elkWhen I mentioned that the Lamar Valley is sometimes called The Little Serengeti of the Yellowstone, I wasn’t kidding. As spartan as the Roosevelt Lodge and cabins are — and as cold as it’s been in the morning — I’ve been getting up at 5AM and getting out on the road in this, the most remote corner of the park. I’ve been rewarded with amazing close encounters with animals. And with viewing herds of animals in greater numbers than I’ve seen outside of Africa. On one morning, I’m pretty sure I saw what looked to be close to a thousand buffalo grazing on the plain. Unfortunately, getting a photograph that could portray those numbers proved to be beyond my camera’s — or my — abilities. In other cases, the animals were close enough to the road that I was able to pull over and observe quietly fascinating herd behavior and interactions. Unfortunately, by 9 or 10AM, the idiots start coming out. Leading me to wonder how Yellowstone can be filled with people who have apparently not seen any of the hundreds of signs and notices demanding that you stay 25 yards back from buffalo and hooved animals and 100 yards away from predators. Not to mention, the signs that tell you NOT to stop in the middle of the road if you see an animal.

The one time you can stop is when a buffalo is standing in your way. Because as a matter of fact, they DO own the road.

The one time you can stop is when a buffalo is standing in your way. Because as a matter of fact, they DO own the road.

When I encountered this family group, I stopped the requisite 25 yards away. Apparently, large buffalo bulls don’t always accept that measure as the correct distance. The bull on the left drew a bead on the Hobbit SUV and began lowering and raising his head. I’m not sure about buffalo language, but this means “back off” when a steer does it. The bull wasn’t as long as the Hobbit SUV, but he was certainly taller and could have inflicted a world of hurt on its paint job. I reversed an additional ten yards. The bull relaxed and looked away.

Of course, there's always THAT guy, who swerved around me and charged toward the buffalo separating a mama from two calves.

Of course, there’s always THAT guy, like this doofus who swerved around me and charged toward the buffalo separating a mama from two calves.

There was a pretty scary moment where the big bull and the female started getting very agitated and surrounding the car. I didn’t capture it on film as, in anticipation of a bad scene, I put my hands on the wheel and backed up even more. My plan was to execute a quick U-turn if things got really out of hand. Luckily, the idiot got past before the situation escalated. But this scenario was the rule rather than the exception. After about 9:30 when the average tourists got up, the appearance on the road of any animal would bring out at least one idiot who would jump out of his car and race toward the animal with an iPad or a phone on a selfie stick. I don’t want to pander to stereotypes, but I did notice it was mostly Asian tourists who did this. The behavior, I would guess has less to do with race or nationality and more to do with the fact that someone from a massive city such as Seoul, Taipei or Tokyo would have less experience and understanding of animal behavior than perhaps an American. It was also my observation that the German tourists were convinced that the signs — warning that the ecosystem was fragile — were certainly not meant for them. Luckily, I could yell at them in their language or at least muster a “Raus! Verboten!” The only consolation is that at least 90% of the tourists seem to cluster and stay in the heavily built up Old Faithful area, leaving most of the animals up in Lamar and unmolested.

Here's my take-away: except for little guys like this, most of the dangerous animals in Yellowstone are in a permanent bad mood.

Here’s my take-away: except for little guys like this, most of the dangerous animals in Yellowstone are in a permanent bad mood.

The buffalo just want to get on with grazing. Not to mention that this is the rut season. So the young bulls are all charged up on testosterone. The old bulls remove themselves from the herd for a little piece and quiet until that foolishness is all over. I can’t decide who would be more dangerous: a young bull or an old guy who was just hoping for a little tranquility and had his Zen disturbed by a fool with a selfie stick.

The bears have a very short window of opportunity to bulk up before they have to hibernate. If they don’t have a certain critical mass of fat by the first snowfall, they may not make it to spring. You know the concept of “hangry”, being so hungry you are angry? That’s your average bear — and their instinct is to consume anything with calories. Which includes you. Even if, or maybe especially, if you are running up to them with an iPad in front of your face.

I could have driven myself crazy yelling at clueless tourists. Instead, once the day wore on and the animals faded back into the foothills, I spent my time catching up on the beauty spots.

The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is amazing!

The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is amazing!

And I finally got around to that touristy side of the park with all the geysers and mudpots.

And I finally got around to that touristy side of the park with all the geysers and mudpots.

And I'm guessing this is why they call it Yellowstone.

And I’m guessing this is why they call it Yellowstone.

There's someone for everyone and apparently there are colorful algaes that love bubbling mud pots.

There’s someone for everyone and apparently there are colorful algaes that love bubbling mud pots.

By the way, if some of my photos seem less than colorful, the Chelan Washington fire and dozens of others hundreds of miles away were sending smoke to reduce visibility to, at times, less than a mile.

By the way, if some of my photos seem less than colorful, the Chelan Washington fire and dozens of others hundreds of miles away were sending smoke to reduce visibility to, at times, less than a mile.

So my Yellowstone was largely an unpeopled one as long as I kept myself up in the less traveled areas and confined my wildlife excursions to early morning and twilight. Which is how I found myself leaving Yellowstone and realizing I hadn’t seen that famous Geyser. I quickly detoured and snapped this shot, but didn’t wait around for the eruption.

I need to save something for the next visit.

I need to save something for the next visit.

Now begins the unstructured portion of my trip. I’m headed home and haven’t decided which stops I’ll make along the way. One certain is that I’ll go back to the marvelous Great Basin National Park, the least visited of our national parks, but one of the most fascinating. This time, I’m terrier-less, so I’ll be able to take the trail up to see the Bristlecone Pines, the most ancient trees on Earth. Where I’ll stop on my way there will depend on how successful I am at last minute bookings.

****

No, I didn’t see a bear at Yellowstone, although I did see a lot of clear evidence that one or more had just been where I was hiking. I’m not entirely unhappy with this outcome. I love the fact that Grizzlies are out there. I’m not sure I wanted to meet one.

Did you know that most of Yellowstone is actually the caldera of a giant — and still active — super volcano? Hence all the geyser and mudpot action.