What’s the point of just watching a buffalo?
I don’t know about you, but the first thing I do whenever I visit a national park is look for a buffalo to pet.
Needless to say, I was a little ticked off not long ago when I pull up to a ranger at Acadia in Maine and asked where they keep the buffalo, and he burst out laughing.
Like I’m supposed to know only parks out West have buffaloes … he doesn’t have to treat me like an imbecile!
Anyway, I back the RV around in the parking lot and start driving across the country.
First stop: The Badlands in South Dakota.
Before I go on, how’d they come up with such a stupid name?
Might as well just call it Craplands! Who’s gonna go to a park named Badlands?
Yeah, there are lots of rocks as far as you can see — I get it. Still, it’s like telling everybody, “Don’t bother coming if you plan to see tall mountains, big lakes or forests.”
Turns out there is a big prairie at Badlands — how come didn’t they call it Prairielands National Park? OK, enough about the name. Right there, grazing in the middle of all that grass, is a whole herd of buffaloes.
There’s a sign up: DO NOT APPROACH THE BISON.
Huh? What’s a bison?
So I climb over the fence and stroll toward the buffaloes.
Now, have you seen any of those videos of people getting close to buffaloes?
There’s one girl tossed way up in the air like a rag doll. In another clip, a lady gets butted, and then there’s a teenager who gets jabbed in the butt. Ouch!
Well, I could have told all of them they were going about it the wrong way.
I know from experience that if you’re trying to pet a buffalo, you don’t want to tiptoe up real slow, all timid, like you’re saying, “Easy, easy … don’t worry, not gonna hurt you … just want to pat your head, maybe take a photo …”
No, sir, you gotta march right up, look him in the eye, show him who’s boss.
So off I go, but I don’t get more than 10 feet when I hear people yelling.
“Hey!” I shout. “Shut up! Can’t you see I’m trying to pet a buffalo!”
Well, those idiots won’t stop screaming, so I have no choice but to skedaddle back over the fence and give them a piece of my mind. What are they trying to do, get me killed?
By this time, I’ve had enough of Badlands. Time to move on to Yellowstone in Wyoming, where I learn something new.
All along, I thought there was a separate national park called Jellystone right next to Yellowstone, but when I ask at the entrance how much farther it is to Jellystone, I get the same reaction as that ranger back in Maine.
After we get that straightened out, I drive in, and let me tell you, this is one heck of a park, with all kinds of waterfalls and geysers, but I steer past them and head for an area that the map says has bison (I figured out that bison just means a lot of buffaloes).
Sure enough, I can see them off in the distance. But they’re way too far, so I try waving my arms and whistling.
That doesn’t do any good. I lean on the horn a few times, and maybe one or two of the buffaloes — excuse me, bison — looks my way, but the rest of them just keep munching away, like they’ve got nothing better to do.
You’d think in a big national park like Yellowstone they’d put some food out next to the road so people can actually see animals without using binoculars, but I guess the same rangers who stick up all the warning signs also are in charge of feeding the bison.
Maybe it’ll be different in Yosemite, I tell myself. So I drive out the west exit into Idaho, cut across Nevada and finally wind up in California at the entrance to Yosemite, where there’s a little surprise waiting.
I can tell something is up when the ranger at the gate checks my license plate and gets on the phone.
“Sir, would you mind waiting here a minute?” he asks.
“Sure, no problem,” I reply. Out of the corner of my eye, I can see a bunch of official-looking cars speeding our way with lights flashing.
“Hey, I’ve been behind the wheel for 17 hours straight, need to stretch my legs a bit,” I say, opening the driver door.
“Sir, I’m going to ask you …”
But he’s too late. Before he can finish the sentence, I’m out the door, beating feet.
The cars are getting closer, and my only chance of escape is to jump over a fence. Yikes! My foot gets caught on the top rail, and I tumble over onto the ground.
The biggest buffalo I’ve ever seen is a few yards right in front of me!
I scramble to my feet and start marching toward the enormous beast. He looks almost as big as my RV.
Behind me, I hear car doors slamming and guys shouting.
The buffalo shakes its shaggy head a few times and paws the ground.
I keep walking.
Oh, boy, I tell myself. This is going to be the best buffalo-petting ever!
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The key is to act before any such hesitancy allows common sense to intervene.