fly geyser blackrock

Fly Geyser: One of Nevada’s Little Surprises

A couple of years ago, a photographer friend showed me some pictures he’d taken of a place he called Fly Geyser. He said it was an amazing site that was located about two hours north of Reno on the edge of the Black Rock Desert.

Fly_geyserThe photos showed three, large green and orange colored mounds of some kind of rock with water shooting out of the top. He said the geyser was located on the Fly Ranch, which is private property (don’t trespass), but could easily be seen from the nearby road.

After seeing the remarkable images of a trio of travertine cones spewing hot water about four or five feet into the air, I knew I had to find this place.

So recently, I took a drive north of Reno to the small town of Gerlach. My map indicated that Fly Geyser was about 20 miles north of Gerlach via State Route 34.

The geyser isn’t difficult to find. The plumes of hot water that continuously pour from the top of the mounds can be seen from miles away. Additionally, once I got closer I could see the distinctive shades of green and rust on the tufa rock pillars that seem to sit out in a field of tall grass.

I’d researched the geyser before heading up there and found that it’s not a natural phenomenon. The geyser was created accidentally in 1964, after a geothermal power company drilled a test well at the site. While the groundwater in the region turned out not to be sufficiently hot to be tapped for geothermal power, it did have a temperature of more than 200 degrees.

According to later newspaper reports, the well was either left uncapped or was improperly plugged. In either case, the scalding hot water was allowed to shoot from the well hole and calcium carbonate deposits began to form, growing several inches each year.

Jump forward several decades, and those deposits have become large mounds taller than an average-sized man that rise out of a field of tall reeds and grasses.

Scientists familiar with the geyser note that the green and reddish coloring on the outside of the mounds is the result of thermophilic algae, which flourishes in moist, hot environments.

Interestingly, the set of circumstances that created Fly Geyser in 1964 apparently occurred at least one time before. In about 1917, a well was drilled a few hundred feet north of the geyser. This well was also abandoned and, over time, a massive 10 to 12-foot calcium carbonate cone formed.

Today, no hot water flows from the older mound. It appears that the earlier geyser dried up when underground water was diverted to the newer one.

After I snapped a few shots, I headed back to Gerlach because my photographer pal had recommended that I stop at a diner called Bruno’s Country Club. He said that Bruno’s serves these delicious, round ravioli that are worth the trip up there.

He was right about both the geyser and the raviolis.