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Going THUMP in the night

Some scenery is always an enjoyable background. I live in a part of the country that is quite beautiful and relatively diverse. Besides the natural beauty, there are also some critters that keep the background interesting. Right down the road from me are some Scottish Highlander cattle. If you've never seen them before and don't care to Google them, think of a musk ox or a yak crossed with a Texas Longhorn.

Another guy a few miles away has a few bison. They're always fun to look at as I go by. It would be fun to have some of my own, but I know I wouldn't be satisfied with their genetic quality and would ultimately end up attempting to use A.I. on them to create better animals to speed up my herd's genetic progress. Take all of my cattle fun and multiply it by 10 for bison and you'll see why I don't own any.

So I let the professionals raise the bison. A recent trip to Custer State Park in South Dakota and Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming proved to me that the professionals are doing a fine job raising bison. My friend and I would pop up over a hill in Custer State Park and we'd see hundreds of bison grazing in the valley. I took so many pictures of majestic bulls on my trip that I could make several years worth of calendars with a different bull featured each month.

One thing you should notice when you get inside a park like Custer or Yellowstone is the sign that tells you NOT to feed the animals, and NOT to get close to them. When we left the lodge in Cooke City, Montana, to head to the park for a day of sightseeing, we noticed a burly looking bison bull grazing near a building in the next town between Cooke City and the northeast entrance of the park. He walked around the town like it was his backyard, which it is, technically. It was all I could do to resist the temptation to walk up to the bison and get a better picture. Common sense and the sign kept me from doing that, though.

As cute and cuddly as they appear, and as Disney-like as your adventure may seem, those are not animatronic devices you are watching. They're real and they're really dangerous.

My friend and I wandered around the park (safely inside our car when near wildlife, of course) the rest of the day and took in all kinds of scenery. Seeing as how it was July 4th, we had asked around to find out where the best place to see fireworks would be that night. My hunch was that we wouldn't find any within the park, what with the park rangers' aversion to forest fires and everything. Sure enough, the best recommendation we found was to go to nearby West Yellowstone, Montana, and watch their rather elaborate display that evening preceded by a BBQ and a parade.

Please take a moment to grab a dictionary, if you could. Look up the word “nearby.” Merriam-Webster says it comes from the 14th century and means “close at hand.” You will note that NOWHERE in that definition does the word “Yellowstone” appear. In the 14th century, “close at hand” does not equate to “from one side of Yellowstone to the other.”

Even though the park looks compact on a map — it only covers one corner of Wyoming, after all — it’s not exactly covered by roads where you can make good time. Yellowstone is not about making good time. Case in point: the food service inside the park is provided by one company. Not to get all Karl Marx on you here, but competition is a good thing. A lack of it causes you to need two-and-a-half hours for dinner at a Yellowstone sit-down restaurant. So by the time you're done with dinner near Old Faithful on the southwest corner of the park, and you're thinking about going to see fireworks at West Yellowstone on the west side of the park, or getting back to your lodge on the northeast corner, you're looking at some serious road time.

Add in the two extra hours for dinner and we decided that maybe we'd make this 4th of July a little less traditional and skip the fireworks and community BBQ part of the equation. We'd hit the road and head back to the lodge instead.

Did I mention the lack of straight roads? Did I mention there are mountains in the park? Did I mention that it begins to feel like 40 mph is Mach 2 once you've been on a few of those hills and curves for an hour or two, trying to get from one side of the country to the other? Sorry, I meant from one side of the park to the other.

We decided it could very well be July 5th before we made it back to the lodge. Midnight was looking like an optimistic goal. A 1:00 a.m. arrival seemed more realistic. We kept driving. We found hills. We found curves. We found hills with curves. We found valleys with curves. We found no shortcuts, but we did find one stretch where we could get all the way up to 52 mph. It felt like a freeway.

Then, right as we crested a hill at about 50 mph or so, we found a bison on the other side. He was hugging the center line of the road!

The good people in both Engineering and Marketing at General Motors probably never put this in their literature, but the Buick Park Avenue is quite good at going from 50 to 0 in a matter of seconds. Best guess, I'd say 1.63 seconds, to be precise.

I didn't really need any Red Bull to stay awake at that point. That big brown bull a few yards in front of me pretty well did what a six-pack of the Red stuff would.

We all sort of waited around for a few moments to see if what just happened really happened. No one retreated and no one made any forward progress. Once we had our collective wits about us again, I proceeded to roll forward, pretty much lining up my hood ornament with the center line. The bison did the same. After a few feet of this game of chicken, we simultaneously moved over to our respective right-hand lanes. It was a draw, so we gave one another a knowing glance of acknowledgement as we met and passed. I was close enough to the bull that I could have easily rolled down my window and accosted him as we drove by, but rules are rules. The sign said no feeding or molesting of animals.

That bull looked like he probably had a good attorney, so I didn't push my luck. You might be bold enough to tick off a bison, but I can't wait to see what happens to you in court when you tick off his attorney.

Guy No. 2

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