Mother Nature is beautiful, but she doesn’t have a voice. She can’t defend herself from overzealous, or uninformed, humans. If she could, she probably would have told the Yellowstone tourists who recently put a baby bison in their car that the calf wasn’t cold—and, instead of helping the animal, they were actually leading it to a premature death.
Yellowstone is big, covering 3,500 square miles, and it receives nearly 4 million visitors annually—but most importantly, it’s wild.
Respect the world’s first national park (especially during the 100th Anniversary year of the National Park Service) by knowing what not to do as a visitor.
1) Don't disrespect the residents.
Yellowstone isn't just a popular tourist destination, it’s a home. The park has 67 different mammal species and boasts the largest concentration of mammals in the continental U.S. Respecting the residents means leaving them alone. Don’t throw things at them. Don’t honk at them. And don't get too close-- even for a once-in-a-lifetime selfie.
2) Don't befriend the residents.
Even if they approach you, pretend the animals have a force field around them. Know that if you touch a wild animal, you are putting yourself in danger and also exposing it to diseases. In the case of the bison calf, those tourists could have been sentencing it to death by euthanization. Animals don’t know how to not to accept candy from strangers, so don’t tempt them.
3) Don't forget the rules of the road.
Sure, the maximum speed limit is only 45 mph in the park, but driving in Yellowstone can be just as hazardous as driving on a busy interstate. Why? Roads are shared with wildlife—a large bison can be the size of a Mini Cooper—and animal crossings are common. Remember wildlife always has the right-of-way. And if you're traveling during the busier months between June and September, accept the fact that because of the single lane roads, passing slower cars isn’t really an option and you’ll probably spend some time stuck behind tour buses.
4) Don't leave the boardwalk.
Yellowstone’s elevated boardwalks aren’t there to bore you. They exist to protect you from boiling water and other hydrothermal features. “I’ve seen people walk off boardwalks to retrieve a hat or camera,” says Kasey Austin, a Yellowstone guide with Austin Adventures. But attempting to retrieve a dropped item could lead to death. At least 20 park visitors have died from falling into geothermal features, and many more have suffered from serious burns. It’s also illegal. Federal arrest warrants have been issued for the Canadian filmmakers who recently ventured into the Grand Prismatic Spring.
5) Don't practice unsafe selfies.
With its unforgettable scenery and photogenic inhabitants, Yellowstone is the perfect place to take a profile-pic-worthy selfie. However, it’s important to always practice the art of safe picture taking. Don’t force a selfie with a moose by approaching it. Don’t get so caught up with centering the Yellowstone Grand Canyon just right in the background that you lose your footing and go for a 1,200-foot-slide. Every time you find yourself tempted to take a selfie, ask yourself, “What would a ranger do?”
6) Don't unleash the drone.
In August 2014 a Dutch tourist landed his drone in Grand Prismatic Spring. He was fined $3,000. The drone has not been recovered—a major geological concern considering the colorful spring’s fragile plumbing system. To protect wildlife, landmarks, geothermal features and other tourists, drones and other unmanned aircraft are banned in Yellowstone. Flying them could land you a prison sentence, a $5,000 fine or both.
7) Don't take it...or leave it.
The best souvenirs from Yellowstone are photos and memories. Don’t attempt to go home with anything—plants, rocks, animals, etc.—that you didn’t bring into the park with you or purchase at a gift shop. And if you're camping, don’t leave anything behind. Pick up all litter surrounding your campsite and don’t carve your name in a tree or a rock. (Vanessa Hudgens made headlines for doing this in a national forest in Arizona.) If you love Yellowstone so much you want to leave a legacy, just make a tax-free donation to the Yellowstone Park Foundation.
Katie Jackson is a travel writer. When she's not working, she's chasing after a Leonberger named Zeus.