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Beowawe’s extinct geyser field

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Beowawe steam well
Steam issues from Beowawe’s steam wells in this historical photo.

Several years back, soon after my family moved to Elko, we were eager to explore this new countryside. On a map, I noticed a spot labeled as Beowawe Geyser Field. This sounded interesting since we moved here from Montana and had visited Yellowstone’s geysers, so we coaxed the two kids into the car and off we went.

Just south of Beowawe, we traversed gravel roads to the spot shown on the map. We found a terrace made up of white material with pipes snaking across the ground, numerous pieces of equipment and steam issuing from metal boxes. It was more of an industrial site than a geyser field and it turned out we were about 40 years too late to see geysers.

The Beowawe Geysers can still be found on maps but it took an Internet search to find more information. Web pages dedicated to the world’s geysers list Beowawe among the famous ones, including Steamboat Springs south of Reno, Yellowstone, Alaska, New Zealand, Siberia and Iceland. These web pages list both Beowawe and Steamboat Springs’ Geysers as destroyed. Other websites report that during the early 1900s, people traveled from the nearby railroad at Beowawe to view them. One web page even claimed the geysers had been considered for National Monument status to protect them, although I could not find any confirmation of it.

UNR’s website for their Great Basin Center for Geothermal Energy states the terrace once held hot springs, fumaroles and geysers. It is formed of sinter, a silica material laid down by hot springs. Geysers had erupted from the sinter terrace and from the slope and valley bottom below it. Geyser eruptions were small, the plumes listed as 3-6 feet high. Underground water temperatures were the highest found in Nevada, 213-216 degrees Celsius, making it ideal for geothermal development.

During the early 1960s, exploratory drilling relieved the terrace’s underground pressure enough to destroy the terrace’s geysers, although the ones below still erupted. Wells were drilled to use the geothermal heat for generating electricity.

Around 1972, vandals destroyed the caps on some steam wells, releasing a large amount of steam and after that, all geysers ceased eruptions.

In 1985, the Beowawe flash power plant began producing 16.7 megawatts of electrical power. In 2006, Beowawe Power signed a 29-year contract with Sierra Pacific Power Co. for electrical power production.

Geothermal energy is a clean source of electrical power, but it is easy to forget what once was.

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