Every year, more than 4 million people lock up their homes in Manchester and Salzburg, Pittsburgh and Denver, Toronto and Sao Paulo, Wellington and Amsterdam with strategically packed suitcases and pre-downloaded apps on their fully charged phones, and they make their way by car, RV, airplane or bus to the world’s first national park.
Some of those visitors are bound to be ninnyhammers, and I wish they’d just stay home.
Ninnyhammer was the special label my genteel grandmother reserved for the occasional idiot who had the bad judgment to cross her path. She’d look the person directly in the eye and offer a carefully-worded put-down that usually started something like, “I can explain it to you, but I can’t understand it for you,” and ended with something like, “anytime you happen to pass my house, I’d sure appreciate it.”
Grandma always had a lot of snap in her garters.
You can easily spot a ninnyhammer in Yellowstone. They are the ones who get far too close to wildlife, refuse to stay on boardwalks, bring their pets on trails, carry guns and ignore all the other rules that are liberally posted throughout the park.
Just last week, a yet-to-be-found ninnyhammer fired his shotgun at wolves who were chasing his dog near the East Entrance to the park. Rangers investigated the incident and reported finding shotgun shells near the entrance. While the scofflaw who used his or her gun in the park may never be found, I hope by now that visitor understands all the awful things that could have happened. A visitor could have been mistakenly shot. Their dog could have been injured or worse, which could have forced rangers to search for and potentially destroy the wolves involved.
Then there was the Oregon man who was recorded taunting a bison in a viral video that ultimately led to his arrest. This particular ninnyhammer – apparently unrepentant and habitually intoxicated – was on a bad behavior bender that also took him to our national park neighbor to the north, Glacier National Park. I hope he is still in jail.
Sometimes ninnyhammers lack malice as well as common sense. Such as the Canadians who “rescued” a bison calf a couple of years ago by placing it in their mini-van and driving it to a ranger station. The hapless visitors didn’t know that by merely touching the bison with their human hands they were sentencing a soul to death. The bison could not be returned to the herd and had to be euthanized.
Bad behavior in Yellowstone is nothing new. Since the establishment of the park, humans have been gored, boiled, eaten, drowned and broken in a variety of ways. One of the park’s historians, Lee Whittlesey, compiled a book dedicated to the antics of ninnyhammers called “Death in Yellowstone: Accidents and Foolhardiness in the First National Park.” It’s a page-turner, and it forces readers to wonder how people could be so stupid. I wish every visitor to the park would read the book before they visit.
Whenever I see a rule-ignorer in Yellowstone, I try to point out the rule and the reason for it or I find a ranger to explain the rules and maybe even explain that whenever that visitor happens to pass Yellowstone National Park in the future, we’d all surely appreciate it.
While I know that the bad behavior of the few ninnyhammers who visit the park each year will continue to challenge park staff and make travel a little less safe for all visitors, I do continue to hope that those incidents will be isolated and few. All visitors can help promote safety by reading, understanding and following the rules the National Park Service has carefully assembled.
Until next time, I’m avoiding ninnyhammers and loving life here in Cody Yellowstone.