Artists' Paint Pots Area in Yellowstone National Park Temporarily Closed Due to Thin Surface Crust

These photos -- infrared photo on top, normal photo below -- provided by the National Park Service show just how close to the surface thermal water is along the Artists' Paint Pots Trail and how difficult it is to assess the danger.

Yellowstone National Park officials have temporarily closed public access to the Artists' Paint Pots thermal area after a visitor broke through a patch of thin crust and received burns to one of her legs.

The paint pots, located just about a half-mile south of Norris Junction, is an area of colorful, hot mud springs. There's a mile-long loop trail that navigates the thermal area. On Thursday, Jeannette Hogan of Utah was injured while hiking on the established dirt trail with family members when she stepped in a surface puddle of rainwater along the edge of the trail and the crust beneath gave way.

Ms. Hogan, whose age and hometown were unavailable, broke through to a previously undiscovered pool of hot water, and received burns to her ankle and lower leg.

Members of the park’s trail crew were working on another section of the Artists’ Paint Pots Trail at the time of the accident. Crew members were able to provide immediate first aid and summon park emergency personnel, who took Ms. Hogan by ambulance to Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center in Idaho Falls. The extent of her injuries and current condition are unavailable.

The water in the pool is 171 degrees Fahrenheit and was found to be slightly acidic, with a pH similar to vinegar.

Yellowstone spokesman Al Nash says geologists are evaluating the area to see if there are other areas of thin crust.

"Our geologists were out there until late last night, went back this morning, and expect to be out in that area over the weekend. Their goal is to use infrared and some other techniques just to try and determine what changes there may have been in that area," said Ranger Nash. "We've got to get that information first. That will help us determine what we need to do in order to reopen that area.

"There's just a lot of unanswered questions at the moment. We hate to seen anybody injured. But this is an ever-changing places, especially the thermal areas, they're ever-changing and very active."

While boardwalks and designated trails help protect park visitors and prevent damage to delicate thermal formations, Yellowstone is a dynamic, geologically active place. Scalding water can lie just beneath thin, breakable crusts. Many geyser eruptions are unpredictable, and thermal features are near or above boiling temperatures.

Four people treated for thermal burns in the park in 2007, according to park officials.

Comments

Wow! What rotten luck! I've walked that trail hundreds of times... quite scary.

Definitely. I was on the West Thumb overlook trail 15 years ago, and the thermals were coming through the established trail. We thought it was quite exciting, and we found and told a ranger who basically laughed us off - not sure why because the ranger was giving an interpretive program talking about how quickly thermals change. I wonder if there was some evidence of this beforehand and was it reported. Maybe, maybe not - I wouldn't raise the speculation if not for my own personal experience.

Yellowstone is dangerous; in backcountry, you don't always have ways over thermal run off areas that you have to cross. You just don't know what will happen. I think that's part of what makes it so exciting; you are in a forest - not everything seems scenic, and then holy @#$%, where's that steam coming from?

It's like when I see pictures of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone - it sure is beautiful, but when you are in the canyon, hiking in it, you realize just how alive the canyon is with some of the strangest things you'll ever see or hear or smell. I love it!

I am glad to see the person was so burned has at least been released from the hospital and am sorry that happened - perhaps, it would do us good to warn people who go to Yellowstone that this possibility is about as dangerous as anything else that might befall you when out and about in the park.

Jim Macdonald
The Magic of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Newspaper
Jim's Eclectic World

It's awesome to see the Park Rangers on top of the situation so quickly. Preparedness is #1. I've been group group leader several times down into the Grand Canyon NP and tell my folks to be over prepared for the worst. Carry a first aid kit and snake bite kit which includes both a sling for injured bones and a burn kit for accidents just as this. Hopefully more Fed $$$ will become available to assist in the proper sustaining of these precious resources for both the environment as well as the public who wish to view them. Can't wait to get to Yellowstone, will be there for a week in June.

Being well prepared makes good sense to me, Bob. I do have a question about the snake bite kit, though. Here in South Carolina, where people are outdoorsy and snake bites are not just a theoretical hazard (we have four venomous species), medical authorities have told people very emphatically that they shouldn't fool around with snake bite kits. "Your snake bite kit is your car keys," is basically what we are told. I do realize that people can get dangerously bitten in remote areas where medical attention may be hours away. Are you saying that the snake bite kit is appropriate for that sort of situation?