From the far north of Glacier National Park we headed south for 8 hours, across all of Montana, to the far top left corner of the perfectly square state of Wyoming. Between Montana, Wyoming and Idaho lies Yellowstone National Park. We made camp in the mostly touristy town of West Yellowstone, Montana. Every day we crossed state lines into Wyoming to visit the park and hurried back to Montana before dark. Surrounding Yellowstone are ranches, grazing land, national forests and all sorts of wilderness areas. Yellowstone is an enormous park, it takes an hour by car to get to some of the places from the entrance gate. The park spans an area of 3,468 square miles and sits over an active super-volcano, which is responsible for all of the geothermal activity.
Driving around the park we encountered various animals just going about their business or crossing the road. Within 10 minutes of entering the park, we witnessed an elk pair mating right in front of the visitor center. Tourists were taking pics, while the ranger was desperately trying to keep them at a distance, since male elk are aggressive during mating season and can charge. It looked pretty much like this:
Over the next days we saw up close many many buffalo herds, elk, foxes, a coyote, a black wolf and a moose. While Yellowstone is bear country, and there are signs warning of grizzly and black bears on trails, the closest we got to seeing a bear was in the Grizzly & Wolf discovery center in town. Although we read all kinds of horror stories about bear attacks, most contact between animals and humans usually ends badly for the animals. Even in a protected national park, animal and habitat conservation is a major challenge. Trash and careless human actions, such as feeding by tourists, teach animals to see humans as a source of food and too not be afraid of contact. Bears that get used to trash, have to be caught and many times destroyed. The campground where we stayed had to catch and kill a problem bear that summer. Special bins for trash are all over the park and we had to hide all our food in the car and change our clothes after cooking so the smells don’t attract any bears.
The bison herds in Yellowstone are unique to the park, they are some of the few genetically pure wild American Buffalo that remain. Nearly hunted to extinction a hundred years ago, there are only 15,000 free roaming buffalo in North America, and the Yellowstone herd numbers about 3,700. The animals are HUGE, and pretty much go wherever they please. When they decide to cross the road, there is a pile up of cars waiting their turn. The buffalo are intimidating to say the least, with an intensity in their eyes and action, that separates their demeanor from the tame domestic cows. Even though there is no hunting in Yellowstone, the animals are not necessarily protected if they leave the park. When it gets extremely cold in the winter and food is scarce, buffalo and other animals go down to lower elevations in search of food and many times are killed by hunters or ranchers. Due to the influence of ranchers in Montana politics, buffalo are rounded up if they cross park lines into the state and are destroyed. Since 1985 6,900 wild Yellowstone buffalo have been slaughtered.
Despite such challenges for conservationists, Yellowstone is one of the last remaining pristine wildernesses. Although many roads were built, its possible to go into the woods and not see another person for weeks. Visiting such natural beauty makes one realize that its really up to all of us to make sure future generations are able to experience nature and wild animals in their original state, and all politics or economic considerations must be put aside. For it is up to humanity to protect the earth, even tho we have the means to abuse and destroy it.
Roma and Natalia are world travelers, photographers, and an all around fun couple. When they are not travelling far away continents or driving around USA in their trusted Highlander, they can be found in San Francisco, California.