On August 11, a Yellowstone National Park employee saw part of a foot, found inside a shoe, floating in a hot spring in the southern part of the park. This discovery at Abyss Pool prompted park officials to temporarily close West Thumb Geyser Basin and its parking lot while they investigated the incident. This section of the park has since opened.
Park officials released evidence suggesting the mysterious foot is linked to a person’s death last month. An incident on the morning of July 31 involved a single individual, and a statement from officials says 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 do not suspect a crime. The investigation is currently ongoing.
Abyss Pool has a temperature of about 140 degrees Fahrenheit and a depth of more than 50 feet, making it one of the deepest hot springs in the park. According to the Yellowstone National Park website, the water in this hot spring circulates as superheated water cools, rises to the surface, sinks, and is replaced by warmer water from below. This circulation prevents the water from reaching the temperature needed to trigger an eruption, like Old Faithful and other geysers in the park.
Since the park’s inception in 1872, at least 22 people have died from hot spring-related injuries, and many more have suffered burns from hot spring pools. The most recent death occurred in 2016 when a man in his early 20s walked off the boardwalk at the park’s Norris Geyser Basin. The Oregon man slipped on gravel and fell into a scalding acid spring while looking for a pond to wade in and soak in.
In light of the incident, park officials remind visitors to stay on boardwalks and trails and exercise caution in hot spring areas. Although land may seem safe, the soil in these hydrothermal landscapes is brittle and thin, covering boiling water just below the surface. According to the park service, hot springs have injured or killed more people in Yellowstone than any other natural feature. You can read and learn more about staying safe while visiting Yellowstone National Park on their website.