Yellowstone National Park: If you go out in the woods today…

September 25, 2011

Justin: Growing up I had difficulty getting to sleep, with memories of Australia’s most wanted drifting into my subconscious, playing dancing devil on my shoulder at night and keeping me up long into many nights: rigid, vigilant, the constant watchman (which also went with being the elder brother, the protector), both alert AND alarmed.

Anyway, back to the topic at hand: about Yellowstone, the first night took me back to my childhood. We were casually informed by fellow campers and grounds officials that three grizzly bears were recently spotted at the end of our campsite as we arrived. The spotting occurring roughly around 100 metres from where we pitched our tent. 100 measly metres! Sorry I don’t know that in yards but that’s blooming close enough I say!

Our horrific, bear infested campsite

We were also informed by a certain German friend in Sydney who will remain nameless that a solo hiker was mauled to death by a grizzly only weeks prior. I put two and two together and decided psychological regression at night was simply the one and only coping mechanism available. So on came the flash light, ears alert and alarmed. Kat somehow managed to enter a sleep cycle; I on the other hand listened profoundly intently for hours to any noise that could somehow be interpreted as bear activity. Although in this instance I’m not sure what all the world of vigilance would do as according to the manual they way you defend yourself if your attacked by a bear whilst in a tent is to “fight back” and not play dead. How does one fight a bear whilst in a tent I wonder? Come on Yellowstone, some YouTube illustrations could have been helpful.


I scoured the tent for potential weapons: my glasses (nope) iTouch (nope) inflatable pillow (nope), sleeping bag (nope), my sheer brute strength (definitely nope). OK this is absurd, nature wins and I lose so I might as well surrender to nature and enjoy myself – so that’s what I did in Yellowstone. The geothermal activity, the wildlife and the scenery was breathtaking and magnificent. You know another supervolcano eruption is actually due around now, believe it or not, which would have wiped us all out quick smart. But who cares? That’s nature, no point in fretting too much, take all sensible and necessary precautions and then do your best to surrender and enjoy it, beasts, bears and all. And that’s what I did 🙂


Kat: Funnily enough I had similar thoughts to Justin as I lay awake in my tent. What could I use to defeat a bear? I ended up combining the car keys as a sort of nunchuck/brass knuckle weapon in my head. The other option was to lock myself in the boot until it was all over…

The bugling elk

But the only sounds in the night were that of the randy elks, out for dating and mating in September. They think it’s a good idea to bugle all night, a kind of desert raider Star Wars noise translated as “Hey ladies, I’m single and ready to mingle.” We did see a good variety of wildlife in our four days at Yellowstone; Elk, lots of squirrels and my favourites, the bison. The bison are incredible creatures; from far away they appear as rocks in the fields, but then they move or you catch a glimpse of their horns and realise they’re animals. Bison also like to walk across the road at inconvenient times. We got caught in a bison jam while I was driving, the big furry creatures leisurely walking in front of our car.


Yellowstone sits on the edge of an ancient caldera, with lava only 2 miles below the surface of the earth. The park has 50% of all geothermal features in the world. You can drive anywhere on the south loop and see hot springs and exploding geysers. My favourite was the sulfur pond, the water more acidic than battery acid. Given all these hot springs smell like sulfur there was more than enough ammo for many a fart joke.


The celebrated Old Faithful was slightly disappointing; we were promised spouts of up to 165 feet but rewarded with a low splutter. Another geyser delivered on the explosive activity. We walked the long boardwalks around electric blue pools, fringed with yellow salt. Surprisingly these hot springs house a multitude of bacterial creatures. Just don’t stick your head in them.

Ol’ Fartful

Yellowstone also has a great series of ranger programs which include talks and walks through the park. We went to three of the talks, the familiar pointy hat reminding me of my childhood days watching Yogi Bear. Sadly Yogi has a history in the park, where humans fed the bears scraps, rubbish and even at dinner tables! Nowadays, bears that love “picinik” baskets are often euthanised or shipped off to research facilities, because they come into the campgrounds. The rangers work hard to keep the animals of Yellowstone wild, and that’s the beauty of the park, that we could see these animals in their traditional environments.

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