Geyser Basin Safety
Wyo's Geyser Pages
while we are loving the Yellowstone wilderness, while we play in
it, indeed revel in it, taking it on its own terms and helping to
protect it, we foolish mortals must always remember to respect
it. For not only can it bite us, but, indeed, it can devour
us" --Lee H.
Pools in shades of blue,
green and yellow dot the Yellowstone landscape. Colorful mud
bubbles like a pot of mush. These are part of the beauty of
Yellowstone that has become legendary since the first mountain men
told their wondrous tales. The fountaining of a geyser is a
awesome and beautiful sight. But amid the beauty of Yellowstone
one must remember that these wonders owe their existence to hot,
sometimes very hot, scalding water. Yellowstone springs have
temperatures from 150 to 210 degrees F. Though some of these
thermal features are exquisitely beautiful, the hot water makes
them extremely dangerous. Care should always be taken and safety
should always be an issue when traveling through a thermal area
such as a geyser basin. In his book Death In Yellowstone, Lee Whittlesey reports
that from the time records have been kept until 1994 at least 19
deaths have occurred due to thermal burns received from falling
or some cases diving into thermal features such as hot springs.
He reports over a hundred injuries. Thermal injuries are reported
to be extremely painful. Most of these deaths and injuries could
have been avoided if these visitors or their parents would have
obeyed the safety rules listed below, used common sense, and
exercised caution during their visit.
Some Common Sense Rules
on trails and boardwalks--One of the most common
thermal injuries have been sustained by people who walk
off designated trails or boardwalks. Boardwalks and
trails are designed to
the thermal feature and the visitor. Don't be fooled.
What looks like solid ground may be a thin crust just
above hot water or an overhanging edge of a hot pool. If
your hat blows off or your guide book blows away do not
attempt to recover it. They are not worth risking a
thermal burn. No amount of time saved by an off-trail
shortcut is worth risking a painful injury or possible
death. Just use your head.
your children and supervise them closely.
Some of the most tragic of
the stories told by Lee H. Whittlesey in his book are
injuries to and deaths of small children due to thermal
burns. In 1936 five year old Robert Kasik, who was walking
near the West Thumb Cafeteria Building (which has since
been torn down) lost his balanced and slipped into a hot
pool near the building's foundation. His brother tried to
save him but could not . Before he was pulled out he had
second and third degree burns from head to toe. He died 6
hours later in the Mammoth Hospital. ( Whittlesey, 1995,
p. 13-14). Later that year a 4 year old girl running near
Iron Creek in Black Sand Geyser Basin fell into hot pool
and died (Whittlesey,1995, p. 14). This unfortunate
tragedy has reoccurred since that time. The park staff
can not remove every hazard from this natural place.
PARENTS MUST WATCH AND SUPERVISE CHILDREN WELL.
take pets, particularly dogs into thermal areas. Some
dogs have an affinity for water. They jump in almost with
out hesitation. In a cool lake or river it can be
refreshing for the dog and his owner only gets wet. In a
hot spring such a jump is deadly to the dog and sometimes
his owner also. Whittlesey (p. 18) reports, that in the
1960, 3 thermal burn injuries reported were of people who
tried to rescue dogs from hot springs. In addition
Whittlesey (p.3) tells the story of 24 year old David
Kirby who died of third degree burns he received on July
20,1981 when he dived into Celestine Pool in the Lower
Geyser basin to rescue his dog. The dog was not rescued
and also died. DOGS ARE NO LONGER ALLOWED IN THERMAL
AREAS and must be kept on a leash elsewhere in the park.
This for the safety of the dog, his owner and the
protection of thermal features and wildlife.
run on boardwalks or in areas of thermal features. Watch
the desire to touch the water --it may be scalding. Burns
have been reported to visitors' who wanted to test the
water temperature by touching it. Yellowstone's water can
be much hotter than your bath tub. Whittlesey (p.11)
tells of George Brown of Texas who, while bending over to
to see how hot the water was, toppled over head first
into a hot pool at Midway Geyser Basin. He died before he
got to the hospital.
particular aware of where you are when taking pictures.
The story of Fannie Weeks
who backed into a spring while cleaning her glasses in
1905 ( Whittlesey, 1995, p.7-8) should be a warning to
photographers also. I have seen several people taking a picture on the
board walk back up with out looking and while focusing or let the camera
focus. A few of the people have stepped off or nearly stepped off the
boardwalk. In the wrong place this could be very dangerous. When doing an
activity in a thermal area, always watch where you are. Know what is behind
In the same general area as knowing
where you are in a geyser basin add always know where you are going. Don't
walk with your head down or while doing a activity like reading a park
brochure or messing with a camera. Watch out for people stopped in your way
or for objects on the boardwalk like camera bags, camera tripods,
strollers, etc. A trip or fall on a boardwalk could end in a nasty injury
especially if one fell off the boardwalk. With digital cameras there is a
temptation to walk while looking at the last photo one took on the LCD on
the back of the camera. This can be dangerous if a tripping hazard exists. I
fell victim to this myself. It wasn't in a thermal area but it was in
Yellowstone. In 2005 at Artist Point on the rim of the Grand Canyon I was
walking in an asphalted area far from the canyon rim or any obvious hazard.
I gave in to the temptation to look at the digital photo on my camera's LCD.
A man darted in front of me trying to reach a child who was headed the wrong
way. Without looking up I sidestepped him and tripped over a large rock the
Park Service had attached to the asphalt to mark the edge of the trail. I
fell, skinned my knee and arm, broke my arm at the elbow, and broke
the battery door on my camera. Many good people in the area came to help. I
think I offend one kind lady by applying the band aid she gave me to my
camera to keep the battery door closed rather that putting it on the
bleeding wound on my arm. It was about a half day before I realized that my
arm was really broken and went to the Park County Hospital in Cody WY. I had
to cut my vacation short to fly home to see my Orthopedist . I did,
however, learn 2 things ( the hard way): 1- Don't walk when doing an
activity like viewing a photo on a digital camera. Always watch where you
are going. 2- When you think you are in a safe place away from obvious
hazards, that is the time you let down your guard and do something unsafe
and get hurt. Always follow safety procedure no matter how safe you feel.
If the sign says it is closed, it
is closed. From time to time The Park Service closes one of the trails
or boardwalks in a geyser basin for safety reasons. These reasons vary from
damaged trails or boardwalks to aggressive animals (usually with young ones
they are protecting to unsafe hydrothermal conditions. The trails are
closed for your protection. Don't go around the signs to see " what the deal
is". It is usually dangerous and you will get arrested id caught. Don't take
the chance. Don't enter areas marked " closed: Dangerous Thermal
Areas". Several like this are marked along Yellowstone roads. They too
are dangerous and if caught in those areas you will most likely be
swim or dive into thermal pools. Duh... not
rocket science but you would be surprised by the number
of people who have been injured or killed when they
mistook a hot pool for a warm one in which they thought
they could swim. Swimming in warm pools is foolhardy,
illegal and damages the thermal features. Swimming in a hot pool can be down right
the back- country areas beware of thermal features.
Always hike with a companion. Always tell another party
where you are headed. Stay a safe distance from thermal
features. Beware thin crust and overhangs on pools. Give
springs a wide berth.
rules will help protect you in backcountry area.
and deaths in Yellowstone's hot springs are sobering and scary.
Hot Springs injuries probably number a hundred or more. I cannot
emphasize enough to parents that they must hold fast to their
children when walking around Yellowstone's thermal areas. As a
four-year-old I was led around Yellowstone on a rope. I remember
resenting the leash my parents put on me, but my father was very
aware of hot springs and I may be still alive because of it.
Visitors must never travel off trail in thermal areas, and all
persons must exercise reasonable care when traveling through any
thermal area. Heart wrenching events such as those chronicled here
should teach us at least that". Lee Whittlesey, (1995),
for this page from Lee Whittlesey's book, Death In Yellowstone.
Though the title is morbid it is a must read for Yellowstone
Explorers. From the heart wrenching and sometimes horrifying
stories we can learn how to avoid danger and safely enjoy the
wonders of Yellowstone.
Return To Wyo's Home Page
WyoJones's Geyser Page.
Copyright © 1996, 1997, 1998, 2006 [Gregory L. Jones]. All rights reserved.