On August 11th, an employee of Yellowstone National Park spotted part of a foot, found within a shoe, floating in a hot spring in the southern part of the park. This discovery at the Abyss Pool led park officials to temporarily close the West Thumb Geyser Basin and its parking lot while investigating the incident. This section of the park has since opened.
Park officials released evidence suggesting the mysterious foot is linked to the death of a person last month. An incident on the morning of July 31st involved a single individual, and a statement from officials reports that they do not suspect foul play. However, these statements do not elaborate or explain how the death occurred, identify the person involved, or say why officials don’t suspect foul play. The investigation is currently ongoing.
Abyss Pool has a temperature of approximately 140 degrees Fahrenheit and a depth of more than 50 feet, making it one of the park’s deepest hot springs. According to the Yellowstone National Park website, the water in this hot spring circulates as superheated water cools, reaches the surface, sinks, and is replaced by the hotter water from below. This circulation prevents the water from reaching the temperature needed to set off an eruption, like Old Faithful and other geysers in the park.
Since the park’s establishment in 1872, at least 22 people have died from injuries related to the hot springs, and many more have reported burns from the thermal pools. The most recent fatality occurred in 2016 when a man in his early 20’s walked off the boardwalk in the park’s Norris Geyser Basin. The Oregon man slipped on gravel and fell into a boiling, acidic spring while searching for a pool to get into and soak.
In light of the incident, park officials remind visitors to stay on the boardwalks and trails and exercise extreme caution in thermal areas. Although the land may look safe, the ground in these hydrothermal landscapes is fragile and thin, covering scalding water just beneath the surface. According to the parks service, hot springs have injured or killed more people in Yellowstone than any other natural feature. You can read and learn more about how to stay safe while visiting Yellowstone National Park on their website.