I tend to take warnings about large animals seriously. After all, at the very least they have the advantage of speed and momentum, often augmented by hooves and horns or antlers. So when I was reading a guide book about visiting a geology/nature/wildlife park in south-central Kansas, the bit about “if free-roaming bison approach, do not linger but return to your vehicle” gave me a moment’s pause. Bison can sprint at up to 50 miles an hour. I can’t. Maybe hiking was contraindicated.
Anyway, off I went to visit the area. One of my goals was teh Big Basin Prairie Reserve, which was reportedly “off the beaten path” and had nice geology as well as some hiking. And bison. The basin itself is a large sinkhole, eroded into a depression that collects water, with St. Jacob’s Well in the deepest part of the basin (a sinkhole-in-a-sinkhole). The terrain is a nice change from the miles and miles of miles that seem to fill most of Kansas, and the weather was late-spring temperate, so in the 60s with a little breeze. A good day to stretch one’s legs and walk around, looking at native grasses and so on.
I parked at the top of a hill. I had the place to myself, with only a contrail high overhead to show that other people existed. That and the occasional sign as I drove into the preserve. The grasses had started to green up as the days grew longer and the spring rains became summer rains. I got out of my car, stretched, looked around, and started to walk.
And stopped. A dozen or so bison stood below me on the slope. They saw me, and started coming my way. I retreated and considered walking the other direction. The large, dark brown, shaggy, large, curious, large mammals came closer. And closer. It was the photo of a lifetime, if I’d had a camera. Or less sense.
I got back into my car and waited. The buffalo loitered, completely uninterested in allowing me to go hiking through their living room. After ten minutes I got the hint and left for less lively environs.
Did I mention that North American bison are really large when they get close to you? Not “you need to brush your teeth more often” close, but much closer than I was happy with. I think they were related to the yearling buffalo that got ahead of me on the road west from Black Mesa, CO, and refused to get out of the way. We ambled along at two miles an hour for what seemed like miles before we reached a cattle guard and he gave up and got out of the way. The rear end of a yearling buffalo is not scenic, if you’ve ever wondered.