“Black bears rarely attack. But here’s the thing. Sometimes they do. All bears are agile, cunning and immensely strong, and they are always hungry. If they want to kill you and eat you, they can. That doesn’t happen often, but – and here is the absolutely salient point – once would be enough.” – Bill Bryson – ‘A Walk in the Woods”
There was only a one-night stay in Cody so we didn’t get too comfortable or completely unpack our bags because after breakfast this morning we were quickly back on the coach for the fifty mile journey into Yellowstone Park.
Yellowstone was designated as a National Park in 1872 when President Ulysses S Grant signed a new law ordering ‘the tract of land lying near the headwaters of the Yellowstone River to be set apart as a public park’ and in so doing it became the first National Park in the USA and indeed the world.
We entered at the picturesque east entrance and drove through an area of coniferous forest badly scarred by the fire damage of 1988, which had burned down a third of Yellowstone’s trees. After that we climbed the Absoroka Mountains to the Sylvan Pass and then descended swiftly towards Yellowstone and the largest mountain lake in North America surrounded all around by straight-backed pine forests.
Stops to admire the voluptuous views came frequently as you might imagine and the scenery was truly breath-taking. First we turned north towards Tower Canyon passing on the way the sulphur cauldron and the mud volcano and stopping for a while at Canyon Village and taking the steep walk to the lookout point at Inspiration Point for unbeatable views of the great gaping Grand Canyon and thunderous waterfall of the Yellowstone River dropping a thousand feet into the canyon below. Next we went on to Tower junction and the high falls tumbling spectacularly one hundred and thirty feet into Tower Creek. Finally we drove over the Blacktail Deer Plateau and stopped for a longer time at Mammoth Hot Springs.
By this point, let me tell you, we had seriously overdosed on scenery.
The park is sensationally beautiful with stately snow capped peaks, lush meadows with herds of grazing bison, meandering rivers like sapphire ribbons amidst the yellow-green prairie and tumbling streams, a magnificent sky blue lake and bounteous unrestricted wildlife.
And some of this wild life can be dangerous. As well as the really big things like bison, mousse and elk that might trample you down there is the small matter of wolves and coyotes both of which can give you a nasty nip. But most dangerous of all of course are the bears and all around the park there are a lot of signs sensibly warning visitors to keep well away from these magnificent but unpredictable predators.
A Grizzly Bear can reach a weight of over six hundred kilograms and stand up to two and a half metres tall when it pulls itself up on its hind legs and it is best not to startle them because this is when they get really pissed off and dangerous.
The Park advice on what to do is clear enough but I can only imagine that it is really useful if you have got Indiana Jones like nerves of steel. So this is how it goes:
- If you stumble across a bear first you need to back away (This will probably be rather undignified due to involuntary bowel movements!)
- and talk to the bear in a calm voice. (Unfortunately there is no additional advice on the sort of things bears like to have a conversation about. Might I suggest therefore as openers, the price of honey or the story of Goldilocks!)
- Keep backing away and whatever you do do not run (this is sound advice because a full grown bear can reach speeds of thirty five miles an hour and he is sure to outrun the average tourist. For comparison the fastest man on earth, Usain Bolt has achieved a top speed of twenty-seven miles an hour).
- and try in any way to make yourself seem less threatening (being in a state of extreme terror with a backbone turned to jelly this shouldn’t be too difficult).
- In the unfortunate event that the bear does charge, and you are not equipped with a sidearm, (Equipped with a sidearm? For goodness sake I’m on a Travelspere coach holiday!) promptly drop to the ground stomach-first and cover your head and ears with your arms. In this situation fighting back will almost certainly intensify and prolong the attack. This is obvious really because humans are seriously ill equipped to fight grizzly bears and it would be foolish to attempt it. Seriously I expect that this playing dead routine might be a bit difficult to carry through with any degree of absolute confidence and, let’s face it, realistically you are probably going to end up as the three bear’s supper!
And it’s not just the bears that make this a dangerous place because there are considerable natural dangers to take into consideration. Yellowstone is a super volcano called a caldera (which is Latin for cauldron) that are so explosive that they just burst open and blow everything away in one almighty blast of truly biblical proportions. Like the World’s biggest and loudest Fart!
And this event would be so huge that this is the reason why previous eruptions have not left behind a classic volcanic mountain, like say Vesuvius or Mount Etna. The Yellowstone caldera measures nine thousand square kilometers and the crater is almost forty miles across, so as you can probably imagine that would have been one mighty explosion!
The eruption of a supervolcano would be hundreds of times more powerful than conventional volcanoes and have the potential to wipe out civilisation as we know it. They represent the second most globally cataclysmic event – next to an asteroid strike – and they have been responsible in the past for mass extinctions, long-term changes to the climate and shorter-term “volcanic winters” caused by volcanic ash cutting out the sunlight.
The last known supervolcanic eruption was believed to have occurred about seventy-thousand years ago at the site today of Lake Toba in Sumatra, Indonesia. Thaone caused a volcanic winter that blocked out the sun for between six to eight years, and resulted in a period of global cooling lasting a thousand years.
A supervolcano under Yellowstone Park in Wyoming last erupted about six hundred thousand years ago, sending more than one thousand cubic kilometres of ash and lava into the atmosphere – about one hundred times more than the Mount Pinatubo eruption in the Philippines in 1982, which caused a noticeable period of global cooling.
The main attraction at Mammoth Hot Springs were the terraces where underground heat, water, limestone, and rock fracture combine to create multi-coloured terraces created by micro-organisms and living bacteria that create beautiful shades of oranges, pinks, yellows, greens, and browns. The springs are constantly changing because as formations grow water is forced to flow in different directions and all of that creates a kaleidoscopic display.
We stayed here long enough to walk around the boiling mud pits hissing and spitting like an old steam engine and to bump into a herd of wild elk feeding on the lush autumn grass.
When it was time to leave we drove south through the Norris Geyser Basin and left the park at the west entrance and entered the state of Montana and the small town of West Yellowstone. The town was nice enough but seemed to exist exclusively for tourists stopping over after visiting the park. It had a cosy old west feel in a modern sort of way and we visited the shops and found a convenient liquor store to replenish our dwindling supplies.
Tonight we stayed at the Stagecoach Inn which was a modern building built to a quaint design with wood panelled walls, paintings depicting the wild west, animal trophy heads and a piano in the bar that Dad had a less than melodic plonk on. I liked this place and at the end of the fortnight was happy to declare it the best accommodation of the holiday.
The postcard images were all originally purchased in 1995 on the Coach Trip. The Promotional leaflet images are also all 1995 originals.
I definitely think the Park Service ought to include your addendum to its warnings and instructions for bear attacks. I think it would be extremely helpful.
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Oh my goodness that description of bear instructions should be a post unto itself Andrew. So funny.
Have you ever bumped into a wild bear?
Never literally. The closest I have come is about 10 meters and been able to back away. Lots of sightings and definitely happened upon fresh bear scat but overall have been very lucky.
It’s going down for real!
Thanks for stopping by.
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A great account of somewhere that, sadly for me, will almost certainly not get a visit. Still, virtual travelers don’t risk attacks from bears!
Some people complain that it is over visited these days which makes it less enjoyable. The curse of Instagram!
I know. I’m going off over-visited places. Many places on the B & C lists are hidden treasures.
Love the description of how to avoid a bear attack!
Do you think that it would work?
Might just do the trick! 😀
“Bear Attacks: Their Causes and Avoidance, 3rd Edition Paperback ” by Stephen Herrero is a total classic about the animal that can run at 35mph, climb trees and take the roof off a car if it’s angry.
Sounds like a good read. Thanks John.
I enjoyed your comment about ‘scenery overload’. Our encounter with wildlife at Yellowstone was a huge bull bison strolling down the road within arms reach of our vehicle.
As a child, I was in the bathroom stall at Yellowstone when a bear wandered in. I assure you I did not lay down on the floor; I just quietly stayed in the stall, lifting my feet. While we were camping there, a stampede of bison came charging through causing the ground to literally shake; no harm to us fortunately.
Thanks for adding your memories to the post!
Yellowstone is fabulous. I’ve encountered black bears a little too close for comfort, but thankfully, never a grizzly. I’ve read all the leaflets and it so hard to remember which one to play dead for and which one to climb a tree. As I haven’t a hope in hell of the latter, I might as well play dead.
Good luck Anabel!