Boiling Chickens in Yellowstone’s Hot Springs Is Illegal

Three men are now banned from visiting the national park after pleading guilty to several charges

Porcelain Basin
A hydrothermal area called Porcelain Basin in Yellowstone National Park's broader Norris Geyser Basin. NPS/Curtis Akin

Some things should go without saying, but just to remind everyone: it’s definitely illegal to boil chickens in Yellowstone’s hot springs. But in August, three men learned this unspoken rule the hard way.

After being caught in the act by a park ranger, the trio pleaded guilty to a series of infractions that resulted in two years’ probation, during which time the men are banned from visiting the national park, and fines totaling between $500 and $1,200, report Johnny Diaz and Concepción de León of the New York Times.

Speaking with the Guardian's Todd Wilkinson, retired Yellowstone historian Lee Whittlesey says this latest example of human error surprised him, noting that the three men had “cooked their own goose.” But this incident isn't exactly a first, other visitors to America’s first national park have recently “run a fowl of the law,” he notes. Whittlesey reminded the Guardian of the tourist who was bucked by a bison after approaching too close in hopes of snapping a selfie, and a drone that crash landed into another of the park’s many natural hot springs.

On August 7, two cousins, a neighbor and their families spent a day canoeing and hiking into one of the more remote sections of the park, the Shoshone Geyser Basin, per the Times. As the group made its way to their destination, reports started to trickle into the ranger’s office of people hiking into the basin with “cooking pots,” Linda Veress, a park spokeswoman, tells the Times.

As a ranger responding to those reports would later discover, once in Shoshone Geyser Basin the three men wrapped two chickens in burlap sacks and submerged them in one of the basin’s numerous geothermally heated springs to cook, according to the Guardian. After interviewing members of the hiking party about what had occurred the ranger departed, only to return the next day with citations.

Park officials tell the Times that the three men, Eric Romriell and Eric Roberts, both from Idaho, and Dallas Roberts of Utah, violated laws aimed at protecting Yellowstone’s visitors and the park itself. It is illegal to venture off of officially designated trails and boardwalks in the sections of the park with hydrothermal features, and it is decidedly against the law to put anything inside them.

Yellowstone’s roiling hydrothermal features may seem inhospitable, but these harsh environments actually support unique, fragile ecosystems of microbes known as extremophiles. All of which is to say that dipping raw chickens in them is not what one would call environmentally friendly.

Walking around Yellowstone’s hot springs off trail is also dangerous. In some places, what appears to be terra firma is actually just a thin crust—and what lies beneath can be perilous. Whittlesey tells the Guardian that in 2016 a young man left the designated boardwalk in the Norris Geyser Basin and subsequently broke through such a crust and fell into a scalding, highly acidic spring. The young person died and his body was never recovered.

In an interview with the Times, one of the convicted men, Eric Romriell, says he didn’t intend to be destructive and had double-bagged the chickens in an effort not to contaminate the hot spring. “I don’t intend to be a naughty person,” Romriell tells the Times. “I don’t intend to be a troublemaker.”

Dallas Roberts, another of the three men named in court documents following the incident, tells the Times that he and the other hikers in his party “definitely have respect for Yellowstone."

"We have respect for the outdoors, and would never do anything in any way to contaminate that or to cause problems for others,” Roberts adds.

Neither Roberts nor Romriell have any intention of plying Yellowstone’s bubbling waters with uncooked poultry again, but Romriell confessed that the group did still manage to eat the chickens after the ranger departed. As for his review: “It was fantastic.”

Get the latest stories in your inbox every weekday.