One of the first things you notice when you reach Old Faithful Geyser in Yellowstone National Park is the boardwalk that wraps the geyser's travertine cone. The next, if you're observant, are signs telling you not to walk any closer to the geyser than the boardwalk.
Somehow a tour group overlooked those signs, as well as warnings in the park's newspaper about leaving the boardwalk to get closer to the geyser, and strolled a bit closer to get some photographs of Old Faithful.
According to a park news release, someone from Wisconsin was watching the Old Faithful live streaming webcam Wednesday evening when this group left the boardwalk and called to tell rangers what was going on. When a ranger responded to the geyser, she found about 30 people standing on the geyser's apron taking pictures.
Members of the group told the ranger they hadn't seen any of the signs that tell folks to stay on the boardwalk.
According to the release, the tour group leader, the bus driver, and one member of the first group of four visitors who walked off the boardwalk were cited for being off trail in a thermal area, a violation of federal law with a $125 fine.
The warnings to stay on the boardwalk around Old Faithful, and those elsewhere in the park's geyser basins, stem from the dangers of walking closer to thermal features. In some areas the crust can be thin enough for you to break through into boiling water underneath, in others there are natural drainage areas where the hot waters spit out by geysers run off.
"Unfortunately, almost every year one or more visitors who ignore all these warnings fall through the fragile, thin crust in a thermal area and are burned by the boiling water beneath," park officials say.
This is not the first time a web cam viewer has notified park rangers about visitors off boardwalk and on the cone of Old Faithful. The most famous prior incident occurred in May 2009, when six visitors were spotted urinating in the geyser cone. They were found guilty of a variety of charges, with one of the six fined $750, placed on three years of probation, and banned from the park for two years.