It’s been a few weeks since I’ve returned from my trip to Colorado and the Rocky Mountains but I’m just getting around to writing about the experiences and wanted to share the story of the time I fearlessly approached a bison and survived.
My best friend Christina arrived later than expected in Colorado on Sunday, July 21st. We had a long day, departing from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and driving down to Baltimore, Maryland for our direct flight to Denver. Flight delays from an arriving trip pushed our flight back about an hour. By the time we arrived at Denver International Airport and picked our rental car, it was late evening as we headed to the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge.
Despite our lack of energy, it was a great place kick off our week, so we challenged ourselves to explore the 15,00-acre park mixed with grass prairie and more than 300 species of wildlife. With the light dimming as sunset approached, I was eager to jump out of the car and explore some of the shorter trails along the way.
As we walked the paths and walked around the lakes, we could see songbirds, wintering ducks, geese, and deer. Living in Pennsylvania, I’m no stranger to deer. They’ve been a point of contention for me, trying to avoid hitting them on the highways. I wasn’t so lucky when I was 17, a year after getting my license, I had a deer land on the hood of my car. Flash to standing on this path, watching the dear look at me as intently as I looked at him/her. It was remarkable how fearless the dear was with being so close to me.
After our deer encounter, we hopped back in our sporty rental car and drove around the 11-mile roadway and watched as the sunset. We caught a glimpse of mule deer before I scared them with my zoom lens.
Our last stop before leaving the reserve was the rolling hills with roaming bison. We saw a group of them huddled in a fenced-in area. A few cars had gathered around one bison, standing in the middle of the roadway. Two of the cars were on either side of the mammoth animal. I thought this would be the moment I would get out and try to get a shot. Notice I didn’t preface this story by stating that I read anything. That’s because I didn’t pay attention to the signs, and got out of my car.
I don’t recommend this, and it’s against the rules of the park. But I was determined to capture a closer view of this animal and so I proceeded to cross the road, and get closer. Another photographer was out of his car as well, an older man who told me that it is dangerous, and I should be careful.
As I got about 20 feet away, I heard the bison (I am calling him Joe) growling. I said, “Hey Joe, relax there dude.” Thinking that if I was calm, he would be calm. But the cars aggressively staggered between him on both sides made it clear that he wasn’t too happy. He needed his space. After a few moments of hearing him growl and getting a few shots, that were half-way decent, I gave in and headed back to my vehicle.
As I walked back and turned the corner, a woman who must be someone’s mother (not mine) yelled at me, telling me I risked my life and I shouldn’t have gotten out of the car. She yelled at me so fiercely it shook me and as I got back in the car, I told Christina “I’m back, let’s go. I didn’t die today, so that’s good.”
Thankful that I’m able to share the story now, and grateful for the experience of spending a little time in this park. I would love to go back and explore more someday.