The coolest thing about living inside the park for nearly 6 months has been the wildlife. The scariest thing about living here has been the wildlife. When I drove from Texas last April, I was entranced by the vision of bison grazing far in the distance beyond the Madison River ala Dances with Wolves. I thought this what was Yellowstone would be like – glimpses of wildlife from afar.
My first night in the YCC Camp (a residential area in the Northern part of the park for NPS employees and Yellowstone Association volunteers and employees), a herd of bison sauntered into the campground just a few feet on either side of my RV. Miss Georgia dove for cover beneath the loveseat! The next afternoon she watched raptly when the big beasts came to graze and I learned not venture out to the laundry room after 6 pm.
Elk were a common sight between Mammoth Hot Springs and Gardiner, including a 6×6 point bull that the rangers nicknamed “Big Daddy”. He seemed to enjoy posing for photos, although several people got way too close, posing little kids next to the big guy. Pronghorn were prevalent on the streets and greenways in Gardiner where one neighbor watched them cavort in a lawn sprinkler! Ravens were the ubiquitous yard bird, croaking warnings to Miss Georgia from a nearby utility pole. Mountain bluebirds and chipping sparrows were daily visitors. At night, coyotes broke the quietude with their howling.
Several times, a grizzly had been spotted at the perimeter of YCC Camp and surrounding paths, closing some favorite hiking trails. A neighbor watched it swimming in a nearby lake. Coolers (even empty ones) were not to be stored outside of your residence, and I refrained from using my outdoor propane grill until the warning was removed several weeks later.
Even before I started RVing year round, my reoccurring primal fear was of being attacked by a grizzly. Until I saw my first one…two…three. Traveling home near sunset one night I stopped to watch a pronghorn run across the road and towards Swan Lake. Pulling into a small pullout, I watched the speeding creature through binoculars until I noticed several dozen cars parked further up the road. Wondering what the attraction was, I scanned the meadow and found a female grizzly and two cubs headed my way! They got within 20 yards of my truck then began to play, all three tumbling onto the ground. One cub rolled onto its back, pawing the air. Mom gently cuffed the other one when it play wrestled, nipping at her face. These elegant, playful and fierce animals were a wonder to behold! My old fear vanished, replaced by a new respect.
The biggest way that I’ve been transformed by Yellowstone National Park has been cumulative via daily wildlife sightings which draw me closer to my own animal nature. Nowhere on the planet can so many people (estimated at 4.5 million visitors this year) live in such an integrated way with wildlife. There are no steel bars separating us like in a zoo. We live side by side here. Humans are the visitors to the park and should treat the residents with respect and gratitude. As stewards of this earth, at the top of our food chain, we must use our humanity to protect our fellow sentient beings.