Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few months, you’ve probably noticed a string of bizarre incidents occurring in America’s national parks. This year’s wave of what can only be described as inane human negligence began on April 17 at Yellowstone National Park’s iconic Old Faithful geyser when a woman was caught on video approaching and ultimately petting a resting bison—a giant beast of an animal that reaches 2,ooo lbs or more and charges at speeds in excess of 30 mph.
As if that show of reckless self endangerment and willful disregard for well advertised park rules wasn’t enough, America was shocked again just a few weeks later when a traveling father-son duo, compelled by what they’ve defended as compassion, loaded a struggling and abandoned newborn bison into the back hatch of their rented SUV and escorted the wild creature to a nearby ranger station.
Events like these are popping up more and more each year as Yellowstone and other parks around the country struggle to cope with steadily increasing visitation rates brought about by booming tourism and increased interest in America’s national parks.
It’s gotten so bad in Yellowstone, in fact, that the current superintendent, Dan Wenk, actually entertained the idea of limiting visitor admittance into the park in a National Geographic article published back in May.
It would be tough to watch policies like this being implemented, but it may be the only real solution if certain park goers don’t begin to realize that what they are visiting is a delicate and well preserved swath of wild land, not a petting zoo on steroids. And that, given the chance, these wild lands and the wild things that inhabit them will kill you.
Here is an 8 step guide—inspired by recent events—on what not to do when visiting one of our 59 National Parks.
1. Don’t pet the bison!
Like most of the “tips” on this list, this one should absolutely be allowed to go unsaid. But, unfortunately common sense seems to be a hot commodity among awe-stricken tourists in Yellowstone these days. Lately, there’s at least one new case every year of someone either attempting to touch a bison (again these animals reach weights up to 2,000 lbs and can go from a docile state to a 30 mph charge in a matter of seconds) or invading its personal space at the cost of their own safety. In addition to the brazen petting incident shown in the video above, a man was photographed in August of last year gently rubbing a bison’s snout as if it was as normal an activity as patting a passing stranger’s dog on the head.
2. Don’t put the bison in your f*cking rental car!
Of all the bat shit crazy things that have gone down in Yellowstone since the 2016 season began, this one might take the cake. By now you probably know the story. A newborn bison was separated from its heard while crossing a frigid tributary and began approaching cars along the roadside. As heart wrenching as this must have been, most people simply drove away, leaving the natural forces that drive places like Yellowstone to their own cruel devices. But father-son duo Shamash and Shakeel Kassam aren’t most people. After initially leaving the bison by the side of the road, they had a change of heart. They turned around, drove back to the spot where the baby buffalo was still standing, and loaded that puppy into their rented Toyota Sequoia before racing off to the nearest ranger station—where I’m guessing they thought they’d find one of Yellowstone’s famous veterinary clinics waiting to welcome them with open arms. Thank God for heros like these.
3. Don’t film yourself acting like a jack ass on a prohibited portion of one of the largest and most impressive hot springs in the world.
Just a few day after BisonGate 2016 gripped the nation and whipped the internet into an uncontrollably state of fury, a few bros from Canada decided it was time to go dancing around on the ecologically delicate surface of the world famous Grand Prismatic Hot Spring.Needless to say, the internet had its way with these selfie soldiers. Soon after they were captured on video defacing the word’s third largest hot spring, angry park lovers began to unearth evidence of previous national park transgressions on the group’s own Facebook page. In another photo they were seen driving their tour bus-sized RV along the flooded Bonneville Salt Flats with water skiers in tow.
4. Don’t walk around off the board walk in volatile thermal areas. Seriously, you could be boiled alive.
Tragically, a young Utah man learned this lesson the hard way earlier this month after venturing a couple hundred yards into a restricted thermal area at the popular and highly trafficked Norris Geyser Basin. 23 year-old Colin Nathaniel Scott of Portland, Oregon died after falling into a hot spring in an area that park literature calls Yellowstone’s hottest thermal feature.
5. Stay at least 25 yards from elk when photographing.
The video says it all on this one. Don’t stick your camera phone in an elk’s face. They have no interest in becoming a part of your personal Instagram narrative.
6. Don’t use priceless geological features as canvases for your shitty art.
Evidence of this egregious national park offense surfaced in 2014, and like the Canadian bros who trashed Yellowstone and other parks earlier this year, the culprit in this case was fueled by social media induced narcism. Casey Nocket wanted the world to see her unique artistic creations, so, like so many others in her generation, she decided to harness the power of Instagram. Unfortunately, in her case she was essentially documenting and publicizing a series of serious crimes in at least six national parks—Death Valley, Colorado National Monument, Canyonlands, Zion, and Crater Lake among them. Who would have thought that slapping permanent acrylic paint on rocks in highly protected, federally owned areas was against the law? Because of these antics Nocket is now banned from all federally administered land in the United States.
7. Don’t drive like it’s I-75. You might hit and kill a Grizzly cub.
This one took place just three days ago in Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park when a driver struck a grizzly cub as it crossed the park’s main thoroughfare with its mother, a well known and recently photographed sow grizzly know to park enthusiasts as 399. The first witnesses to the scene recalled seeing a distraught 399 attempting to drag her cub’s lifeless body form the road to the grass. This is a perfect example of why you should take it easy when driving around in national parks. Animals like this often utilize the roadways. Be prepared to give them the right of way they deserve.
8. Don’t take a drunken swim in a pool housing highly endangered pupfish.
Here’s another one that sounds like it originated in an Onion article. Back in late April a group of what appeared to drunken desert hooligans rolled into Death Valley National Park in a camouflaged ATV with guns in tow and proceeded to wreak havoc on the last refuge of a highly endangered pupfish. As the shown in the surveillance footage below, these three men engaged in what the L.A. Times called a “drunken rampage that included gunfire, skinny-dipping, vomiting and the death of a tiny endangered fish.” I have no doubt that in many parts of the country this is considered a good time, but a highly protected area within one of America’s most famous national parks simply isn’t an appropriate venue.
The incidents listed above are extreme, and most people have better sense than to engage in this kind of behavior. But it’s not just the egregious and ghastly violations that turn heads and make national headlines that are wearing down the national parks. “Little things” like staying on defined trails and packing out everything you pack in while visiting the backcountry can have profound effects as well. Learn more about being a proper steward of the land when visiting national parks and other public lands at www.lnt.org and treadlightly.org.