Lone Star: Yellowstone’s Most Photogenic Geyser
Over the years I’ve posted multitudes of images of Lone Star Geyser here on the blog. It is without a doubt the single most photogenic geyser in Yellowstone National Park. Lone Star is an ancient cone geyser that stands over 12 feet in height and emits a blast of boiling water and steam up to 45 feet high with an eruption that can last up to thirty minutes. It erupts approximately every three hours but is not incredibly predictable – some waiting will be required. Often during the geysers buildup to a major eruption it can have one to two minor eruptions that will also blast up to 45 feet high but only last about five minutes.
This strange and otherworldly thermal feature stands alone in a clearing caused by its own activity surrounded by forests of Lodgepole Pine. The Geyser seems alone in the world (with the exception of a few smaller thermal features in its basin). When you first view Lone Star Geyser you emerge from a forested trail to witness this large and inviting clearing. In the center of the clearing is one thing that dominates your attention – the geyser. Standing over 20 feet high it commands one’s view and draws your gaze away from the surrounding landscape.
From a purely compositional view it is almost perfect – and there are so many variations of this shot. The geyser is the main subject – bold and beautiful in the right light. Surrounding the Geyser is a large open meadow which draws your gaze towards the cone and surrounding the meadow is a dark, green forest of pine which frames the image. Within all this are various streams (emissions of the geyser) which although they are actually pouring away from the Geyser they lead you right towards the subject (leading lines).
I’ve had the opportunity to photograph Lone Star on many, many occasions running trips as a backcountry guide in Yellowstone. It is either at the beginning or the end of the Bechler River route which is one of the more popular multi-day backpacking trips in the park. It never ceases to amaze me that I seem to be compelled to “aggressively” photograph Lone Star every time I’m there – even though I probably have at least 20 shots that I consider to be Five-Star images. It’s that beautiful.
How to Photograph Lone Star Geyser
There are many compositions possible in the geyser basin. You’ll have to mostly stay on the trail that wraps around the East side of the Geyser. As the feature continuously erupts and emits silica rich water it has created a “no-go” zone of unstable thermal crust around itself. This whitish-grey “geyserite” is easily visible in the summer. Don’t walk on it.
A wide angle lens is usually best such as a 16-35mm. I typically go with the narrowest aperture (f/22) to maximize depth of field. Most of the possibilities here are landscape shots with the geyser as the centerpiece. You can definitely play around with other apertures to increase sharpness of the cone itself and blur out the background a bit – but I’ve always leaned toward the highest depth of field possible.
A few examples
Here are a few examples of Lone Star Geyser photographed during different seasons in ever changing lighting conditions. Notice the completely different framing options and angles that are available when photographing this geyser.
Best Time to Visit
The best lighting is typically in the morning when the rising sun lights up the geyser cone and as well as the forest behind it. You can, however find great light throughout the day especially on a day with broken clouds and soft diffused lighting.
As for time of year you can access Lone Star usually from Late April or May through October. During winter months you’ll have to take a Snowcoach to the Old Faithful area and then either snowshoe or cross-country ski in to the geyser.
So…how do you get there?
Lone Star Geyser is situated just apart from the Upper Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park. It is three miles from Old Faithful as a crow flies. The trailhead to access Lone Star is near Kepler Cascades on the main highway heading south towards Lake Yellowstone / Teton National Park. In order to reach the Geyser, you must walk down a fairly easy five mile (roundtrip) trail that used to be an old road but has since been closed to vehicle traffic. It’s an easy, flat hike that takes you through a lovely setting of mostly intact lodgepole pine forest.