As Yellowstone National Park readies for the summer tourist season during its 150th year, it is worth reminding visitors about the dangers that lie right off the boardwalks of some of the park’s most visited spots.
Yellowstone has fascinated travelers and explorers for hundreds of years with thermal features that boil and bubble and belch noxious fumes or shoot scalding water high into the air.
That fascination has led to more than 20 deaths over the years and many severe injuries as a result of contact with water that approach 200 degrees Fahrenheit.
More recently Yellowstone has seen some of the most gruesome accidents in its history.
In the summer of 2016, a 23-year-old Oregon man and his sister were travelling through the park when he decided to soak in one of the thermal pools near Pork Chop Geyser. While checking the temperature of the pool, Colin Scott slipped and fell into the super-heated acidic water of the 10-foot-deep pool.
Though his sister, Sable Scott, attempted to rescue her brother, it was not successful, and he died in the hot water.
Park rangers were unable to remove his body that evening and when they returned the next day, Scott’s body had completely dissolved.
Yellowstone Park has strict rules about pets in the park and it’s easy to understand why.
In October of 2021, a human’s loyalty to her pet put a woman in the hospital with severe injuries.
The 20-year-old visitor from Washington was driving through the park with her family on October 4, when her dog escaped from her car near the Firehole River and ended up in the 200-degree Maiden’s Grave Spring.
Trying to save her dog, Laiha Slayton jumped into the thermal spring where she suffered second, and third-degree burns over 90% of her body.
Slayton was put into a medically induced coma at the Burn Center at Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center in Idaho Falls where she began a slow recovery from the burns. A GoFundMe campaign has raised over 80000 for her medical care.
The Slayton incident was similar to the case of David Allen Kirwan who, as a 24-year-old on July 20, 1981, was driving through Yellowstone with a friend and his dog.
Early in the afternoon, the pair stopped to view the sights at the Fountain Paint Pots when the large dog leapt into 200-degree Celestine Pool and began yelping.
Kirwan and his friend, 25-year-old Ronald Ratliff ran to the edge of the spring to try to rescue the dog.
Kirwin, ignoring the warning of bystanders to stay out of the super-heated water, dove into the spring and attempted to reach the dog. Failing to do so, Kirwin was pulled out of the spring by Ratliff. He was severely burned over his entire body and died the next day at a Salt Lake City hospital.
In the fall of 2020, a 3-year-old child suffered second-degree burns after falling into a small hot spring. Earlier that year, a woman who had illegally entered Yellowstone when it was closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic slipped into hot water while taking photographs and was badly burned.
Yellowstone provides ample warning of the dangers that face visitors to America’s first National Park. Pamphlets are handed out at the entrance gates that remind visitors to stay away from wildlife and stay on boardwalks near thermal features.
Signs warning of the boiling water are numerous and straightforward.
In 2021, 26-year-old Connecticut women was jailed and fined for walking off the boardwalk onto fragile ground in Norris Geyser Basin’s thermal area.
In September of 2021, visitors filmed a pair of tourists washing their dogs in thermal water near the Firehole River. They were lucky the water was not too hot, but they broke specific rules in Yellowstone that state that pets are not allowed on boardwalks, hiking trails, in the backcountry, or in thermal areas.
Also in that month, a Yellowstone Park employee was severely burned as she illegally walked onto the thermal ground near Old Faithful.
In July of 2021, a 37-year-old Maine man was spotted running off the boardwalk toward Old Faithful wearing a racoon-skin hat while waving an American flag. He was fined and banned from the park
In 2020, three men were banned from Yellowstone after being caught in an attempt to cook a chicken in a geyser.
In 2019, an apparently drunk man suffered severe burns when he left the boardwalk and tripped into hot water near the cone of Old Faithful Geyser.
Park officials have stressed that while the thermal features in Yellowstone are beautiful, they are also dangerous.
In a statement following a recent incident, a park spokesperson said, “Water in hot springs can cause severe or fatal burns, and scalding water underlies most of the thin, breakable crust around hot springs.
Do not touch thermal features or runoff.
Swimming or soaking in hot springs is prohibited. More than 20 people have died from burns suffered after they entered or fell into Yellowstone’s hot springs.
Pets are prohibited in thermal areas.
Protect pets by observing these regulations:
Pets may only accompany people in developed areas and must remain within 100 feet (30.5 meters) of roads, parking areas, and campgrounds.
Pets must be physically controlled at all times: they must be in a car, in a crate, or on a leash no more than six feet long.
Pets are not allowed on boardwalks, hiking trails, in the backcountry, or in thermal areas.
Stringent rules regarding pets are designed to protect them and the parks’s flora and fauna.”
Yellowstone has been a wild place always and, even though visitors can glimpse the wonders of the park, they are still in a wild place where nature is in charge.
Park officials ask visitors to take the Yellowstone Pledge:
“I pledge to protect Yellowstone National Park. I will act responsibly and safely, set a good example for others, and share my love of the park and all the things that make it special.”