One of Nevada’s little surprises: Fly Geyser
Special to the Appeal
Fly Geyser, on the edge of the Black Rock Desert about two-and-a-half hours north of Carson City, is one of those unexpected things you sometimes find in Nevada.
Continuously spewing clouds of hot water about 4 or 5 feet high in the air, Fly Geyser is a remarkable sight when you first spot it from the nearby highway.
The geyser, on the Fly Ranch, consists of three, large travertine mounds, with a series of terraces around its base. In addition to the spraying hot water, the most impressive thing about the trio of tufa rock cones is their colors – rich, vivid shades of green and rust.
The geyser, which is about 20 miles north of Gerlach via State Route 34, is on private property, but you can see the water plumes from the road. Adjacent is a small geothermal pond, fed by run off from the geyser.
Perhaps the most interesting detail about Fly Geyser is that it’s not really 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 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-size 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. It 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 – a photo of which appeared on the cover of a late-1940s issue of Nevada Magazine. It is almost as if the earlier geyser dried up when water was diverted to the newer one.
Despite Fly Geyser’s uniqueness, there are no plans to convert it to a public park or preserve. While it has been discussed over the years, nothing yet has come of those proposals.
The million-acre Black Rock Desert area that surrounds Fly Geyser is an extremely active geothermal zone. For instance, the tiny hamlet of Gerlach is home to several natural hot springs, including Great Boiling Spring, which is a mile north of the town.
Additionally, about three miles north of Gerlach on State Route 34 you can find a small field of geothermal vents and springs adjacent to the road (on the left side). Here, boiling hot water bubbles from a hole in the ground and spills down a steaming ditch.
It’s natural, open to the public, and undeveloped – which makes it a unique little attraction.
Gerlach was established in 1909 as a station on the main line of the Western Pacific Railroad. It was named for the Gerlach Land and Cattle Co., part of the large Gerlach and Waltz Ranch, which was founded in the late 19th century by Louis Gerlach.
It is also home of Bruno’s Country Club, a roadside diner which serves up some of the largest and roundest (and tastiest) ravioli you’ll ever find as well as a good-size hamburger with home fries.
Nearby Empire is a company town (largely owned by U.S. Gypsum, a dry-wall manufacturer) that boasts a nine-hole, par-three golf course in the center of the town.
• Richard Moreno is the author of “Backyard Travels in Northern Nevada” and “The Roadside History of Nevada.”