By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily
In the spirit of those top-ten lists ranking things like best restaurants in an area, top coffee shops, or lowest-priced gas stations, a Wyoming radio host on Monday put together a humorous — and timely — list called “5 Best Places To Get Gored By A Bison In Wyoming.”
Although Glenn Woods’ list was meant to be funny (and it is), there’s also a lot of truth to it. There are places in Wyoming where you stand a much better chance of getting gored, flipped, impaled, dismembered, or stomped-on by wild animals than others.
Yellowstone is a top destination evidenced by the bison incident last week near Old Faithful where an Ohio woman was tossed 10 feet in the air after being gored.
She lived through it which helps keep the conversation light. But it’s not hyperbole to say that danger lurks around every corner in the Park.
From grizzly bears to scalding hot pools, from rutting elk to speeding cars, Yellowstone demands respect. Therein is where Mr. Woods’ list helps get that message out.
Norris Geyser Basin
Two months ago, Cowboy State Daily reporter Jen Kocher and graphic artist Tim Mandese created a map of Yellowstone, coinciding with the Park’s 150th anniversary, which details just how dangerous the location is.
“It ain’t Disneyland,” Kocher said in introducing the map, which has been downloaded tens of thousands of times.
Columnist Rod Miller agreed in a subsequent column where he mentioned that slower-thinking visitors “become involuntary participants in the “Yellowstone Park Guaranteed Instant Weight Loss Program.”
The staffers in the public affairs office in Yellowstone spend much of their time reminding the public of Yellowstone’s dangers — like the hot springs.
No fewer than 18 people have died over the years at the Norris Geyser Basin because of the scalding hot, acidic water that – from a distance – is a post card of loveliness.
“They’re so beautiful, and they look like little pools of water, but in reality, there are so many dangers associated with (the hot springs),” said Linda Veress, public affairs specialist for Yellowstone National Park. “People walk off the boardwalk, they can fall through, and they can scald themselves.”
Veress pointed to the example of the 20-year-old woman from Washington state, who last October suffered burns on over 90 percent of her body when she attempted to rescue her dog, which had run into one of the hot springs.
“And you know, people aren’t used to seeing geyser basins and hot pools where they come from,” Veress added, “so they might not recognize the dangers associated with that, and they might wander off the boardwalks to go explore. And that’s never a good idea.”
Backcountry Hiking Trails
Hiking in the backcountry of Yellowstone puts humans in the crosshairs for wild animal interactions. Six fatalities due to wildlife occurred just north of Yellowstone Lake over the years – all from run-ins with grizzly bears in their natural habitat.
The geyser basin is also the scene of multiple fatal attacks by wild animals. At least four people have died in that area of Yellowstone in the last one hundred years or so – three bear maulings and one bison attack.
“We try to put out so many safety messages about how to hike safely in bear country,” Veress told Cowboy State Daily. “Hike in groups of three or more, carry bear spray and know how to use it, and stay out of the bear management areas when they’re closed to visitors.”
Veress pointed out the importance of maintaining proper distance from wildlife in Yellowstone.
“The distance people should stay away from wildlife is 100 yards from bears and wolves, and at least 25 yards from all other wildlife,” she said, using the analogy of the number of tour buses between visitors and animals.
“That’s 3 buses away from bison,” she said, “and that’s the 25 yards. And then 8 buses for bears and wolves, and that’s around 100 yards.”
Just like in urban areas, traffic accidents pose a danger to humans and animals alike. But in Yellowstone, Veress pointed out, the circumstances vary a bit.
“Some of the most dangerous places to be in the park are on the roadways,” Veress said. “Quite a few roads are narrow, windy, not a lot of shoulders, and people are looking around and enjoying the scenery and the wildlife. And we have quite a few traffic related accidents.”
Yellowstone Superintendent Cam Sholly has stated that the most congested areas in the Park are the 2.2 percent of Yellowstone in which vehicles travel. And Veress noted that the speed limits in Yellowstone are much lower than many visitors expect.
“It’s not like driving outside the park,” she said. “Where here inside the park they can come around the corner and there are people who (have parked) in the middle of the road. I’ve seen it before, where they stop in the middle of the road, throw open the doors, and run out to take photos. That’s not anything that you would see anywhere else but in a national park like Yellowstone.”
Last year, a man’s body was found on the shore of a lake in Yellowstone National Park. Park officials reported that 67-year-old Mark O’Neill died of hypothermia in one of the larger bodies of water in the Park, Shoshone Lake – where the water temperature averages just 48 degrees.
O’Neill and his brother, both experienced outdoorsmen and former National Park Service employees, were reported missing in late September. The body of O’Neill’s brother, retired Navy SEAL Kim Crumbo, has never been found.
“The water here in the park is high elevation and is awfully cold and so it doesn’t take long for hypothermia to set in,” Veress said. “The two people who went missing on the lake last year, they were very, very experienced, but the weather came in, the weather can change really fast in these high elevations. So it’s really important to be prepared, as well as to check the weather before they come.”
The National Park Service does attempt to educate visitors about the dangers of Yellowstone, handing out flyers to travelers as they enter the Park’s gates, as well as posting signs to warn tourists about various hazards.
But often visitors fail to recognize that Yellowstone is a naturally wild place in which humans are just guests.
To learn more about how to stay safe in Yellowstone, visitors can go to the Park’s “safety” web page at https://www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/safety.htm