By Ruffin Prevost
CODY, WYO. — In a day that a Yellowstone Park spokesman described as one of “visitor mayhem,” emergency responders dealt with at least three serious injuries, including one that left a man dead from a head injury after being thrown from a horse.
The incidents serve as stark reminders that Yellowstone may seem like an idyllic vacation paradise to more than 3 million annual visitors, but it is a place filled with inherent risks — particularly when it comes to wild and domestic animals and the thousands of scalding thermal features scattered throughout the nation’s first national park.
Carl Dullmaier, 56, of Gernsheim, Germany, sustained a head injury when he was thrown from a horse near Tower Junction. He later died from his injuries after being flown to a Billings, Mont., hospital.
A 65-year-old male British national from Bangkok, Thailand, suffered injuries Monday when he was thrown into the air by a bull bison at Mammoth Hot Springs. He was transported to Memorial Hospital in Livingston, Montana. Park officials have not released the man’s name.
Last month, a Massachusetts man suffered a broken collarbone, shoulder blade, several ribs and a groin injury when he was tossed nearly 10 feet in the air and pinned to the ground by a bison.
Also on Monday, a 37-year-old man from Provo, Utah, suffered thermal burns while hiking on the Solitary Geyser Trail in the Upper Geyser Basin, near Old Faithful.
The man was transported by ambulance to West Yellowstone, Mont. He was then flown to a burn center in Salt Lake City, Utah. Park officials have not released the man’s name or additional details about how he was injured.
Yellowstone spokesman Dan Hottle said that first responders were called out several times Monday to treat and transport injured visitors on what he grimly described as a day of “visitor mayhem” in the park.
Hottle said it had been more than a decade since anyone was injured by a thermal feature in the park severely enough to require being transported to a hospital. Minor burns from thermal features are often treated at one of the park’s medical clinics, he said.
[NOTE: After this story was posted, a reader recalled in our comments section that a Utah woman was badly burned in 2008 in Yellowstone when a dirt trail she was hiking on collapsed, sending her into a previously unknown hot pool. She was taken by ambulance to Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center in Idaho Falls.]
Yellowstone officials respond to an average of 700 emergency medical calls each year, according to the park’s public affairs office.
Park officials reminded visitors to stay on boardwalks and designated trails while viewing all thermal features in the park. Scalding water underlies thin, fragile crusts. Many geyser eruptions are unpredictable, and thermal features are often near or above boiling temperatures.
Officials also caution that intentionally approaching or disturbing animals is dangerous and a violation of park regulations. Park rules require visitors to stay at least 100 yards away from bears and wolves at all times, and at least 25 yards away from all other animals including elk and bison.
Solitary Geyser erupts about every seven minutes, typically reaching a height of about four feet.
The water from Solitary Geyser was once used to fill bathing pools near the Old Faithful Inn. The pipe conveying water from what was then a hot spring to the pools was removed in 1948, along with the bath house where the pools were located. Tampering with Solitary’s water supply converted it from a hot spring to a geyser, and markedly changed its eruption schedule.
Over the years, its eruptions have diminished from 20-25 feet every couple of minutes to a four- or five-foot burst every 7-10 minutes.