My Top 10 Wildlife Encounters: #3

Well, I think it’s that time again. Time for a new National Park-related list.  I previously made lists of my Top 10 Favorite National Parks and Top 10 Short and Long National Park hikes.  I’ve also shared my Bucket List and a list of places I’ve visited that I think should be on everyone’s Bucket List.  This time, I decided to go with a list of my Top 10 Wildlife Encounters.  They all occurred in National Parks; unsurprisingly most of them were in Glacier and Yellowstone.  Almost all of these were up close and personal interactions, while a couple could be better classified as “wildlife sightings” from afar.  I decided I would simply use a photo of the park of the incident as my Featured Image, so that I don’t give away the type of wildlife.  Hope you enjoy my list.

 

10. The massive bull elk in Mather Campground

9. The rattlesnake on the way up Half Dome

8. The one-horned mountain goat

7. Bighorn sheep on Mount Washburn

6. The many mountain goats along the Hidden Lake Trail

5.  The Roadside Grizzlies

4. Three moose in Moose, Wyoming

3. Face-to-face with a massive bison

Location:  The Slough Creek Trail in Yellowstone National Park.

Animal: One big bison.

Rarity (the first of a few totally subjective 1-10 scales I am using):  1 – It’s probably more difficult to go to Yellowstone and not see any bison than it is to find some.  There are nearly 5,000 in the park, most of them are in Hayden Valley and Lamar Valley.

Wow Factor:  7 – Even though you can easily see hundreds of bison on a visit to Yellowstone, if you find yourself up close to one it can be very impressive.

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Danger: 8 – Male bison can weigh up to 2,000 pounds, and they typically harm more people than bears.

Fear Factor:  7 – I was afraid for a little while this time.  I met up with this bison twice on the trail and had to figure out a way to create a safe distance between us each time.

Description: I was on a solo hike on the Slough Creek Trail in the northeast corner of Yellowstone National Park.  It was hot and dusty on the trail and the bugs were out in full force.  The mosquitos and flies refused to leave me alone, but they weren’t my biggest concern on this hike.

After about a mile of hiking, mostly uphill, I emerged atop a grassy hill.  From there, I could see the path descend the opposite side of the hill at a more gradual pace before disappearing into a thick forest.  Shortly after I started down the path I came to a strange fork in the trail.  It split equally in two as it curved around a single tree only to reconnect on the opposite side of the tree before entering the woods.  I still don’t understand why the trail split that way since it effectively formed a circle around the tree.  I mean the trail could have just bent around the tree and carried on.  Regardless of the reasoning behind it, I took the right side and passed the tree.  I was almost at the point where the trail merged again when I stopped dead in my tracks.

Exiting the woods and coming up the trail toward me was a large bison.  A mammoth beast, likely weighing nearly 2,000 pounds, was not something I wanted to share the trail with.  It caught me completely off guard as the many mosquitos had the majority of my attention.  I was curious about bears, but certainly did not expect to meet a huge bison on the trail.  Then again, I’d much rather deal with a bison than a grizzly.

Once stopped, I quickly assessed my situation and slowly backtracked on the path.  Meanwhile, the bison continued lumbering up the trail towards me.  It saw me, but didn’t seem too concerned.  I retreated behind the lone tree in the center of the circle of trail.  I figured I could rest in the shade and wait out the bison.  If the bison stuck to the trail, I could take the opposite fork and continue on the trail.

With my eyes glued to the bison I sat and waited.  I drank my water in between swatting mosquitos that clung to my sweat-soaked shirt.  The bison took its sweet time, but eventually walked up the trail to my right.  I shifted from under the tree to the left fork of the trail and kept an equal distance from the bison.  The farther up the trail it went, the farther I continued in the opposite direction.  As the bison slowly rambled off trail farther to the right of the tree I made my way into the forest.

I spent some time by Slough Creek and eventually turned around to head back to the trailhead.  On my way back I was extra observant and quiet as I listened for the bison.  I didn’t see it back where the trail circled the tree and figured it was gone.  Once atop the hill I was only a short mile from the trailhead.

Nonchalantly, I started my descent down the trail.  I rounded a turn and nearly stumbled into the bison.  It was ten feet in front of me, maybe less.  I came to a halt as I was definitely invading its personal space.  Thankfully, it hadn’t seen me yet.  It must have been moving just as slow as before, because it sure didn’t make it very far since the last time I saw it.  I waited and let the bison continue, creating a greater buffer zone between us.

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Once I deemed there was a safe distance I slowly followed it down the path.  Off we went, myself and the two-ton bison, leisurely walking along the trail.  Then the beast stopped cooperating.  Actually it just stopped completely.  So I stopped too and waited and then waited some more.  After about twenty minutes I got anxious, yet the bison stayed put.

I had to move on, but I didn’t want to just walk past this enormous creature.  After some more waiting I decided I’d try to walk off-trail to detour around the bison before rejoining the trail up ahead.  I veered off the path and into some tall grass.  Then I bushwhacked into a marshy area where I climbed over downed trees and trudged through mud.  Once I was certain I bypassed the bison I rejoined the trail.  From there, I hurried down the homestretch to the trailhead.

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