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What place could be safer or more natural for a family vacation than a national park? Pristine wilderness, scenic beauty…and, apparently, deadly hazards, especially in the nation’s oldest national park, Yellowstone. Take a look at the top ten “natural” causes of death in the park.
Numerous people have died in one of Yellowstone's many high-temp hot springs. Some have fallen in, others have jumped in to rescue a dog, but many have died thinking the temperature was safe for bathing. Some of the natural hot springs reach temperatures of 185–205 degrees Fahrenheit.
They look placid and slow. Everyone wants to get a close-up photo of this iconic beast; some have even boosted their kids onto a bison's back. But bison aren't tame—their horns and hooves have killed or maimed several park visitors.
Death by lightning is hard to prevent or predict, especially when people are enjoying the wilderness and can't take shelter. Most lightning victims in Yellowstone have been hiking or boating. Deaths during forest fires are extremely rare: in 1940, a young firefighter died when a burning tree fell on him.
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.
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.
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.
Although rare, deaths from being hit by a tree have happened several times in Yellowstone, either during logging operations or windstorms.
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.
For more details on deaths in America's oldest national park, we recommend the fascinating book Death in Yellowstone, by Lee Whittlesey, subtitled "Accidents and Foolhardiness in the First National Park." As Whittlesey wisely states in his introduction, "Play safely, and think before you act."
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