Go Beyond Boicourt Trail — but watch for charging bison

Quick while it’s almost like “not-winter” in the Badlands — go beyond the marked trail. 

It was 42 degrees the other day and that was good enough for us — especially after nearly weeks of below-zero temps.  The way to get through those claustrophobic days is to look ahead and I did.

First thing, every morning, check the weather forecast. I kept my eye out for better weather — good enough to get outside.

So, when it topped 40, we headed to the warm part of the state, the south unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

We layered up, added our backpacks and walking staffs, then headed out on Boicourt Trail.  It’s always a good trail, especially at sunset, or as we wrote here, in the spring.

Once we got to the trailhead we stopped to cut this video:

Boicourt Trail Improvements

boicourt trail handicap concrete sidewalk

Fall 2020 crews placed concrete on 800 feet of the Boicourt Trail to make it handicap accessible.

Like I wrote last time, the park paved the first couple hundred yards with concrete.

So, prone to go beyond, we hiked past that point. That’s when we welcomed the challenges. We scrambled to follow the mile-long ridge overlooking Jones Creek, Paddock Creek and the valley called the “Donut.”

Park rangers encourage you to go ahead and explore the interior of the park — get off the trail and see what the park is all about.

I like the extended hike beyond Boicourt Trail, and I recommend it if you are up for a moderately strenuous hike — if you don’t mind a little risk. Anytime you venture out past the concrete, steel and blacktop, you find risk.

Click this video.

You’ll get an idea of the challenge of getting off the marked trail:

 

Beware of Running Frightened Charging Bison

The Park is open for exploration.  Like T Roosevelt said, be cautious, but do not be cowardly. 

Or, as someone else said, “fear is only in your head.” 

So, I don’t fear, unless I run into a running scared, mad bison. Then, well, lets say, that’s time to be cautious.  And that’s what happened.

Following the same trail I followed last week on a solo hike, we were headed down.  At one point, the wildlife trail angles on switchbacks through pine trees and rocks. Trees and rocks limit sight distance to about 15 or 20 feet.

 

Here Come Frightened Charging Bison

Mary was a 20 yards or so behind and off to the side of me. I heard her say, “Look at that.”  I think what she meant to say was “Oh *expletive*!”

Headed right for us on the narrow trail, full speed, two bison ran right for us.  I don’t know what caused them to run, but they were not slowing down.  The charging bison made that wildlife trail into their very own race track.  Or maybe it was their escape route from some danger behind them — ahead of us.

Their tongues out, chests heaving, they panted, breathing loud. Something scared them to run like that uphill.  Either a bigger bull bison or a mountain lion. They were scared.

Thanks to Mary’s warning, I saw them about 4 seconds before they saw me. By the time they spotted me in front of them,  I was moving 90-degrees away from them, into the thicker tree stand. 

A Stare-down

They stopped; looked at me and turned toward me in an offensive/defensive stand. They took a threatening step toward me and I ducked farther into the trees.  

Now I’m really getting cautious, moving into a defensive protective area. I’m between Mary and the pair of bison. At this point, they stood about 2 compact car lengths away from me.  I could see the whites of their eyes, the drool on their tongues. 

I backed away enough so they could see I was in retreat, and they relaxed, for a moment. 

They turned and ran up the hill about another 40 feet. Then they stopped and turned around to eyeball us. It looked like they were about to come down the hill at us. 

They gave us the evil eye.  We just kept backing up into the trees.

They didn’t attack. Whew!  They went back to their trail and kept running as fast as they could. 

Still running. After running up the trail we were headed down, they continued on the ridge we had just hiked. They kept running until they were out of sight.

The charging bison kept running

I ran up the hill to see where they were going. By the time I got to where they had just stood, looking down on us, they were a couple blocks away. Still running full out, away from us.

In my limited non-educated thinking, I am pretty sure they were running away from something.  We were headed to where they were running from. What would we find?  Just to the east of there, we have found a killing floor or eating bed with skeletons.  Mountain lion tracks abound in that area to the east.  Were these two running from a mountain lion?

I didn’t like that episode. I encouraged Mary to use a more expressive warning statement, more forceful  than “Look at that.” Expletives encouraged.

Moral of the story

So, what I learned was this: 

  • Go ahead and explore beyond the marked trail.
  • Use a hiking staff to help stabilize hill climbs and descents
  • Enjoy the solitude
  • Beware of wild animals especially charging bison (After all, this is their home)

 

What spooked the charging bison?

We’ll never know.  They ran up a very steep rocky hill through the trees. They kept running as far as we could see. Later when we were leaving the park, they had circled down from Boicourt, and Jones Creek Trail on to the scenic drive. They were not casually grazing as often is the case.  We gave them wide berth and kept on driving past them as you can see in this video: 

 

Burleys

After a good afternoon outdoors, we are always hungry and thirsty. That’s why we stop at Burley’s Steakhouse in Belfield.burlys ad menu

Go Beyond

As we’ve written before, going beyond the marked trail is welcomed by the Park.  One of the best places to try it is at the East Entrance. We did that on a very cold (25 degree) day with a stiff wind.  It was so rewarding, we went back later this spring when it was much warmer.  We’ll tell you about how you can explore the old way in to the park, and follow both an old highway and an old 2-track (wagon?) trail.

You’ll be the first to know when the stories are published if you tell us where to send the notice.  Just add your email address to the subscription box up above on the right.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are bison dangerous?

They can be.  Generally, they are wary and docile, but only if you keep your distance. Every year, there is at least one story of someone who thought they were in a petting zoo, and a bison gave them a tossing.

Can I pet bison?

You can try, but it may be the last thing you ever do. They are wild animals and will defend themselves against anyone who gets too close.

What should I do when I encounter a bison while hiking?

Stop. Back away. Give them the right away. If they are on the trail in front of you, move in a 90 degree angle off the trail, away from them

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