The Embarrassing History of Crap Thrown Into Yellowstone’s Geysers

When it comes to geothermal features, Yellowstone National Park holds an embarrassment of riches. Located inside the massive caldera of an ancient volcano, the park is home to thousands of geysers and hot springs, including Old Faithful and the Grand Prismatic Spring. As we already know, humans just can’t have nice things and pretty much ever since Yellowstone’s one-of-a-kind geysers and pools were discovered, people have been destroying by throwing stuff into them.

Yellowstone does not keep a centralized inventory of the things they have found in their geysers and pools, but related stories go back to before the National Park Service even existed. Yellowstone National Park was established in 1872, and it was originally the Army’s responsibility to protect it. However the military wasn’t too concerned with making sure geysers were left alone so in the early days of the park, that mostly meant laundry. Yes, laundry.

One of the most famous stories from that era is that an early expedition party used Old Faithful as a washing machine. According to an account shared by Frank D. Carpenter in his record of a trip to Yellowstone in 1877, he and his traveling companions came upon Old Faithful and decided to experiment with “boiling” their clothes clean. The group put their soiled clothes in a pillowcase and threw it into the geyser’s cone. When it erupted, the clothes were sent flying over a hundred feet into the air. When they collected them, the clothes were indeed cleaned from the nearly boiling water.

Amazed by the results of their experiment, they clogged the geyser with at least a thousand pounds of stones, trees, and stumps. The geyser expelled all the rubbish and debris they’d choked the feature with.

While representatives from Yellowstone could not confirm Carpenter’s account, that wasn’t the end of the park’s laundry experiments. The visitors used to put soap into the geysers”. Back in the 1880’s, it became a popular practice to throw soap into the geothermal features, where it would create a sort of film on the surface. This became so popular that local hotels and gift shops couldn’t keep bars of soap in stock. One ill-fated entrepreneur even tried to start a little laundry service using one of the seemingly dormant hot springs as a wash basin.According to one park historia, he carelessly dropped a cake of soap into the tub and a short while later, up went the clothes and the tent.

As park protections evolved over the years, especially with the advent of the National Park Service in 1916, such large-scale “experiments” pretty much stopped. But the visitors number increased dramatically over the years, and people never stopped throwing things into Yellowstone’s colorful wonders. By the ’40s people had thrown so much things into the Morning Glory Pool that it became informally known as the ‘Garbage Can. The Morning Glory Pool is a vibrantly colored hot spring in the Upper Geyser Basin, which got its name from the original blueish hue of its waters. Today, the delicate chemical composition of the pool has been forever altered by the things that tourists have tossed into it. Over the last 150 years, because of people throwing stuff in there, the orange and yellow bacteria that once lived only in the coolest periphery of the spring have spread toward the center as the internal plumbing was fouled. Objects can also clog up the works, turning once-active geysers and spouters into still ponds. We can take the case of Handkerchief Pool, once as famous as Old Faithful. It stopped functioning some time in the 1920s or ’30s because people threw coins, broken bottles, rocks, hairpins, and a small horseshoe into it about a hundred years ago. In recent decades the pool has shown more activity, but still remains largely forgotten despite its location near the “Old Faithful”, in the most heavily trafficked part of the park.

Many attempts have been made to clean debris from Yellowstone’s features, but the process is complicated due to the extreme temperatures of the waters, the depth and intricacy of natural plumbing, and the simple fact that efforts to clean or “fix” the features run the risk of doing additional damage. Currently there are only four specialists on the park’s staff who handle cleaning things out of the ponds and geysers when the need arises.

In 1950, Morning Glory was artificially induced to erupt in an effort to clean the trashed pond. The result is said to have blown out all sorts of items including bottles, cans, underwear, and $86.27 in pennies.

Even today, after the practice of throwing things into Yellowstone’s features has been made officially illegal, people still continue to treat the geothermal wonders like trash cans and wishing wells.  Fines for intentionally throwing items in the features can be up to six months in jail and up to $5,000 but still, coins are the most popular thing people throw inside.

Cleaning of Morning Glory in 1975

Despite all the modern rules and regulations put in place to protect Yellowstone’s natural wonders, people just can’t stop throwing junk inside. In 2014, a visitor from the Netherlands crashed a drone into the Grand Prismatic Spring. Because of this, drones are prohibited in all national parks.

It should be pretty clear to everyone that tossing junk into the pools is simply stupid and unnecessary. If you ever visit Yellowstone, please have in mind that tossing a coin will not bring you joy but will simply destroy the beauty of the nature. You must be the one who will not do that or as Mahatma Gandhi said: “to change the world you must start with yourself”

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