—Bryan Brooks – AmeriCorps VISTA, Community Development
For nearly eighty years, the Crystal Geyser has amazed and entertained Green River locals and tourists alike. A rare cold-water geyser, it remains one of a handful of its kind in the world and draws sightseers for its vigorous eruptions and for the brilliant orange travertine formations the mineral-rich water creates. However, in the last few years, the geyser’s eruptions have troublingly declined in intensity. The history of the geyser suggests such a decline may be inevitable, but non-destructive cleanup of the geyser may produce more vigorous eruptions for a while longer.
The geyser sits just north of the Little Grand Wash fault line, a fault in the earth’s crust running east-west. Water draining from the San Rafael Swell and the Book Cliffs becomes trapped along with CO2 when it hits this fault line, which acts as a giant wall. Though the Geyser itself is a relatively new phenomenon, CO2-rich water has been issuing from the earth along this fault line for several thousands of years in the form of springs. Indeed, John Wesley Powell himself was the first to record evidence of such springs when, on July 13, 1869, he reported that “We stop to examine some interesting rocks, deposited by mineral springs that at one time must have existed here, but which no longer are flowing.”
The Geyser simply tapped into this already existing natural phenomenon and provided a direct outlet for the CO2-rich water trapped along the fault line. Between November 1935 and July 1936, Glen Ruby (of Ruby Ranch) and his associates began drilling the No. 1-X well at the spot of the current Crystal Geyser in search of oil. They drilled to a depth of 2,627 feet, but instead of finding oil, inadvertently created one of the few CO2-driven cold-water geysers to exist in the world (there are at least fifteen others—five of which exist in the Utah desert).
In 1936, the geyser erupted in two cycles: a short cycle that saw eruptions as high as 82 feet occur every fifteen minutes, and a long cycle that saw eruptions as high as 148 feet every nine hours. By the 1960s, the geyser erupted fairly regularly every four hours, reaching heights averaging around 82 feet. By 1989, the eruptions were occurring less regularly every 13-16 hours, anywhere from 60 to 130 feet high. Today, eruptions occur every three to four days, and a major eruption will only reach a height of 10 to 15 feet.
The numbers point to a general decline in geyser activity: over the last 79 years the geyser has gone from erupting every 15 minutes, to every 4 hours, to every 13, to every 72, indicating “a constant decrease of vigor in eruption” (Jung et al.). Research by Weon Shik Han of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and others points to an overall decline in groundwater and CO2 being trapped along the Little Grand Wash Fault as a possible reason for this decline.
However, Dr. Cathy Ryan, a geoscientist at the University of Calgary in Canada has been studying the Crystal Geyser and believes that some non-destructive work on the geyser could result in higher eruptions. In 2011, a camera lowered into the geyser revealed that the casing (the manmade tube inserted into the ground from which the geyser emanates) was filled with rocks and gravel which act as a plug. Proposed steps to improve the geyser include bailing the geyser well to remove any debris blocking the well, lining the casing to repair leaky points, and installing informational signage at the geyser communicating proper visitor etiquette.
Because of natural forces happening below the earth’s surface, Green River may never see the glory days of the Crystal Geyser again, but a little care by the city, citizens, and visitors to the geyser could improve one of Green River’s unique and beloved destinations for a few more decades.
Baer, James L. and J. Keith Rigby. “Geology of the Crystal Geyser and Environmental Implications of its Effluent, Grand County, Utah.” Utah Geology 5.2 (1978): 125-130.
Han, W.S., M. Lu, et al. “Characteristics of CO2-driven cold-water geyser, Crystal Geyser in Utah: experimental observation and mechanism analyses. Geofluids (2013): 1-15.
Jung, Na-Hyun, Weon Shik Han, et al. “Regional-scale advective, diffusive, and eruptive dynamics of CO2 and brine leakage through faults and wellbores.” Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth (2015): 1-23.
Kelsey, Michael R. River Guide to Canyonlands National Park and Vicinity. Brigham City: Brigham Distributing, 2012.
Ryan, Cathy. “Proposed renovation for activities for Crystal Geyser.” 2015.
“Utah’s popular ‘soda-pop geyser’ is fizzling out.” KSL, 2014. 12 Nov. 2015.