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California's 'Old Faithful' still gushing, but drought taking its toll | Bartell's Backroads

The more groundwater that hits the volcanic magma, the more frequent the Calistoga Geyser blows. But during a drought year, the geyser is a little less 'faithful.'

CALISTOGA, Calif. — Reminders of ancient volcanic activity are still present all over Napa Valley. It’s partly because of that old volcanic activity that the grapes in this region grow so well, but sitting in the little town of Calistoga, that volcanic activity is still active. 

You can see it at the Old Faithful Geyser just off highway 128. According to property manager Koray Sanli, it’s just one of just three “Old Faithful” Geysers in the world.

“This one, the one in Yellowstone of course, and another in New Zealand,” Sanli said.

To form a geyser, you need volcanic activity below the groundwater. And Calistoga is sitting right next to what’s left of Mt. St. Helena -- a volcano that blew around 3 million years ago. The more groundwater that hits the volcanic magma, the more frequent the Calistoga Geyser blows. Usually, it happens every 15 to 30 minutes, but during a drought year, the geyser is a little less faithful.

The good news for visitors is there’s plenty of activities to do while they wait for the geyser. Amenities at the Old Faithful Geyser include a small petting zoo, picnic area, and bocce ball court. Oh, and don’t forget the 1930s steam well.  

“They would use [the steam well] to boil eggs and they would also use it to cook pigs,” Sanli said.

The steam well was sealed up by Olga Kolbek shortly after she bought the place in the 1970s. Locals called her the "Geyser Lady” partly because she claimed the Old Faithful geyser could predict earthquakes. 

“When the geyser stops blowing for more than two or three hours, that is an indication of an upcoming earthquake,” Sanli said.

Kolbek kept careful records of the geyser’s activity before and after earthquakes. Her research was eventually published, and a seismograph was installed on the property.

The Old Faithful Geyser is open seven days a week. Bring a picnic lunch food options are limited.

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