Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Darwin Awards Nominee

Tuesday, July 12, 2011
The Badlands in Teddy Roosevelt National Park near Medora, ND.

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.
My lifer herd of American elk in TRNP.

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!).

Phoebe scanning from Buck Hill.

We spent a good couple of hours up on Buck Hill, feeling the energy of the landscape, marveling at the Badlands ecosystem, spotting tiny dark spots that were herds of grazing bison in the distant green valleys.

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.
Our Darwin Awards candidate.

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.


On July 12, 2011 at 9:39 AM Nina @Nature Remains said...

Lucky, lucky, lucky.
Irresponsible acts like this frustrate me--more for the misunderstandings that arise when an "attack" becomes news, than for the humans that are mauled or killed by animals being animals.
Our understanding of the animal translates into something that must be removed or more securely contained for our supreme and unhindered use of the earth, rather than something of magnificence whose own space here should be respected.

On July 12, 2011 at 11:58 AM David Riewe said...

Great article Bill, I want to visit Teddy Roosevelt National Park now!

On July 12, 2011 at 1:21 PM Rondeau Ric said...

Admirable restraint on the bison’s part.
I would have squashed him, taken his ID and stole his truck.
Drats, bison can't drive.

On July 12, 2011 at 2:05 PM littleorangeguy said...

Saw a similar thing in Banff a couple years ago. Huge elk appears beside an equally huge "do not disturb/wildlife may charge" sign and people practically threw themselves on it to snap pictures. Lucky, stupid people.

On July 12, 2011 at 2:38 PM Dave said...

On the other hand... staying away from the bison at TRNP is no mean feat. They came into my campsite, surrounded me on the picnic table where I was reading (a book by Scott Weidensaul, no less) and prevented me from getting to my minivan, my closest shelter. After an hour or so I worked my way over to the van, only to find another one on the far side (the only unlocked door) rubbing itself. At this point I began to treat them like big cows, making plenty of noise and lots of gesticulations. We got along fine after that. And while I don't condone feeding wildlife there is a semi-humorous treatment of that here:


On July 12, 2011 at 2:39 PM Marianne, aka Ranger Anna said...

First, isn't TRNP a magical place? My first NPS job was there--yeah, talk about the Darwin Awards...... and now that I'm at YNP, we see that many more nominees.... I got stories! Thanks for the fantastic TRNP pics!

On July 12, 2011 at 3:54 PM cyberthrush said...

Now, I'm not absolutely certain, mind you, but I swear that guy looks like "W" our ex-Prez....

On July 12, 2011 at 3:56 PM robin andrea said...

Great photos, and that last one is priceless. I can only hope that the bison forgive us our incredible arrogance and stunning stupidity. Such a beautiful and surprisingly huge creature, with admirable patience.

On July 12, 2011 at 5:03 PM Mpho said...

Maybe we should let the poor animals be themselves.An act of iresponsibilty is unforgiven particularly when it comes to wild animals. A great picture and possible nominee.

On July 13, 2011 at 12:21 PM Kirby and Sarah said...

I had a bison experience at TRNP in 2008. I went up to rim of Wind Canyon at dawn. After a while I just sat down and was watching a bison herd crossing the Little Missouri far below, musing about how they sounded like they could be sound effects for herbivorous dinosaurs in Jurrasic Park. Then I heard a MUCH louder bison grunt RIGHT BEHIND ME. Turns out another group had been rounding the hill behind me and one was now about 20 feet away. So I had a long stressful, motionless sit until the bull moseyed on. I carefully walked back to the parking lot and discovered my wife (who had been birding while I sat) in the car surrounded by bison, including a couple cows with calves. Again, a long wait, but it all ended with a good story. Very first words my wife said when we were reunited? "I saw a yellow-breasted chat over by that fence!"

On July 13, 2011 at 4:56 PM Mike said...

This is awesome. I'm glad you didn't witness an epic trampling, though that would have probably made for an equally interesting post!

On July 14, 2011 at 9:59 AM Chatterbirds said...

What an awesome looking place. It would be tough to stay in the car although herds of megafauna are a pretty good incentive!

On July 15, 2011 at 2:57 PM seo greece said...

places are looking great in this..well posted here..looking so cute of this post..well thinking to share here..thanks for sharing here with us..

On July 16, 2011 at 10:49 PM Plumbing Supplies said...

Wow. Good luck to you. And is that a bison there? I really wanted to see that creature ever since your'e so lucky!

On July 17, 2011 at 3:10 PM Andrew said...

A lovely post to read backed up with your superb images....

On January 25, 2012 at 7:32 AM Water Management said...

Interesting post. It's really a fun to witness places like this. Seeing those wild creatures is a adventurous thing to do. Hope to see some more like this in future.

On July 2, 2012 at 10:42 PM london offer said...

We do almost all of this, except from that unplugging the devices when on sleep mode. I think its time to change that, we'll be starting to practice unplugging devices out of the socket from now on and lets see if it'll cut even a little on our electricity bills.