Don’t be a touron: What NOT to do in Yellowstone National Park

Recent stories of pure stupidity and ignorance coming out of my beloved Yellowstone National Park have me seething. Perhaps you’ve seen these reports on social media or in the news. While what’s happening at Yellowstone is nothing new, nowadays we’re hearing about it way too often.

A bit of backstory: I lived and worked in Yellowstone in the mid-1990s. I was out of college and hadn’t yet found a “real” job so I ventured West to Yellowstone and found work as a server at the Mammoth Hotel Dining Room. I’ve had some extraordinary experiences in my life and I can say, with utmost certainty, that my time in Yellowstone was the best time of my life. A main reason it was such a special time is that I got to LIVE in Yellowstone, one of our nation’s treasures. I worked hard and I worked often but I maximized my time off by exploring as much of the park as possible. Inevitably, I fell in love with Yellowstone and, decades later, it still occupies a very large and very special place in my heart. So when I hear these unfortunate stories about people being idiots in the park, it hurts. It hurts my heart to know that members of the human species could be so disrespectful.

Hayden Valley | Yellowstone National Park

I love Yellowstone with all my heart.

Normally, I’m in full support of anyone and everyone visiting Yellowstone. I believe it’s a magical place that everyone should experience. But there needs to be some talk of what NOT to do in Yellowstone and how to avoid becoming a touron. (Don’t know what a touron is? It’s a term used to describe visitors to places like national parks who are absolutely clueless or just have no regard for nature and conservation. The word itself is a combination of “tourist” and “moron”.)

Do not molest the animals | Yellowstone National Park

Sign just inside park entrance

Do NOT think of Yellowstone as some kind of amusement park where the animals are just on display and put in pens or cages when all the tourons are asleep. Yellowstone is wilderness. The animals that live there are WILD. It is THEIR home; we humans are the visitors. Respect that fact. True story: I waited on a family one night at Mammoth Hotel Dining Room. The restaurant looks out onto a grassy area where it’s common to see bison and elk lazing about. The mom, while viewing some animals, asked me, “So, what do you do with the animals at night?” I looked around for hidden cameras or something, thinking this was some kind of joke. I replied, “I”m sorry?” She repeated, “What do you do with the animals at night? Are they rounded up and put in those pens?” (The “pens” she was referring to are actually barriers constructed to protect humans and animals from steaming holes in the earth caused by Yellowstone’s fascinating geothermal features. But more on that later.) I calmly placed my serving tray under my arm and said, “Ma’am, these are wild animals. This is not a zoo. They roam freely all day, every day.” She was stunned. To this day, I’m pretty sure she didn’t believe me.

Do NOT approach the animals! I mean, I don’t know how many times this can be said. It’s not only for the animal’s safety but also for the human’s safety. And it doesn’t only apply to animals like bears and bison. Elk can be just as ferocious if they need to be. True story: Again, I was working in the restaurant at Mammoth Hot Springs. It was September, midday, and the elk were in the rut (mating season). It’s a very intense time for the elk, especially the males. By this time of year, their racks are fully grown. Basically, they’re carrying a huge collection of sharp spears upon their heads. So, on this particular day, there was a large bull elk wandering about the street in front of the restaurant. A group of tourons had just piled out of a tour bus. A couple of them took notice of the bull elk and began to walk toward him. The bull began bugling; I could see puffs of steam blowing out of his nostrils. The tourons kept approaching, despite the elk being visibly irritated. The male touron got too close for the elk’s comfort, so the bull, with his giant rack, tilted his head downward and began to charge the touron. In true touron fashion, the idiot threw the full cup of Coca Cola he had in his hand in the elk’s face. The coward then turned to run. The elk gave chase for a few steps then backed down, much to my dismay.

Do NOT think nature is rated PG-13. Again, wild animals. Nature. The animals are gonna do what they need to do to prevent their species from becoming extinct. See where I’m going here? True story: Again, waiting on a family at the restaurant during rut season. My discussion with the matriarch went a little something like this:

Mom: “So, what do you all do when the animals start to… you know?”

Me: “When they mate, you mean?”

Mom, uncomfortably: “Yeah.”

Me: “What do you mean, ‘what do we do’?”

Mom: “Well, you just let them do their thing in the open like that?”

Me: “Of course!”

Mom, now becoming incensed: “Well, what if young children see that?!”

Me: “Well, then that’s become the perfect opportunity for you to talk to little Johnny and little Susie about the birds and the bees.”

I’m pretty sure that family didn’t leave me a tip.

Do NOT try to “rescue” animals and put them in your car. It’s getting a bit redundant, yes? Wild animals. Nature. The animals have adapted over the ages to handle the elements. So if you’re doing the windshield tour of Yellowstone and you happen upon a bison calf that “looks cold”, don’t stop to “rescue” it by putting it into your car and driving it to a ranger station. True story: I did not personally experience this incident; it happened recently. The saddest part of the whole story is that wildlife officials attempted to reintroduce the calf to its herd but it was unsuccessful, so the calf had to be euthanized.

Don't kidnap the animals | Yellowstone National Park

Source: The Internet

Do NOT use the animals as props for selfies or pictures of your children. Hard to believe but this also is a true story. As a new employee in  Yellowstone, I attended mandatory orientation sessions. One class was all about park safety, including wildlife encounters. We were told a story of a man who placed his 3-year-old on top of a resting bison so he could get a picture. Understandably, the bison became agitated. The bison stood up which caused the child to fall off. The child was not hurt, thankfully, but the father ended up being gored by the beast. The story was so disturbing to me that, 20 years later, I haven’t forgotten it. I also thought it so disturbing that it HAD to be a solitary incident. Not the case. There have been more similar acts of stupidity with people trying to get pictures of and with bison, especially. Turning your back to a massive animal that’s barely six feet away to take a selfie is a really bad idea. Those employee orientation and safety classes should be mandatory for visitors, too.

Do NOT go in the hot springs. More specifically, obey the signs and do not stray from the established boardwalks. They are there for a reason! Arrest warrants were issued recently for a group of chuckleheads that did not follow the rules and walked into the protected area around Grand Prismatic Spring. As in HOT SPRING. You know what that means? It’s HOT. The liquid in that gorgeous pool is 160 degrees; the spring itself is 160 feet deep. It wouldn’t be pretty if someone were to slip and fall into the pool and be nearly-boiled alive. Furthermore, a natural feature like Grand Prismatic Spring is quite delicate. The vivid colors of the spring are caused by certain bacteria. Human contact with the natural elements disrupts the bacteria mat, thereby possibly altering the color and chemical make-up of the liquid. Currently, Yellowstone officials are still trying to assess how much damage has been caused by these inconsiderate jerks. The greater fear, though, is the potential for copycat crimes. True story: Yes, leaving the boardwalk and disturbing Grand Prismatic Spring is a crime; hence, the arrest warrants.

Yellowstone National Park was established in 1872 “for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.” To ensure that Yellowstone is still around for future generations of “the people”, please follow all laws and rules, respect the land and the animals, and don’t be a touron.

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Don't be a touron: What NOT to do in Yellowstone National Park

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21 Responses to Don’t be a touron: What NOT to do in Yellowstone National Park

  1. Erin Marie Musich May 21, 2016 at 11:28 am #

    Well said and written. I understand why you are upset, especially with your connection to the park. I visited in September for two days (not nearly enough) and remember feeling very frustrated with people. For some reason, they treat it like an amusement park. We drove past so many people getting dangerously close to the animals, and it was upsetting to say the least. I remember thinking, I hope these people never find their way to Africa’s national parks! Thanks for writing this, it needs to be said.

  2. Kate May 21, 2016 at 9:56 pm #

    Bless you Francesca! Excellent! Everyone who was privileged to live and work there has similar stories to tell. I have always been torn between wanting them to get 100 yards off the road and learn and experience more and just locking the gates and not letting them in. People are more stupid than ever.

  3. Sara Broers May 22, 2016 at 7:53 pm #

    It blows me away that people are really this far out there. Unfortunately, park rangers can preach day in and day out… people will still try to get that “perfect” photo and more. Great post!

  4. Tamara @ We3Travel May 23, 2016 at 10:31 am #

    Great post and I love that you can speak from a personal perspective. I had a discussion recently when there was a story about a bear being put down because it attacked a lone hiker. I felt like it wasn’t really the bear’s fault when all these warning are about to beware and not hike alone. We are in the territory of these wild animals that are protecting themselves and their young, looking for food, etc.
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  5. Terra May 24, 2016 at 5:49 am #

    I think it is amazing you had the opportunity to work and live in Yellowstone. It has become one of my favorite places to visit because it is so unique and beautiful. It’s crazy to think that people don’t understand how dangerous wild animals are, especially since there are so many signs posted throughout the park, and warnings handed out when you pay your entrance fee. It’s sad to hear all of these stories coming out of Yellowstone, but maybe it will help educate people about the dangers of visiting this fragile place.

  6. Lara Dunning May 24, 2016 at 10:58 am #

    That’s great you got to work in Yellowstone. Great post and one everyone should read. I’ve seen people do some moronic things in parks as well. I’m still chuckling over the “What happens when they mate”-geesh, really!!!
    Lara Dunning recently posted…Motel 6 Walla Walla ― Save Money So You Can Drink More WineMy Profile

  7. Angela May 24, 2016 at 3:40 pm #

    If I could pat you on the back for this post, I would! You are 100% right. I’m not sure what is going through the minds of these people when they decide it is a good idea to pet, pick up or approach wild animals.

  8. Claudia May 25, 2016 at 1:24 pm #

    AMEN to this. ‘Do no harm’ is the golden rule for outdoors adventure and travel in my book. This touron (read: idiot) behavior is harmful and disgusting. Thanks for highlighting why people shouldn’t do it in your post!
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  9. Raul May 27, 2016 at 10:40 am #

    Oh dear… Sadly, none of this surprises me. Too many people without a clue out there… And this is just about tourists – we see this every day all around!
    Raul recently posted…Chattahoochee River Hikes: Vickery Creek Trail in RoswellMy Profile

  10. Jurga - Full Suitcase May 28, 2016 at 4:13 am #

    What a great article and so disturbing at the same time… We are going to Yellowstone in summer and I’m starting to wonder if we will manage to escape the crowds and ‘touron’ behaviour. We are going there for the nature and for the wild animals, but stories like this make me really anxious about what we will find…
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  11. Adelina May 28, 2016 at 11:48 am #

    I visited Yellowstone as a child of about 10 or so and I remember being so fascinated by all the wild animals and wonderful natural features. I was so taken by the park that the next opportunity I had to do a school project I somehow turned it into something about the park. I have yet to return since, but it hurts my memories and heart to hear of all the irresponsible people in the park. It’s not even rocket science, just a little bit of common sense and respect for the environment and animals. Ugh!
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  12. Traveling Ted May 28, 2016 at 3:39 pm #

    It is amazing how stupid people can be. Problem is, these people actually thought they were doing the right thing. The only way to counter such ignorance is with posts like this. Hopefully the backlash will deter a few other morons.
    Traveling Ted recently posted…Golden forest at Devil’s Lake State ParkMy Profile

  13. Leah May 28, 2016 at 6:48 pm #

    I had no idea you worked in Yellowstone! I’ve been there twice, but it’s been years. What a marvelous part of the world, and one that should be respected. Great idea for a post. Unfortunately, common sense is rare these days.
    Leah recently posted…Back to School: Learning the Art of French Cooking in the South of FranceMy Profile

  14. Marteen May 29, 2016 at 3:26 am #

    Some human beings are just so stupid. I read about the incident of the people taking a bison calf and moving it to another part of the park because of danger from another blogger. You can’t miss the signs telling you not to go near the wildlife and they’re not there for decoration! I think some people choose to ignore it.
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  15. travelling chingrita May 29, 2016 at 9:41 am #

    loved this piece. i am still stunned today that visitors believe that it is all supposed to like an edited version of g-rated animal planet show. the beauty of nature is because it is raw and real. national parks protect animals and the land, they are happy as they are. mating, fighting, roaming…i don’t see what gives people the right to snatch anything outside its natural environment..frustrating. this is a great view and very well written. thank you for an excellent piece.

  16. Winederlust May 29, 2016 at 11:52 am #

    Great write up about a place I haven’t been to in years. Bringing on a sense of nostalgia for me! It’s especially nice to hear this kind of advice from someone who worked there. Agree on all of these, especially being careful around the springs. Our guide was telling us a story about a guy who jumped in after his dog to save him, it didn’t end well. As beautiful of a place as Yellowstone is, the power of this place definitely commands respect. I’ve also found it really interesting, in that it could literally erupt at any moment. Not only would that be a global catastrophe but just to think about the loss of landscape and life in the immediate vicinity, it’s crazy to think about.

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  17. Natasha May 29, 2016 at 6:03 pm #

    I have been keeping up with the recent events involving Yellowstone and can’t believe that humans can be so idiotic sometimes…I mean I can believe it, but really people! The bison story that went viral really broke my heart! Very well written piece.

  18. Ashley May 30, 2016 at 2:49 pm #

    Thank you for this post and a friendly reminder to those that seem to forget that national parks and nature is NOT Disney World or other theme parks. There are real life consequences. I worked at several national parks and it is truly amazing how common sense goes out the window and people quickly forget how to behave. I’m so sad for this bison. I’m sure the mother was upset to have lost it’s child initially and the end result was upsetting.

  19. Pola (Jetting Around) June 1, 2016 at 8:19 pm #

    And I thought people being noisy in national parks was my biggest pet peeve… Selfies with animals? Geez, what could possibly go wrong? If you decide to go, respect nature, and that’s that.
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  20. Savannah July 8, 2016 at 7:28 am #

    It’s really amazing to me how utterly moronic people can be, sometimes. And, I mean that in the nicest way possible. But, seriously? People honestly think they can do whatever they want, and face no consequences. It’s shocking to me. Many people seem to think national parks, and nature in general, is just there for decoration, and can be manipulated however we want. It makes me so sad. Thanks for sharing on such an important topic. <3

  21. Rebecca McCray October 16, 2016 at 2:56 pm #

    My husband and I visit Yellowstone National Park twice a year. At end of June we see lots of animals about coming out of hibernation looking for food. And in Winter month’s it is fun too go snowmobiling through the park as well. Go on the tour the Rangers have offered.
    I have seen fox’s, Wolves, Elk, deer, Bison, and this past summer we saw three baby bison’s playing down in the valley here. We visit often because it is a place of relaxation for us just driving through the park looking at the trees, waterfalls, rivers, and we have fun visiting the Big Lodge as well and meeting knew people from all over the world. Please people; do not approach the wild animals! If you need a close up picture, get a lens that brings your picture in closer. But do not go and stand next to the Bison’s! The fee to get into the park was $35.00 per car. This lasts up too 4 days. You can go fly fishing in the park IF you have a fishing license for the area.

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