My Book Review of Death in Yellowstone: Accidents and Foolhardiness in the First National Park

Death in Yellowstone: Accidents and Foolhardiness in the First National ParkDeath in Yellowstone: Accidents and Foolhardiness in the First National Park by Lee H. Whittlesey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Don’t be reading this book just before a vacation to Yellowstone National Park. You just might cancel your reservations.

Death in Yellowstone details the 350 violent deaths that occurred from the period of 1839-2012. When you have 750 bears, 4,000 buffaloes, and 10,000 hot springs, and precipitous mountain locations things go wrong, occasionally deadly wrong, and this book chronicles approximately 350 of those end game scenarios.

It’s a well researched, 2014 second edition effort, with close to 100 pages of notes, and additional bibliography, and extensive index.

Nature Can Kill is the book’s slogan.

Here’s a representative list of the ways you could get terminated: Stumbling (or diving!) into hot springs, falling off high places, crushed by a falling tree, freezing /hypothermia, grizzly bears, murders, suicides, accidental shootings, drownings, and a few lesser tier deaths under the noxious fumes/poisonous gasses cluster. There’s more, if you can get your imagination flowing into the macabre direction.

Some segments didn’t work for me, like the drowning chapter. It quickly became repetitive to detail who drowned, how they drowned, who found them, etc.

I found the Death in Hot Water, and Human Deaths from Bears and How to Keep Them From Happening chapters the most interesting. They are also the longest chapters. I have actually backpacked for a week through Yellowstone, which was a unique experience for me, one which gave me confidence and practice in avoiding mishaps from the few bear encounters that I have experienced. I saw grizzlies and I am here to tell about it, as are most of the many millions of individuals who have enjoyed their visits in the Park. The best part of the book was on pages 87-90 at the end of the bear chapter. The author summarizes all the data from bear attacks and reduces the advice to this sentences, ”The worst possible situation is a person hiking alone, who surprises a bear that is feeding ( as on a carcass) and also has cubs.”

I was just back in Yellowstone this week, where federal cuts resulted in no rangers observed supervising the hordes of summer tourists doing their best to illustrate stupid behaviors in the wilderness. I expect a thicker revision of this popular book, and sooner than later. Some of those people walking around the Park with their eyes glued onto their smart phones are going to figure into this.

View all my reviews

Yellowstone Revisited

Spent the day at Yellowstone National Park. It is the fourth time that I have visited there, and the first time that I have been in the Park in early summer, when the landscape is still green and not in shades of brown from the lack of rain, as the summers here move on, with day after day of pure blue skies.

I was last here in August (2013) when I spent a week backpacking north through Yellowstone, when it was hot and I was frustrated with trying to make dictated mileages between assigned campsites that were chosen for us without car transport in mind.  8.09 Old Faithful This time, I was driving around in a brand new rental car, and life is much different, so easy.   Today it’s mostly in the mid-50’s out, with showers coming and going, all day long. Who cares, we’re in Yellowstone !

Pleased to display to the Gardiner entrance ranger my lifetime National Parks Pass.

Senior benefit, finally!
Senior benefit, finally!

“Hold on to you $25 car fee, sir- pass right through. Have a great day in Yellowstone.”

Yellowstone National Park spans an area of 3,468 square miles. “Yellowstone Lake is one of the largest high-altitude lakes in North America and is centered over the Yellowstone Caldera, the largest supervolcano on the continent. The caldera is considered an active volcano.”- from Wikipedia.

Given the relatively early date, the Park was packed. All the lots were all full, and required jousting with packs of motorcyclists, RV’s, and apparently clueless individuals who would stop their rented SUV’s right in the middle of key highway turns as they consulted their media maps.
We aimed at focusing our visit, and not try to do too much in one day. Our goal was to do the Fountain Paint Pots and the Midway Geyser Basin walks. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA It was thickly clouded, frequently showering, with the air holding that sulfur smell reeking from these fumaroles, bubbling mud pits, and geysers.

I really wanted to show my mom, Isabel, and son Lincoln the Grand Prismatic Spring.

Grand Prismatic Spring
Grand Prismatic Spring

Such a cool name for a geographical formation. The Grand Prismatic Spring is the largest hot spring in the United States, and the third largest in the world. It is 300 feet in diameter and 160 fet deep. I have seen it four times, and while the obscured sun and the thick white clouds of vapor reduced the vibrancy of the colors, it still floored me.

Grand Prismatic Spring today
Grand Prismatic Spring today

Its colors match the rainbow dispersion of white light by an optical prism: red, orange, yellow, green, and blue

I picked up a new book about Yellowstone here- Death in Yellowstone. 51d90Sg2MuL._AA160_      It’s the type of book that you absolutely can’t read just before you visit the park, lest you are so frightened by the stories of all the ways hundreds of people have perished from non-natural causes in the Park.
On the boardwalk around Grand Prismatic, we witnessed a young Asian family nearly become yet another dumb-hurt statistic. The wind was really whipping up, and we were walking on an elevated boardwalk bordering the spring that had no guardrails, with a walking surface a bit slippery due to the rain. Mind you, there is super boiling water flowing underneath us. The mom and dad were pushing a baby in a stroller that was draped with a heavy plastic sheet. Suddenly, the three-wheeled stroller escaped the grip of the dad and pitched completely over and crash to the boardwalk. It landed just a foot from the edge of the walkway, throwing the parents into a panic, while the little five year old sister started laughing uncontrollably pointing at the downed stroller and the little upside-down child that was smacked down on the deck. It was a miracle that the baby didn’t get catapulted off the boardwalk into the boiling water and also that one of those parents didn’t have to jump into the same cauldron to extract the baby.  What were they thinking?

We made the right choice to call it a day and headed back north through the Gardiner gate toward Livingston. We saw deer, buffalo, and elk today. I’ll be back again sometime to check out more of this most remarkable place. I’ll still  have my National Parks Pass !