Get me outta this buffalo jam

By Kristen Tribe | Published Saturday, July 28, 2018

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I don’t care if I ever see another bison.

I saw several hundred, and then some, this summer in Yellowstone National Park, and more often than not they were in the way. It must be a game they play, walking down the middle or edge of the road, delaying traffic for hours. By the end of our trip, I decided they did, in fact, know what they were doing, and this must be how they entertain themselves during tourist season.

Kristen Tribe

On our first afternoon in the park, we were headed north from our campsite when suddenly traffic slowed to a crawl. We’d heard there was road construction in this area, so we assumed it would be short-lived.

Not to worry: it was our first day of vacation, and we were just happy to be there, taking in the beautiful scenery. After 30 minutes of inching along, we began to get antsy. Then it turned into 45 minutes. At the hour mark we began wondering what was going on. People were starting to get out of their cars, and a few people simply turned around and went back the other way.

There’s no cell signal in the park, so there’s no way to look up on the internet or anywhere else what might be causing the holdup. We couldn’t see the front of the line, and we began to wonder if there had been an accident. By hour two, people were hopping out to go the bathroom on the side of the road, and some folks were walking along the roadside, presumably trying to get to the front of the line and see what was going on.

My family was split between two vehicles – the Tribes in one and my parents and sister in another. Luckily, my teenage son and my sister kept us entertained with their conversation and commentary via two-way radios.

But there were moments when the trip seemed doomed. After driving for two-and-a-half days to tour the world’s first national park, we were spending an entire afternoon in the car. This was not what we had planned.

As we topped the third hour, we began to see manure in the road, and at one point a park ranger flew by us, lights flashing. As we inched forward, we came across more manure. Surely, this Los Angeles-level traffic jam had not been caused by bison.

After three-and-a-half hours, we topped the final hill, confirming our aggravation – bison were to blame. It was suggested we should instead blame the people who chose to gawk, instead of take a photo or two and move on. Either way, it was now raining, and our entire afternoon was gone. We stopped at the very next thermal feature, as did everyone else from the jam, and made the best of it.

Bison 1, Tribes 0.

The next day we split into guys and girls for separate outings. While the guys went trout fishing, the girls were headed to Dragon’s Cauldron. To get there from our campsite, you had to drive through Hayden Valley, home to a huge bison herd.

We take off, easing our way through the park, when once again, traffic stands still. This time we can see the front of the line and the pesky buffalo blocking the road. We rolled down the windows, and I grabbed my camera, taking photos of other buffalo while we waited.

It didn’t take long for this crowd to get rowdy, though. Just five minutes in, people were out of their cars, complaining loudly and some shouting for the first driver to go.

But they didn’t. Dread started to settle over our car, anticipating a repeat of the day before, when we looked up and saw a woman marching down the road toward the front of the line. We had seen this woman and her family at a thermal feature a few miles up the road, and we noticed they knew something about livestock. Dad was wearing a cowboy hat and big belt buckle, and the couple pointed out to their son manure on the trail and hoofprints in the crust surrounding the thermal.

As the mom marched to the tiny car holding up traffic, she was telling anyone who would listen, “they just need to beep their horn, so the buffalo will move and drive around!” We all nodded in agreement. Yeah, that’s how you do it. These people have obviously never been around cattle.

As the woman approached the car, she started chewing on the driver. We couldn’t hear what she was saying, but she was passionate. There was lots of hand movement and gesturing to the long line of cars before she spun on her heel and started the long walk back.

As traffic began to move, a collective cheer went up in all the other vehicles. We rolled our windows down and high-fived the woman as she made her way up the line. She was like a superhero of sorts, breaking up buffalo traffic jams around the world … or maybe just in Yellowstone.

My sister suggested I should be mad at the people, not the bison. After all, we were invading the bisons’ home, and the people were the ones making poor choices. And Dad noted it was pretty cool to see hundreds of them at once and see groups of them silhouetted on a hilltop. Plus, the babies were cute in a weird, no-neck kind of way.

But I tend to hold a grudge and bison are currently on the list. Give me a bear or marmot any day.

Kristen Tribe is assistant publisher of the Wise County Messenger. Her happy place is on a hiking trail.

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