Yellowstone – Beautiful But Deadly

….And now for the rest of the story.

buffalo carcass

Don’t wind up like this critter! Stay on the boardwalks. This is a buffalo carcass we saw in the Old Faithful Geyser Basin in 2006.


Tuesday’s post  left you hanging as I took a tongue in cheek view of the boardwalk rules in Yellowstone National Park.  My daughter had asked the question, “how did they build the boardwalks”, as we walked along a trail observing steaming hot springs and boiling water bubble out of the crust around us.

We had seen the warning signs:

  • Some of the signs cautioned with an illustration of a boy who appeared to be jumping on a cone.  His pained expression tells it all as steam envelopes him and a woman looks on in horror.
  • Stay on boardwalks and designated trails. They protect you and delicate formations, warns the Official Newspaper of Yellowstone National Park.

The question remains. How did they build the boardwalks if you’re not supposed to leave the trail for fear of breaking through the crust and getting burned?  After all, someone or something had to venture out on the crust to lay the planks. Another question from a reader popped up on Tuesday’s post, “…all of the thin crust is right by you, why doesn’t the boardwalk itself fall in?”

Good question. I googled these queries, only to come up short.  I still cannot answer them.  What I did discover is that through monitoring and maintenance of the park, whenever a new hot spot is discovered, the boardwalks are rerouted.  So we’re thinking that the experts obviously have a method when it comes to constructing boardwalks and perhaps even wear protective gear in case of a mishap.  If any of you can shed some light on this, please let me know. Now, here’s a few scary stories of why we need to be cautious in Yellowstone and stay on the boardwalks.


Yellowstone’s geothermal features are the most dangerous natural features in the park. They are beautiful, but deadly, and they are HOT!  Scalding temperatures can reach up to 250 degrees Farenheit.  Each year rangers rescue at least one or two people, mostly children, who have accidently slipped from the boardwalks and broken through the thin earthen crust into scalding water.  Most have survived but some haven’t.  Twenty people have reportedly lost their lives in Yellowstone National Park.  Seven children wandered away from parents,  teenagers fell through thin crust, fishermen mistakenly stepped into hot springs in Yellowstone Lake, and park consession employees illegally took “hot pot” swims in thermal pools.


A Livingston, Montana boy whose family reported his death after he had fallen into a hot spring in 1890 was the first reported death.  In 1970, a nine year old boy from the state of New York slipped or tripped and fell into the scalding waters of Crested Pool.  He swam a few strokes, then sank right in front of his horrified family.  In 1981, a California man died after suffering 3rd degree burns over his entire body.  Trying to save a friend’s dog, he dove head first into Celestein Pool’s 202 degree Farenheit water. The most recent fatality was in 2000.  On a moonless August night, a 20 year old female park concession employee went swimming with 2 male friends in the Firehole River.  Carrying no flashlights, they hiked back via Lower Geyser Basin. The three thought they were jumping a small stream but fell into Cavern Springs 10 ft deep boiling hot water.  The men survived but the woman died several hours after being rescued.  She had 3rd degree burns over her entire body.  The men had severe burns over most of their body and spent months in the hospital.


In Tuesday’s post, I also made light of the caution not to touch the water or inhale the steam. According to the park service, thermal water can harbor organisms that cause fatal meningitis or Legionaires disease. Dangerous levels of hydrogen sulfide and carbon dioxide have been measured in some of the hydrothermal areas and park visitors are told to leave an area immediately if they start to feel sick.

So there you have it. Yellowstone is a wild and scenic wilderness to be respected.  Erupting geysers, crystal blue hot springs, fumaroles, hazardous steam, giant waterfalls, buffalo, moose, bear, and so much more make Yellowstone a must see. Have a great time, but keep your fingers and toes on the boardwalks!

Want to know what else park concession employees do?  Read Yellowstone Webcam Catches Guys on Old Faithful

Happy Trails,

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