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If you havenít experienced Yellowstone Park, itís worth a visit

For our family a ďwildlife alertĒ in Yellowstone National Park is usually not called by someone who sees a bear, moose, elk or bison, but by the traffic jam caused by someone else who sees an animal and stops in the middle of the road to observe said animal.

A couple of weeks ago grandson Colin and I went to Yellowstone, it was his graduation gift from me. We spent a couple of days hiking and looking at the sights and in the process were involved in a number of ďwildlife alerts.Ē
The first didnít involve traffic, which was unusual. We were heading to a hiking trailhead when we saw a park ranger and a bunch of people looking up a hill with spotting scopes.

We pulled into a parking space for a scenic overlook and walked over to see what the folks with the scopes were looking at. They were German and proudly invited us to look through their scopes and see some kind of owl they had spotted. They were very excited.

The ranger didnít seem interested in them so I turned around to see why he was there. Sure enough, 200 feet behind the bird watchers was a mother black bear and two cubs. We thought that was pretty neat and watched them for a while before heading down the road. It was rare that only a half dozen of us were interested in the bears.

Later in the day we drove by a spot where two large black bears were feet from the road, oblivious to the cars and more interested in scouring the ground for something to eat. Here traffic was stopped and once one carload got enough pictures out the window of the vehicle, the next car pulled up and did the same.

A third alert occurred as we were heading back to Gardiner, Montana, where we had a motel room. (If you go to Yellowstone and donít have a room reservation in the park roughly a year in advance, you may not get a room. Our trip was planned two months in advance.)

This third alert was near the start of a construction zone where traffic was narrowed to one lane and groups of car alternated going through the constricted area.

The trouble was that a hundred yards in front of the construction zone a black bear cub was wandering around a meadow near some trees. So, of course, the lead car stopped, and when we arrived, we were a quarter of a mile back. We knew it was a wildlife alert but were too far away to see what was causing it.

We could see the traffic issue around a curve. The construction folks were trying to get the northbound traffic to move through the construction zone so the southbound traffic could move south, but the northbound traffic was stalled by the bear watchers. Eventually they got things moving.

It used to be when there was a wildife alert people would pull over to the side of the road. Some would get out of their cars, even when that was not wise, but traffic still moved. Now it seems folks just stop in the middle of the road, some get out of their cars, some donít. That has been a big change in the way park visitors act in the park.
For about the past 10 years attendance at Yellowstone has been growing and is now over four million people a year. It is a very busy place in the summer and one needs to plan ahead for lodging, not just in the park but near park entrances as well.

We stayed on well-traveled trails where there was lots of traffic to avoid bear issues. Bears usually donít go after people unless they get between cubs and their mother. Bear cubs are like 2-year-olds, they do what they want, so a cub might wander near a trail and the mother will follow and protect it. Being noisy keeps bears from being surprised.

Still, Yellowstone is a very special place. Itís not hard to find quiet places to enjoy the spectacular views. In fact most people donít get far from their cars, so a little ways from the parking lot things quiet down considerably. If you havenít been there, itís worth a visit.

The Starbuck Times
The Starbuck Times