Tourists Gone Wild…In Yellowstone
Hazard lights flash in the middle of the road. Car doors are left open. The passengers are nowhere to be seen. Everyone seems to be following suit as rental cars, RV’s, and people of all ages and nationalities are scattered in what looks like an apocalyptic scene. But no one is running for their lives in the face of imminent disaster. Rather a mama black bear is standing on the shoulder of the road with her two cubs up a tree. It’s a classic Yellowstone bear jam.
Never mind common sense, or the law (visitors are required to remain one hundred yards from bears and park vehicles completely off the road), this is Yellowstone. Excitement and/or complete lack of understanding has caused everyone to lose their mind. A few sane individuals, mostly with Montana or Wyoming plates, try to take matters into their own hands and use their horns and vocal cords to encourage people to stay back and keep traffic moving. It’s a cluster. Mostly I feel bad for the mom and her cubs.
Tourist season has yet to hit full stride, but in the year of the Park Service’s one-hundredth birthday Yellowstone, and it’s less enlightened visitors, have been in the news often and for all the wrong reasons. See, here, here and here. Some of it is laughable, some tragic. In most cases wildlife loses, human injury or death occurs, and the park gets bad press.
I’m almost to the point where there is nothing else to say. It is what it is. Despite the best efforts of park employees, the combination of huge volumes of people, that often have no concept that they are in a wild environment, will continue to lead to some of the most outlandish stories of human misadventure. But the park deserves more. While they grab headlines, these stories distract from what makes Yellowstone great.
Having grown up on the doorstep of Yellowstone I have a deep appreciation for the park. The National Park system is one of our countries greatest ideas and we should celebrate it this year. As the first national park, Yellowstone is impressive on many levels and the world should continue to visit. The park is much more than an overcrowded mess of overexcited vacationers. It remains one of the most expansive, unique, and impressive wilderness complexes on the planet. Take advantage of it.
An incredibly low percentage of visitors ever leave the road and the vast majority of the park remains empty and available to explore for those willing to leave the beaten path. Reserve a backcountry campsite, go for a hike greater than a quarter mile, visit during the winter or shoulder season. There are plenty of ways to beat the crowds. If you choose not to leave the road and visit in the heart of summer, take a deep breath, enjoy yourself, be courteous to wildlife, the environment and other visitors. Kindly help those who need it, and consider following Hank Patterson’s advice on how to survive Yellowstone.
Yellowstone is great. Let’s enjoy it, encourage others to do the same, and work to keep it great for the next hundred years.