Bugs explode against the windshield like drops of rain, splat, flat, little sparks of energy returning to the source. Fat black crows sit atop wooden fence posts watching the sparse traffic in hopes a rabbit will misjudge its opportunity to cross the two-lane strip of pavement. Every half mile or more a ranch house rolls past, the architecture and mass of the structure telling the story of the owner’s struggles or successes. The landscape doesn’t care, doesn’t discriminate. Log mansions straining towards authenticity, small but proud enduring farmhouse, tired trailer home, the terrain remains the same. Groomed fields separated by chunks of sage, scrub and cheat grass with bare dusty tributaries leading to the dead earth lots and the wooden or cement steps that promise life behind the screen doors. Fields punctuated by hay rolls stacked in tall pyramid formations. And the Hi Way Bar & Café in Manderson, Wyoming is hopping at 8:23 am on a Tuesday in August.
We’re driving through cattle country, on our way to Yellowstone. The nation’s first national park is something every American should experience in their lifetime. It was, after all, established as a venue for the ordinary citizen to escape the hubbub and stress of the cities and connect with nature. Today, any ordinary citizen with $30 (if you happen to be in a vehicle) or $15 (if you’re on “foot, bicycle, ski, etc”) is welcome to do exactly that, experience the beauty, mystery and grandeur of the 2.2 million acres of mountain wildland and hydrothermal activity.
As one would expect when visiting a place where city folk are invited to interact with the nature they know absolutely nothing about, there are a lot of rules in Yellowstone. These rules have been compiled to protect the ignorant crowds that converge upon this wild and beautiful landscape, but also to preserve those wild and beautiful qualities for generations to come. After visiting the park, which this post is in no way intended to deter you from doing, one might notice that the human behaviors tend to scream for attention more loudly than the landscape itself, as reflected in the modified list of rules below:
Rule #1: Always stop in the middle of the road when you see wildlife, especially if there’s a completely vacant paved turnout within less than 50 yards of your vehicle. If you drive ahead to the pullout and then leave your car to view the bear/bison/sheep, then no one else will realize that there’s a GIANT bear sleeping in the middle of the open field next to the road, and it will be all your fault they didn’t get to see it.
Rule #2: It’s a good idea to cut people off when you pull out of parking areas. That way they won’t forget that human nature is human nature…even out in nature.
Rule #3: Please feed the bears. Ok, so that’s not really the rule. The rule is exactly the opposite, but when you see everything that gets left around the picnic areas, you really start to wonder. Since we drove past the sleeping bear without stopping in the middle of the road to take a photo, all I have is this picture of Pooh Bear with his pot of honey.
Rule #4: Do not come within less than 25 yds of a bison, or 100 yds of a bear, unless it’s sleeping, in which case you can lay down next to it and take a selfie (see Rule #5). No really, google it…”selfie with bear”.
Rule #5: Don’t forget your selfie stick.
Rule #6: If strangers ask you to take photos of them, take a really long time getting to know their digital camera (even though it’s on auto), and then yell at all the other visitors to get out of the frame.
Rule #7: STAY ON WALK. Apparently, this rule has proven necessary.
Rule #8: If you drop your iPhone or iPad into a hot spring, waterfall, boiling cauldron of sulfurous mud DO NOT attempt to retrieve it (see Rule #7).
Rule #9: Heavy backpacking boots should be worn on all boardwalks, paved paths, and groomed trails. Remember, like, 20 years ago when you went to REI to get ready for a hiking trip and the salesperson in the shoe department laced you so tightly into a pair of thousand-lb. boots with soles made of wood that you felt like you were wearing ski boots with magnetic bottoms that drew you towards the earth’s center, and then made you walk down a little wooden incline with grip tape on it 40 times? They said they would break in, but that never happened, did it. Nope. Never happened.
Rule #10: Signs indicating “arduous hikes” are there to intimidate you because the skinny, fit outdoor-oriented people who rule the world don’t want chubby indoor-oriented people blocking their view. Go ahead! Head on down those 528 steps! You’re wearing your backpacking boots (see rule #7)! Never mind the fact that you’ll have to lug those heavy suckers all the way back up…
So…should you go to Yellowstone if the opportunity presents itself? Absolutely! We only took one day to see a mere fraction of the park, and just that little bit was amazing, regardless of the humans. If you have even the most mild appreciation for nature and science, the wildlife, waterfalls, and crazy things spurting up from the ground will definitely warrant your attention.
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