Like I Was Saying

Tourist Mishaps

Even though you packed your selfie stick, bought a ticket and there’s a line to get in, Glacier’s not a theme park

By Kellyn Brown

When classes at the University of Montana ended for the summer, I headed to Yellowstone National Park. For the next three months, I would throw trash bags into a packer for 10 hours a day, four days a week. It was good, honest work, albeit a little redundant. 

Step off truck. Lift lid. Remove bag. Toss bag. Repeat. 

To break up the monotony, Zach, my fellow garbage man, and I would often interact with the tourists following in their vehicles near Lake Village. Some would wave, happy to be on vacation in such a unique place. Others would glare, put out by the fact that their day was interrupted by slow-moving trash collectors. Still others would try to track us down, thinking, since we wore gray shirts and green pants like the other park employees, we must know as much about the terrain as the rangers and interpreters. 

Nope. We just collected massive amounts of their garbage all day and had a front-row seat to all the weird things tourists did. The most common problem, largely unique to Yellowstone, was people approaching a bison and subsequently getting charged, or worse, gored. 

Those incidents were often preceded by radio chatter: “We have a bubba jam south of Mammoth.” I don’t know why some park employees referred to bison as bubbas, but they did. And when a bunch of those bubbas backed up traffic and visitors exited their vehicles to snap photos of them, the chances of the bison snapping back increased.    

This was in 2000 and 2001. Fewer people owned cell phones and no one took selfies with them. The number of annual visitors to Yellowstone was less than today, but the tourists were just as accident prone.

One was badly scalded after he threw a stick in a piping-hot thermal feature that his off-leash dog jumped in after and he, in turn, jumped in after the dog. Another time while I was there a group of friends illegally camped in the backcountry next to a nearby dormant geyser that woke up that night for the first time in several years. I can only imagine their reaction, but mine would be that the world was coming to an end.    

It’s that time of year again. Visitors are flocking to Yellowstone. Closer to home, the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park has fully opened, an alpine engineering marvel providing access to sweeping vistas and wild backcountry. 

My college days are long over. Instead of witnessing strange behavior in Yellowstone National Park, I edit stories written about those who act strangely in Glacier, which has seen its visitation increase by about 1 million people in the last decade or so.   

It’s become so busy that now, along with a park pass, visitors and locals alike have to secure an extra ticket to access the Sun Road between 6 a.m. and 5 p.m. Many Flathead Valley residents have all but ceded the park to out-of-towners during the peak months of July and August. This means, of course, there will be fewer of us there to tell you not to approach the wildlife or defecate on the trails.

So this is your annual reminder: Even though you packed your selfie stick, bought a ticket and there’s a line to get in, Glacier’s not a theme park. Leave no trace and respect the surroundings. Oh, and enjoy the view.