Friday, May 22, 2015

Top Ten Ways to Die in Yellowstone

Top Ten Ways to Die In Yellowstone
by: Peggy L Henderson

For my post today, I thought I’d stray away from the usual western-themed topic to talk about one of my favorite things - Yellowstone!
Yellowstone had been in the news a lot in recent weeks, from "bears chase tourists in Yellowstone" (that's the sensationalized headline the news media would like you to believe),  to boulders crashing down on a popular trail, to a teen getting gored by a bison, and a man falling almost to his death in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone (huge kudos to the park rangers who rescued him). 
As summer approaches, and folks flock to the national parks, it's important to remind everyone to use common sense and follow the rules, and not become a statistic and to stay safe. 

Here are some gruesome facts about ways people have been knows to die in Yellowstone, whether it was early tourists in the 1800’s, or people visiting the park today.

Boiling in a Hot Spring
People have fallen in, jumped in to rescue dogs or personal items, or thought it was safe to bathe in . Some of the springs reach temperatures in excess of 200 Degrees Fahrenheit.

Death by Bison
Gorings and stompings by bison occur often because people don’t heed the warnings to stay at least 25 yards away. These animals may look slow and docile, but a two ton bison can charge at 35 miles per hour. That’s faster than the average human can run.

Lightning Strikes
Most lightning strikes occur while out boating or hiking, and not having adequate cover when a storm hits. 

Aside from car accidents and illnesses, drowning claims more lives than any other danger in Yellowstone. Several deaths have been reported as recently as 2007–2010. Swimmers who underestimate their abilities, boaters whose boats capsize, and hikers who fall into a lake or river account for most of the drownings.

Poison Plants and Gases
Water hemlock looks a lot like an edible wild parsnip or carrot, but it's a virulent poison. For both of the confirmed deaths, it was, unfortunately, their final meal. Deadly hydrogen sulphide, which occurs naturally in Yellowstone, killed a worker helping to dig a pit in 1939.

One fall involved a driver who backed his car off a cliff, killing both himself and his wife. Several workers have died after falling from scaffoldings or buildings. Others who have fallen to their deaths from cliffs have ignored warning signs and wandered from established trails.

A number of people froze to death or died in avalanches in Yellowstone during its early years. Since 1921, however, such deaths have been very rare; three people died in two separate avalanches in the 1990s.

Rolling Rocks
Setting a boulder tumbling into a canyon might seem like innocent fun until you realize there are hikers down below. One person died this way, while several others were killed by rocks that were unintentionally dislodged or just happened to fall.

Falling Trees
Although rare, deaths from being hit by a tree have happened several times in Yellowstone, either during logging operations or windstorms.

Grizzly Mauling
The first documented death caused by a bear in Yellowstone happened in 1916; the latest two, in summer 2011, after a gap of 25 years when no bear-related deaths were recorded. Visitors have died while hiking, sleeping in tents, or getting too close to a bear while trying to snap that perfect picture.

This list was complied from one of my favorite books about Yellowstone. For more details about deaths in America's oldest national park, check out Death in Yellowstone - Accidents and Foolhardiness in the First National Park
By park historian Lee Whittlesey.
In the introduction, the author states, “Play safely, and think before you act.” 

Now go out and enjoy your national parks!

I've used several of these scenarios in my books set in Yellowstone and in the neighboring Tetons, and in one book, Yellowstone Promise, a character from the past comes to the future. Here are a few quick scenes on how I pictured my character from the nineteenth century to view some of the "touristy" things that happen in the park today:

Chase led her along more pathways toward the rim of the canyon. While the canyon itself hadn’t changed, the rim certainly had. Trees had been cleared to make way for the smooth trails, and to accommodate the parking lot. Wooden fences lined the path, and rocks had obviously been placed as barriers in areas along the edge. Signs on wooden posts announced that the area was dangerous, and people could fall to their deaths.
“Is it really necessary to post these warnings?” Sarah asked. Did people not see the dangers for themselves?

“Yes, and people still fall over and get killed,” Chase said.

The hills whipped past at an unbelievable pace. Much of her surroundings became a blur, until the vehicle suddenly slowed. In front of them, dozens of cars stood still along the sides of the path and even in the middle, making it nearly impossible for anyone to pass. People stood off in the meadow, staring and pointing at the hillside. More people ran across the path to join the others.
“What’s going on, Chase?” Sarah leaned forward, but the belt across her chest stopped her. “What are all those people looking at?” From a lifetime of habit, her hand reached to her waist, then she moved it again. Her knife wasn’t there.
“Probably a bear, with this many people,” he muttered.
“A bear? Why are people seeking out a bear?”
Chase chuckled. “To get a picture. This is one of many reasons why people come here. To see the wildlife.”
“Picture?” Sarah asked. She shook her head. Bears were to be avoided if possible, not sought out. She’d never comprehend this strange world.

Peggy L Henderson
Western Historical and Time Travel Romance
“Where Adventure Awaits and Love is Timeless”

Author of
 Yellowstone Romance Series
Teton Romance Trilogy
Second Chances Time Travel Romance Series
Blemished Brides Western Historical Romance


  1. Oh yes, people are dumb! We raised bison for a decade so know their "signals". We were in Custer State Park a few years ago, in our pickup that had our bison logo on the side. As usual, bison started going across the road while we're out walking. We high tail it back to the truck while many people are walking toward the bison instead. And it was baby season and mamas weren't happy with anything near their calves. My husband warned people around our truck to get back to their vehicles and then we left because we didn't want to witness someone gored or tossed in the air...

  2. People forget the wildlife isn't on vacation. ☺ Thanks for your look today and other days at Yellowstone. I've wanted to visit the park since I was a girl but have yet to go there. My mom talked about how interesting it was. I enjoy your vicarious tours.

  3. Thanks for all the dire warnings! We visited Yellowstone one spring on a tour bus--stayed in the big lodge next to Old Faithful. That place was so crowded. Our guide warned us about all kinds of things, even the sulphur pool we saw. And certainly about the small herd of bison grazing near the highway. He stopped and most of us got off. He warned and warned--stay close to the bus. DO NOT APPROACH THE BISON. Okay, one lady ignored him and walked right out in the pasture toward the group. A few bison raised their heads to watch her, and she had enough sense to turn and walk quickly away, with the bus driver yelling--Don't run! Just walk. Crazy woman. But there are always people who do not care to listen.
    Oh, we loved Yellowstone..We saw a black bear and her cub walking in the middle of the highway. Cars and buses stopped from both directions and waited to where she was going. It took a while, for she was ambling along.
    Thanks for these facts--not one of them surprised me! Great photos, too.

  4. A very good idea to post these warnings as the summer vacations begin and the Memorial Day weekend takes off. The one that scares me the most is bear attacks. Yikes. If people would just use some common sense, they would steer clear of many of these dangers, but you know how people can be...stupid. Just sayin'. Isn't it down right disgusting how some people can be so destructive like shoving a boulder over the edge and harming people on a trail. I can't help but think about the Boy Scout leader who thought is was funny when he toppled over a rock formation it took millions of years to form.
    I have your book and now all I need is some time to read it--and the other books I'm eager to get to. I wish you every success.

  5. This is a great list for using in a mystery! Was it accidental or murder? Thanks for the info, Peggy.

  6. Yes, people tend to forget that wilderness is not Disneyland. The animals are alive and real, and they are not behind fences, and they are not tame. My favorite recent quote from a tourist who was warned not to get to close to the bison (I read this on one of the Yellowstone tour guide FB pages) is "We raise bison. They know us."

  7. True, true, true! Animals in the parks and some of our neighborhoods are wild! Enjoyed your excerpt. Good luck with sales!


Thank you for visiting Sweethearts of the West! We are very sad to require comment moderation now due to the actions of a few spam comments. Thank you for your patience.