YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, Wyoming (AP) -- As two-way radios crackled, Californian David Leeking took notes and intently watched the steaming vents of Fan and Mortar geysers.
Those unpredictable natural features lie on the banks of the Firehole River west of Old Faithful. They sometimes take as long as nine days to erupt, and he wants to be there when they do.
Leeking is among a society of naturalists known as geyser gazers. They speak of these shows with awe and emotion.
Officially, Leeking is a member of the Geyser Observation and Study Association. Founded in 1983, the group is dedicated to collecting and disseminating information about geysers and other geothermal phenomena in Yellowstone National Park and elsewhere. The group has a newsletter and a Web site that features dozens of photos of erupting geysers.
But, like many members, Leeking started watching geysers long before there was a formal group.
He got hooked when he was 9 when he bugged his parents and grandparents to take him to the geyser basins on their yearly vacations. He has visited Yellowstone every year since 1975 for at least four days and for as long as three months.
The two-way radios many gazers carry alert visitors of indicators of possible eruptions. Gazers record the behavior of the geologic features in an effort to predict when they might erupt again.
''We try to figure out patterns so we can see them again in the future,'' said Leeking. ''The notepads are a way of keeping track.''
Most of these hot water aficionados enjoy seeing Yellowstone's less predictable geysers. According to the geyser group's Web site, true gazers appreciate surprise and suspense.
Leeking, for example, counts Morning Geyser in the Fountain Paint Pot loop as one of his favorites.
''It is like a bomb going off,'' he said. ''It is over 100 feet high and 50 to 70 feet wide. It is massive and tall. And it is always good.''
Ralph Friz, an Ogden anesthesiologist, worked in the Old Faithful area from 1949 to 1951. He decided to make northern Utah his home partly because he wanted to be close to Yellowstone. He drives to the park four times a year.
Friz counts himself among the lucky few to see a rare eruption of Steamboat. The world's largest geyser has its own Web site despite the fact it rarely erupts. It last went off May 2, 2000. That was its first major activity since Oct. 12, 1991.
''We saw Steamboat on a beautiful Labor Day morning at about 11:30,'' said Friz. ''We had been waiting since Friday, 24 hours a day. It erupts for about 300 feet and lasts for about three hours.''
Beehive is the physician's favorite geyser that goes off frequently, but is not as predictable as Old Faithful, Riverside or Daisy. The latter three eruption times are usually posted at the Old Faithful visitor center.
''There are not many ways where the earth (reveals) what is going on under the surface,'' he said. ''There are earthquakes, volcanoes and geysers. Two are destructive. The third is a beautiful means of showing what is going on 400 to 1,000 feet underground.''
Clark Murray, a Salt Lake City Yellowstone enthusiast, can relate. He spends four to five weeks a year in the park looking for eruptions, fascinated that nothing in nature stays the same.
''Things that have been dormant for years suddenly reactivate,'' he said. ''Small features can become larger and more powerful. Geysers can go dormant. One day, that might happen to Old Faithful. We kind of take it for granted.''
Murray's favorite geothermal features are eruptions of Fan and Mortar geysers, a sight he has not experienced since 1997 despite waiting six days in May for a possible eruption.
''Fan geyser has 16 vents going in 16 directions, arching over the old road,'' he said. ''Mortar erupts to about 80 feet and then turns into a steam phase that sounds like a jet engine. You can't hear yourself from all the roaring. There are so few events where you can see geology come to life. It is such a slow, slow process you can't comprehend it.'' ------
On the Net:http://www.geyserstudy.org
(Distributed by The Associated Press)
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