A number of years ago, in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the US National Parks, I took an expedition with National Geographic to 5 of these great natural wonders: Grand Canyon, Teton, Glacier, Olympic and Yellowstone National Parks. There were two fantastic guides and many many rangers providing guidance, knowledge and warnings about not getting too close to the wildlife. Ironically my first close encounter came while following one of the guides that was leading us to one of the Geyser Basins in Yellowstone which is the largest active geyser field on earth. It is quite a surreal space, at times feeling as though one has gone back to the beginning of earth’s creation as steam spews forth all around you:
Obviously the grounds near the geysers retained some of the heat created by these thermals, and since if was late September the weather was getting a bit chilly, particularly in the morning. I mention this as a clue. While we walked towards the boardwalks that would take us safely through some of the thermal areas, there was a mound right ahead of us that to me looked like a statue of a sitting bison – kind of an advertisement to be on the lookout. The guides continued to walk so that seemed to prove my assumption.
Wrong. We actually walked a bit closer before one of the guides quietly said: “Stop!”
Luckily for us, the bison was sluggish and cold and more interested in staying flat on the ground to secure some warmth than chasing us. We took a wide turn away and safely continued our walk.
Later, I had another close encounter when we stopped for a picnic lunch in a lightly wooded forest next to a wide pasture where we had spied a few bison lolling around. After lunch, I took a few steps beyond where we were sitting to head for the bathroom, but before I had taken more than two steps – I almost bumped right into this immovable object:
Another close call. Finally, while not a close encounter, this bison actually did make threatening calls and gestures for he was protection his lady sitting on the ground next to him – he had been trying to mate with her, unsuccessfully for awhile so no doubt he was very cranky and wanted to take it out on me.
However, as you will see I was nowhere near the great brute:
Good rule of thumb is to always steer clear of a dominant male guarding his female or in the next case his harem and kids. For part of our yellowstone visit we stayed in a compound with small bungalows which turned out to be a favorite grazing spot for elk. Frankly our room was was so tiny that whenever there we spent a great deal of it sitting on the porch watching these lovely creatures leisurely eat grass and then leave us presents of dung before they left.
Their calmness was no doubt in big part to this well racked fellow – who charged at anyone who got too close for his comfort. And yet, despite his formidable bulk and presence, the ranger were constantly scrambling to yell at tourists who wanted a selfie. Unbelievable.
There are still more close encounters to come next week!