On Visiting Yellowstone National Park and Being Perplexed by the Behavior of Tourists

Back in July of 2001, our family took a trip out west to South Dakota, Wyoming and Colorado, with Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park being our primary destinations.  Our two sons were 11 and 8 at the time.  We piled in my in-laws van and started on what would be a very memorable trip, driving some 4,000 miles round-trip. While driving in Kentucky and not quite even two hours into our trip, the van air conditioner went out.  It was insanely HOT that day with temperatures of 100 degrees and a heat index of 105.  We drove with the windows down for the remainder of that day, until it became so hot that we could drive no further.  We drove with hair blowing in the wind while that same loud wind whistling in the open windows prevented any conversation.  Paper towels were dipped into melting ice water from our two coolers and used to wipe our sons’ hot, red faces and necks (who were riding in the back of the van).  My husband and father-in-law were able to take the van the following morning to have the AC repaired.

Our youngest son had a big interest in wolves at the time.  At age eight, he was fascinated with them and checked out books about wolves at the library, wore wolf tee shirts and collected wolf figurines and other wolf decor for his bedroom.  I hoped more than anything that we would be fortunate enough to get to see wolves at Yellowstone National Park.  Upon arriving at Jackson Lake Lodge, where we were to stay, imagine our excitement when we saw signs saying there would be a lecture and slide show that night by park rangers about the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone National Park.  All were invited and believe me, we were first to arrive for front row seats!  The talk was fascinating and we were enthralled.  Getting first hand information straight from the people who were directly involved in the reintroduction of the wolves back into Yellowstone, was beyond thrilling to me.  I could have listened to those people talk all night.  My son was in heaven.



Brian and Adam at West Thumb Geyser Basin in front of Yellowstone Lake

my sons at West Thumb Geyser Basin at Yellowstone Lake- 2001

Brian and Adam- Grand Tetons- Wyoming- 2001

Grand Tetons- Wyoming- 2001

When we arrived at Yellowstone, I had two main goals I wanted to tick off my “bucket list” of wildlife viewing.  I wanted to see wolves and I wanted to see a Grizzly Bear.  Shortly after arriving, we talked to a nice and very helpful park ranger who advised us as to where we needed to go where we would most likely witness both.  He told us if we headed to the Fishing Bridge area, we would more than likely see a Grizzly.  He was right.  And he didn’t have to tell this mama twice that we needed to stay at least 100 yards away from any bear we might see.  It didn’t take us long to see a mama Grizzly Bear with two cubs.  She was grazing on the side of the road.  I was absolutely floored how close people were getting to this mama bear.  People were getting out of their cars with cameras in hand and walking right up to within 20 feet of her.  I couldn’t believe it.  I told my family I was sure we were about to witness a mauling.  I used this as a valuable teaching time for my young sons and told them to always, ALWAYS respect wildlife and give them their space.  Especially a mama grizzly bear, who will stop at nothing to protect her cubs if she feels they are in danger or being threatened.

Though not very good photos, these are the two photos I got of the mama bear (from the inside of the van mind you).

Grizzly Bear in Yellowstone

zoomed in photo of the mama grizzly we saw in Yellowstone on the side of the road

hind end of Grizzly bear in Yellowstone

hind end of mama grizzly feeding on side of the road in Yellowstone

What I didn’t get a picture of was the people ahead of us who got out of their car and walked right up to that Grizzly bear to snap a photo of her!  I told my kids they were acting as if it was a giant teddy bear and NOT a grizzly bear.  Not smart.

Later, in Hayden Valley, we witnessed Bison crossing the road.  Again, we saw people getting out of their cars and getting much too close to snap photos.  I’ll never forget my father-in-law shaking his head and saying, “Look at that man there, he’s close enough to sprinkle salt on that Bison’s tail!”  And he was.  I cringed.  A ranger had told us that if you see a bison raise its tail straight up, beware, that he’s in danger of charging.

Bison crossing in front of our van in Hayden Valley- Yellowstone National Park- 2001

A bison crossing in front of our van in Hayden Valley- Yellowstone National Park


Bison in Yellowstone National Park

You’ve probably seen the video of the man who was recently arrested for taunting a bull bison in Hayden Valley in Yellowstone National Park.  Here’s the video if you didn’t see it.  Note the bison’s tail. 

This guy is lucky he wasn’t gored, killed or maimed!  The man was later arrested because yes, this kind of behavior, besides being stupid, is also illegal in Yellowstone.  Who in their right mind would taunt a 2000 lb. bull bison? I think people mistakenly think bison are clumsy and slow-moving.  They’re not!

Unfortunately, this is not uncommon behavior in Yellowstone and other National Parks.

I enjoyed our time in Yellowstone.  It’s a magical place really, with all its thundering waterfalls, vibrant canyons, mysterious spouting geysers, its sulfuric smelling mudpots, its brilliantly colored thermal springs, its clear lakes, and the abundant wildlife and magnificent wilderness that just seemed to emanate peace.  We loved our time in Yellowstone and saw such a diversity of wildlife– deer, elk, moose, bison, bears, bald eagles, and pronghorn antelope to name a few.  We didn’t see any coyote (which are supposedly everywhere).  A ranger told us that most people confuse the coyotes for wolves, which are much rarer to see.  Unfortunately, while headed to Lamar Valley to try to get a glimpse of the wolves, a bad storm blew up and brought heavy swirling winds, hail, and torrential rain, and we were forced to turn around and abandon that journey.  So we didn’t get to see any wolves (my biggest regret).  We did however happen to come across two bull elk fighting and stopped with windows rolled down to watch and listen for a while.  Well, I honestly don’t know if they were sparring or fighting (there’s a difference) but it all looked pretty violent to me so I’m going with fighting.  It was a special treat getting to see that and I had a headache just watching and hearing the loud echoing sounds as their antlers clashed together.


Old Faithful Geyser



yellowstone-national-park-1760519_960_720As much as I loved Yellowstone, I couldn’t help but feel saddened and quite honestly perplexed at times to see how foolish people acted.  They willingly put themselves and the wild animals there in danger.  They ignored posted signs or warnings from rangers to stay at least 25 yards from wildlife (100 yards from bears and wolves) and not to get off the boardwalk in thermal areas.

I’ve witnessed people using poor judgement around animals all my life.   When I was growing up in the 1960’s, my parents used to take us to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  These were the days prior to bear proof trash cans when it was rare to visit a picnic area in the park and NOT have a bear sighting.  We witnessed black bears being fed by families picnicking and we witnessed bears getting into people’s cars with food.  I remember my mother being appalled at people  who thought it was a good idea to get close enough to the black bears to feed them food right from their hands.  What were they thinking?

Watch this man getting launched into a tree like a rag doll by a bison he walked right up to in Yellowstone.  He’s very lucky to be alive!

I learned while working in a small zoo at Opryland USA as a teenager that there’s a large number of people who disregard signs posted (which are posted for their own safety) and who disrespect the animals.  I once leaped a fence when I witnessed a tourist trying to physically and forcibly break off a deer’s antlers.  It was during the summer when the antlers are soft and velvety and are in the pre-calcified state. The tourist stopped as he saw me coming at him yelling, “STOP THAT, STOP THAT!”  He told me he had only wanted to take the antlers home as a souvenir!  Sometimes people honestly used to leave me shaking my head!  I kid you not, I once had a tourist ask me if it would be alright if he climbed on top of the Grand Ole Opry House roof to get a roof shingle to take home as a souvenir! We had a fence up at the monkey exhibit as well as signs up not to throw food to them, but always, always, I would catch people who had climbed over the fence, or who had thrown food or other objects into the exhibit.  You name it, they threw it.  More than once tourists threw their car keys into the monkey cage and then became angry at us for not being able to quickly retrieve their keys.  Often people found it amusing to throw things like burning cigarettes into the exhibit where the curious monkeys would pick them up and receive burns to their hands.

And then there’s this guy who was caught on tape at the L.A. zoo this week climbing into a hippo enclosure (!) and slapping a hippo on the bottom.  I have no words.

Why do people act so foolishly? I think some do it unintentionally (out of ignorance or lack of education) and some do it intentionally to show off (like the hippo guy).  And then I think there’s some people who simply feel entitled and feel it’s their right to disregard/disobey the rules.  I’ve watched videos of tourists in Yellowstone who will do anything just to get that perfect picture and in the process get gored by bison or thrown into the air and injured.  People act as if they are in a giant petting zoo with tamed animals.  They just don’t understand the danger they are creating for both themselves and the animals.  I can’t help but think the danger is even greater now, in the cell phone era we live in, where people now turn their backs on these wild animals to pose for that perfect selfie to post on social media.

Behavior like this just makes me shudder.

Have you ever witnessed foolish behavior or people blatantly disregarding posted signs and rules at a National Park? 


About Gail

I am a wife, mother, sister, aunt, friend, veterinarian, and wanna be writer. I love nature and animals of all kinds, music, cooking, and spending time with my family.
This entry was posted in Animals, Memories, Nature, Travel and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to On Visiting Yellowstone National Park and Being Perplexed by the Behavior of Tourists

  1. Mary Mangee says:

    It saddens me to know how people are disrespecting these animals. They apparently don’t know what a gift it is to be able to watch these animals in their natural habitat. That in itself is the greatest souvenir anyone could ever want in my opinion.

  2. Paulie says:

    Yellowstone is a wondrous place, a national treasure. It is also unfortunately a laboratory for watching human stupidity. Before my wife and I left for Yellowstone we read about a woman who was gored by a bison when she tried to take a selfie with it. Glad to see that you enjoyed your trip and not surprised at your reaction to the bad behavior.

    • Gail says:

      It kinda makes you wonder how many people are killed while trying to get that perfect selfie, huh?

      Thanks for stopping by here and for your comment.

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