Tag Archives: grand tetons

The human race is doomed

Another brief run-down in numbers of our trip. We’ve now spotted:

  • a beaver, who regarded us from about 10 yards away and let us get a couple of good pictures
  • a white wolf, who went running by our car on the side of the road at the Grand Tetons
  • two bald eagles, separate sightings
  • a hawk or osprey, who flew away when we got too close
  • a mountain blue bird, who literally posed for me
  • at least 30 bison, one of whom walked next to our car
  • an elk couple, gnawing on some grass
  • a grizzly bear, too tired to stand so decided flopping over on his side was preferable
  • a couple pronghorn sheep on the side of a cliff

The Grand Tetons and Yellowstone are really incredible, simply put. There are so many different kinds of features I have a hard time fathoming that we’re in the same 300,000 acre area. Hot springs, geysers, mud pots, and volcanoes on the west side of the parks, enormous canyons, mountain-fed waterfalls, iced-up lakes and evergreens on the east and southern sides. And everywhere, precarious cliff drops, beasts and birds of prey, natural wonders I’ve never laid eyes on before, I could look in the same direction for 10 minutes and keep seeing new and interesting things.

The other thing I’ve realized on this trip is that it takes a hell of a lot of work to make a national park functional, from building in trails and roads without disturbing the ecosystem, staffing the park with rangers who know what they’re doing, writing up points of interest accurately and interestingly, and effectively keeping people aware of safety hazards and relevant laws. This last one cannot be understated as challenging for the park service. There were so many times Susanne and I saw people behaving with total ignorance of their surroundings, or what I can only imagine was disregard for rules, laws, and guidelines.

Passing a sign telling us that this area was “frequented by bears,” a hiker pulled out a sandwich and started eating it as she walked. Mm, tasty human with tasty roast beef sandwich!

At a hot springs basin in which all manner of sulfur-living bacteria floated on the water, smelling like dead bodies, a woman dipped her hand in the water, for what reason I have no idea. Susanne and I were astonished at her carelessness—she could contract a parasite, or worse, become the Undead Swamp Woman. Or so I imagine.

At the same hot springs basin, a sign warned travelers of the thin crust to the earth, and to stay on the raised platform. Here is the sign:

dangerous ground signThis sign clearly shows a boy off the raised path, regretting his action, while a woman with a pained expression on her face looks on, trying to figure out what to do as the child begins boiling himself. Notably, a man with a bag in the background walks on, aloof and indifferent to the entire ordeal, which tells us something important. Never trust a guy with a man purse. Let’s please also note that this sign is in five languages, and topped with an eye-catching red banner. There really is no reason not to at least glance at this sign. You’re about to walk through a lava field, people. Aren’t you the least bit interested in what the rangers saw fit to share with you?

hot springs in yellowstone

Does this look like you should stand next to it?

So what did we see happen four feet from the start of the trail? An entire family, one by one, getting off the platform, walking right up to a bubbling crevice, kneeling next to it, and pointing at it, the other members of the clan gleefully snapping pictures. Of what could be their last moment on earth. I think my jaw dropped.

Later that day we saw several vehicles stopped along the side of a road, and we figured something interesting must have been happening, so we slowed down, since rubbernecking is okay in these parts. Lo and behold a grizzly bear was sitting in the brush, just hanging out. We had also read by this point no fewer than 10 pieces of instructions regarding bear encounters, everything from how to photograph them safely, to proscriptions against feeding them, to what to do if one attempts to rip out your throat (note, it does not involve climbing a tree).

None of the people taking pictures of this grizzly were abiding any of the very incredibly sensible rules around bear trauma avoidance. No one was keeping a safe distance, all of them were out of their cars, presumably going on some kind of numbers game—he’ll probably attack someone other than me, so I’ll have a chance to run back into my Hummer3. One woman with her crappy Canon PowerShot (hey, I’ve got one too, so I know about these things) asked another person, “do you see any cubs?” What the hell, lady? Susanne rightly knew that if there were cubs around, this bear would not be nearly so docile-seeming, and chaos would have already ensued. There’s nothing like a real vacation killer than running for your life because you had to get a close up of a baby animal and your zoom just wasn’t cutting it. People seem not to realize that the professional photographers of the wilderness world have amazing equipment that lets them get extremely close shots from very safe distances. The amateur’s stupid Pentax is not going to be the same. Just by the $10 poster print in the national park store and be done with it.

I can only glean from all of this bad behavior that our time is fairly limited on this planet. Those hot springs have been pulsing out boiling water way longer than we’ve been around, and they’ll be here after we lose out to the cockroaches and sparrows of Earth. But it’s a shame—we humans went to the trouble to create language, and then we spend so much energy not listening.

And all that aside, the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone are really amazing places. More on that tomorrow.

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