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Where the Buffalo (and Other Things) Roam

One of the highlights of our recent trip West was the plethora of wildlife we encountered along the way. Our experiences often reminded us of a song we kept humming or commenting on everywhere we went:



Oh, give me a home where the buffalo roam
Where the deer and the antelope play,
Where seldom is heard a discouraging word,
And the skies are not cloudy all day.

We saw an abundance of buffalo (technically, bison) from our first encounter with them in the Black Hills until our last encounter in Yellowstone. Especially in Yellowstone, where one sees not only the bison but also a backdrop of fumaroles and geysers.


We also witnessed the utter stupidity of youth demonstrated when a teenage girl ran to within mere feet of a bison to snap a selfie. This after repeated warnings about the potential dangers of being too near bison and in spite of numerous widely circulated news stories and YouTube videos of people being gored or sent airborne by a bison when people tried to take selfies.

Adult bison can weigh from 1,000 (cows) to 2,000 (bulls) pounds. Contrary to their normally slow, easy walk, they can run up to 35 miles per hour, jump six feet in the air, and overturn a car with a flick of their head. What they can do to a mere human is imaginable and is downright scary. They are definitely not to be taken for the slow, docile animals they might seem to be. Frequent signs reading "Don't pet the fluffy cows" are made only partly in jest. Bison can be dangerous creatures, especially if calves are in the vicinity. For me, a safe shot from the window as two bison passed within five feet of our car was plenty close enough for me!


Another interesting life form we encountered on the wide prairie was the prairie dog. (The dogs look to me more like oversized squirrels or miniature groundhogs than dogs.) They live in "towns," a bunch of burrows dug in close proximity to each other. The dogs dig down about a foot or so before turning their tunnels parallel to the surface, leaving little mounds of excavated dirt around the opening.

Although generally skittish around humans, scurrying into their burrows at the slightest hint of danger, one curious fellow approached us slowly but steadily until he stopped and sniffed my wife's shoe. Apparently liking what he smelled and thinking that it might make good eating, he decided to take a nibble of it. When my wife felt the pressure of his teeth on her toe, she thought that was close enough and flinched, whereupon the cute little thing scampered a safe distance away.


Often while on hikes in Glacier, we encountered fellow hikers who apparently had sighted mountain goats and longhorn sheep high on the sides of the rocky mountainsides. We seldom saw any of them, but, thanks to a good pair of binoculars I had taken along, we finally saw one. It was too far away to get a photo with my limited lens.


Several times along the way through the prairie, we sighted herds of antelope far in the distance. Seldom did we see them close enough for my camera lens to photograph them, but our daughter got several good shots with her telephoto lens.

In Yellowstone, we saw elk. The first time, they were across the river between some trees, but they were too far away to get a good shot of them. On our last day, however, several were making their way from the river and across the road. We were able to photograph them despite the fog along the river and the dim early-morning light.

The number of chipmunks we saw seemed to rival the number of bison. Those quick little critters reminded us of Chip and Dale, the mischievous cartoon characters that Walt Disney created in 1943 and that I grew up watching on TV in the Fifties.


In only one respect were we disappointed in our expectations of wildlife during the trip. Neither black nor grizzly bears made an appearance. Our daughter was the most disappointed while I, on the other hand, was content to do without them. We did, however, see several big bear tracks, and they were fresh. That was as close as I cared to get!

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