People do stupid things all of the time. Yellowstone is not a place to do stupid.
Yellowstone can be dangerous – especially if you don’t follow the rules. Some people, a small percentage of those who visit, violate the rules, mostly without consequences. However, there can be consequences, ranging from a ranger’s verbal reprimand or an actual citation for violating the rules to far, far worse.
One of the worst possible consequences of not following the rules in Yellowstone occurred on Tuesday, June 9, 2016. Colin Scott, a 23-year-old from Oregon, and his sister were “exploring” Norris Geyser Basin, wandering 225 yards from the safety of the boardwalks – about an eighth of a a mile – when Colin slipped and tumbled into one of the thermal features, an unnamed acidic mud pot, according to one of the park rangers (see video, below). Recovery efforts were ceased after it was determined there was nothing left to recover other than a few personal effects.
Norris is the hottest thermal area in Yellowstone. In places, there is but a thin crust layer over superheated, acidic water beneath – even well away from the visible thermal features of the basin.
In 2014, while we were exploring Norris Geyser Basin from the safety of the boardwalks and well-marked trails, I took a photo of a man who was exploring away from the posted and demarcated safe areas. Just a short time later, I took another photo, this one of of a hole in the crust that was about as far off the trail as the guy in the picture had been. While the surface of the thermal areas may appear safe, looks can be very deceiving .
On June 6, 2016, at Upper Geyser Basin, home to Old Faithful, a thirteen-year-boy and his father were burned at a thermal feature, with the son subsequently hospitalized and the father refusing treatment.
“Directly below the surface and in areas where there are thermal features, there can be a lip over the top of the feature that hides boiling hot water below it,” said park spokeswoman Charissa Reid. “So it’s very dangerous to walk off the boardwalk in the thermal areas. Not only is it illegal, but it’s also unsafe. In addition to that, it can damage the thermal features and encourage others to walk off trail by leaving foot prints in the geyserite1 as well, so it is illegal and we do enforce that regulation pretty strongly in the park.“
The tragic fatality at Norris Geyser Basin is but the latest of Yellowstone rule violations that have made it to the internet and media this year. Two Canadians face charges after picking up what they thought to be an abandoned bison calf, which had to be euthanized when the herd refused to recognized it after park officials tried to return it. Members of a Canadian film group were cited for walking off the board walk up to the edge of Grand Prismatic Spring, caught after their video of the adventure surfaced on the internet. And a woman was recorded trying to pet a bison near Old Faithful.
1. Geyserite is a form of opaline silica that is often found around hot springs and geysers. Botryoidal geyserite is known as fiorite. It is sometimes referred to as sinter.