NEW YORK (NYTIMES) - It was supposed to be a fun family summer trip to Yellowstone National Park. Two cousins, a neighbour and their families packed two chickens, canoed about eight hours and hiked to the Shoshone Geyser Basin, where they decided to cook their chickens in a hot spring.
But dinner did not go quite as planned.
In fact, it led to three of them pleading guilty to petty offences. They were sentenced to two years' probation, banned from the park for that period and fined between US$500 and US$1,200 (between S$673 and S$1,616), according to court documents.
Park officials said the men had violated laws governing the use of the national park.
It is illegal to go off the boardwalk or designated trails and to touch or throw objects into hot springs or other hydrothermal features at the park, said Ms Linda Veress, a park spokesman. It is also dangerous, she added. The water in the park's hydrothermal systems can exceed 400 degrees Fahrenheit (204 deg C) and can cause "severe or fatal burns", she said.
The three, Eric Romriell, 49, and Eric Roberts, 51, and Dallas Roberts, 41, were among a group that a park ranger found after receiving reports of people hiking with "cooking pots" towards the basin on Aug 7, Ms Veress said.
"A ranger responded and found two whole chickens in a burlap sack in a hot spring," she said. A cooking pot was also found nearby.
When Romriell went to check on the chicken - the group was bathing in the river nearby - he found the park ranger, who then questioned him and the rest of the group of 10 people about it.
The next day, the ranger returned to the men's campsites and issued them citations requiring a mandatory court appearance.
In September, the three men pleaded guilty in US District Court in Casper, Wyoming, to foot travel in a thermal area, according to court records. Romriell also pleaded guilty to the additional charge of having food in a thermal area.
Romriell, an ophthalmologist, said in an interview on Tuesday (Nov 10) that he had not been aware that he was doing anything wrong.
He took monthly camping trips as a scout master in Idaho for several years, he said, and each time, his troop tried creative ways of cooking their meals - something that Romriell described as "how to not rough it while roughing it". They made milkshakes out of raspberry or huckleberry fruit they found while hiking, he said, or tied hot dogs to a rope and put them into hot springs to boil while they swam nearby.
During the trip to Yellowstone, the group decided to try a chicken dinner. They brined the chicken for several days beforehand. Romriell said he looked at the park regulations and found only a line prohibiting "tossing, throwing, or rolling rocks or other items" inside the thermal features.
"The way I interpreted it was don't be destructive," Romriell said, "and I didn't feel like I was."
Romriell said he double-packed the chickens in a roasting bag and a burlap sack so that he would not contaminate the water. He placed the chickens carefully inside a spring that was right off the trail.
"One of the big rules for scouting and camping is leave no trace," he said, adding that an officer that inspected his campsite said it was clean. "I don't intend to be a naughty person. I don't intend to be a troublemaker."
There have been a number of episodes in which visitors have been hurt in a hot basin at the park. Last month, a three-year-old girl suffered second-degree-thermal burns to her lower body and back after she slipped and fell into a small thermal feature near Midway Geyser Basin, according to the park.
In 2016, a 23-year-old man died after walking off a boardwalk, slipping and falling into one of Yellowstone's hot springs.
Meanwhile, the three men said they would not try what they did again at Yellowstone.
After the park ranger left them following their first encounter on Aug 7, the group still managed to have the dinner they had prepared. As for the chicken, Romriell said: "It was fantastic."