WyoJones' Geyser Pages


post card of one of the wells that has been called the Old Faithful of California. Photo circa 1935.A.old postcard, circa 1935, showing the erupting well that is currently called Old Faithful of CaliforniaB.
photos above from postcards in the Greg Jones collection
Old Faithful "Geyser" of California (also known as Calistoga "Geyser", Little Old Faithful, or Mt. Saint Helena "Geyser") is a popular tourist attraction found at the head of the Napa Valley near Calistoga California. Contrary to the belief of many this "geyser" is man-made.  The photos above show the "geyser" at the turn of the century erupting from the casing of the a well drilled in the late 1800's. Old faithful of California is one of several artificial "geysers" found around the world. It may be best classified, not as a geyser, but as  an erupting geothermal well. There were at least two such wells drilled at the site of  Old Faithful of California as documented in old photographs. Dr. John Rinehart in his book, A GUIDE TO GEYSER GAZING,1976 p.49 concedes that the feature called Old Faithful is a drilled well even though he starts by saying "There has always been some question as to whether the geyser is in reality a natural one or a drilled well." He continues "In any event according to to accounts, an early settler was nearly blown to bits when it began erupting while he was drilling" (probably for water). Rinehart, then speculates that the settler may have "simply opened up a dead geyser". Certainly legends and rumors of geysers in this part of California have existed since the early settlers and the opening of a dead geyser is a possibility. However all indications are that no geyser was reported until after the well was drilled sometime around the turn of the century. Reinhart also confirms that there was casing in the 70 meter deep well. Fran Rache and his wife Grace observed this geyser starting in 1906 and according to Rinehart kept it alive. Rinehart reports "the geyser, because it sits in a sedimentary basin" (I read pool here), "fills up with debris every few years, closing off the well casing at about the 13 meter level". Fran would clean it out by reaming it. Reinhart continues "However in 1970, he (Fran) did a major overhaul after some boys stopped the geysers action entirely by jamming the opening with broken pop bottles". What exactly Fran did is not clear in Reinhart's book but he apparently fixed the sediment problem and restored the "geyser" eruptions. Current photographs show a cone sitting in the runoff pool. In 1974 The Rashes sold their ranch and geyser to Howard and Olga Cream, two avid geyser gazers, who converted it in to the tourist attraction it is today. The Cream's successful development of the site was not the first attempt to draw tourists to erupting wells in Calistoga. Old postcards, such as the one shown below, document an earlier attempt by E. T. Plummer to commercialize an erupting well .

However, even though the "geyser" vent is artificial, it tapped into a natural hydrothermal system. Recent reports indicate that behavior of this geyser may change prior to earthquakes. Further studies are underway to see if geyser behavior may be an indicator of impending earthquakes. This very significant theory is based on detailed observations of the "geyser" made by the Olga (Cream) Kolbeck and other gazers starting in 1974. Old Faithful of California though not of natural birth is an important thermal feature.

Wyoming Jones, Aug. 1997.


Photograph. circa 1935, above shows one of the thermal wells in eruption from a nearby hill. Image courtesy of www.PicturesNow.com.

Photograph. circa 1935, above shows one of the thermal wells in eruption. Image courtesy of www.PicturesNow.com.

Old postcard showing two erupting well at the Calistoga site

At least two separate wells that have acted as geysers have been present at the Calistoga site. This postcard shows both erupting. The one on the left is the geyser shown above with the concrete steps towards it shown in photo A above. The one on the right is the well with the cone shown in photo B above. The feature on the right is the currently erupting well that is called Old Faithful of California

Over time there have been several erupting wells in the Calistoga area. The photos below show some of these erupting wells.
postcard, circa 1915, showing an well erupting from casing which became Old Faithful Geyser of Califorinaold photo, circa 1915, showing eruption from casingearly hotel at the Calistoga "geysers"
Early Hotel near geyser in Calistoga. 
Photos above from postcards in the Greg Jones collection.

Link to current photo of "geyser" (external link) "Old Faithful Geyser of California" Calistoga California

Another recent photograph of  Old Faithful of California

Links to visitor information and more pictures: "Old Faithful Geyser of California" - Calistoga California

If you have further photos, know more about the history of the Calistoga wells, or know of any corrections or clarifications to the information on this page please email WyoJones.

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Revised: 05/20/08