Part2-Yellowstone Park in Winter

Part2-Yellowstone Park in Winter

Buffalo travel through snow in wintertime in Yellowstone Park. Courtesy National Park Service.

Yellowstone National Park is a special place, and winter is a wonderful time to experience just how special it is. When winter snows descend on the park, many of the normal recreational opportunities are no longer available.

Visitors have unparalleled opportunities to observe wildlife in an intact ecosystem, explore geothermal areas that contain about half the world’s active geysers, and view geologic wonders like the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River.

The seasonal change in winter provides new recreational opportunities to emerge: skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling and riding a snowcoach.

Not all roads are open to cars. However, you can drive into the park through the North Entrance at Mammoth year-round.

The winter season of services, tours, activities, and ranger programs typically spans from mid-December to mid-March.

At Mammoth, you can take self-guiding tours of Fort Yellowstone and the Mammoth Terraces, join a guided walk or tour, cross-country ski, snowshoe, skate, rent a hot tub, watch wildlife, attend ranger programs and visit the Albright Visitor Center.

Visitors in snowcoach on skis drives past bison feeding in deep snow in pine trees. Photo NPS, by Jim Peaco.

Visitors may legally soak in the Gardner River where hot thermal water mixes with cool river water. You can also arrange for over-snow tours to Norris Geyser Basin, Old Faithful and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River.

From Mammoth, you can drive past Blacktail Plateau, through Lamar Valley and on to Cooke City, Montana.

You may see bison, elk, wolves, coyotes, eagles and other wildlife along the way.

You can also stop to cross-country ski or snowshoe a number of trails along this road. The interior of the park is open to various over-snow vehicles.

Tours can be arranged through the park concessioner or operators at the various gates.

The interior of the park is open to various over-snow vehicles.

You can also stay at Old Faithful Snow Lodge, from which you can walk, snowshoe, or ski around the geyser basin, take shuttles to cross-country ski trails.

Winter Activities in Yellowstone

Or join a tour to other parts of the park such as West Thumb, Hayden Valley and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River.

Bighorn Ram makes his way through underbrush near Tower Junction. NPS.

Average winter highs are 20 to 30ºF (–6 to –1ºC). During warm spells, sunny days can be much higher, such as 60 degrees or more for several days.

Average lows are 0 to 9ºF (–17 to –13ºC). However, the record low—which struck in the midst of the depression on Feb 9, 1933—was 66° below 0 F (–54°C) at Riverside Ranger Station, near the West Entrance.

On this anniversary year Yellowstone Park will participate in the 15th Biennial Scientific Conference on the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem hosted by Montana State University, the Wyoming Governor’s Hospitality and Tourism Conference and the University of Wyoming’s Yellowstone National Park 150 Anniversary Symposium.

The park is also grateful to Wind River (Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho Tribes) and other Tribal Nations for planning a multi-tribal gathering on the Wind River Reservation later in the year. 

Though fewer in winter, some Forest Rangers live in the Park year around and are always ready to answer visitor questions. About 4,000 employees work in Yellowstone Park each year. NPS.

This year Yellowstone will open 40 new employee housing units throughout the park along with groundbreakings on projects totaling more than $125 million funded through the Great American Outdoors Act.

These projects include two of the largest historic preservation projects in the country and a range of transportation projects that will address aging infrastructure.

This year will also mark the reopening of Tower Fall to Chittenden Road (near Dunraven Pass), a $28 million road improvement project completed over the past two years.

Wondering what to do on your visit to a snow-covered Yellowstone? The forest rangers of Yellowstone have plenty of ideas!

Take advantage of that white blanket of snow to zip through Yellowstone on a different form of transportation.

Winter in the park provides opportunities to take in the steaming geyser basins and wildlife via snowshoes, cross country skis, snowmobiles and snowcoaches.

The park sees between 2.8 and 3.1 million visitors annually, with most people visiting between June and August.

So if you can skirt those three summer months, or at least visit the less crowded areas at that time, you’ll find more relaxed, less congested roads and facilities.

Yellowstone is a big park with lots of room in the backcountry.

Buffalo feed in an area free of snow in Upper Geyser Basin in February 2015. Photo NPS, Sacha Charny.

Yellowstone Park annouonces that due to COVID-19, it does not currently have large events planned. However, this may change as the year progresses.

The Park advises prospective visitors to check the website: and follow #Yellowstone150 frequently in 2022 to stay current on commemoration information. (NPS / Jacob W. Frank, Jan 12, 2022; Contact: Morgan Warthin, (307) 344-2015)

Where to Stay in Winter

Many of Yellowstone’s hotels and cabins, including the famous Old Faithful Inn, are only open during the summer season. However, there are a couple of options for lodging during the winter inside the park.

Pending public health guidance: The Old Faithful Snow Lodge and Cabins, winter tours, and the Obsidian Dining Room, will be open from December 16, 2021, through March 6, 2022.

The Mammoth Hotel and Cabins, winter tours and the Mammoth Hotel Dining Room, will be open December 15, 2021 to March 7, 2022.

Buffalo follow each other keeping to narrow trail through deep snow as they brush it aside to feed on the grasses far below near Tower. NPS, JPeaco.

It is often easier to stay just outside the park, avoiding traffic and enjoying area accommodations such as on Hebgen Lake. There is also a premiere RV park in Yellowstone, just outside the West Entrance.

What to Wear in Winter at Yellowstone

Winter weather in Yellowstone can be severe, but when you’re dressed appropriately it’s fun to brave the cold.

One of the most important tips to attire in this environment: Wear layers—especially if you’re going to be moving around skiing, snowshoeing or hiking.

Your layering lineup should include a windproof, hooded outer layer and base layers, like wool or synthetic long underwear-esque items for both your upper and lower body.

Avoid cotton jeans and sweatshirts if you plan to be active; these items lack wicking ability leaving you wet and cold.

Choose thick socks and boots when hiking over well-trodden areas and add gaiters to the mix if you’ll be wandering through knee-deep snow.

Hats are a must since you lose most of your heat from your head, and don’t forget the gloves/mittens to keep those fingers warm.

Pro tip: Disposable hand-warmers stuffed into mittens can be a treat for those who get cold easily or have poor circulation to their hands.

One thing many people forget when adventuring outside in snowy conditions: sun protection. High-altitude sunlight reflecting off of snow is even more intense than at lower elevations, so be sure to pack the sunglasses and lather sunscreen onto any exposed skin to avoid sunburn.

Be Aware of Soundscapes

The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem has many sounds with important ecological functions for reproduction and survival. They form a soundscape.

Sounds in the quiet of winter may be heard at great distances—so listen, if only to the silence of winter.

Greater Yellowstone’s soundscape is the aggregate of all the sounds within the park, including those inaudible to the human ear.

Grizzly Bear protects a buffalo carcass in Yellowstone River as Bison walk single file through pine trees along shore above. NPS JPeaco .

Some sounds are critical for animals to locate a mate or food, or to avoid predators.

Other sounds, such as those produced by weather, water, and geothermal activity, may be a consequence rather than a driver of ecological processes.

Human-caused sounds can mask the natural soundscape. In and near developed areas human-caused sounds that mask the natural soundscape relied upon by wildlife and enjoyed by park visitors are, to some extent, unavoidable.

The National Park Service’s goal is to protect or restore natural soundscapes where possible and minimize human-caused sounds—while recognizing that they are generally more appropriate in and near developed areas.

The potential for frequent and pervasive high-decibel noise from over-snow vehicles has made the winter soundscape an issue of particular concern in Yellowstone.

Management of the park’s winter soundscape is important because over-snow vehicles are allowed on roads in much of the park.

The quality of Greater Yellowstone’s soundscape therefore depends on where and how often non-natural sounds are present as well as their levels.

Yellowstone’s Abundant Wildlife

Visitors have unparalleled opportunities within Yellowstone’s 2.2 million acres to explore geothermal areas that contain about half the world’s active geysers, view geologic wonders like the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River and observe wildlife in an intact ecosystem.

Yellowstone National Park is not only a geologic wonder, but also home to abundant wildlife. As a wildlife preserve, visitors flock to this region to see animals in their native habitats.

In winter a close observer can expect to see a great many of these animals and birds:

  • Bison/Buffalo, of course
    Roaming wild throughout the park, Yellowstone is home to approximately 3,500 magnificent bison—a number that sometimes reaches 5,000 or 6,000 with a couple years’ calf crop. These massive animals are approximately 2,000 pounds and commonly frequent the Hayden and Lamar Valleys. 
  • Bald Eagles – Dotting the shores of Yellowstone’s rivers and lakes, bald eagles are commonly sighted as they look for their next fish-filled meal. Adult eagles are 30 to 45 inches in height.

    Bald Eagle feeds on lake trout he speared with his beak in the shallows of Lewis Lake. NPS JPeaco.

  • Bighorn sheep – Roaming the hills and mountains throughout Yellowstone, these sheep weigh 200 to 300 pounds, ranging in color from dark brown to light brown, have curved horns and a white behind. 
  • Black Bears – Common sightings are between March and November. Visitors need to remember to maintain space and to never approach wild animals, especially bears. 
  • Coyotes – Some of the largest coyotes in the U.S. live in the park, weighing 30 to 40 pounds. Smaller than wolves, coyotes live an average of six years. 
  • Elk – In the summertime with calves, Yellowstone is home to 25,000 elk. Elk weigh 500 to 700 pounds and are commonly sighted in the Mammoth region in meadows and large fields. 
  • Grey Wolves – Reintroduced to Yellowstone Park in 1995, this area is now home to more than 325 gray wolves. Lamar Valley is commonly frequented by wolves. 
  • Grizzly Bears – The best time for visitors to obtain a glimpse of a grizzly bear is between March and November. Grizzly bears are commonly sighted and rangers have information about areas that are safer for long-distance viewing. 
  • Moose – Second in Yellowstone to bison, moose weigh 1,000 pounds and are seven feet in height. The males’ feature telltale cupped antlers that make for outstanding photos. 
  • Mule Deer – These large deer can jump at a moment’s notice. Formerly known as blacktail deer, mule deer are distinguished by a black-tipped tail and oversized ears. Yellowstone is also home to white-tailed deer and pronghorn antelope. 
  • Trumpeter Swans – The world’s heaviest airborne bird, swans weigh 23 to 30 pounds and are distinguished by their white bodies and long, graceful necks. 
  • Badgers – Seldom seen, but common within the park, badgers often dig dens and live in holes, searching out their prey. 
  • Foxes – Distant and cautious, these animals can be spotted in Lamar Valley and on Specimen Ridge. 
  • Mountain Lions – Only 20 to 35 mountain lions inhabit the park. Weighing 100 to 160 pounds, mountain lions are a member of the cat family. 
  • Otters – Social and playful, otters are found along rivers and lakes, including Trout and Yellowstone Lakes. 
  • Small Mammals – Yellowstone is home to ground squirrels, chipmunks, red squirrels, marmots, northern flying squirrels, porcupines, beavers, muskrats, pocket gophers, voles and mice.

Buffalo in Winter

Buffalo are much more than America’s largest land mammal—they are culturally ingrained in our history and embody the strong and resilient characteristics of the American people.

 Now our National Mammal.

 While Bison are by no means the only active animals in winter in Yellowstone, we can almost guarantee you’ll see Buffalo anywhere along the roads where travelling is easier in deep snow.

Some of them hang out in the geothermal areas of Yellowstone. They especially seem to enjoy the warmth of the many geothermal areas. Buffalo like to get warmed up in winter too, just like we do.

Buffalo seem to enjoy the warmth of geothermal areas in winter. NPS.

Winter can sometimes be a challenge for bison, but these hardy animals are built to survive.

They might not be moving fast. In fact will likely be at least temporarily slowed down—with huge heads buried deeply in snow as they eat green grass.

Every year when mid-winter arrives, snow can blanket the northern Great Plains, temperatures can drop well below zero and the winds can howl unmercifully, and yet bison remain alive and well on the hostile landscape.

Indeed, the rangers tell us bison have evolved digestive, physiological, and behavioral strategies that allow them to survive some of the harshest weather in North America.

During the cold winter season, bison develop thick, woolly coats that help protect them from freezing temperatures and harsh winds.

It is said that a bison’s winter coat is so thick and provides insulation so effective that when snow accumulates on its coat, it will not melt from the heat of the bison’s skin.

Their skin also thickens in response to cold temperatures and fatty deposits appear to insulate the animal. This is important because during winter storms, bison will actually turn toward the storm, hunker down, and wait for it to pass.

With thick coats and creating a low profile, bison can survive the same storm that would kill many domestic livestock.

Bison also have the ability use their large head and massive neck and shoulder muscles as snow plows to forage in snow as deep as four feet!

But what is perhaps most impressive is how eating grass allows them to have enough energy to survive the winters.

Think about it: in winter, a big, hearty stew full of meat and potatoes sounds appetizing to many people. We crave those large, filling meals to keep us warm in the middle of winter.

Could you imagine eating only stalks of celery after skiing or working in zero degree weather all day?

Well that is almost exactly what bison do, and they have adapted to efficiently find nourishment from low quality forage that allows them to battle blizzards, minus 40 degree temperatures and 50 mile an hour winds.

Under cold stress, bison have developed the adaptation to minimize nutritional needs and slow their metabolism to conserve energy. Metabolism is a term used to describe the process by which our bodies convert food into energy.

People say bison during the winter are time minimizers rather than energy maximizers. In other words, bison cannot merely eat more food and more often to compensate for the low nutritional forage they eat.

Instead, they slow down their metabolism, the amount of time they spending foraging, and the amount of food they consume—in order to conserve energy. Bison also have the ability to generate internal body heat through digestion.

Bison slow down their metabolism in winter to conserve energy. They also have the ability of generae internal body head during digestion. Here feeding in deep snow on Swan Lake Flat. NPS, Neal Herbert.

Forage is retained longer in their gut—due to the increase of indigestible plant material found in the winter—which allows them to eat less but still receive the nutrition they require.

Without these adaptations, surviving the freezing temperatures and blizzard storms would not be possible.

Pregnant female bison lose a substantial amount of body mass over the winter. Pregnant bison will mobilize fat reserves during late gestation periods to meet increasing nutritional demands.

How Yellowstone Wildlife Adapts to Winter Chill

Forest rangers tell us how wildlife adapt to the sometimes harsh winters of Yellowstone.


  • Red squirrels and beavers cache food before winter begins.
  • Some birds roost with their heads tucked into their back feathers to conserve heat.
  • Deer mice huddle together to stay warm.
  • Bison, deer and elk sometimes follow each other through deep snow to save energy.
  • Small mammals find insulation, protection from predators, and easier travel by living beneath the snow.
  • Grouse roost overnight by burrowing into snow for insulation.
  • Bison, elk, geese and other animals find food and warmth in hydrothermal areas.

Buffalo cross boardwalk ahead of visitors and find winter warmth at Fountain Paint Pots. JPeaco.

Morphological and Physical

  • Mammals molt their fur in late spring to early summer. Incoming guard hairs are longer and protect the underfur. Additional underfur grows each fall and consists of short, thick, often wavy hairs designed to trap air. A sebaceous (oil) gland, adjacent to each hair canal, secretes oil to waterproof the fur. Mammals have muscular control of their fur, fluffing it up to trap air when they are cold and sleeking it down to remove air when they are warm.
  • River otters’ fur has long guard hairs with interlocking spikes that protect the underfur, which is extremely wavy and dense to trap insulating air. Oil secreted from sebaceous glands prevents water from contacting the otters’ skin. After emerging from water, they replace air in their fur by rolling in the snow and shaking their wet fur.
  • Snowshoe hares, white-tailed jackrabbits, long-tailed weasels, and short-tailed weasels turn white for winter. White provides camouflage but may have evolved primarily to keep these animals insulated as hollow white hairs contain air instead of pigment.
  • Snowshoe hares have large feet to spread their weight over the snow; martens and lynx grow additional fur between their toes to give them effectively larger feet.
  • Moose have special joints that allow them to swing their legs over snow rather than push through snow as elk do.
  • Chickadees’ half-inch-thick layer of feathers keeps them up to 100 degrees warmer than the ambient temperature.

Biochemical and Physiological

  • Mammals and waterfowl exhibit counter-current heat exchange in their limbs that enables them to stand in cold water: cold temperatures cause surface blood vessels to constrict, shunting blood into deeper veins that lie close to arteries. Cooled blood returning from extremities is warmed by arterial blood traveling towards the extremities, conserving heat.
  • At night, chickadees’ body temperature drops from 108°F to 88°F (42–31°C), which lessens the sharp gradient between the temperature of their bodies and the external temperature. This leads to a 23% decrease in the amount of fat burned each night.
  • Chorus frogs tolerate freezing by becoming severely diabetic in response to cold temperatures and the formation of ice within their bodies. The liver quickly converts glycogen to glucose, which enters the blood stream and serves as an antifreeze. Within eight hours, blood sugar rises 200-fold. When a frog’s internal ice content reaches 60–65%, the frog’s heart and breathing stop. Within one hour of thawing, the frog’s heart resumes beating.

Bison travel single file along road where snow recently has been plowed. NPS Jacob Frank.

Our Elk Hunt

On one memorable trip to Yellowstone Park—actually in the dead of winter—my sister Jeanie and I spent a week there. Just outside the park, hunting elk with our Dad one Christmas vacation when we were in high school.

We drove our stock truck the 340 miles or so from our ranch in eastern Montana to the north border of Yellowstone so we could take along our most-trusty saddle-horse Buck to drag out the elk.

We’d also have space to haul him and the elk carcasses we planned to bring home.

We lived that week in 1948 in a snug canvas tent pitched just outside the Park fence near a trickling creek not far from Gardiner.

First thing, Jeanie and I had to shovel the deep snow away, so it didn’t thaw under our tent. Then Dad carried in a wood-burning stove with a stovepipe to poke out the top.

On the Firing Line

From Dad’s hunting friends we’d heard a lot about the Famous Firing Line. Not really a place you want to be.

The Firing Line was a place where hunters spaced themselves before daylight between the Park fence and herds of elk which came out of the park to feed during the night.
When shooting started at daybreak the elk tried to run back into Yellowstone Park where they knew they’d be safe.

It was all too easy for hunters to get trapped between the fence, the rifles and frantic elk.

Every morning Jeanie and I ate breakfast hot cakes Dad made on our small stove—at the crack of dawn. Then we fixed a sack lunch for each of us and climbed the big mountain above us.

As we climbed we checked the prospects: How many elk came out of the park during the night before to eat in wooded side draws?

Bull Elk rests in snow near Blacktail Ponds. NPS Jacob Frank

Might they be still outside the Yellowstone Park fence, out of sight in the draws and legal to shoot?

It was 1948 and we learned to shush along through deep snow in long-tailed, old-fashioned snow shoes and carry our heavy 30.06 war surplus rifles (borrowed from hunting friends) into the deepest parts of the mountain and back.

It took all day and we were exhausted as we fell onto our bedrolls at dusk. A long story, but between the three of us we did shoot and bring home two big elk—and Buck, too.

We found out what the ‘Firing Line’ meant. Not a good thing, but a mind-bending adventure for sure!

April Snow Plowing

Bison grazes at dusk along creek in Hayden Valley. NPS.

Most of the park is now closed for a couple weeks in April to plow the roads in preparation for the summer season.

In 2022, road opening dates for the summer season have not been announced.

For reference, in 2020, the roads opened on these dates: April 17 (West Entrance), May 1 (East Entrance), May 8 (South Entrance) and May 22 (Tower Fall to Canyon and the Beartooth Highway to the Northeast Entrance). Road openings are pending weather conditions.



Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

Visiting Yellowstone Park in Winter-Part 1

Visiting Yellowstone Park in Winter-Part 1

Gardiner: Considered the original entrance to Yellowstone, Gardiner, Montana, at Mammoth is home to the historic Roosevelt Arch, which was dedicated by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1903. This entrance is open year around. Credit National Park Service.

As remarkable as Yellowstone National Park and Greater Yellowstone are during the rest of the year, in winter the park is a magical place.

Steam and boiling water erupt from natural cauldrons in the park’s ice-covered surface, snow-dusted bison exhale vaporous breaths as they lumber through drifts of white, foxes and coyotes paw and pounce in their search for prey in the deep snow, and gray wolves bay beneath the frozen moon.

Yellowstone in winter also is a place of vulnerability. Wildlife endure extremes of cold, wind and the absence of ready food. Their tracks through deep snow tell of tenacious struggles through the long winter. Park conditions in this most severe of seasons become critical to the mortality of wildlife and even to survival of park species.

No wonder the park is so popular in this magical, vulnerable season with those who have enjoyed its charms.

It is often said among park staff who live in Yellowstone that winter is their favorite season. Many park visitors who try a winter trip to Yellowstone come back for more.

Snowmobiles and other traffic pass bison traveling along side of West Entrance Road in Yellowstone Park. NPS Jim Peaco.

Oldest National Park in World turns 150

This winter, on March first, 2022, marks Yellowstone National Park’s 150th birthday. It’s the oldest national park on the planet and a World Heritage Site.

Signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant, America’s first national park was set aside on March 1, 1872, to preserve and protect the scenery, cultural heritage, wildlife, geologic and ecological systems and processes in their natural condition ‘for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations.’

Within Yellowstone’s 2.2 million acres, visitors have unparalleled opportunities to observe wildlife in an intact ecosystem, explore geothermal areas that contain about half the world’s active geysers, and view geologic wonders like the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River.

Yellowstone is as wondrous as it is complex. The park is at the heart of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, where nature and culture abound.

This might be a good year for you to experience Yellowstone Park again, beginning with a stunning winter visit—or even for the first time, if you’ve never been here.

Afterwards consider returning for the early spring Native American celebrations at Mammoth and to enjoy the lush flowers and wildlife of changing seasons—Spring, Summer and Fall in Yellowstone—Wow!.

As a native Montanan I’ve visited Yellowstone Park many times, the first time at age 6.

Well do I remember the terror of my first drive to the top of Beartooth Pass above Red Lodge—as a child of the plains. Sudden switchbacks plunged into deep canyons out the back-seat car window on a narrow road with drouping shoulders that fell away without railings into horrifying drop-offs.

I never thought we’d make it out alive, but when we finally reached the top we were delighted to jump out and throw snowballs with our whole family.

Many times through the ensuing years we hiked with forest rangers or sat on logs around a forest service campfire while they filled our ears with amazing stories and facts of wildlife, mountain adventures—and occasionally a tale of outrageous tourist behavior, and its fatal consequences.

Forest Service Rangers are always ready to answer tourist questions. About 4,000 employees work in Yellowstone Park each year. We hiked with knowledgeable Forest Rangers who told us amazing stories of wildlife, sat around their campfires on logs while they shared tales of adventure—and sometimes of reckless tourists with serious and even fatal consequences. JPeaco.

We always left the campfire with a dim flashlight it seemed and some great never-to-be-forgotten memories.

My sister Anne who lived in Helena with little children often took them to the geysers and geothermic lakes—but only with stern cautions for her own three little girls to stay on designated trails and out of the hot water.

At the same time she had plenty of anxiety for other children allowed to run freely up and down the boardwalks, pushing on each other, teasing and testing boiling thermal pools—and their parents’ patience.

Hank Heasler, the park’s principal geologist provides a warning, which he says is often ignored.

“Geothermal attractions are one of the most dangerous natural features in Yellowstone, but I don’t sense that awareness in either visitors or employees,” he says.

No, Anne didn’t sense awareness in those parents, either, as they casually hiked along, laughing and snapping photos of their children’s daring escapades.

The National Park Service publishes warnings, posts signs and maintains boardwalks where people can walk to get close to popular geyser fields.

Morning Glory pool—and a host of other hot springs—glow with colorful deposits of gold, green and blue. In Yellowstone’s geyser basins are 10,000 or more geysers, mudpots, steamvents and hot springs. Yellowsones’ geothermal areas contain about half the world’s active geysers—more than exist anywhere else in the world today. NPS.

Yet every year, rangers say they rescue one or two visitors, frequently small children, who fall from boardwalks or wander off designated paths and punch their feet through thin earthen crust into boiling water.

They remind us that Yellowstone protects 10,000 or so geysers, mudpots, steamvents, and hot springs. People who got too close have been suffering burns since the first explorations of the region.

Later from her winter home in Phillipsburg during the 1970s and 1980s Anne took her college-age girls skiing in Yellowstone Park for Christmas vacation when they were in the upper grades and college.

Alhough Old Faithful lodge might be open for Christmas, she said the rooms available at that time were scarce, but filled with beds for kids.

Cross-country skiing was on your own.

Often they’d ski right through big herds of buffalo feeding deep in the snow, sweeping their heads back and forth to uncover the grass. NPS.

They’d drive to a likely spot, snap on the skis and take off—ski to their hearts content—and return to the lodge before early winter darkness hit.

Often they’d ski right through big herds of buffalo wedged knee-deep in snow, sweeping their heads back and forth to clear the grass, which was still green under the snow.

The buffalo watched them with big eyes, but without moving as the young people skied past.

At the outskirts of the herd were always a coyote or two, ever watchful for a struggling buffalo or two that might not make it till spring.

Now, instead of two or three coyotes, are the newly reintroduced wolves hunting in family packs. Mostly they kill old or sick bison at the outskirts of the herd.

olves surround a lone buffalo in Pelican Valley. Reintroduced in Yellowstone in 1995, wolves have increased in numbers and hunt in significant family Packs. Herds of bison are well defended—armed with heavy slashing horns—but aging bulls who travel alone and newborn calves are often victims. NPS.

Yellowstone serves as the core of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, one of the largest nearly intact natural ecosystems remaining on the planet.

Yellowstone has the most active, diverse, and intact collections of combined geothermal features with over 10,000 hydrothermal sites and half the world’s active geysers.

The park is also rich in cultural and historical resources with 25 sites, landmarks and districts on the National Register of Historic Places.

Many Native American Tribes have traditional connections to the land and its resources. Located as it is where the Great Plains, Great Basin and Columbia Plateau converge, the Park saw lots of traffic for over 10,000 years before Yellowstone became a national park.

It was a place where Native Americans came to hunt, fish, gather plants, quarry obsidian and use thermal waters for religious and medicinal purposes.

“Yellowstone’s 150th anniversary is an important moment in time for the world,” says Superintendent Cam Sholly.

“It’s an opportunity for us to reflect on the lessons of the past while focusing our efforts to strengthen Yellowstone and our many partnerships for the future.

“I applaud and share the vision of Secretary Haaland and Director Sams on our responsibility to more fully engage with Tribal Nations to honor and learn from their ancestral and modern connections to Yellowstone.”

Tribal history goes back 10,000 years or more in the Park. Tribes will join in celebrating Yellowstone Tribal Heritage Center project— including a tepee village near Mammoth.

Beginning on March 1, the park will host and participate in a wide range of activities to commemorate the 150th.

The park has already conducted substantial outreach to Native American Tribes, inviting them to participate directly in this anniversary.

Multiple Tribal Nations will be present throughout the summer at Old Faithful as part of the Yellowstone Tribal Heritage Center project.

Tribes are also coordinating with Yellowstone staff to install a large teepee village in the park near the Roosevelt Arch at Mammoth in August. There tribal members will interact directly with visitors about their cultures and heritage.
Thus, Native American history in Yellowstone Park goes back 10,000 years or more.

Exploring ‘Colter’s Hell’

The history of white explorers in the park spans less than three centuries, but is quite dramatic.

The first white man to see and describe what is now Yellowstone National Park was J ohn Colter , in 1807.

Known as the original ‘Mountain Man’—American trapper and explorer—Colter went to the area alone to find fur trading partners for Manuel Lisa among the Native Americans.

He traveled over 500 miles to explore and establish trade with the Crow nation.

When he told people about the geysers, geothermal lakes and mud pots that bubbled, spurted and erupted into the air, no one believed him. They called it ‘Colter’s Hell.’

As the first white man in Yellowstone, John Colter probably saw scenes like these bison in Lower Geyser Basin in winter. People called it “Colter’s Hell,” and did not believe him. NPS photo credit Jacob Frank.

Colter began his mountain adventures traveling with the Meriweather Lewis and William Clark party to the Pacific Ocean. A young man from Virginia with skills in the deep woods, he proved to be a trusted hunter and route finder for the expedition from 1803 to 1806.

On their return trip they met two trappers heading up the Missouri River in search of beaver furs. Lewis and Clark released Colter to lead them back to the region they had just explored.

Over the course of that winter, he explored the region that later became Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks.

He arrived back in Lisa’s fort in March or April 1808. Not only had Colter traveled hundreds of miles, much of the time unguided, he did it in the coldest part of winter.

On one occasion he was captured by warring tribes, disarmed, stripped naked and forced to run for his life—pursued by a large group of young warriors.

A fast runner, after several miles the nude and freezing Colter was exhausted and bleeding from his nose but was far ahead of most of the warriors with only one still close behind.

He managed to overcome the lone man, took his blanket for warmth and continued running ahead of the rest until he reached the Madison River, where he hid inside a beaver dam. After dark he climbed out and walked for eleven days, 200 miles, to a trader’s fort on the Little Big Horn.

In 1810, after discovering that two of his partners had been killed by hostile tribes, Colter decided to leave the wilderness for good, and returned to St. Louis. He’d been away from civilization for almost six years.

Around that time he visited with William Clark and provided valuable information of his explorations since they had last met. From this, Clark created a map which, despite certain discrepancies, was the most comprehensive map produced of the region for the next 75 years.

Colter married, had a son and purchased a farm near Miller’s Landing, Missouri, now New Haven. During the War of 1812, he enlisted and fought with Nathan ‘s Rangers but died the next year.

Known as the original ‘Mountain Man’—American trapper and explorer—Colter was born in 1775 and died in 1813 while still a young man.

Colter is best remembered for the explorations he made during the winter of 1807–1808, when he became the first known person of European descent to enter the region which later became Yellowstone National Park and was first to see the Teton Mountain Range

A Bison Hazing We Will Go!

You may like taking part in bison hazing on horseback at the end of winter.

 No, this isn’t your standard fraternity hazing, but in the wild is defined as simply herding or pushing an animal. Of course, it doesn’t physically harm the animal. It’s designed to keep roaming buffalo in their regional zones.

This annual hazing simply helps round up buffalo that have migrated outside of their native Yellowstone National Park habitats and return them to their traditional calving grounds before baby season arrives, which is typically every May or June.

This year has proved challenging, as the Montana Department of Livestock has reported a larger number of migrating bison within Zone 3, also known as the Western Management Area. This zone’s boundaries are defined as running along the South Fork of the Madison River, going around the western area of Horse Butte, heading north into Red Canyon and then returning south back into Yellowstone National Park. In fact, reports show that 40 buffalo migrated very close to Idaho’s border.

When the going gets tough and the horseback riders run into difficulty hazing the buffalo, a helicopter may be called in to help. It simply help aid human ability to further round up the returning head prior to their birthing season. Last year the deadline to have the bison returned to the park was May 15, just in time for the closed gates to reopen and welcome spring.

Bison are an interesting species. In fact, they are the largest terrestrial mammals in all of North America. Once dominating the grasslands of the U.S., estimates show that approximately 40 million bison once freely roamed our lands. However, by 1900, this number had dramatically plummeted, with just over 1,000 bison remaining.

Unfortunately, bison can only travel at a meager 30 miles per hour, which made them a hardy food source for Native Americans and white settlers.

While some bison were slaughtered for food, some were just killed for the ‘sport of it.’

Tragically, bison were killed in large numbers to simply make way for farmlands as people migrated west.

Fortunately for the remaining bison, environmental conservationists in the 1900s began breeding this species on protected lands, helping bring them back from the brink of extinction.

Adult bison live approximately 20 years in Yellowstone Park and begin giving birth when they are approximately three years of age, with males procreating at six years. (They often live much longer and calve every year on private ranches, without the large natural predators of the Park.)

Bison prefer savannas, open plains and grasslands and have a strictly herbivore diet. Constantly on the move, these massive animals are over six feet tall and weigh between 900 to 2,000 pounds.

The winter months are hard on this species, especially during unusually cold winters where grasslands are lacking and snow gets crusted. Yet buffalo have evolved to survive in this country—and most of them do.

Find your Way in Winter Wonderland

Ever walked through a winter wonderland? Visit Yellowstone National Park between November and March and you’ll likely get your chance.

 Covered in a blanket of white, the terrain looks as quiet and peaceful as it feels. Add in landscapes of steaming geysers for an ethereal feel and you’ve got a recipe for a great vacation!

Just be sure that you’re prepared. Here are some tips and dates from the Park Rangers to keep in mind.

Roads inside Yellowstone close to wheeled traffic on Nov. 8, 2021, except for the road between the North and Northeast entrances, which remain open year-round.

However, since the Beartooth Highway which leads to the East Entrance is also seasonally closed, the only way to enter the park in a vehicle during the winter season is through the North Entrance at Gardiner, Montana.

Beartooth Highway Outside of the Park at the East Entrance: Beartooth Highway (US 212, Red Lodge, Mont, to Cooke City, Mont. ) closes Oct. 12, 2021, and reopens in early May. Note: The summit of Beartooth—the only entrance from Red Lodge—is where you can throw snowballs beside the road in shirtsleeves in early June. Such fun!

A SnowCoach stops on highway for visitors to view Bison in winter at Gibbon Meadows, at a hot springs. NPS, Diane Renkin.

Road Openings to Over-Snow Travel: The park opens for winter recreation and over-snow travel in mid-December for the 2021-2022 winter. Roads will open to over-snow travel by snowmobile and snowcoach at 8 a.m. on December 15, 2021:

  • West Entrance to Old Faithful
  • Mammoth to Old Faithful
  • Canyon to Norris
  • Canyon to Yellowstone Lake
  • Old Faithful to West Thumb
  • South Entrance to Yellowstone Lake
  • Yellowstone Lake to Lake Butte Overlook
  • East Entrance to Lake Butte Overlook (Sylvan Pass)

Road Closings to Over-Snow Travel
The winter recreation season closes in March. Here are the spring 2022 closure dates. Roads will close to over-snow travel by snowmobile and snowcoach at 9 p.m. on the following dates:

  • March 6, 2022: Mammoth Hot Springs to Norris
  • March 8, 2022: Norris to Madison and Norris to Canyon Village
  • March 13, 2022: Canyon Village to Fishing Bridge
  • March 15, 2022: All remaining groomed roads


NEXT: PART 2-Yellowstone Park in Winter

Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

Canadian Bison Discover Ancient Petroglyphs

Canadian Bison Discover Ancient Petroglyphs

Eleven buffalo arrived at Wanuskewin Heritage Park in 2019. Eight months later they uncovered a petroglyph carved by human hands a thousand years ago in the paddock where they water. Photo credit Wanuskewin Heritage Park.

Bison reintroduced to Wanuskewin Heritage Park on the outskirts of Saskatoon in 2019 have uncovered—with their hooves—four 1,000-year-old rock carvings, evidence of their own history in the area, according to Diane Selkirk writing recently in the Smithsonian Magazine. (Nov 24, 2021)

The rocks were discovered by Chief Archaeologist Ernest Walker, a professor at the University of Saskatchewan.

He remembers the exact date the discovery happened—Aug 16, 2020.

Walker immediately told Wanuskewin CEO Darlene Brander about the discovery.

“(Walker) knocked on the door and he knocked in a way that I knew something was up,” Brander recalls.

“He came in and said that, ‘We found it, we found rock art.’

“My eyes got kind of big,” Brander said.

Months before, they had been talking about what Wanuskewin really needed or would like to have. And that conversation led to one thing, she said.

“Wouldn’t it be great if we had rock art?”

Walker himself was stunned by the discovery.

He listed the other artifacts that have been discovered around Wanuskewin: bison jumps, tipi rings, buried campsites, projectile points, bones, bone and stone tools, charcoal, potsherds, seeds gaming pieces, personal adornments and the most northerly medicine wheel found on the plains.

The first boulder was carved with parallel lines. “They’re a glimpse into somebody’s hopes and dreams,” said Ernie Walker who first identified the petroglyph. Credit WHP.

“What we didn’t have was rock art, and all of a sudden we’re in the rock art business.”

Both Ernie Walker and Darlene Brander made sure the next steps followed protocol and ceremony, which included consulting elders.

Rocks Fulfill an Indigenous Prophecy

The elders of the Wahpeton Dakota Nation had long prophesized that the return of Plains buffalo to their ancestral lands would portend a welcome turn of events for Canada’s First Nation peoples.

What they did not predict was that it would take just eight months after the buffalo’s arrival for this prophesy to come true.

“The elders used to tell us ‘When the bison come back, that’s when there’ll be a good change in our history,’ ” says Wahpeton Dakota Elder Cy Standing.

“We’ve been down a long time. But it feels like we are starting the way up.”

The elders called the rocks “grandfathers.”

After some discussion with them, Brander said the elders granted Wanuskewin permission to move some of them onto the site ‘so that we could share them with the world.’

She said elders and knowledge keepers were surprised and thoughtful about the discovery.

“There are no manuals that come with the petroglyphs, so really it lends itself to contemplation and thinking about spirituality and the role in culture within the different cultures within the Indigenous communities,” Brander explained.

“To see the elders experiencing that was really special.”

Indigenous peoples have a complicated relationship with traditional archaeologists.

Excavations have often been compromised by strangers who arrive, dig into important places without permission and steal sacred objects.

Days after the first discovery, Walker and his team found three more petroglyphs and the stone knife used to make the carvings. He says he thinks these discoveries are a sign the buffalo “are happy to be here.” WHP.

But after being offered a role in Wanuskewin’s development and management, the elders saw this as an opportunity to reclaim their history for their children—and share it with non-Indigenous people.

“When you come here, you can feel the energy,” says Cy Standing.

He had joined the team with Wanuskewin’s first elders and recalls attending sweat-lodge ceremonies and other events during the park’s development.

“We asked for direction and guidance [from the ancestors],” he said.

The park, which ‘was a gathering, healing and ceremonial place,’ had the potential to reconnect Indigenous people with each other, their culture, the land and the bison.

“Bison [are] very sacred to us, and in our stories we call them our brothers,” adds Standing.

The stone knife used to carve the newly discovered petroglyphs was found buried nearby, 10 centimetres below the surface. WHP.

Everything about Wanuskewin centers on the plains bison.

But for the park’s first 35 years, the animals only existed in oral history and as bones and artifacts recovered from the park’s 19 pre–European contact archaeological sites in the area.

Then in 2019, as part of a $40 million dollar expansion, six female calves were brought in from Grasslands National Park to help establish the buffalo herd at Wanuskewin, as well as four pregnant females and a mature bull from Yellowstone National Park.

Only months after the 11 buffalo arrived—after almost 40 years of human-led archaeological excavations—the bison unearthed the park’s first petroglyphs.

“We’d found the detritus of everyday living: broken stone tools and debris from the manufacture of stone tools. Things like that,” Walker says.

“But [we] didn’t find ideas. [We] didn’t find emotions. The petroglyphs brought that. They’re that other dimension. … They’re a glimpse into somebody’s hopes and dreams.”

Staff invited park elders in to see the petroglyphs and offer advice on spiritual guidance and a management plan for the boulders.

Though the First Nations believe that all rocks are sacred and shouldn’t be moved, in this case, the elders felt that moving the boulders to protect them and to share them with the world would be acceptable, says Standing.

In Indigenous culture, the hoofprint tradition revolves around the feminine, fertility and renewal.

Pointing to a little tailed spirit figure in the center of the ribstone, as the first stone was called, Walker says the surface of the rock acts like a curtain or a screen between the physical and supernatural.

He adds, “The little figure’s tail is going into the crack in the rock. It’s meant to portray a passage from this world to the supernatural world.”

Like Walker, Standing acknowledges the fortuitous nature of the bison’s discovery of the petroglyphs.

Cy Standing says the petroglyphs help tell Native people—and especially children—about the good life they had when there were great herds of buffalo running free. He suggests that knowing this can help them move ahead. WHP.

 “You know, we don’t really know our history. We have oral history,” he says, “but all the books were written after contact. [The petroglyphs] show us more.

He wants people to understand that the petroglyphs come from thousands of years ago, when the Native people were living well and cared for themselves and their tribe without outside help.

“We had a good life. Our children need to know that so they can go forward.”

Walker’s Discovery in the Paddock

Archaeologist Ernie Walker and bison manager Craig Thoms made the find last summer while visiting the park.

They were out feeding the bison at the paddock. Standing near a wallow—a bare spot where the buffalo give themselves dust baths—about 800 meters west of the Wanuskewin building.

Walker looked down at the ground where the bison had been rolling and noticed a grooved rock protruding through the dirt, according to Laura Woodward, reporting on CTV News Saskatoon, Nov. 19, 2021.  

“I just happened to look down at my feet and there was a boulder protruding, partly protruding, through the ground and it had a kind of strange groove over the top of it,” Walker recalled.

He said at the time he thought the groove may have just been damage. Assuming the cut was from tool damage, he brushed away the dirt, only to expose another groove and then another.

“They were all parallel, all symmetrical,” he says.

Walker brushed at the grooves.

Carvings on the petroglyphs are dated at between 300 and 1,800 years ago, with a probable age of around 1,000 years old. WHP.

 “I was trying not to have a heart attack because I hadn’t expected it,” Walker told reporters at the rock unveiling.

“It was at that point I realized this [was] actually what is known as a petroglyph. This was intentionally carved.”

“The interesting thing is the bison were the ones that actually partially uncovered it because we’re in their paddock, where they water. They have to pass through this paddock going from one pasture to another.

“So they do spend quite a bit of time there. They will wallow. They will give themselves dust baths, and they had denuded most of the vegetation.

“They were responsible for showing us these buried boulders,” Walker added.

“They’re just very happy to be here.”

The ribstone is currently on display at the park’s interpretive center.

The park received a letter from the Saskatchewan Archaeological Society—after submitting their findings—which attests that the carvings on the rocks are indeed the result of cultural modification.

“The placement and alignment of the carved images could not be created any other way,” executive director of the Archaeological Society Tomasin Playford wrote.

Brander said this was an extra layer of verification that supported Walker’s expertise.

She said this kind of support is really important for the park’s UNESCO World Heritage designation.

The park was named to the tentative list in 2017 and is still awaiting official designation.

She said that if it was anyone else who came across the rock the day Walker did, they may have just walked on by.

Brander calls the petroglyphs the final piece that makes Wanuskewin unique in the world.

Some of the petroglyphs they found were large boulders; others smaller rocks. WHP.

Walker says the carving resembles the bones of a bison and represents fertility.

He believes Indigenous people carved the rock more than a thousand years ago.

He had surveyed the area in the 1980s and didn’t find anything. Not until the bison themselves brought it to the surface.

“They uncovered it, just with their normal activity,” Walker says.

Is this a sign the buffalo like living here?

Walker thinks so.

“I like to think it’s their message that they’re happy to be here.”

Days after the first ribstone discovery, Walker and his team found three more petroglyphs.

To their surprise, they also found the tool used to make the carvings. A stone knife was found adjacent to it about 10 centimetres below the surface.

“This is a stone tool, no question. It had been used and re-sharpened.

 “When I measured the width of the cutting edge of the stone knife, it’s the same width as the grooves on the rock,” Walker said.

“This is tremendously significant and very unusual,” Walker says of finding the knife.

The archaeologist says it is rare to find the carving tool.

“You never get that,” he says.

“Whoever did that, left it there or misplaced it, probably over a thousand years ago. I like to think it’s their business card. They left their business card here.”

“It’s significant and monumental,” Brander says.

The petroglyphs and carving tool are secured in glass, on display in the park’s building.

Petroglyphs are carvings, engravings or incisions into a rock, Walker explained.

He said rock art can be found around the world and in the northern plains. There are about nine different styles.

Walker said the four petroglyphs found are carved in the hoofprint tradition, most common in southern Alberta, southern Saskatchewan, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana and Wyoming.

It’s called hoofprint because instead of engraving a whole bison onto a rock, which would take a lot of work, Indigenous Peoples engraved just the split hooves, Walker said.

“So it’s very metaphorical. Those hooves represent a bison.”

From ethnographic information, Walker said there are three things involved with the hoofprint tradition: femaleness, fertility, and renewal.

“And it has to do with bison. It’s about the sacred relationship between females and bison.”

From the spot where the petroglyphs were found, it’s a straight, 380 yards across the Saskatchewan grassland to the edge of some of the steepest cliffs that line the park’s Opimihaw Creek valley.

Formed about 7,000 years ago—after the recession of the Wisconsin glacier—the 130- to 160-foot drop from the edge of the surrounding prairie to the valley bottom was identified by nomadic Indigenous peoples as an ideal buffalo jump once used in hunting.

The site attracted almost every pre–European contact group in the region.

For thousands of years, Blackfoot, Cree, Ojibwa, Assiniboine, Nakota and Dakota people following the migrating bison found food and shelter at the fertile confluence of the South Saskatchewan River and Opimihaw Creek.

They left behind ample evidence of habitation and—after Europeans and Métis arrived in the region as part of the fur trade in the 1860s—metal implements such as gun cartridges and a strike light.

“Everybody was here at some point,” says Walker of the site’s almost continuous, 6,000-year occupation.

Then came Treaty Six, an 1876 agreement between the English crown and Indigenous representatives that opened up the land for white settlement by promising every Indigenous family of five one square mile of land.

After its passage, First Nations people were, ‘of course . . . moved off to reserves’ away from their traditional nomadic migration routes, Walker adds.

Around that same time, hunting decimated the bison population, leaving no wild bison in Canada by 1888, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society.

With the bison and people gone, the land that now forms the park became a small, private ranch and homestead owned by white settlers.

These new residents first received a sign that the property was home to something special in the 1930s, when a medicine wheel, a healing landmark consisting of a central stone cairn and an outer ring of rocks, as well as multiple smaller cairns, was rediscovered.

Bison Return after More than 100 years

It has been nearly 150 years since Plains bison have grazed on the land where Wanuskewin Heritage Park now stands.

The buffalo brought in from Grasslands National Park and Yellowstone National Park involved a partnership—between Parks Canada, Wanuskewin and Yellowstone National Park in the US.

All the buffalo have pure Plains bison genes and will replicate the species that once roamed the Prairies, according to Kyle Benning of the local Global News on Jan 17, 2020.

“Bison almost became extinct. There were less than 1,000 animals in the late 1800s. They’ve come back, but of course, there are questions of genetic purity and all these sorts of things,” said Walker.

Wanuskewin said the grasslands of North America are among the most endangered biomes in the world, and by bringing bison back into the fold, they will be able to restore native grasses and hopefully re-establish the species.

The park’s chief executive officer said bringing in the animals could help in its bid to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site and will help provide world-class programming at the park.

“And the ability to draw people from all over the world to the park. Having a … species like the bison here is just a wonderful opportunity,” Darlene Brander said.

Wanuskewin also received a $5-million donation from the Brownlee Family Foundation which is going towards the conservation effort and making sure the bison thrive.

The park’s leadership said it has been thinking about bringing the animals back to roam the area for decades, but funding and administrative hurdles proved to be difficult.

“I’m sure our elders from the early 1980s, wherever they are, are smiling. We did it. We came through for them 40 years later,” Walker added.

The plan is to eventually have a herd of 50 bison in Wanuskewin Park.

Discovery of Carving Promotes UNESCO Angle

The park’s chief executive officer Darlene Brander said bringing bison to the site could help in its bid to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site and will help provide world-class programming at the park.

Wanuskewin is in the process of getting recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

New baby bison born to a cow from Yellowstone National Park grazes contentedly in a field at Wanuskewin Heritage Park. WHP.

With the rare discovery of the petroglyphs, Brander says Wanuskewin is one step closer to reaching the designation.

“It’s significant and monumental,” Brander says.

She says petroglyphs were the missing puzzle piece in their UNESCO application.

The petroglyphs and carving tool are secured in glass, on display in the park’s building.

Verification of each step is also important for the park’s UNESCO World Heritage designation.

The park was named to the tentative list in 2017 and is still awaiting official recognition.

There are 20 World Heritage sites in Canada. None of them in Saskatchewan.

The first hint that this place was home to something special came in the 1930s, when a medicine wheel, a healing landmark consisting of a central stone cairn and an outer ring of rocks, as well as multiple smaller cairns, was researched.

“The story goes that professors from the University of Saskatchewan used to come out and have tea parties on Sunday afternoons at the medicine wheel,” Walker says.

An archaeological dig in 1946 and another small excavation in 1965 followed, but it wasn’t until the 1980s that the land’s archaeological wealth was recognized and a serendipitous series of events saved the site from being developed into condos.

As Walker and the park’s other founders sought funding and made plans in the early 1980s, they realized that a heritage park focusing on First Nations culture and history needed to include First Nations people in the planning.

Walker reached out to a friend, the late Hilliard McNab, an elder from George Gordon First Nation, for guidance.

“He said, ‘This place wants to tell its story,’” the archaeologist recalls.

McNab helped find other elders who wanted to be involved in the project and the archaeologists reached out to them as well.

Brander says the petroglyphs are the final piece that makes Wanuskewin unique in the world.

Wanuskewin hopes to become a UNESCO World Heritage site by 2025.


NEXT: Bison in Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

Can you Find Buffalo Trails where You Live?

Can you Find Buffalo Trails where You Live?

Several bison trails (dips in road) crossing at right angles a beach ridge of ancient Lake Agassiz in Pennington County, Minnesota, near the northeast edge of the mid-continent grassland and the northeast edge of the former bison range. Fence is along crest of beach ridge. Photo from Lee Clayton.

We know that thousands of buffalo roamed across the face of the Great Plains in ancient times.

Where we live, in the northern plains of western North Dakota, they’ve been hunted for at least the past 7000 years—and likely grazed here for many more thousands before humans arrived.

They migrated across hills and valleys, sometimes stampeding in great herds, running for miles, such as during the rumbling thunderstorms and crashing lightning that lit up the skies.

When they ran—and even when they plodded along in great herds, grazing as they went—over hills, ridges and valleys—when the ground was wet they made deep trails in soft ground.

Then they walked away, only to return in another season, often following the same old trails.

The trails grew deeper and wider. Sometimes buffalo trails dominated the terrain so powerfully they changed the course of waterways.

Now geologists—and ordinary people like you and me—are finding buffalo trails in many places across North Dakota and the rest of the plains and prairies.

How do they find them?

Early homesteaders noted them first and some correctly identified them as buffalo trails and passed that knowledge down to their descendants who still work the land.

So if you’d like to find out where buffalo trails are in your area, start by asking old-timers and listen to what they have to say.

Some local people—ranchers, pilots and people with an interest in history—already know where there are honest-to-goodness buffalo trails.

And there are probably many more just awaiting our discovery.

If you do find any, please pass that on to us! We’d love to be able to share some of these ancient buffalo trails with our community—perhaps our Dakota Buttes Visitors Council can add them to our tours!

Here are ‘best ways’ to find Buffalo Trails:

  • In Spring when the grass is short (or winter days between times of snow cover)
  • Throughout the plains and prairies in pasture lands which have not been plowed
  • In soft and permeable soil (where rainfall soaks in readily—instead of draining off, which erodes slopes and destroys trails)
  • The trails are like trenches, about 3 feet deep—but on steeper slopes may be 9 to 12ft deep. As wide as 6 to 60 ft across—typically 15 to 30 feet. Stretched out invarying lengths depending on soil and terrain—may be as much as ½ mile long
  • In some areas trenches show up in combination with higher ridges of topsoil as if clumps of dirt have been kicked up and gobs of mud released after being stuck to hooves
  • Where they cross depressions the trenches may be replaced by ridges
  • Trails are usually straight or slightly curved
  • They may run parallel to prevailing winds—such as on the diagonal from Northwest to Southeast
  • May lead around bogs, to water or salty areas (?)
  • The trenches tend to cross ridges, small hills and valleys
  • They might be identified on hikes, from high points, low-flying airplanes or on Google maps

A North Dakota geologist who wrote about Bison Trails in North Dakota is John P. Bluemle. He was employed by the North Dakota Geological Survey from 1962 and served as ND State Geologist 14 years from 1990 until 2004.

Bluemle wrote the following report and says he adapted much of the content from an article by Lee Clayton: Bison trails and their Geologic Significance published in the national magazine Geology, Sep 1975.

John Bluemle worked with the North Dakota Geological Survey for 28 years from 1962, then spent 14 years as ND State Geologist, from 1990 to 2004.

Bison Trails in North Dakota: a Geological Survey

by John P. Bluemle

ND Geological Survey logo.

An unusual kind of landform found in several places in North Dakota was created by once huge herds of bison. The bison trampled shallow grooves across the prairie, forming trails that appear as lines on air photos.

These bison trails were first recognized in North Dakota in the 1960s by former University of North Dakota geologist, Lee Clayton.

The trails are shallow grooves or trenches, generally a few feet deep, several feet wide, and several hundred feet long. Where they cross narrow depressions, the trails sometimes change to low ridges.

The ridges probably formed as sediment [solid fragmented material such as gravel transported and deposited by wind, water, or ice] tracked downslope by thousands of hooves.

Bison trails are common throughout the grasslands of the northern plains, and, in fact, many have been misinterpreted as bedrock joints [a brittle area of a large rock body with pressure-induced fractures with the same orientation] or glacial features such as a small washboard ridge that forms from material along the leading edge of a glacier.

Bison trails are straight or gently curved, and they show up on aerial photographs as dark lines. The trails tend to be parallel to high-relief features such as bluffs and steep slopes, and otherwise they typically trend northwest to southeast, parallel to the prevailing wind directions.

 The trails were probably formed when large numbers of bison converged on water holes or were funneled along a particular path by the constraints of topography.

Bison Trails in the Denbigh Bog area in the old channel of the Souris River, about eight miles southeast of Denbigh in McHenry County. The arrow points to the bison trails along the eastern edge of the bog area. [Arrow is in upper ¼ th of photo, right of center.] The trails oriented mainly north-south, apparently a result of bison tending to walk around the edge of the bog. Bluemle.

The trails are best preserved where they cross areas of sandy soil, such as gravel deposits from glacial melt, perhaps because such soils are more permeable, allowing precipitation to infiltrate the soil rather than run off, eroding the slope and trails.

Even so, I have seen similar trails that cross areas of glacial till [till deposited mainly from glacial mudflows].

Bison trails around a southeast bend of Souris River flood plain in McHenry County, North Dakota. Hachured line [rectangle near top] marks the bluff at edge of flood plain.

In areas of low relief, as in parts of the Red River Valley, the grooves or trenches tend to lie parallel to the prevailing wind directions, which throughout much of North Dakota was from the northwest (in winter) and southeast (in summer).

In areas of medium to high relief, the orientation of the grooves is controlled by the local topography. The grooves tend to cross medium-relief features such as ridges, small hills, and valleys. The grooves tend to be parallel to higher relief bluffs and steep slopes.

The features appear to be restricted to grassland areas of the interior of North America. They occur throughout North Dakota, to the forest edge in western Minnesota, in much of eastern Montana and Wyoming, in most of South Dakota, and in southern Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta.

Could these ‘Bison trails’ have an alternative geologic explanation? 

For example, the trench-like features had earlier been interpreted as representing bedrock joints and faults. They have also been interpreted as glacial disintegration trenches, a kind of long, narrow depression resulting from the melting of an ice-cored crevasse filling.

The disintegration-trench hypothesis became untenable, however, when the trenches were found in southwestern North Dakota, beyond the limit of glaciation.

Furthermore, the ridged portion of the features consists of thick topsoil, not fluvial sand and gravel as would be required were they disintegration trenches. A bison-trail origin seems to best explain the features.

Bison trails changing from trenches to ridges where trails cross a shallow depression in a proglacial fluvial [sediments formed from glacial river runoff] plain in northwest corner, Kidder County. North Dakota. From Clayton and Freers, who mistakenly called them disintegration trenches. [a kind of long, narrow depression resulting from the melting of a glacial crevasse] Blue color—depression. Brown color—buffalo trail ridge.

Observation of cattle trails on steep slopes has suggested an explanation for the ridged portion of the features. Clumps of dirt are kicked along the trail by the walking cattle, and globs of mud stick to their hooves.

On a sloping trail, the clumps tend to be worked downhill. This results in transport of material down the path and produces a ridge at the base of the slope in continuity with the trench.

Did bison actually make the trails?

Many nineteenth-century travelers commented on the abundance of bison trails on the Great Plains. In 1846, Francis Parkman noted bison trails near the Platte River, as did General J. F. Rusling. According to Alexander Henry the Younger, bison trails were abundant in northeastern North Dakota.

Why should bison trails be restricted to highly permeable soil?

On slightly permeable soil, most of the precipitation runs off, eroding the hillslopes and destroying trails. On highly permeable soil, most of the precipitation infiltrates, resulting in only slight slope—wash erosion. For this reason, bison trails have been preserved mainly in areas of permeable, coarse soil.

Where were the bison going? Why do the trails tend to be oriented northwest-southeast, parallel to prevailing wind?

Perhaps they were watering trails [trails made by range cattle generally lead to water]. The bison may have located water by the downwind odor of water or vegetation growing next to the water.

Or, perhaps, the reaction of the bison to the wind itself, rather than the odor, was the cause. Perhaps seasonal migration routes controlled their direction.

Bison trails are of interest to geologists for two reasons: (1) they may be confused with geologic features, and (2) they may have influenced drainage patterns.

Bison trails can be distinguished from joints and faults in that ridges tend to represent trails where they cross depressions. Trails can be distinguished from normal stream-eroded gullies by the tendency of trails to cross over hills and through depressions.

Small stream valleys throughout much of the Great Plains are aligned parallel to the prevailing wind direction.

A possible reason is the initiation of gullies by wind or bison trails.

Small gullies are commonly initiated where runoff water [and wind erosion] has been concentrated in cattle trails, so it seems probable that a pattern of bison trails like that would result in gullies and small valleys oriented parallel to the prevailing wind.

Obviously, many trails in North Dakota have been enlarged by gullying. However, the magnitude of this influence is difficult to evaluate because bison trails are preserved mainly in areas of permeable soils where erosion has been slight.

In areas of less-permeable soils, where gullying has been extensive, all trace of bison trails has presumably been eroded away during the past century (since the demise of the bison).

(Report by John Buemle, with additional comments and explanation in brackets from Dr. John Joyce, Hettinger, ND.)

Happy hunting!


Beaty, C. B., 1975, Coulee alignment and the wind in southern Alberta, Canada: Geological Society of American Bulletin, v. 86, p. 119 – 128.

Bluemle, J. P., 2000, The face of North Dakota, Third Edition: North Dakota Geological Survey Educational Series 26, 205 p.

Branch, E. D., 1962, The hunting of the buffalo: Lincoln, University of Nebraska Press, 240 p.

Clayton, Lee, 1970a, Olfactory factors in landscape evolution: North Dakota Academy of Science Proceedings, v. 24, p. 4

Clayton, Lee, 1970b, Bison trails and their geologic significance: Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs, v. 2, p. 381.

Clayton, Lee, 1975, Bison trails and their geologic significance: Geology, p. 498 – 500.

Coues, Elliott, ed., 1965, The manuscript journals of Alexander Henry…: Minneapolis, Ross and Haines, 1027 p.

Mollard, J. D., 1957, Aerial mosaics reveal fracture patters on surface materials in southern Saskatchewan and Manitoba: Oil in Canada, August 5, p. 26 – 48.

Zakrzewska, Barbara, 1965, Valley grooves in northwestern Kansas: Great Plains Journal, v. 5, no. 1, p. 12-25.

NEXT: Part 2: Crossbreeding Buffalo with Cattle in Canada


Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

Seasons Greetings

We had planned to bring you Part 2 of Crossbreeding Bison with Cattle—the Canadian experiments—for this week of Dec 28.

But with all the activities and closures of the holidays we were unable to get the research information we needed, so will be postponing Part 2 for awhile.

For now, we hope you were able to celebrate a good family Christmas—despite the problems getting together that many of us have had—and we wish you a happy, happy New Year throughout all of 2022!

We’ll meet with you again on January 11, 2022. That’s when our blog asks the question  Can you Find Buffalo Trails where You Live?”

Francie M Berg
Ronda Fink

Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

Crossbreeding Buffalo in U.S.—Part 1

Crossbreeding Buffalo in U.S.—Part 1

Are they Cattalo, Catalo, Hybrids or Beefalo?

This catalo is likely from a cross between a Buffalo bull and polled Angus cow. The offspring are born with random markings and conformation, this one turned out extra hairy with dark cape-like covering and slim hind quarters.

Cattlemen of the old west who struggled with cold and blizzards looked at the mighty monarchs of the Plains with admiration and considerable envy.

“Wouldn’t it be great,” they said, “To raise beef animals with the hardiness and smarts of the buffalo, which could still produce the large beef cuts from the tenderloin and hips of fat beef cattle?”

Surely that would be the best of both worlds! It sounded good. And amazingly simple.

From the beginning many people have attempted to crossbreed the two species.

Today crossbreeding—as beefalo—is again experiencing a resurgence in the health food market.

During the bison population bottleneck, after the great slaughter of buffalo during the 1800s, the number of bison remaining alive in North America declined to as low as 800, according to David A. Dary in his (Ital) Buffalo Book, 1989.

A handful of ranchers gathered remnants of the existing herds to save the species from extinction. Some thought it would be important to breed a few bison with cattle in an effort to produce more cattle with the hardiness of bison. Accidental crossings were also known to occur when buffalo cows ran with beef cattle.

Two early crossbreeders were Buffalo Jones of Kansas and Charlie Goodnight of the Texas Panhandle, both pioneer buffalo ranchers who rescued wild buffalo calves.

In northwestern Texas, Charles Goodnight ran big herds of cattle, 148 buffalo and 35 cattalo, the latter being a cross between the wild buffalo and the domestic polled [without horns] Angus cattle. The cross—when a rare calf was born, did not have horns.

In summing up his cattalo efforts Goodnight said: “I have been able to produce in the breed the extra rib of the buffalo, making 14 on each side, while ordinary cattle have only 13 ribs on each side. They make a larger and hardier animal, require less feed, and longer lived, and will cut a greater percent of net meat than any breed of cattle.

“No one knows how long a buffalo will live. I have had a buffalo cow more than 28 years old which produced a calf. The cattaloes are a decided success. They will carry their young and make beef at any season of the year.

“The buffalo, and the cattalo as well, never drifts with a storm, and knowing the road home goes there in the face of the worst blizzard.

“The buffalo has better manners than the domestic animal. For example, does not muddy the water of a pool or stream when it drinks, stepping up to the edge of the water only, and never stepping in.

“I believe it will only be a matter of time until they will be used on all the western ranges.”

However, he added, “Buffalo and domestic cattle will not mix in the same herd or be at all neighborly unless grown up together from calfhood.”

Buffalo Jones’ Grandiose Claims

Buffalo Jones was even more enthusiastic than Goodnight.

In his book Buffalo Jones 40 years of Adventure, published in 1899, Jones wrote in glowing terms of his beloved crossbreds.

It all started, he said, while travelling through the plains after a terrible blizzard that fateful winter of 1886, when he saw thousands of dead cattle carcasses. 

“When I reached the habitat of the buffalo, not one of their carcasses was visible, except those which had been slain by hunters.  Every animal I came across was as nimble and wiry as a fox!” he wrote.

“I thought to myself, ‘Why not domesticate the buffalo which can endure such a blizzard, defying storms which would destroy cattle?’

“Why not infuse this hardy blood into our native cattle and have a perfect animal, one that will defy all these elements?

“Catalo are produced by crossing the male buffalo with the domestic cow. Yet the best and surest method is the reverse of this [domestic bull with buffalo cow].

“Only the first cross is difficult to secure. After that they are unlike the mule, for they are as fertile as either the cattle or buffalo. They breed readily with either strain of the parent race—the females especially.

“It is very difficult to secure a male catalo. I have never been able to raise but one half-breed bull and he was accidentally killed before becoming serviceable.

“The half-breeds are much larger than their progenitors of either side, the cows weighing from 1200 to 1500 pounds.

“Major Bedson of Manitoba, succeeded in raising a male half-breed, but unfortunately made a steer of him when young. At 5 years old he was butchered, and dressed 1280 pounds—equivalent to a live weight of 2480 pounds.

“The quarter and three-quarter buffalo are not so large as the half-blood. About the same size as ordinary good cattle.

“The fur of the three-quarter and seven-eighths buffalo makes the finest robes. This fur is perfectly compact and when bred from the black strain of cattle is as handsome as that of the black beaver.

“Some of the half-bloods are excellent milkers, yielding a fair quantity of milk, which is as rich as that of the Jersey. The nearer they approach the full-blood buffalo, the less quantity is produced, but the milk is correspondingly richer, as the milk of the full-blooded buffalo cow is richer than the Jersey’s.

Many cattle breed crosses were attempted over the years, including a Brahmalo—the offspring of a Brahman cow and a buffalo bull from Afton, Oklahoma. It was said to grow a buffalo coat in winter and sheds to a Brahman hide in summer.

“The catalo are quiet animals, so long as you keep hands off. They are good feeders, have excellent appetites and are invariably in excellent flesh, though fed on any kind of provender. I have successfully wintered them on the range without any artificial food or shelter, as far north as Lake Winnipeg. They withstood the cold when the mercury reached 50 degrees below zero, without artificial food or shelter.

“I have succeeded in crossing with almost all the different breeds of cattle, but the Galloway is unquestionably the safest, most satisfactory and produces the finest and best robes.

“The catalo inherit more of the traits of the buffalo than of the domestic cattle. They face the blizzards and when the first of the unwelcome storms appears in early winter, the domestic cow and her calf bid adieu to each other. The cow drifting with the storm—while the calf faces the blizzard and follows the buffalo herd.

“They all have solid colors—they are either black, seal brown, brindle or white. I never saw or heard of a spotted catalo. They are somewhat inclined to be cross, and when the cows have young calves at their sides are exceptionally so.

Cow might be brindle—or white face if from a Hereford mating. Hair was claimed by Buffalo Jones to be ‘as handsome as that of the black beaver.’

“After all my experiments in crossbreeding, I feel confident it can be made successful if the right class of cows is secured and they receive the proper treatment—without which none can hope for success.

“I did not only make a failure, but two or three of them. Yet by persistent efforts succeeded in a remarkable degree in producing the very kind of animal my imagination dwelt upon while in western Texas in 1886.”

Another claim—apparently quoting Jones himself—reported, “Buffalo Jones has made a thorough study of the habits of these animals, and by careful experiments in crossing with native cattle has produced a race which he calls the catalo, a magnificent creature.

“The head is less clumsy, the hump less prominent, and the hinder parts more symmetrical than in the buffalo.

Sometimes the head was less clumsy, the hump lower in a cross, but not always. This photo came from Elk Island in Canada.

“The catalo is far superior to the domestic animal for beef. Steaks cut from its dressed carcass are delicious, and it has been proved that 100 pounds more of porterhouse steak can be cut from the dressed catalo than from the ordinary steer.

Buffalo Jones developed a unique theory, which seemed reasonable to many. Ideal crosses would be to breed one fourth buffalo for southern ranges, one half for the great plains, and a hardier three-quarters buffalo to live in the far north.

Many Names: But do They Matter?

Jones also coined the label ‘Catalo’—spelled to give 3 letters of the alphabet to each species, he said. Others later changed it to ‘Cattalo,’ as being plainer for pronunciation. The Canadians generally called their crossbreeds ‘Hybrid.’

It is said the term Cattalo is defined in the U.S. as a cross of bison and cattle which have a bison appearance, while In Canada, cattalo was used for hybrids of all degrees and appearance.

Still later, a new generation created the name ‘Beefalo,’ and started several organizations—which eventually joined forces as
the American Beefalo Association.

After nearly 150 years of crossbreeding this group now tells us, ‘The perfect balance has been found’ in 3/8th’s Bison and 5/8th’s domestic cattle. They apparently define a full Beefalo as one with 3/8ths (37.5%) bison genetics and animals with higher percentages of bison genetics as ‘bison hybrids.’

Beefalo brings a name change, but the same old claims are on display. Sure enough, this new cross allows ‘all the best qualities of both animals to be present.’ Can you beat that?

But who cares? It doesn’t matter, does it? Aren’t all these terms created for the purpose of appearing fresh, new and viable?

“It is claimed that the crossed breed combines the docility of the domestic animal with the endurance and the large size of the bison, and that the half-breeds grow to maturity in less time than domestic cattle.

“The flesh, also, is said to be very palatable, and the fur, while retaining all the good qualities of that of the bison, is much softer and finer.”

Less Glowing Reports

The Logansport Reporter, Indiana, back on Jan. 14 1898, had issued a warning, “One of the alleged successful experiments is located on a cattle farm a few miles south of Durrant Wis., where, it is said, three bison captured a few years ago have, by cross-breeding, increased to a herd of 43 animals; and the owners of the herd believe that an extension of their method of cross-breeding will bring them a fortune in the near future.

“The statement, however, has not been received with much favor by cattle dealers, who are aware of the ill success of several similar experiments during recent years.”

Perhaps Buffalo Jones’s catalo existed mostly in his dreams, charges Larry Barsness in his 1995 book (ital) Heads, Hides and Horns.

He reports that Jones in 1887 turned two-year-old immature buffalo bulls in with his Galloway cows, hoping for a hybrid calf crop—no calves resulted. The next year he reported 80 or 90 pregnant cows—but only produced 2 calves.

“Worse, 30 of the cows had died giving birth or before. But he cruelly kept on experimenting. He believed larger domestic cows would survive birth more successfully. When they continued to die he went on breeding.”

Barsness charges that most of Jones’ so-called catalo were purchased to save time in breeding and he actually bred catalo for only six years or so. Then he went broke and had to sell his hybrid herd five years after he’d bought it.

“Hardly time enough to allow him to become the catalo expert newspaper and magazine stories made him out to be. Jones didn’t deserve his reputation as a catalo breeder; his bad luck cut off his breeding experiments.”

Jones had run up against major difficulties. “First, too many domestic cows die; no cattlemen can stay in business losing a third of his calf-bearers each season. Second, surviving cows often abort bull calves or bear them dead. Third, any live bull calf often proves sterile.”

Barsness says others experienced these same losses of pregnant cows. Charles Allard gave up trying to raise cattalo on Flathead Lake, Montana, because he lost too many cows. Rutherford Stuyvesant gave up when 19 of his Galloway cows died calving. PE McKilip in Kansas quit after 10 years for the same reason.

The cross of a buffalo cow with a domestic bull (versus a buffalo bull and a domestic cow) kills fewer cows but the bulls were generally afraid of the hairy cows and kept away unless raised together with them from birth, he says.

No one knew then why the large death losses. Promoters likely tried to excuse or ignore it.

So is Fraud Involved?

While many ranchers still hope for a cross that works, a scent of fraud pervades.

The Logansport Reporter, Indiana, in 1898 published a story that noted: One of the most successful buffalo breeders was that of the late Austin Corbin, the local banker and railroad magnate.

“Austin Corbin, son of the original owner of the herd, when asked for his opinion as to the probability of successful crossbreeding of the buffalo with domestic cattle, said:

“It may be possible, but guided by a knowledge of experiments made by my father. I would require very strong proof of the fact before believing that it has been, or can be done with success.

“At the suggestion of the Duke of Marlborough, my father, several years ago, imported a herd of [30] Polled-Angus cattle from Scotland, for the purpose of cross-breeding with the bison on our cattle farm at Newport, NH. The conditions were most favorable, as the bison were thoroughly acclimated and had largely increased in numbers, but the attempt at crossbreeding was almost a total failure.

“The result was so unsatisfactory that the experiment was abandoned.

“The only successful attempts at crossbreeding that I have heard of was that of Buffalo Jones, owner of an extensive cattle range in New Mexico. When he was here, some five years ago, Jones claimed that his experiment had been a success.

“But when I saw him last, six months ago. I judged from his unwillingness to discuss the crossbreeding of bison that his experiment had not continued to be successful.”

A female with large forequarters and hump at Wainwright experiment station in Canada.

Buffalo Jones went bankrupt and had to sell out. But he went down gallantly declaring—just a little more time and his crossbreds would have made him a fortune!

As Jones put it, “If I’d just had more time, this would be a Million dollar herd.”

‘Didn’t turn out very well’

Sometime after the first heyday of beefalo struck our community in the 1980s I was visiting with a friend who’s family had purchased beefalo semen from a relative.

His uncle was promoting it–I believe, as a way to get wealthy—in much the Buffalo Jones manner. (If he just had more time . . . as he went broke!)

When I asked my friend about their experience, he replied briefly that “It didn’t turn out very well.”

I didn’t press him for details. And he didn’t offer any. Obviously, his family hadn’t become rich.

Today there’s a resurgence of the Beefalo A.I. adventure, along with higher prices for buffalo beef and the special attraction of ‘organic health foods.’

It’s easy to artificially inseminate a few cows—or half the herd—without a thought for the possibility of dangerously incompatable fluids.

Consider this: Every state in the U.S. has several well-paid cattle experts and researchers. Most states also employ experts on horses, pigs, sheep and some even goats and poultry.

But in the US, does any state experiment station employ Bison researchers? I don’t think so.

This is not to say that bison ranchers are not hard-working men and women who make valuable contributions to the rural economy and to the conservation of bison. They are!

It is through the work of farmers, ranchers, conservationists and policy makers that buffalo have been brought from the brink of extinction to a healthy 400,000 head in North America today. Most of these bison are on commercial buffalo ranches.

Still, every Bison rancher is more or less on his or her own to find their own way. They learn from each other—and from the Bison organizations they belong to. Good for them, but it’s not enough!

Why haven’t disinterested researchers been giving the breeders facts? These producers are in business, and they need to know the research.

Recently there’s hope that more facts are on the way soon—with the new Center of Excellence on Bison developing at South Dakota State University. That science should be worth waiting for!!

Learning the facts about crossbreeding buffalo should also be interesting. I hope they’ll add that to the plan for research.

My observations on the dilemma of crossbreeding

The difficulty has always been that most of those who raise and market crossbred bison have a ‘dog in the race.’ And that’s been true since early times when this all started—at least 150 years ago. Fact is, promoters cannot be relied on to tell the whole truth, barnacles and all, which is needed.

But Buffalo ranchers and would-be crossbreeders deserve to know the truth from the start.

Up until now, U.S. research on buffalo has not involved disinterested agricultural researchers. Of course, marketers and promoters tend to be biased—we should expect that. Some certainly tell wild tales about their amazing beefalo and cattalo as did Buffalo Jones.

 They find ways to ignore or excuse the infertile bulls, high death rates of mothers and calves, and the ungainly-shaped offspring they sometimes produce. Instead of the boasted ‘best of both species,’ offspring may be even more likely to harbor the worst of both.

But what about the Canadian researchers?  They did a lot of weighing and testing through their 50 years of research. They must have found some answers.


NEXT: Crossbreeding Buffalo in Canada-Part 2; Great Hopes for Northern Canada

Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

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