artificial geyser irrigating the surrounding desert. For the next half-century, this artificial geyser persisted. In the 1960s, the geothermically-heated water found a weaker spot in the ground from which to escape via a failed geothermal energy test well and did so, bypassing the manmade well in favour of its own course and blossoming into a full-fledged natural geyser. While the original geyser cone a few hundred feet away at the site of the first well no longer erupts, the newer Fly Geyser has erupted ever since, and two other geysers have since emerged nearby.
Part of what makes Fly Geyser such a special attraction is the colourful mound from which it emerges; a mound which is a byproduct of the geyser itself. The water in the geyser carries with it minerals (calcium carbonate and travertine) which have been deposited on the ground by the water over time, not only building up the mound surrounding the geyser and its cone but giving them their vibrant colours. The entire mound rises 3.7 m (12 ft) above the surrounding land and covers 30 ha (74 acres) , forming a series of terraces filled with dozens of warm-to-hot pools. These pools host a wide variety of birds and thermophilic (heat-loving) algae. Fish have been introduced to the pools as well by humans. The mound is surrounded by wetland; a product of the original 1916 irrigation.
Source: M. Flick, http://www.flickr.com/photos/17773534@N03/3415878899/. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)licence.
Source: M. Flick, http://www.flickr.com/photos/17773534@N03/3421200025/. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)licence.
The geyser itself erupts through a cone with multiple openings known as the Three Buddhas, so named for its distinct, bulbous shape rounded smooth by the constant flowing water. The cone rises 1.5 m (5 ft) above the mound; the water sprays out an equivalent distance above the cones. The cone and the mound continue to grow with each passing year, and it’s amazing to think that none of this existed 50 years ago. The two other geysers that have emerged in the area have already reached as high as 1 m (3 ft) and 1.5 m (5 ft), respectively.
Source: K. Lund, http://www.flickr.com/photos/kenlund/4081676859/. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)licence.
The second geyser that has formed at Fly Ranch since the 1960s is smaller and slightly more conical. Source: T. Wheeler, http://www.flickr.com/photos/a_gunn/3312712278/. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) licence.
If you’re looking to get an up-close view of Fly Geyser, it’s probably not going to happen anytime soon. The Fly Ranch remains in operation, and the geyser is private property, blocked off by high fencing (not that people don’t surreptitiously jump the fencing, but it is quite illegal to do so). Tours have been known to take place on occasion, but they are few and far between, and none have taken place since 2009. Attempts from various groups to purchase the geyser have been denied. Until access is granted, we thankfully have plenty of photographs and videos of Fly Geyser we can view from afar.
All Over the Map (2010). Fly Geyser Nevada. 4 March 2010. Available at http://www.allovermap.com/2010/03/fly-geyser-nevada.html. Accessed 18 November 2011.
Atlas Obscura (2010). Fly Ranch Geyser. Available at http://atlasobscura.com/place/fly-ranch-geyser. Accessed 18 November 2011.
CmdrMark.com (2003). Travels in the American Southwest: Fly Geyser. 23 August 2003 Available at http://www.cmdrmark.com/20034.html. Accessed 18 November 2011.
Evans, R.J. (2010). Fly Geyser – Not Quite Out of This World. Kuriositas, 18 December 2010. Available at http://www.kuriositas.com/2010/12/fly-geyser-not-quite-of-this-world.html. Accessed 18 November 2011.
Friends of Black Rock High Rock (2011). Fly Geyser. Available at http://blackrockdesert.org/friends/area_information/fly_geyser. Accessed 18 November 2011.