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One of the wonders of Yellowstone!

The Scariest Creature in Yellowstone

by Roy Blokker

          Late May is an excellent time to visit Yellowstone National Park. The wildlife are not yet leery of human beings, both an advantage and a reason for added caution, while the geothermal dynamics never take a day off.

We slowly traversed the 52 miles from Mammoth Hot Springs to Old Faithful, stopping along the way at various geological marvels. On the route we saw incredible scenery, and quite a few bison, usually off in the distance. At one point the bison decided to cross the road right in front of us, then casually stopped all traffic for several minutes.

If we had not stopped at Lower and Midway Geyser Basins first, with their wooden walkways and spectacular displays, Old Faithful would have been a major disappointment – not the geyser or the activity, but the touristy, built-up nature of the spot. Practically next to the most famous, iconic image in the Park was a community of modern buildings that included a massive hotel complex.

On time, as usual.

          We missed Old Faithful’s display by minutes and had to wait for over an hour if we wanted to see its next “show.”  We decided to stay, even though that meant it would be nearly five in the afternoon before we headed back up the 52 miles to Mammoth. It did afford us the opportunity to do what human beings like us do best – have a cup of coffee, and then shop at the very nice, fairly elaborate hotel store, Yellowstone Gifts and Sweets.

Before liftoff, we made our way over to the geyser and waited. The display, when it came, lasted several minutes and shot steam and water high into the air. Show over, photos taken, we headed back toward Mammoth and Gardiner, where we were staying. By then it was getting late, although there would be plenty of light for hours. 

We saw our first bear about fifteen miles north of the Old Faithful visitor complex. It was a male grizzly, hundreds of yards off, up a hill. The bear seemed oblivious to the growing number of cars pulled over, or the people climbing out of those cars to gawk and snap pictures. Almost immediately, as if warned by infrared or radar, Park Rangers arrived to make sure no one got too close.

Things quickly got crowded, so we pushed on, satisfied that we had seen a bear in the wild, and a grizzly to boot. Within three miles we saw another.

This one was down in a large meadow, walking casually. Cars were stopped and stopping; a ranger was already on the scene. He was less concerned with the bear, which was a good distance away. He lectured everyone within earshot about the dangers of bolting into the road out of excitement. Drivers, he warned, would be wondering what everyone was stopping to see and might not be paying attention. “I’ve almost been hit myself,” he said. (Deliberately, I wondered?)

Then he told my nephew and me, “I hear there’s another bear about three miles north.”

We rushed back to our car and headed north. There was a moment of doubt that he was just saying that to get rid of us. But sure enough, a little while later we came across a veritable parking lot of cars, with people and cameras looking up the hill. We stopped and joined them, to discover that a mother grizzly and her two yearlings were sitting in the grass, as unconcerned as could be, and barely fifty yards away from the road.

Meanwhile a group of black bears were enjoying a  picnic...(sorry, Roy, couldn't resist!)

          The situation was textbook. There can be no more potentially dangerous situation in Yellowstone short of the super volcano going critical. Yet mother and cubs played and grazed and lounged as if the human beings were not even there, or at least of no consequence. 

Two rangers came and immediately began yelling at the people. “Get in your cars!” they screamed. “NOW!” They roamed up and down the line of cars to make sure they were obeyed, and although I never felt any danger from the bears on the hill, however, the rangers scared me to death.

Another Yellowstone traffic condition, large, slow-moving bison...

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