Amazing Places

Fly Geyser Is a Human Mistake Turned into Natural Art

Across the state from Las Vegas stands another oasis in the Nevada desert. A human blunder from the 1960s has led to the formation of a manmade geyser known as Fly Geyser, a multicolored natural tower that looks straight out of Doctor Seuss.

A Beautiful Mistake

It may look like an alien creation, but this sight is purely a human mistake. The mess all started a century ago during a search for irrigation water in the Black Rock Desert, according to Atlas Obscura. People drilled a well and quickly realized that the near-boiling water wasn't going to work for farming, so the well was left abandoned until the mid-1960s. That's when a different company returned to the Fly Ranch property, again hoping to tap into some geothermal energy by drilling a second well. But like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, this time the near-boiling temperatures weren't quite hot enough for the geothermic energy the company was after. According to Burning Man (yes, that one), the new owner of the property, that well became a geyser when it wasn't suitably capped.

Far from your typical cone geyser, Fly Geyser spews steam and hot water from multiple places, many feet in the air. The water lands in pools around the formation. In the decades since, deposits continue to grow as water continues to spray, taking advantage of the water pressure it stole from the first well. Nevada State Geologist James Faulds told the Reno Gazette-Journal the colors are from the minerals: "Sulphur creates the mustard yellow color, iron creates the red and the green color is from algae."

A Festival-Worthy Hot Spot

It's been difficult for regular people to see Fly Geyser up close, but now the private property has a new owner: the Burning Man festival's nonprofit organization. Organizers wrote, "Ever since the Burning Man event was held at Fly Ranch in 1997, this special place has taken up residence in our hearts and in the imagination of the Burning Man community." It's still closed to the public, but the festival started a Fly Ranch website that they say they'll keep updated as plans are made for future use. It won't become the site of Burning Man; rather, festival organizers say they want to use Fly Ranch for activities during the non-festival days of the year.

Beyond the Fly Geyser, Fly Ranch is an expansive piece of land, offering many more natural spring water pools, wetlands, and grasslands. The area is also a sight for stargazers. FiveThirtyEight's Oliver Roeder wrote about nearby Gerlach, Nevada as the darkest city in the U.S. "By day, you can see plumes of geothermal steam rising in every direction, pouring from vents in the ground and disappearing into the crisp, dry air," he wrote. "At night, you can see distant galaxies with the naked eye, their light much older than our species."

Fly Geyser Is an Accidental Oasis in the Middle of Nevada

Written by Haley Otman May 4, 2017

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