As a 20-something slinging trash for the park service in the early 2000s, I was privy to my fair share of tourist mishaps, from the comical to the tragic. Gather thousands of people in any given area, and accidents are bound to happen – they are just more unusual in untamed land filled with equally untamed animals.
Once a pair of tourists decided to camp illegally not far from one of the park roads. While they were sleeping, a nearby geyser that had been dormant for years decided to wake up. The campers also awoke terrified but unscathed.
There was at least one run-in with a bison each week. Over the radio, a park ranger would explain that a “bubba jam” was backing up traffic. And every few jams, a tourist would wander too close to the herd, be charged and, on occasion, flung in the air. You’ve probably seen videos of these encounters on YouTube.
You can chalk it up to the frequent odd behavior in our nation’s treasures. One would assume that people know not to pet the animals, but that’s not the case. From bison to bighorn sheep, the lure of touching the animals is irresistible to some, and of them a fair percentage are injured.
Less often, there were fatalities in Yellowstone. During my two-season tenure at the park there was an unusual amount of tragedies involving thermal features, including a seasonal worker who died after she wandered off trail and fell in the scalding water.
I’m reminded of these instances after reading about the tourist who recently crashed a drone into the Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone, which is the largest hot spring in the park and third-largest in the world. Of course, such devices are prohibited in the national park, but so is approaching wildlife.
Apparently, this is an ongoing problem as visitors want to capture the majestic beauty of the country’s national parks, even though unmanned aerial vehicles have been banned from their respective premises since June. Earlier this summer in Yellowstone, another tourist crashed a drone into the marina at Yellowstone Lake, but that one did not have to be fished from a 121-foot deep, 160-degree hot spring.
Right now, it’s unclear if the Park Service is even going to retrieve the device.
“What we have to determine is whether the presence of this radio-controlled recreational aircraft poses a threat to that unique resource,” park spokesman Al Nash told Reuters.
To be sure, there are dangers in national parks that are unavoidable, such as the 2012 rockslides that injured tourists in Glacier National Park and run-ins with bears over the years. But then there are those instances that must leave park service employees scratching their heads, such as flying devices falling from the sky.
The vast majority of visitors to the country’s national parks are well behaved and prepared. But there are also plenty who fail to exercise common sense, which happens more often now that everyone wants to share their experience with their Facebook friends and Instagram followers.
Of course, I snap photos with my phone nearly every time I enter Glacier. Long gone are the days when I worked in the park with no cell phone (or landline for that matter), Internet or television. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I do appreciate that cellular service in Glacier is spotty at best and ringtones don’t drown out conversations along the trail.
Enjoy the park. Just leave the remote-controlled planes at home … and don’t pet the animals.
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