Part of a human foot, inside a shoe, found floating in a hot spring in Yellowstone National Park this week appears to be related to a death from July, the National Park Service said Friday.
An employee of the Wyoming park found the foot Tuesday in Abyss Pool, part of the West Thumb Geyser Basin in the southern part of the park.
Officials said they believe that the discovery is connected to a July 31 death there and that there was no foul play. The park service declined to provide additional information about the ongoing investigation.
The basin and its parking lot were temporarily closed to visitors after the foot was found, but they have reopened.
The fatality joins more than 20 other deaths in the hot springs of Yellowstone since 1890. Before July, the most recent death was in 2016, when a 23-year-old man walked off a boardwalk and fell into Norris Geyser Basin, the hottest thermal region in the park. In 2000, a person died after falling into a hot spring in Lower Geyser Basin.Yellowstone is this town’s golden ticket. Climate change risks that.
There also have been at least eight people injured in the past six years, including a 3-year-old child who in 2020 ran off a trail, slipped and fell into a thermal feature. Last year, a woman was burned from her shoulders to her feet after she entered Maiden’s Grave Spring to rescue her dog, who had jumped in.
Although people sometimes intentionally jump into hot springs, most injuries and deaths in the hydrothermal features result from accidents.
The number of incidents involving the springs is minuscule, given that Yellowstone is the oldest national park, having been founded in 1872, and that it is one of the busiest in the national park system. The number of park visitors surged to nearly 5 million last year — the busiest year on record, representing a 28 percent increase from the height of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020. However, damaging floods this year have cut down the number dramatically.
Visitors to Yellowstone are also occasionally injured or killed by wildlife, such as bison or bears, when they get too close. In June, a man was gored in the arm by a bull bison after his family did not leave the area when the animal started running. The same week, a 71-year-old woman was injured when a bison attacked her after she and her daughter accidentally approached it.
Yellowstone has more than 10,000 hydrothermal features, 0f which hot springs are the most common. They form when rain seeps through bedrock, becomes superheated by magma and rises back to the surface. Convection currents circulate the water, keeping it from heating enough to cause an eruption.
Abyss Pool, where the foot was found this week, is one of the park’s deepest hot springs, at more than 50 feet. It has a temperature of about 140 degrees Fahrenheit.
To stay safe around hot springs, visitors should stay on boardwalks and trails, the park service said. It warned that the ground near thermal features is fragile and scalding water lies below the surface.