My plan had been to write a companion piece to last year’s Research Road Trip for SILVER ON THE ROAD, this time talking about the five days I spent in Wyoming doing research for book #2, THE COLD EYE.
Instead, I want to talk to you about nature, respect, and most of all, The Stupid.
The weeks before we loaded the car and headed east (and I still freak out that Wyoming is now EAST of me, but that’s another story), there were several news articles about tourists being seriously hurt by wildlife in Yellowstone and other national parks. It’s not a common thing, but it’s not rare, either. Animals are wild, people are occasionally overwhelmed by proximity to wild, and Things Happen. So when we decided that yes, we were going to be hiking into Shoshone National Forest, I decided that I’d spent the money and buy a can of bear spray. Did I think we were going to encounter a Grizzly or Black bear on our five hour hike? No, I didn’t.
Did I think that there was a risk? Honestly…no.
Did I think that it was stupid to play those odds with bears in the springtime? Yes.
This, I thought was basic survival shit: don’t try to get yourself into trouble.
Spoiler: we didn’t see a bear on our hike, or when we went out riding. But that doesn’t meant they weren’t there, avoiding us.
As an aside: when you read THE COLD EYE, think of me, pausing every ten minutes to go “oh shit, I got that wrong, I need to rewrite this scene, remind me to add this to the description….” Huzzah for fact-checking things in person.
Fast forward a day or two, and we’re in Yellowstone National Park. The checklist of animals sighted is filling up – from the smaller rodents to elk, to the Majestic Moose.
Now, bison play an important role in the Devil’s West, just as they did on our actual history. So you have to understand that these are not tasty hamburgers on the hoof, or cuddly plushies (although I do love my plushie) Bison weigh up to 2000 pounds. Each. And can run up to 35 mph. And can pivot and turn faster than you really want to think about.
The Native tribes respected these bastards. You want to respect these bastards. That means respecting the Park Guidelines (100 yard/300 feet safety zone for bear, 25 yards/75 feet minimum for pretty much everything else). For the record, this is not difficult. Even a mediocre camera can get a good shot at 25 yards, and if you’re hauling out to Yellowstone, you probably should shell out for a slightly-more-than-meh camera. But I digress.
When we spotted the grizzly, most people were keeping well outside the hundred (FIVE hundred) yard range. Except one guy who – his camera to his eye – was creeping forward slowly…slowly…slowly…. Until the grizzly stood on his hind legs and LOOKED to see what it was that was coming closer to him, and if it was a threat (or tasty).
Everyone watching from the safety of the road let out a variation of “oh fuck.”
We couldn’t hear what the photographer said, but even at five hundred yards, his body language translated to something along the lines of “oh. Oh dear I’m terribly sorry, don’t mind me, I’ll just take myself off and bother someone else…” as he crabwalked backward until the bear dropped back to four legs and went back to whatever bearish thing he was doing.
And I thought that would be the stupidest thing we saw in the Park. Oh. My optimism, let me show you it.
Because as we are driving along, we come across a bison. A single, solitary bison, away from their herd, hooves on the road, watching the traffic. Which, okay, yeah. Bison, like chicken, do cross the road.
But this one? Had attracted the attention of a Homo Stupidius. You can’t see her in this photo, but she is FIVE FEET AWAY from the bison’s nose, OUT OF HER CAR, taking photos.
Five feet. That’s less than the length of one person. In front of an animal that can bolt without warning, and hit ramming speed before you can blink. That can hit you with the force of a small car, if a small car also happened to be equipped with a pair of sharp horns.
I can’t write characters that stupid. I swear to god, I can’t.