View From a Height
Commentary from the Mile High City
Monday, January 05, 2004


The recent ruling banning snowmobiles in Yellowstone has been commented on elsewhere, particularly in the Wall Street Journal,. The court ruled that a Bush Administration plan to allow fewer, cleaner snowmobiles was illegal, since the Clinton Administration had put into place a regulation banning them altogether. Now you need to be in extraordinarily good shape to see the park at all during winter, unless you want to be herded onto and off of busses like buffalo.

I'm lucky. Four years ago this month, I went snowmobiling in Yellowstone, and the place is tremendous. It's a completely different park from the RV-infested hot-springs Disneyland you get over Fourth of July weekend, when the traffic jam stretches the length of the park, and the wildlife have to wait for crossing guards to get around. It's certainly got fewer people, but it's also just - different. The snow is everywhere, the geysers go up with great billows of steam that last forever. The contrast between the thermal features and the world around them couldn't be greater.

And yes, there's wildlife. Coming back late one afternoon, I really needed to make time to return the snowmobile to the rental company, and a whole line of about 40 machines was lined up behind a buffalo. You don't pass a buffalo. You're told, as though you needed to be, that the buffalo has the right of way. The buffalo must have gotten the same briefing, because he knew who the sheriff was. If he had wanted to, he could have stepped off the path, or he could have gored 50 of us without breaking a sweat. He trundled along, backing up traffic, and he couldn't have cared less, because he knew ain't nobody gonna cross him.

Now the air behind him was cloudy, and the air at the entrance booths to the park, at West Yellowstone was practically blue with exhaust. But the newer machines and entrance limits could take care of that. Instead, a party voted out of office decided to keep you from seeing what I saw, pretty much forever. I don't think this is what Teddy Roosevelt had in mind.

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