After entering the east entrance of Yellowstone and watching my car thermostat plummet from 44 in Cody to 23 somewhere way above Yellowstone Lake, I wasn’t quite sure I was up for the next bend in the road. The bend offered up a Bison in the adjoining lane. Lumbering along he made his way as though in England, driving on the opposite side of the road. I slowed, dropped my jaw, and then cautiously preceded.
Temperatures rose to the inviting high 40’s as the mountains swelled around me and I made my way to the north part of the park. In Mammoth Hot Springs, I slowed for the elk…not one or two, but about a dozen. I would have stopped to take a picture like the throngs of folks doing so, but respect for these beautiful animals and the feeling that I was entering Disney World with all the tourists held me to the wheel and moving toward the campsite.
Connie, the campsite host checked me in. “Now be sure to look before popping out of your tent. The elk are everywhere.”
“Should I make noise? Blow my whistle?”
Connie laughed, “Nah, that’ll just get ’em more angry. Best to get in your car.” Connie paused after this advice. “Of course the males often ram car windows because they see their own reflections and think it’s another Bull Elk.”
The advice left me a little confused, but then again what did I know about elk during mating season…or elk anytime of year? I set up my tent and figured with all those other campers, surely my odds were good of no elk issues.
But how to handle the wild animals and the advice given by park rangers and posted signs has led me to consider many anomalies about the procedures set forth in this land of national parks and such, so I’ve added my own thoughts.
Upon heading onto a trail, there was this directive:
Hike with three people.
I’m assuming they are not talking about me and my two additional personalities—who can make plenty of noise when invited. One sings, one blows a whistle, and the other is apt to say: What the heck are we doing out here?
I assume the three hikers the sign refers to are with three sets of legs and three beating hearts. But why three? Why not two, why not more than one? Is it so the other two can get away? Are the forest folks upping their survival stats? “We have only lost a third of our hikers.” Certainly that does sound better than a half.
Upon entering bear territory, signs post helpful hints…helpful but a tad confusing. I got the Do Not Run. Okay, I won’t fall into that natural instinct of flight or fight. (yeah, right.) So let’s say I fight. That’s what the sign says: Fight back!
But the next line: Play Dead.
Well, which is it?
My campsite neighbor said if you get attacked in your tent when you are asleep you should fight back.
I’m asleep and then I turn into a Ninja from a sleep state. Not picturing this happening exactly.
“But if you are attacked, play dead,” offers up this same neighbor who also admits he sleeps with bear spray. That sounds like a whole other set of confusing problems but made me walk a safe distance from his tent after dark.
So you could run or you could play dead or you can take one from my plan book:
Bear goes for me. I give him my head.
Yep, my head. I do not plan to be maimed. He doesn’t get an arm or a leg, he gets the whole thing. (Easy to say from this soft chair.)
My practice has also been to work some kind of earworm, the song that dances again and again through my head, like: Kookaburra Sits In the Old Gum Tree…. In addition, I employ small prayers to the bear saints and gratitude gods before and after each hike.
Yellowstone has a plethora of hiking trails—so many it is difficult to choose. But once a trail is chosen, here are two things I quickly determined:
First, when coming to a fork in the path, take the one that goes in the opposite direction of the bear claw.
How do I know it is a bear claw? At night, inside the communal camper bathroom, my headlamp shines upon the poster on the stall door—the one with the Beware of Bear and Be Bear Wise. For more than a few moments the thought lingers to spend the remaining night in the stall.
Second, when traversing the trail and you see an object lifting from the path, do not think that your meditative powers have become so acute that you are levitating a huge rock. Instead, realize that huge rock is a Wooly Mammoth. Okay, it’s really a bison, but I’m hard pressed to tell the difference. (The bathroom wall does not include the bison.)
But no sign is needed. Common sense tells you to just return to the fork in the road and do not follow the bear tracks. Follow the path back to your tent…and those mating elk who are waiting to ram your windows.