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Watch out for Buffalo

On any visit to Yellowstone National Park, you will encounter at least one Bison. More likely, you will come face to face with hundreds of them. Commonly referred to as Buffalo, Bison herds in Yellowstone are regularly found roaming the meadows and crossing the roadways, often causing traffic jams, or “buffalo-jams”. On a recent spring drive through the Park, some friends of ours had this to say about their many Buffalo sightings.

We flew into Billings, Mont., then drove 170 miles to Gardiner, entering Wyoming and the north end of the park through the stone Roosevelt Arch, dedicated in 1903 by President Teddy Roosevelt. The road system through the park looks like a figure eight, with five roads extending through the park boundaries. A few miles south of the entrance is Mammoth Hot Springs, known for its travertine terraces and grazing buffalo and elk. The animals often gather around the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel and park headquarters, a former Army officers’ quarters built in 1909.

Despite numerous warnings, it was amazing how close some tourists attempted to get to buffalo. It is not uncommon for visitors to be injured, since the large animals can run three times faster than a human, rangers said. We spent the night at the 100-year-old hotel, which requires sharing a bathroom — but provided views through our ground floor window of grazing buffalo and their calves.

The drive from Mammoth to Old Faithful — 47 miles — took a full day. Not only did we stop often at attractions, but we drove slowly because we were constantly on the lookout for wildlife. Many of those who visit Yellowstone in the spring are photographers, rising before dawn to seek the elusive wolves, bears and other animals that feed in the valleys early in the spring, then retreat into the woods and higher elevations during the summer. We never got up that early, but we saw elk, deer, bighorn sheep, bear, a coyote crossing the street and many buffalo, including several that lumbered along the berm of the road.

The drive south gave an overview of the amazing natural attractions in the park. Roaring Mountain is a barren hillside filled with scores of steaming fumeroles. Norris Geyser Basin is touted as the oldest, hottest and most dynamic hydrothermal area. It takes several hours to walk two loops past multicolored springs and steaming geysers. You can feel the heat below the boardwalk, measured by scientists to as high as 450 degrees. It is like being on another planet. The Obsidian Cliff of black volcanic glass was formed from a long-ago lava flow. The one-mile Artist Paint Pots trail takes you by gurgling mudpots and air that smells of sulfur.

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