Why You Don't Want To Bathe In Grand Canyon's Pumpkin Spring

It's a quiet fall evening. Campers have trekked a long way to an appealing spring. They decide to take a dip. But an innocent swim proves to be their demise when the orange menace holding the spring brings deadly forces to bay. No, it's not the plot of a 1980s slasher movie — it's a cautionary tale against getting too close to Pumpkin Spring.

This scenic but sinister spot in Grand Canyon National Park takes its name from the bizarre orange rock that holds the spring. Per Atlas Obscura, the rock is a limestone deposit, and the spring is fed from underneath. As the water bubbles up, it takes on a greenish hue, further reinforcing the pumpkin look. Eventually, the spring overflows, with the excess water running down its rocky basin into the Colorado River.

It's an inviting picture, but our hypothetical campers would be wise not to get too close — the waters of Pumpkin Spring hold dangerous levels of four different toxins.

[Featured image by Nate Loper via Wikimedia Commons | Cropped and scaled | CC BY-2.0 DEED]

Pumpkin Spring's water is full zinc, copper, lead, and arsenic

According to Atlas Obscura, Pumpkin Spring's water contains zinc, copper, lead, and arsenic. A USGS survey found that the level of arsenic in the spring was 87.5 times over the standard for drinking water. The most likely source of the chemical is geothermal activity in the Grand Canyon area. While elevated, the levels of arsenic at Pumpkin Spring are not as high as at other groundwater sites in Arizona, and limited exposure to the green waters wouldn't kill you.

Still, it's not the best spring for a dip, and it's a worse one for a drink — to do so is prohibited. Tour groups like Western River Expeditions do their part to discourage tourists from getting into Pumpkin Spring. The company describes the water as "lukewarm at best" and promotes the spring as worth a visit for visual appeal. But all the cautions in the world can't trump curiosity for some people — Colorado Kayak Supply's blog includes photos of one visitor taking a brief swim in Pumpkin Spring. The review is one word: "nasty."