Bison Alarm

Katie:

It’s not often that I voluntarily get up at 6 o’clock in the morning, but being woken up by a herd of bison making their way through your campsite does slightly change matters.

Having had a glimpse of bison (or buffalo) in South Dakota, I couldn’t wait to get to Yellowstone to see them in their multitudes.

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In the UK, animal related traffic jams are most likely caused by sheep on the road. In Yellowstone, it’s bison. They wander leisurely across, turning to look at you with their big, benign eyes, before deciding whether to move on or stay put. A woman we were chatting to was convinced that they would obnoxiously stare at her, before deciding not to move.

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These traffic jams are numerous on all the roads across Yellowstone, and can take a while to get through, but we are thrilled every time we’re stopped by these massive animals, having them walk past our windows and see how docile, but also intimidating they can be.

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The Texans in the Jeep behind us, however, did not share in this fascination, and drove past, honking their horns, waving their stetsons, and gee-ing up the bison as if they were on a cattle drive.

Bison expertly dispersed, we carry on to our campsite, far into the Lamar Valley, which is supposed to be one of the best places to see wildlife in Yellowstone. It’s another one of the national park campsites, and is all the better for it – quieter, cheaper, and far away from the busier areas.

Later on, as we’re sitting around our campfire, the nighttime silence is suddenly filled with the sounds of howls and yapping, not far off. We think it must be coyotes, rather than wolves. It’s an eerie and slightly unsettling sound to listen to, as it seems to multiply and grow in noise, as more coyotes join in.

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We decide to settle in for the night, promising ourselves to get up early. I go to sleep, happily in the knowledge that I fully intend to renege on this promise.

In the hazy light of dawn, I dimly become aware of loud snorting and grunting noises. I assume this isn’t just Dom snoring, and open the curtain to come face to face a large male bison. Safe to say, I become fully awake pretty quickly and make sure that Dom is in a similar state.

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Looking out of the windows, we see that bison have invaded our small campsite, and are slowly walking around grazing. It’s amazing to see them lumbering past the windows of our camper, occasionally stopping right in front of us. It’s also hugely comforting to know that we are safe(ish) inside our camper. A few dents might even add to Al Dente’s appearance.

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Looking down on the people in the tents around us, they look pretty flimsy.

There’s a guy in a tiny one-man tent just to the left of us, and the bison have congregated around him, grazing and shuffling around. By this time, most of the other campers have woken up, and people are getting out to take pictures – from a safe distance. The guy in the tiny tent has yet to surface. I wonder how he can possibly still be asleep amidst a herd of bison.

Suddenly, a little bald head peeps out of the top and, upon seeing himself utterly surrounded by the huge beasts, immediately pops back in again – very much like a tortoise going into its shell. A minute later, a hand slowly but surely extends out of the top of the tent, pointing a phone in the general direction of the herd. A couple of photos are taken, and then the hand, equally as slowly, lowers back into the the tent.

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It’s a completely surreal and wonderful way to be woken up – even at 6am. It’s also testament to how comfortable the animals are here. They don’t feel any threat, and the land is definitely theirs, no question. The bison stay for half an hour or so, before meandering back into the valley.

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I might have to change my alarm ring to something more bovine-sounding from now on, given how effective it was. Now that we’re up, it’s time to explore the Lamar Valley, and see what wildlife we stumble on next.


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