VIDEO: Why (Not) to Visit Yellowstone

Posted In: Airstream, National Parks, Video, Wildlife, Yellowstone

As of this writing, we’ve taken our Airstream into all of the lower 48 States. We’ve camped just about everywhere between Mexico and Canada that we could squeeze our rig. We’ve inexplicably bypassed a few destinations along the way (why on earth did we cruise through Oregon without stopping at Crater Lake?!) but we’ve seen enough terrain to form some opinions. After all these years of domestic exploration, we keep coming back to the first place we camped together: Yellowstone National Park. It remains the gold standard.

I’ve blathered in this space before about Yellowstone, and why it’s God’s greatest creation since Eve, fire, the wheel, and the GPS. It’s the “oldest and best” park, the world’s first national park, and… BLAH, BLAH, BLAH.

There I go again. Let’s face it: you’re tired of hearing me drone on about Yellowstone. So I thought I’d pull together a video of reasons why you should NEVER visit Yellowstone. Instead of hearing about all of the delicious reasons to visit, let’s consider some downside risks. Many of these involve the possibility of dying an unusual and violent death. Studies show that most people prefer to avoid unusual and violent deaths.

In Yellowstone, you run a reasonable risk of death by wild animal. In the video I refer to bison as “the most dangerous animals in the Park.” This is true, as Obi Wan Kenobi might say, from a certain point of view

Bison are not necessarily the deadliest animals in the Park, but they cause the most human injuries. This is because many people act rather silly around bison, treating them like cuddly play toys. I heard about one woman who literally grabbed the horns of an adult male bison so she could turn its head and “get a better picture.” She ended up in the hospital with a severe (and arguably well deserved) goring. At the risk of sounding harsh, I don’t feel sorry for people who antagonize and agitate powerful wild animals. What was she thinking?

When I worked in Yellowstone, one tourist lost her left buttock in a bison goring. (Do you realize how much self-control is involved in relaying this story with a straight face?) It hit her from behind and tossed her twenty feet. Sayonara, butt cheek. I just hope she wasn’t a Hollywood butt double.

Then there are the bison-related snowmobile and auto accidents. Bison enjoy using the roads just like we do. If you hit a full grown male adult bison at high speed with a Fiat, for example, you may bruise the bison’s ribs. The Fiat, on the other hand, will be totaled. If you smash headlong into a two thousand pound bison with a snowmobile, you will be totaled.

What about bears? When pondering animal death in Yellowstone, everyone thinks of grizzly bear attack. In recent years bear attacks have been on the rise. Every year, a few people experience “negative human bear interactions,” as the rangers like to say. I wouldn’t want to die being eaten alive by a hungry bear – that would truly be a negative interaction, at least from my perspective. (Click here to see our incredibly informative bear safety video.) The most likely risk of a nasty bear encounter happens when hiking. To really enjoy Yellowstone, you need to lace up some boots and hit the trails. When you do so, you’d better make a lot of noise and pack some pepper spray.

I sincerely would prefer death by bear to taking a dip in one of Yellowstone’s geothermal features. Believe it or not, over the years many have suffered this cruel fate. In fact, more have died in Yellowstone by boiling than by bear. I do feel sorry for these people, even the ones who naively chose to jump into the pools. No one would voluntarily choose that fate. Obviously most have underestimated the amount of heat generated by the Yellowstone super-volcano. Those turquoise pools may look pretty, but they are as comforting as the average lobster pot.

Yellowstone simply isn’t like most other parks. If you take a wrong step, you can die an extremely painful death.

Geothermal features are generally well marked. Stay on the boardwalks and you will be fine. But whatever you do, please don’t go hiking after dark, with no flashlight, through a geyser basin. In 2000, three Park employees did just that – they fell into a 10-foot deep pool of boiling water, and one poor girl died from the resulting burns. Horrible to think about, isn’t it?

It looks innocent enough, but fall into Yellowstone's Cavern Spring (where water temps approach 200 degrees Farenheit) and you'll wish you were dead.


When I was working in the park, one employee got drunk and walked beyond the pathways into unsafe areas. He fell through the crust into a boiling hot pool. His body was pretty much destroyed from the waist down. He was airlifted from the park by helicopter (there are no real hospitals in Yellowstone). I’m not sure whether he survived.

Several wayward children have wandered into the thermal areas. A few poor souls, not realizing the intense heat of the geothermal areas, have voluntarily leapt into the pools chasing after dogs and the like. So let’s all consider today’s safety tip: never, ever, ever, ever, ever approach Yellowstone’s geothermal features with anything less than the utmost deference and respect. A healthy dose of fear, in this case, is warranted.

Another weird way to die in Yellowstone is by falling into the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River.

“Aren’t there guardrails?” you ask.

Of course there are guardrails. There are also scores of foolhardy tourists who eagerly climb over said guardrails in order “to get a better picture.” Just about every year someone climbs beyond a guardrail, poses for a photo, loses his or her balance, and plunges several hundred feet to their death into the canyon. Hey, falling into the canyon wouldn’t be the best way to go – but it sure would beat boiling water or bear.

You’ll note that many victims in Yellowstone were Park employees. If you live full-time in Yellowstone, it makes sense that you are more exposed to its dangers.  Hopefully you are more attuned to them as well.

For me, working in the Park was a wonderful experience. Sure, the money sucks. You simply don’t work in Yellowstone expecting to make much money. Although your paycheck is laughable (useful mainly for buying pizza and beer in the employee pub), you will be compensated in other ways. You’ll form memorable friendships with your coworkers, and you’ll experience the Park to a degree that few others can appreciate.

For more information about working in Yellowstone, check out


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