I made my first trip since November back to Yellowstone yesterday. The first set of park roads opened for the spring on Friday, clearing the way for travel between Mammoth and Old Faithful, including the road to Canyon and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. It was a gorgeous day right with not a cloud in the sky until late in the afternoon. The wildlife were out and about en masse and we spotted the Lamar Canyon wolf pack and the ensuing pack of rabid, insane wolf-watchers, countless buffalo, some pronghorn antelope, some elk, a fox, and a bald eagle.
We started the morning driving out to Cooke City through the Lamar Valley. At one section of the road where the Lamar River runs quite close to the Northeast Entrance road, there were two large packs of photographers packed into the side of the road watching the Lamar Canyon wolf pack on a kill on the river bank. We parked and pulled over and, figuring that there was no reason to be standing shoulder to shoulder with 40 other people in the middle of a huge National Park, started to walk down the road away from the crowd. We were immediately yelled and waved at by an amazingly translucent creepy old man wearing an orange flag vest with “Yellowstone Wolf Project” emblazoned on it. He sneered condescendingly at us that we had just entered the “No Standing” zone and would have to return to the pack. A minute later he was back yelling at another couple who dared to try to walk up the road and entered the “No Walking” zone.
I have no problem with protecting wildlife and managing the human impact on the park. However, one of things that I enjoy the most about the National Parks is that, as long as they aren’t actively breaking any federal laws, visitors are pretty much free to do whatever they want. Not so in Yellowstone near a wolf pack. I have no idea if this guy was affiliated with the National Park Service in any way, but he plainly thought that he was in charge of this wolf pack viewing and appeared baffled that we didn’t know to respect his authority. I have never encountered that kind of managed, controlled experience in a National Park before and it was very off-putting. If I want to view animals from defined areas under the watchful eyes of people on a power trip, I’ll go to the zoo.
Despite our encounter with translucent wolf man, the rest of the day was extremely enjoyable. After driving the Lamar Valley, we hooked south to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and Norris Geyser Basin. There is still a pretty decent snowpack in the higher elevations of the park, but hopefully the rest of the roads will be open soon.