Do you know how risky visiting a national park can be?
Everyone should do it at least once in their lives: experiencing the great outdoors in some form or another. Like visiting a national park or an open-air national landmark.
If you think about it, the great outdoors, has its own satellite culture. (No, I don’t mean the disaster-prepping, loner-prone, living off the grid, culture. Yet.)
Think about the infinite number of road diners and unique burger joints.
Or consider the multitude of the hotels, museums, farmer’s markets, landmarks, roadside vendors and rent-a-car places at your service as you explore your surroundings in more ever-expanding fashion.
You have to get out there.
You also have to be careful when you get out there too.
It helps to know the specific rules and ordinances relative to the area you are visiting, but the over-application of common sense works too.
I get it. Your idea of wildlife may involve pigeons or squirrels, and now you have traveled somewhere far and you see an eagle, beer or bison. Or perhaps you have come across a beautiful, unspoiled landmark.
Admire it, take a picture and walk away.
Selfies should be taken in conservative, tasteful measures. If at all.
And whatever you do, do not jump into or hang from any national landmarks.
Your life or liberty could depend on it.
In May 2016, several people were severely burned when they fell into a Yellowstone National Park hot spring. One man fell into the hot spring, disappeared and is presumed dead.
Hot springs in nature, especially in Yellowstone National Park, are really hot. Like on average, over 200-Degrees-Fahrenheit-hot, hot.
Also earlier this year, a visiting couple saw a young bison calf on a Yellowstone trail, thought it was cute and put it in their car. The scent of humans stayed on the calf long after park officials intervened and tried to reunite it with its original herd. The herd rejected and ignored the calf thereafter. To prevent it from starving to death alone in the wild, or becoming predator prey, the calf had to euthanized.
In Grand Teton National Park, a beloved wild bear cub named Snowy that was adopted as a kind of park mascot was cruelly killed in a hit and run by a tourist. Another bear, unrelated to the Snowy hit-and-run, was also killed in a hit-and-run incident the previous night.
Now, I don’t mean to be a Debbie Downer.
No one wants you to not get out there in your car exploring nature and landmarks and parks.
Just try not to do anything crazy or accidentally-life-extinguishing while you do so.
It gives the park or landmark a bad rep and you might get your name mentioned in a news story that begins with the phrase, “And now for the wackier side of the news…”
Recently, a Chinese tourist visited Yellowstone and was witnessed by other park-goers walking off of mandated park paths and trying to take water from a hot spring.
The tourist was fined $1000, plus court operation fees, for breaking the rules.
The decision, while harsh, is a direct response to the recent and severe common-sense-bereft mania that has seemingly gripped a few recent visitors to Yellowstone.
Again: not all travelers or visitors are prone to putting unpredictable wildlife in their personal vehicles or jumping into boiling-point-level hot springs like a 4th Stooge.
We just want to remind you to experience your next visit to Yellowstone, or any other national park, responsibly.
There is an entire satellite industry that serves travelers experiencing the outdoors.
Step out of your comfort zone. Man once navigated the world via starlight. Modern man sometimes drives a car down an active bike path because he is watching the GPS monitor instead of looking out the windshield, but whatever.
We are who we are.
It’s important to get back to nature. To buy a necklace, shirt or souvenir from vendors who support the landmark you are visiting. Breathing in the air from a tent-site, road motel or R.V. threshold while drinking coffee from a thermos. To visit different, independently-owned burger shops with distinct, unusual-for-you-but-interesting region-specific dressings and condiments.
Just do it safely.
The bears will leave you alone if you reciprocate. Be aware of wild animals in your immediate surroundings. Do not venture off of park-sanctioned walking paths, especially if signs forbid you doing so.
Fight any and all selfie-themed, inspired or abetted photo opportunities. Especially if a possible consequence of doing so involves a CNN newscast, news of a millennia-old landmark being reported damaged and the utterance of your name in the same sentence.
Yeah, that hot spring looks really inviting. But you have more sense than that, right?
After all, a national park like Yellowstone is only as risk-prone as a visitor ultimately makes it.
A. A. Francis