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Bison buffaloes tourists

August 3. This morning a lone bison grazing in bucolic oblivion by the side of the road causes a monumental traffic snafu. Since there are no traffic pullouts along this section of highway, people do exactly what you’d expect: they just stop and leave their cars in the traffic lane, grab their cameras, and stand on the road taking snapshots. This has the immediate effect of causing the steady stream of cars entering the park stream to back up, bumper-to-bumper, for nearly five miles.

I’m heading into West Yellowstone, leaving the park to grab a McDonald’s wifi signal (best thing on their menu.) Traffic is much sparser going my direction, so I don’t have a problem in my lane. But an hour and a half later, when I’ve finished McDonald’s and have done some grocery shopping—you guessed it: same damn bison. I add myself to the back of the line and creep along, slower than rush hour in a rainstorm, while everybody stops to take their turn snapping photographs. There’s nothing to be done except enjoy the scenery and exercise patience. Finally after almost an hour it’s my turn to peel off the head of the line and resume highway speed. I’m soon able to stash my groceries in the fridge and contemplate my next move.

My choice of activities is limited because I seem to have injured myself—badly enough to force me to walk with a limp. It’s not the result of a particular incident, but more the accumulation of stress over a period of time. There’s a shooting pain in the bottom of my right heel every time I step on it. I’ve felt some similar discomfort in the past while doing my daily walks. But nothing has hobbled me like this. I’m sure I aggravated it yesterday during the long slog on Mt. Washburn, where I began to feel it on the descent. This morning when I got out of bed I can hardly walk at all.


I decide to rest the foot and take the 100-mile drive around Grand Loop Road, which is roughly concentric with, but smaller than the Yellowstone caldera. For several miles the road hugs the shoreline of Yellowstone Lake, largest mountain lake in North America. It’s fascinating that hidden beneath the lake’s surface, the same kind of geothermal events are bubbling away as can be seen in the geyser basins. Anyway, along the road there are seemingly limitless pullouts, side roads, exhibits, vistas and—yes—bison. Look to your left and you’ll see what happens when two bison get together and decide to really buffalo the tourists…. They stood motionless like that for a good 20 minutes.

In a couple of places, particularly in Hayden Basin, the road passes through herds of hundreds of bison. I feel a kind of wistfulness when I think back to the days when tens of millions of these beasts roamed freely across the land; when, in fact, the whole continent was as unspoiled as the 95% of Yellowstone that tourists never get to see.

In spite of my injury I decide to take an easy 2 mile (limping) walk through Norris Geyser Basin, a collection of pearlescent pools, mud pots, paint pots, roaring steam vents and, of course, geysers. It’s remarkable that there are as many sounds and odors emanating from the earth as there are

All the colors are from different life-forms

varieties of geothermal features. Sounds include gurgling, roaring, dragon-like hissing, slurping, blooping, simmering with a staccato crackle, and great guttural exhalations that sound like an extended groan from deep within the earth.

Some smell of sulfur, some have a pleasant scent hinting of chocolate or leather, some have odors I can’t identify as anything familiar, and some just plain old smell like farts. When I happen to pass through their steam plumes along the boardwalk, the heat is withering. You have to think of Hell.

P.S. If you haven’t discovered it already, you can click on an image to make it larger.

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