Tuesday, July 12, 2011
Tuesday, July 12, 2011
Posted by Bill of the Birds at 8:17 AM
I'm sure you've heard of The Darwin Awards...these are the awards given to people (humans) who improve our species by accidentally removing themselves from it—often in unintentionally creative ways. Well, I have a possible nominee for such recognition.
Last summer we took the kids to Teddy Roosevelt National Park in westernmost North Dakota. TRNP is famous for its herds of wild horses and bison. Signs all over the park contain warnings about the dangers of bison—how they are large and unpredictable creatures. People and their vehicles are sometimes attacked and badly damaged/injured by bison and because the herds at TRNP are free-roaming, you regularly encounter them as you drive around the park.
Notice that I said "drive."
Teddy Roosevelt National Park is huge. To get from one part to another requires driving your car, which is no problem because everywhere you look there's something new and amazing to see. Mostly you find yourself stopping at the designated overlooks and roadside pull-offs. I got my life look at American elk from one such vista.
Generally speaking you encounter the bison herds as you drive along the roads. Sometimes you have to wait for a herd of bison to cross the road. Sometimes you have to park on the road and wait while the herd moves around and past you. It's a bit terrifying, I have to admit, to be sitting in a small rental car with a dozen or more huge, dark, bellowing and grunting mammals on all sides—so close you can smell them!
The spots where we found ourselves getting out had no nearby bison (or we wouldn't have ventured from the car). And we knew better than to get our when we DID encounter bison.
Halfway around the driving route of the southern part of TRNP there's a side road that leads uphill to a very nice overlook named Buck Hill. As we turned into Buck Hill, we noticed that the guard rail on the corner of the two roads was rubbed to a high polish. From the footprints in the soil and the piles of chips scattered nearby, we deduced that this was a place where bison scratched themselves. There were no bison near, so we climbed out of the car to inspect things. Liam has always been fascinated by bison, so he took especial joy in feeling the rough metal rubbed smooth and shiny by the bisons' rough coats. He whooped with excitement at the wads of rubbed-off bison fur he found below the guard rail. We followed the bison tracks with our eyes, noting that they lead up the rise toward Buck Hill.
Back in the car we went, and up the road to Buck Hill. Parking in the lot, we took our time scaling one hill (not actually Buck Hill as it turned out) and then the other, more well-trod path to the overlook known as Buck Hill. It was from here that we scanned the miles of valley below us and found a large herd of female elk and calves (lifer!).
As the day drew down, the wind picked up and swiped what little heat the sunshine had lent us. So we tromped back to the car and headed down the road leading off the hill.
As we reached the T-intersection at the bottom, we saw a man standing outside his large pick-up truck, leaning on the back bed, intent on photographing something. Then we spotted the huge bull bison at his scratching post. The man, only feet away, was pointing a tiny point-and-shoot camera at the bull, taking flash photos as fast as he could. We stopped well back from the scene, unsure whether or not we wanted to:
• stay to watch a possible bison attack
• drive up to warn the man to get the heck back in his truck.
• drive up to ask him his name and contact info for the Darwin Awards application submission.
• drive past and hope for the best.
• all of the above
We watched for a minute or two, and then the man got back in his truck, smiling a very large and proud smile. As we pulled past the bull bison, I swear the giant creature rolled his eyes at us as if to say "Yeah I know I could've killed him...but I didn't."
I love nature.
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