Yellowstone: Visitors’ Most Bizarre Questions

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Park employees report the most forehead-slapping queries from tourists

Posted by: Yellowstone National Park on November 5, 2018

“What time do you let the animals out of their cages?” a tourist once asked Robert Barron, a reservations call center supervisor.

Tourists ask the darnedest things. Just ask anyone who works in the industry, including staffers in Yellowstone National Park who work for the Xanterra Travel Collection, which manages the lodges.

Curious questions from travelers are so common, in fact, that the American Association of Travel Advisors routinely surveys its members for memorable ones.

Among some forehead-slapping doozies:

  • When do they turn on the Northern Lights?
  • Is there a toll road to Hawaii?
  • Does the crew actually sleep on the cruise ship?

We asked Xanterra’s Yellowstone employees to share some memorable queries that left them scratching their heads. Not surprisingly, some of the more naïve questions come from visitors who can’t wrap their minds around the notion of free-roaming wildlife.

Bison Calf

Wondering About Wildlife

“What time do you let the animals out of their cages?” a tourist once asked Robert Barron, a reservations call center supervisor.

Facility program manager Chris Desborough received effusive thanks from a woman who wondered, “Where do you keep all the bison?” and seemed to think he had personally arranged for one to appear on the scene.

“It just so happens a big bull was walking through the picnic area about 25 yards behind us,” Desborough recalls. He pointed it out to her and she replied, “Oh, thank you very much for doing that. You are wonderful!”

Another visitor asked Desborough, “Are all the elk in the fields down Route 89 for restocking the park when the wolves eat them?”

Grand Canyon Yellow Stone

Curious About Geology

Many questions center on Yellowstone’s wealth of geothermal and other stunning natural attributes. Robin Stark, who works at Lake Lodge Cabins, advised a visitor that an upcoming meteor shower was expected to be spectacular.

“Oh, who puts the meteor shower on?” asked the guest. “Is it the National Park Service or do y’all do that yourselves?”

When asked by a visitor “How heavy’s that mountain?” tour guide Steve Blakeley deadpanned, “With or without trees?”

A concerned tourist from Great Britain contacted marketing director Rick Hoeninghausen in advance of his visit. He’d just watched the docudrama “Supervolcano: The Truth about Yellowstone” (teaser line: A true story of global disaster … it just hasn’t happened yet). The Brit wondered if perhaps he’d be safer staying in another area of the park.

Some questions have the ring of the old saw, “Who’s buried in Grant’s tomb?” Just ask reservations supervisor Quin Henson, who more than once has been asked what side of the park the West Entrance is on.

Old Faithful

Defying Translation

The front desk staff at the Old Faithful Inn field questions ranging from whether its namesake geyser and others go off at night and in the winter, to whether the bison are animatronic, to whether the iconic 1904 log lodging is made of real wood. (It is. In fact, it’s still one of the world’s largest log buildings.) And a young boy clutching a bear bell, which hikers attach to their packs or boots to avoid surprising bears, was overheard asking, “Mom, why would you put a bell on a bear?”

Some questions defy translation. Take this one posed by an Austrian couple who asked security staffer Seth Parker how much chlorine it takes to keep the lake clean. Alexandria Prince, who works at the park’s Canyon Lodge, was asked if Yellowstone’s mud pots were the same as mud baths, and whether it’s OK to soak in them. (The answer: an emphatic no!)

Christian Prowse, another Canyon Lodge staffer, was stopped by a couple who pointed to the stairs and asked, “Do these stairs go up?”

“I tried to process the odd question,” he recalls, “and responded, ‘It certainly appears so!’”

How to Explore

With nine unique lodging options, including the renowned historic Lake Yellowstone Hotel, Yellowstone National Park Lodges allows you to have the ultimate park experience. Staying in the park is the best way for visitors to experience all it has to offer, including the exciting wildlife watching. Once the day-visitors leave, Yellowstone remains for the in-park overnight guests alone. Yellowstone National Park Lodges offer tours and activities guided by Certified Interpretive Guides that help create memorable experiences. For more information on lodging, tours, and vacation packages, visit yellowstonenationalparklodges.com or call 307-344-7311.

For a multi-day visit of Yellowstone, consider the six-day guided walking tour from Country Walkers, “Montana & Wyoming: Yellowstone,” or the six-day walking tour from VBT, “Yellowstone & Grand Teton: Walking America’s First National Park.”

For more than 39 years, Country Walkers has provided active and immersive travel experiences on five continents. They offer two distinct ways to explore: scheduled, small-group Guided Walking Adventures and independent Self-Guided Walking Adventures. On tour, guests enjoy superb local cuisine, first-class guides, fine accommodations, and authentic cultural and natural encounters. Visit countrywalkers.com or call 800-234-6900 for more information.

VBT Bicycling and Walking Vacations is the value leader in active biking vacations and has been rated among the “World’s Best Tour Operators” by the readers of Travel + Leisure for six years. VBT offers more than 55 deluxe, small-group bicycling, walking, and barge & sail vacations in 27 different countries and 10 U.S. states. Unlike other companies, VBT also includes round-trip international airfare from more than 30 U.S. cities and select Canadian cities for all overseas vacations. Visit VBT.com or call 800-245-3868 for more information.

For more travel experiences to Beautiful Places on Earth™ available from Xanterra Travel Collection and its affiliated properties, visit xanterra.com/explore.


Written by: Jayne Clark

Washington, DC-based freelance travel writer Jayne Clark has been a travel reporter at USA TODAY and several other daily newspapers.

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