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Boiling River Near Yellowstone National Park Heats Worries

A river near Yellowstone National Park suddenly changed colors and began to boil and emit yellowish noxious gases. Some witnesses wondered if “we’re all about to die.” Is this just another volcanic vent or a sign of bad things to come?

Map shows proximity of Coy,m Wyoming, and the Shoshone River (lower middle) to Yellowstone (lower left)

Map shows proximity of Cody, Wyoming, and the Shoshone River (lower middle) to Yellowstone (lower left)

The Shoshone River runs through Cody, Wyoming, just east of Yellowstone National Park. It’s close enough to be a ‘canary in a coal mine’ for unusual geothermic events and that’s precisely what happened on March 25th when photographer Dewey Vanderhoff spotted the Shoshone River mysteriously boiling … and more.

I’ve lived here all of my life and I’ve never seen it. It was pretty impressive. The river right there is a really dark green. With a polarizing filter it really popped out. [It bubbled like] like jets in a Jacuzzi.

The Shoshone River bubbling like jets in a very smelly Jacuzzi

The Shoshone River bubbling like jets in a very smelly Jacuzzi

Yes, it’s most likely a volcanic vent, but it’s in the Shoshone River, which was once known as the Stinkingwater and not because of buffalos bathing in it. Explorer John Colter, who was a key member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, visited the area in the winter of 1807 and wrote about the many geysers and hot springs and an unusual sulfur-smelling river. Geyser cones, sinkholes and abandoned sulfur mines are evidence that others found them too.

However, that was two centuries ago and the geothermal activities have all but disappeared, says Wyoming Game and Fish Department biologist Jason Burkhardt.

We’re kind of in a lull compared to when John Colter was in this area. There was substantially more geothermal activity that was occurring back then.

Until now. While this particular event ended after four days, Burkhardt says recent other activity has released enough hydrogen sulfide into the river that there’s a 1.5 mile sulfur-smelling dead zone that is completely void of fish. Burkhardt calls it a “chemical barrier” blocking live fish from entering. That can’t be a good sign.

A view of the boiling Shoshone River from a higher elevation

A view of the boiling Shoshone River from a higher elevation

The boiling river has cooled down … for now. It’s just a few miles from the Yellowstone supervolcano where earthquake activity is increasing.

Should Vanderhoff put down his camera, grab his friend who is worried about dying and run?