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Trip of the Week

The Town of Calistoga Has Its Own Old Faithful

September 11, 1988|TOM GRIMM and MICHELE GRIMM | The Grimms are free-lance writers/photographers living in Laguna Beach.

CALISTOGA — California has its own Old Faithful geyser, which has been shooting hot water and steam into the air for as long as anyone can remember.

And the Golden State's geyser erupts more often than its famed namesake in Yellowstone National Park. The Old Faithful geyser of California spouts off every 40 minutes, while the natural wonder of Wyoming blows every 65 minutes.

Those are average times, of course, as are the heights of the steamy plumes: 60 feet in California, 150 feet in Yellowstone. According to the records, California's Old Faithful has shot as high as 150 feet too.

Occasionally it also puts on a less spectacular show, with eruptions that rise only a few feet. At those times the geyser becomes un faithful, dribbling its hot water and steam every few minutes.

Predicts Earthquakes

That doesn't disappoint scientists, however, who believe that such irregular behavior is a forecaster of earthquakes by two days to two weeks. Data posted at the viewing area shows when the geyser's oddball activity has been followed by an earthquake somewhere in the state.

The Old Faithful geyser of California is on private land but the public is welcome to view it, for a fee, every day of the year from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. (5 p.m. in winter). Call (707) 942-6463.

Admission is $2.50 for adults, $1 for children 6 to 12, younger ages free. If the geyser is not putting on its usual show, visitors are advised to return later.

Old Faithful is at the top end of Napa Valley just north of Calistoga, a town long known for its hot springs and mud baths.

A "must-see" excursion for early-day spa-goers was the two-mile trip from town to the geyser. A guest book dates to the turn of the century; today's visitors are asked to sign a register too.

It's at the drive-in entrance station marked by a huge American flag at 1299 Tubbs Lane, an east-west road between California 128 and 29. Visitors proceed past a wall of bamboo and pampas grass to the geyser viewing site.

Preliminary Event

While waiting for the eruption you'll hear tape recordings that describe this volcanic region and Old Faithful. A painting shows the route of hot springs deep within the earth that culminate with an explosion of water and steam at the surface.

When it erupts the geyser has a temperature of 350 degrees; it shoots into the air for three to four minutes.

Visitors who have questions should talk with Olga Cream, the geyser's guardian, who lives in a steam-heated house between the entrance station and the geyser. She also enjoys an outdoor steam oven and a huge hot tub made from a wine vat filled with thermal water from underground springs.

If you decide to wait 40 minutes or so for another geothermal display, bring refreshments to enjoy at nearby picnic tables. In the background is dormant Mt. St. Helena, not to be confused with Washington's Mt. St. Helens that blew its top in 1980.

Extinct Volcano

Three million years ago Mt. St. Helena erupted and covered a mountainside redwood forest with muddy volcanic ash. A trail leads visitors to the world's largest petrified trees a few miles west of Calistoga.

From Old Faithful geyser go west on Tubbs Lane, then turn south on California 128 to Petrified Forest Road and follow it west four miles.

Don't be put off by the touristy entrance to the Petrified Forest, a California historic landmark. Discovered in 1870, the small forest has been excavated to reveal rock-hard tree trunks that have been preserved through the ages.

The forest is privately owned. Visitors stop at the museum/nature store to pay $3 ($1 for children 4 to 11) for access to a quarter-mile loop trail to the tree sites.

Follow the brochure that identifies the petrified trees, such as the Giant that's 60 feet long and six feet in diameter. All of the larger trees still have their bark. It's estimated they were 2,000 years old when buried by the volcanic ash and mud.

Petrified Forest

The Petrified Forest is open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (to 5 p.m. in winter). Call (707) 942-6667.

For lists of lodgings and restaurants in the Calistoga area, phone the Calistoga Chamber of Commerce, (707) 942-6333.

Get to Calistoga from Los Angeles by driving north on U.S. 101 to Santa Rosa and exiting east on California 12. Then turn left on rural Calistoga Road that becomes Petrified Forest Road.

Round trip from Los Angeles to Calistoga is 1,030 miles.

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