Guest Column

The wonder of Yellowstone and the ignorance of tourists

By Richard Brady
Posted 6/4/20

Like a lot of things delayed because of this Pandemic, Yellowstone National Park, the oldest of all our national parks, didn’t open on its normal opening time frame as in years past! We all …

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Guest Column

The wonder of Yellowstone and the ignorance of tourists


Like a lot of things delayed because of this Pandemic, Yellowstone National Park, the oldest of all our national parks, didn’t open on its normal opening time frame as in years past! We all have seen places we love and care about not open to the public because of COVID-19, but I for one always look forward to the early days of the Park being open, when kids are still in school, when the crowds are absent from all the usual geysers. That’s before the campers driving those huge motor homes use the park’s narrow roads to navigate their $100,000 driveable homes to a campsite with a half-mile of cars behind it that can’t pass it, until it gets to the turn for the campsite it wishes to be in for weeks at a time!

I’ve seen bus after busload with as many as 90 to 100 of these tourists crammed into one of these modern land wagons, transporting tourists around the country to this or that national park. Some, I’ve been told, are whirlwind tours — four or five parks in eight days!

Yes, Yellowstone can be a wonderful place, a beautiful place, a jewel of our national park system. With its millions of visitors each year, one has to wonder if the general infrastructure can hold up over time.

Don’t get me wrong: I know the outlying cities that surround Yellowstone need the tourist dollars they get from camping fees, lodging fees from those not camping, the park entrance fees, restaurants and souvenir shops, on and on. Let’s face it: It all adds up to an economy for all concerned for survival during the winter months when there aren’t a lot of tourists or visitors!

Being a local guy, I’ve come to learn that there are several months during the park’s open season, that no one in their right mind wants to go in, even when a local person lives so close. Those are the summer months of June, July and August — and in the last few years, I’ve noticed even September can be overwhelming with tourists! I guess this is what these parks are for? Makes me wonder if Yellowstone can survive the onslaught of millions of people each year stressing the environment of the park itself?

Not three days into the opening of the East Gate to Yellowstone and the gate at Grand Teton National Park and already I read that some tourist has already been injured by a buffalo. Why do these people seem to want to pet the buffalo or stand beside one for a photo or selfie? Really!

Every single car that goes through any of the gates is given a map, the latest newspaper and a sheet of the DISTANCE RULES for viewing the animal life — and in several languages, I might add. Yet when I go in, I see people walking off the boardwalks and in places they shouldn’t be; I saw four guys walk up to a mother grizzly with her cub, get about 15 feet away from her then turn their backs on her so one of the guys could get a selfie of the four of them with that grizzly right behind them! Not a good idea!

I’ve seen people follow and chase a grizzly into a very dense woods with their cellphone at the ready. Why would you chase a bear into its domain? I did see one Asian family of around eight or nine individuals run after a grizzly to take some cellphone shots — the father of that group carried his youngest as he ran after the bear! Yes, really!

I have also noted that the speeding in the park is also out of control! I have lost count of the times I’ve been locked into the 45 mph limit, yet the guy behind me wants to run 60? What’s up with that? Could it be another reason for the Park Service to eventually be in favor of busing in people? One national park in California has bused in people for several years now! The real question is, if you pay to be in the park, wouldn’t you want to at least drive the speed limit instead of missing all that you miss seeing when you are speeding?

Yellowstone National Park isn’t a road course race circuit, and driving like it is one can get you killed. God forbid you don’t run into and kill one of the animals, because they can pop out at any time! Not all that many years ago, I read where 100 animals were killed in Yellowstone, a figure that seems quite impossible until you’re in the park driving the posted speed limit and some guy has to blast by you because he or she is in a hurry!

I feel blessed to be in the park and I cherish being there each and every time I get to go in. From some of the over-the-top things I see every time I’m in, it does make me wonder why some bother going if they aren’t going to abide by the rules at all. Why spend that money to get in if you are in too much of a hurry to be there and take it all in?

Recently I read where California’s Yosemite National Park might open starting in June, but with half the normal number of visitors allowed and pre-ticketed entry only for day visitors. Most of this is because of COVID-19 with distancing in mind, but this will certainly lessen the overall impact on the park’s infrastructure — and who’s to say this might not be the wave of the future when it comes to all of our parks?

For me, the hard thing to swallow is that all of our national parks are suffering from too many people and vehicles, yet each park and the outlying towns that support the parks need the dollars that are generated from all these people. In time, however, something will have to be done to ease the infrastructure of each park. Busing people in is one thought, only a certain number in each day is another and I’m sure there are other thoughts!

As our population increases something will have to be done eventually ... just what that is I don’t know.

(Richard Brady is a Powell photographer.)

Guest Column