As I drive around Yellowstone, from Yellowstone Lake to Mammoth Springs, I see a herd of bison grazing out on the Hayden Valley.
A short distance from the road, a gray wolf pounces on some unfortunate little creature in the long grass. A baby bear in the trees close to the road munches of plants. It is possible to see wildlife and nature up close here.
I wonder what Buffalo Bill, the Indian tribes or early visitors would make of the park today. A sign at the northern entrance, on the Roosevelt Arch, reads: “For the benefit and enjoyment of the people.” The problem with making a place accessible to everybody is that “everybody” is a lot of people.
Yellowstone, like Zion or Yosemite National Parks, seems to be buckling under the weight of its own success. Roads are busy with cars and RVs. Tourists roll out of buses to viewpoints, like Artist Point or Sulfur Cauldron, then back to the bus. Bison are so used to traffic they saunter slowly through the roads. If a wolf or bear is spotted, it is quickly surrounded by dozens of tourist vehicles, like a lion on the Masai Mara. Moose laze on the greens outside buildings in the village of Mammoth Springs, protected from photo- hungry tourists by park rangers.
It does not feel very wild. And I am shocked to hear that more than 96 per cent of visitors never leave the road system or head out on the hiking trails. “I really would suggest people get off the roads,” says Jeff Brown, Executive Director of the Yellowstone Association, the park’s non-profit education partner. “It’s quite wild, just a few hundred yards off the road. You get a sense of wilderness, of solitude, of not being at the top of the food chain. That’s electrifying, to be out in country that has big grizzly bears, seeing the Old West how people would’ve experienced it.”
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