The Bison Own Yellowstone

Photo taken in the Yellowstone area.

Image via Wikipedia

Just saying. If you venture into Yellowstone National Park, be prepared to yield often and everywhere to the bison and those who worship them. Just like cows and monkeys roam with impunity in India, leaving jammed traffic and havoc in their wake, so go the Yellowstone bison.

Aided and abetted by park rangers, bison bring traffic to regular snarled standstills. The not quite 15 minute drive from the park’s west entrance to the turn off to Old Faithful took us nearly two hours thanks to a bison taking up a militant position on the only road. The situation was made more frustrating by the rubbernecking city folk who either stopped mid-road for extended photo-ops or  were too terrified to just drive around the beast.

Granted, living minutes literally from a national park stocked full of bison, I am a bit underwhelmed by the site of them now, but the thrill of Yellowstone was definitely dampened by the tourists acting like … tourists. I lost count of the number of times we were held up by the bison paparazzi, but I am sure the park ranger stuck with bison road patrol didn’t.  Same guy at nearly every pile-up.  At our first encounter, Rob rolled down the window to query about the cause of the hold up and the ranger was too deeply resigned to even roll his eyes when he said,


But his body language clearly radiated a deep shuddering heavy sigh.  By the end of the day, we felt his pain.

We spent just a day circumnavigating Yellowstone. In some ways it is majestic but in others, it’s just protected area in the mountains. Call me spoiled.  Go ahead, really, because I am, but I have seen mountains and valleys.  I have seen bison and bear (and know better than to pull over and get out of the vehicle).  Rivers and peaks are part of my holiday experience much of the time.

What clearly stuck out were the bubbling pools of sulfuric water that steamed and fouled the air like the hallway outside a high school chemistry class on a late spring day.

Old Faithful was the last stop of our day. Rob reasoned, correctly, that most of the masses headed there first thing, so we circled the loop from the opposite direction, taking in the mountain views and waterfalls first. The traffic was lighter and less inclined to stop and take pictures.* That leg of the day was notable for a couple of things: the insanity at the food/camp & gift store areas** at lunch – the bus tour people were probably the worst but the young family that allowed their toddler and preschooler to chase after ground squirrels with hotdog bits made me feel so much better about my own parenting decisions when Dee was that age that I am sorry now I wondered aloud if the kids would need shots when they got bit (seriously, the signs about not feeding anything even if it looks hungry and cute are ignored at your own peril).

The other event involved an RV with Pennsylvania plates and a Steelers logo on the back that veered from center line to nearly non-existent shoulder with such speed that I kept the camera trained on them for several miles just in case they toppled over. It would have made excellent viral YouTube.

Rob’s visited Old Faithful before and noted the commercial build-up right away. It’s a tourist mecca. A boardwalk with benches semi-rings this steaming hole and as the witching hour approaches, they fill up quickly. And disperse just as fast. The geyser erupts about every hour and 15 minutes for a grand total of 4 minutes and 20ish seconds. It begins with a couple of sputters before climbing slowly, maintaining its “erection” for a half-minute and then subsiding in nearly the same manner as it ascended. By the time it reverted back to its smoldering state, nearly everyone was gone. It was kind of sad, and I wondered what it had been like back in the day. You know,  of yore, when being a tourist entailed some effort and discomfort.

My advice for Yellowstone is get there early or late. If you can get into the park by 7 or 8 in the morning, the traffic is lighter and the flip-flop crowd is still back at the KOA. Go around dinnertime and you will encounter the skeeter bitten paparazzi as they are heading back to the hotels and campgrounds, sunburned, stuffed with junk food and laden with cheap Chinese knickknacks.  Either way, you win.  If you travel with the pack, be prepared to stop often and ford the hordes at every destination.

*We ran across a huge group lining the road up and down and peering anxiously into a valley that appeared to be empty.

**There were two age groups of employees at these venues. So young that their relatively slow mental processes strained one’s patience and so freakishly old that I become concerned anew about the state of Social Security.

6 thoughts on “The Bison Own Yellowstone

  1. went to a park in Colorado with the Boy Child a couple years back and it was the Elk there. i’m sure every park has it’s own indigenous “i own this park” critter. here in Ohio? it’s the squirrels. little rat bastards…

  2. appreciate the travel intelligence… what you have described is why i’ve recently invested in a decent backpack, and am trying to get a bit smarter about serious ‘off roading’ trips.

    when we were in Nova Scotia, it was moose in Cape Breton park. cars would pile up alongside the road for moose sightings. we were tempted to stop occasionally, get out the binocs, and see how many cars we could get to stop to see what we were looking at!

    1. lol, would have been an interesting experiment. We went “off-line” into the forestry parks to camp a few times. Rob prefers it to the pack ’em/stack ’em campgrounds. I like the quiet but the remote aspect is scary. One place near Helena MT was called Vigilante, which inspired all manner of hillbilly in the woods meets X-Files flights of fancy. We stayed one night in the Grasslands near T Roosevelt Nat’l Park. Oil drilling outfits had scrambled the roads (signage in ND and MT is iffy at best) and we got lost going in and coming out. The campground was deserted but for a couple of guys in a Halliburton truck getting drunk. The drilling camp was just seconds down the road. Through in rattle snakes and I was more than a bit uncomfortable. Situations like these remind me that there are perfectly good reasons for gun ownership.

  3. Our Yellowstone experience was very different. We encountered the same phenomena, but experienced it very differently, since we stayed there for four nights. We were able to meander onto the side roads, leaving the madding crowds behind; we went to the waterfalls at sunset, and walked the boardwalks around the pools practically by ourselves. I suspect it also helped that we were there earlier in the season, when there were still patches of snow on the ground: We were told that we were about 2 or 3 weeks ahead of the crowds.

    And this desert rat relished every glimpse of every valley and every droplet of every river.

    1. I am very spoiled in terms of mountain, valley and river experiences. Perhaps that’s why I expected more from Yellowstone. It’s so built up as an experience in our culture and yet it’s very touristy – more so than my experiences in the Canadian Rockies or the time we spent in Montana. I found Devil’s Tower to be the most awesome sight of our trip even though the path around it is beyond tame in hiking terms and the Black HIlls (mega-KOA camping experience aside) spoke more to me than the forests of Yellowstone, but I grew up in a river valley and deciduous trees are my preference.

      Evening or early, early morning is probably best for optimal Yellowstone and definitely go on the outer edges of the unwashed season. There was still snow though. Lots of it. I suspect some of it will still be around when winter comes again even.

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