A Life in a Year – 28th December, National Parks, Yellowstone and Grizzly Bears

Yellowstone Grizzly

The first officially designated National Park in the United Kingdom was the Peak District on 28th December 1951.  The first National Park in the World was Yellowstone in the USA in 1872.

Yellowstone was designated 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’ .  I visited Yellowstone in 1995.

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 forests.  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.  Stops to admire the views came frequently and the scenery was truly superb.  Next 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 great views of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River, a thousand feet below.  Next we went on to Tower junction and the high falls tumbling spectacularly one hundred and thirty feet into Tower Creek below.  Finally we drove over the Blacktail Deer Plateau and stopped for a longer time at Mammoth Hot Springs.

The park is sensationally beautiful with stately snow capped peaks, lush meadows with herds of grazing bison, rivers and tumbling streams, a magnificent sky blue lake and bounteous 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 a bit undignified because by now, due to involuntary bowel movements, you are sure to have shit your pants!) 
  • 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 you)
  • 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 fire arm? 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!)

Fortunately bear attacks are rare and although a man was killed by a female protecting her cubs in July 2011 this was the first fatality since 1986.

More on the Yellowstone visit…

and the full journey at National Parks of the United States

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