Blue Bell for life!

On my second day of working at Blue Bell gate selling bike bands, the ladies, who I consider my friends, cornered me.

“So, you know I read your blog.” Barb said. She’s the matriarch of the gate and one of the funniest ladies I’ve ever met.

There are no words to describe the awesomeness.

There are no words to describe the awesomeness.

“Yes…” I trailed off, not knowing why she was standing so close to me with her hands on her hips in a stance that said don’t mess with Texas.

“Well, I’m just hoping you don’t plan on writing anything about us…you know…and some of the stuff we’ve said,” she menaced above me.

I giggled.

So, I can’t write about any of the insanely hilarious comments we made about bikers as they passed wearing nothing but pasties and ¼ of a shirt. I can’t write about the dogs on bikes in their little doggy goggles and little doggy Harley Davidson gear. I can’t write about getting locked in the Port-a-Potty. I can’t write about how badly we wanted a clean, good-looking guy to offer to give us a ride. I can’t write about the stories Melissa and I swapped and I definitely can’t write about…well, I’ll stop there.

I can, however, write about how much I respect and revere the gate attendants so much more than I ever did before. Technically speaking, it’s easy work, but I had no idea how mentally and physically exhausting it can be just to get people to drive in the right lane of traffic. Even with chairs and a fan, it’s really draining talking to people, answering the eternal question of “Where are the buffalo?” and selling entrance passes. Blue Bell is the gate at the west entrance of the Wildlife Loop, so if you came through in the last three days, you proabably saw me. I was usually the one dancing around waving neon green bands in the air.

And in case you were wondering, THE BUFFALO ARE SOMEWHERE ON THE WILDLIFE LOOP ROAD. Just keep driving until you see giant, hulking brown mammals.

Print this off. Bring it with you.

Print this off. Bring it with you.

What makes this park great is that everyone working supports each other during the rally (or at least that was my observation). One of the park administrators brought us brownies and the resort company gives us lunch if they aren’t busy. I even got some coffee delivered after begging for a while, and Barb and Sheila were constantly making sure nobody was nauseous at the gate because heat exhaustion is a real threat.


On my last day at the gate, the ladies even made me a makeshift goodbye card – I’m Blue Bell for life now!


#Instagram #birds #buffalo #unobservant

I stepped out into a crisp July day at about 7:49 a.m. this morning and was met with the sound of laughter. Or was it crying? Nope, definitely laugh…maybe someone was crying. It was coming from the naturalists’ storage shed, and there were a couple cars parked out front, so I went to investigate.

“Joe?” I asked warily as I came upon the shed. It sounded like she had her leg caught under a fallen piece of equipment and was screaming.
Then there was riotous laughter.

Two of the park’s naturalists, Joe (also known as Joe-Joe) and Melissa emerged from the shed looking like they’d been dipped in honey and then rolled around in massive amounts of mangy looking feathers. It wasn’t far from the truth – while looking for supplies for an educational canoeing program, they had come across a couple of sweatshirts that someone had fashioned into bird costumes. The dark cloth had been extended below the arms to create wings and large feathers had been attached. The hoods even sported two giant white fluffy balls that represented some of the weirdest bird eyes I’ve ever seen, but the whole getup was pretty brilliant in my opinion.

But after a time in the shed, the costumes were beginning to look frayed and worn. So, the two goofy naturalists had put them on and were dancing wildly around the storage shed singing some disco-era tune. It was a pretty funny sight and put me in a happy mood as I walked to work.

Fast forward about an hour. Someone posted an Instagram photo of the park to our Twitter account, so I attempted to check it out and see if it was re-tweetable. The page slowly loaded and the photo I was looking for was strangely MIA, but another buffalo picture loaded instead. It was taken and uploaded at about 8 a.m. by one of the girls who lives in the dorms. It read:

sarah89765: Good morning!!! Buffalo love our volleyball court. #custerstatepark #buffalo

The photo showed a large hulking buffalo lounging in the sand of our volleyball court. This wouldn’t be anything unusual except for the fact that I had gone outside and walked right by that spot and not even noticed him. Had the laughter and the bird costumes really been that distracting?

How does one not notice a giant brown life form sitting mere yards away from them? I don’t know – maybe I was still technically asleep or maybe I just missed him and he wasn’t even there. All I know is that from now on, I’m looking both ways before leaving the dorms.

We’re all just a bunch of buffalo.

When you’re around animals a lot, their daily habits start looking a little less like random behavior and a lot more like a soap opera.

First, it was the deer – the same two deer that have been stalking on my way to and from work, actually. They were apparently a couple and have now spawned an adorable little fawn that is too quick to get a good photo of. So, they still stalk me, but it’s different now that I know they’re a mom and a dad. The baby deer always sees me and runs into the tall grass to disappear while mom and dad don’t move at all and stand there as if to say, “What? Oh, you thought you saw something? You must be mistaken. Move along.”

What's that you say? Oh, there's nothing to see here, I promise. You can trust me; I'm a deer.

What’s that you say? Oh, there’s nothing to see here, I promise. You can trust me; I’m a deer.

And then there’s the buffalo. This time of year is known as ‘The Rut,’ which basically means it’s mating season. The feisty buffalo are a lot more active and are obviously paired off. Groups of yearlings and calves are always accompanied by two or three mature bull/cow pairs, and watching them dance around the inevitable is pretty entertaining (and a little terrifying). It’s as if you’re watching the ‘Bold and the Beautiful’ or ‘Guiding Light’ when a smaller, more feisty bull approaches the big granddaddy and tries to spar for the female – who really has no choice in the matter at all. The biggest and baddest bulls always win, but it’s still kind of fun to root for the underdog.
I present to you 'The Bold and the Buffalo'

I present to you ‘The Bold and the Buffalo’

All of this animal-watching has made me think about our behavior in the employee dorms. After all, we’re merely animals, right? For those of you who disagree; read on.

What’s funny is that we totally do the same sorts of things the wildlife around the park does. The most experienced male, the unicycling park veteran Cody, was the alpha male. Even though he lived with two other guys who we all liked equally as much, it was always “Cody’s cabin” or “Cody and the guys.” He always was subconsciously given ownership. It wasn’t a conscious choice – it just happened. Then, when Cody was gone for a week at a unicycling nationals, it kind of just morphed into “Charlie’s cabin” and “Charlie and the guys,” because he was the next in line. No voting, no decisions – just nature.

It was the same with the girls. Sarah, the loudest and most boisterous of the group, was just automatically rallied around as the alpha female because was the first one here, she was the one who motivated us all to hang out together, and well…she was just kind of the loudest, so it wasn’t exactly easy to let her fade from your mind (and I say that in the most loving way possible).

But then, just like the buffalo, as the summer wore on we separated into smaller groups. Yes, we all still hang out together and we all get along, but we’ve separated into smaller herds. Mouse-finding Kori and I have split off with our respective boyfriends because, well, that’s what animals do. It’s biology. Sarah has kind of created her own smaller herd that all hangs out together, and another quieter herd has also formed with some of our group’s more docile members.

It might be a little offensive to refer to humans and friends in such animalistic terms, but I’m trying to make a point. While we’re a more intelligent species, when you break it down, we’re just as wild and primal as the buffalo. It’s not a choice – it’s a feeling, a pull toward something you don’t even realize is happening until you reflect back on it. And yes, our ability to reflect back on things – heck – our ability to use utensils and drive racecars and bake cookies and eat worms for $5 as a kid all make us a more superior species.

But we’re a species nonetheless; nothing but animals. Maybe that’s why I like it here so much – it’s bringing me back to my animal roots. Who knows?

Ways to not get charged by a buffalo:

Treat them how you would like to be treated.
It’s as simple as that. Imagine that those giant, hairy beasts are your neighbor Tom or your mother-in-law Angela. Each one has its own personality and each one can do a lot of damage to a human or a car if they have half a mind to. Granted, maybe your mother-in-law can also do damage to a person or a car, but buffalo can do it faster and more efficiently.

1. Honestly, would you like it if you were walking down the side of a road minding your own business, and a car pulled up next to you and started snapping photos? What if that car even managed to block your path a little and went from mildly inconvenient to super annoying? You’d kick their car if you could – only, when a buffalo kicks your car, it does a lot of damage.
If you’re going to take photos, give them enough room to breathe!

2. If you were standing in a mall with your child, would you like it if a stranger came up and tried to pet your kid? Your kid that you had just birthed and began raising, only to be assaulted by well-meaning strangers who have all kinds of their own useless advice on how to properly raise a child. And what If these strangers began congregating around you and snapping photos? Revving the engines of their cars? What then?
You’d get super ticked off and probably lash out – only when a buffalo lashes out, they can kill you. I know the buffalo calves (or ‘cinnamons,’ as I like to call them) are adorable, but they need their space.

3. How would you like it if people honked and yelled at you just to get you to look at them for a photo? You’d get pretty mad pretty fast, right? It’s no different with the buffalo. When the herd is crossing the road, let them do it at their own speed. They’re going that fast so that everyone is able to keep up, and if you’re late to something important, using the excuse that a herd of buffalo was in your way is always accepted without protest West River.

Dear tourists, I beg of you to heed my warning. The buffalo are starting to show that they’re so over having to deal with we tiny, annoying humans, so give them room to breathe and be respectful.

The end.

The Day the Buffalo Descended

Last week, about 300 of the buffalo got bored and decided to descend on the Peter Norbeck Visitor Center. This was great because it looked really cool to have that many of the majestic animals standing around the most trafficked area of the park, but those things sure can mess up your day if you work here.

I had a lot planned that day, and part of that involved me hiking Lovers Leap Trail. Upon reaching the end of the mildly strenuous hike in 100-degree weather, I realized it had taken me a lot longer than I thought it was going to, so I was ready for lunch and gallons upon gallons of water. The problem was that there was a chunk of buffalo herd between me and where I needed to go, and because I had no car, the only thing I could do was wait.

So, if you were in the park that day and know what I’m talking about, I was the girl standing on the bridge staring at the buffalo for a good chunk of time because frankly, I was trapped. I could have tried to navigate through the outskirts of the herd, but I feared tourists would see me and think it was OK for them to do that as well – and it’s not. My only other option was to wait it out in the hot sun with no shade until I could make my way up the hill, around the back of the visitor center and back down the other side – successfully skirting the herd.

While it took me an extra 20 minutes, I was finally able to do just that – I navigated the hill and made it around the herd. The only tense moment happened when I was walking through the parking lot and a group of young bulls decided they wanted to cross my path. I just simply stood still while the group came up to the sidewalk, changed their minds, and just stood there looking at me instead.

I inched my way away from them without incident, but it was still a little scary.

And I wasn’t the only one whose schedule was compromised. A few of the park naturalists at the visitor center were trapped inside for a bit because the buffalo wandered onto the patio – a picture I wish I would have gotten.

The buffalo are really cool and it’s always great to see kids’ faces light up when they see them for the first time, but sometimes I just wish they’d move a little faster.

Close encounters of the buffalo kind.

I almost died yesterday.

Ok, that’s a little dramatic, but things got pretty intense with the buffalo. The park’s standing rule with the huge animals is to stay the length of a football field away from them. That can be challenging when the things are right on the road, but as long as you stay in your car, you’re probably not going to tick them off and everything will be fine. It’s also kind of challenging when they like to hang out in your yard, but I’ve always managed to find another door to use if I really, really need to get out of the dorm building for some reason.

I was driving along Wildlife Loop Road looking for buffalo to photograph (shortly after the bird incident from my previous entry) when I came upon what I swear was all 1,300 buffalo that are in the park. They were all right on the road too, so there were about 15 cars full of tourists with cameras parked alongside the road as the herd of buffalo slowly moved south.

Even though they were moving, they were on the road. And the thing with buffalo is, you can’t tell them to hurry up, or they’ll charge your car. It’s also really unsafe to get out of your car when there are a ton of them around, especially with calves. I repeat – it doesn’t matter how cool you think the picture is going to be – don’t get out of your car.

But that’s just what one stupid tourist did. (Ok, maybe he just didn’t know any better, but I’ll get to that in a minute.) He got out of his sturdy, metal car and put his frail, thin, fleshy body only about ten feet from a hulking, 1,000-pound, muscled buffalo and her calf. I know from experience that if someone of authority tells me what to do, I would comply until they leave and then keep on doing what I want, so a lot of the time, telling tourists they might die is a useless chore. Still, I felt obligated, so as I slowly crept by him in my own car I leaned out my window.

“Hey,” I said, trying to be quiet. “I wouldn’t get any closer if I were you.”

The guy barely even glanced back. He didn’t notice I was in a state car and didn’t notice that I was wearing a state uniform, so he merely grunted and kept snapping pictures. I gave up and kept driving slowly.

That’s what I get for trying to be nice…at least I wouldn’t do anything that stupid…

And suddenly, the buffalo were upon me. They weren’t being aggressive, but suddenly I went from having a group of buffalo scattered around my car to having a ton of buffalo rubbing up against my car as they walked by. My windows were down and I was afraid to put them up for fear of accidentally making a loud noise and ticking the animals off. So, I slowly applied pressure to the gas pedal with the hopes of sliding through the tightly-knit group of animals who had decided to have a huddle around my car.

Snapped this horrible picture through my windshield seconds before the buffalo flocked to my car. I feel like they were thinking about it in this shot. Planning. Waiting.

Snapped this horrible picture through my windshield seconds before the buffalo flocked to my car. I feel like they were thinking about it in this shot. Planning. Waiting.

To my horror, my car growled. I hadn’t noticed that at some point, I had put the car in neutral, so when I hit the gas, it just revved the engine and made my car sound like a big, green, angry beast. At this point, several of the buffalo abruptly stopped moving and I stopped breathing. I wasn’t worried for my safety, I just didn’t want to wreck the state car and give the idiot with the camera the pleasure of watching.

Thankfully, that only lasted a moment and the buffalo kept moving. Thirty seconds after that, I had a clear path to maneuver through and I got out of the herd quickly.

But still, I’m pretty sure I almost died.

The buffalo are organized, I tell you…organized.

Everybody poops, but the buffalo in this park seem to make an art of it.

Let me explain – a buffalo “chip” is usually about a foot in diameter and can actually be used for lots of things. Native Americans in the area used to use them as kindling and fertilizer because they dry out really fast and the park currently uses them during their annual “chip toss” at open house weekend. Yeah, that’s a real thing. People pick up dried poop and throw it.

They’re everywhere throughout the park and they don’t cause any problems because they’re huge and easy to see, so it’s not like uppity tourists are stepping in them all the time and throwing a fit. They are even around the dorm and cabins where I live, and that’s fine, but how those huge buffalo manage to get their doo-doo in some places is beyond me.

For example, there is a spot back by our campfire where in order for a buffalo to get that pile of poop where it currently lays, he would have had to approach our circle of chairs, somehow squeeze through them, turn around, and finally reverse into his pooping position. What kind of weird buffalo does that?

I also once saw a pile on such an obscurely steep hill that the buffalo would have had to side step up the hill and brace himself on a rock before doing his business. It’s crazy I tell you, crazy.

Side note; why is it that when I looked through Google images for “buffalo poop funny” there were like 15 pictures of Michelle Obama? I don’t get it.