Field Notes: The Hats of Yellowstone


A spate of reports on irresponsible meddling and mishaps in Yellowstone National Park this spring set the stage for my visit there last month. It’s easy to laugh when tourists face the consequences of their determination to get the perfect bison, bear or moose selfie. Less entertaining  was the group who, having spotted a lone bison calf, decided that it looked cold and put it into the back of their SUV. The calf later had to be euthanized when its herd refused to accept it back. All this had me braced to witness misbehavior in the park, with humans proving a danger to themselves and the wild park inhabitants. Just prior to my visit, though, two more incidents  highlighted the dangers of the park itself: in the hydrothermal areas, where geysers and hotsprings bubble up through the ground, a man and his son slipped and were burned, and in a separate incident, another man fell into a thermal pool and died.

My trip took place after the end of a department field trip to Wyoming, and as we got ready to split from the group to head to Yellowstone, everyone, from professors to grocery store cashiers to hotel clerks, repeated the headlines back to us and warned us to be careful, to not leave the trails. At the park, signs everywhere warned the same things: Do not leave the boardwalk. Bear selfies? Not ever. Do not approach within 100 yards of bears or wolves, 25 yards for other animals. Less than a week after a fatal accident, you might think these cautions would be in the front of everyone’s minds, but we still saw people stepping off the boardwalks onto steaming ground, posing for the perfect snapshot. Continue reading “Field Notes: The Hats of Yellowstone”