In 1902 when Henry G. Merry raced his 1897 Winton past the cavalry at the North Entrance to Yellowstone Park, the soldiers mounted their horses and chased him down. They took Merry to the Park Superintendent who chastised him and had him escorted out, but not until the Superintendent got a ride in the new fangled contraption. Cars were forbidden because people thought they would frighten wildlife and the horses used by other travelers.
In 1915 when cars were officially allowed in the park, the action transformed the Yellowstone experience. As the story below shows, fears of auto-induced mayhem proved to be unfounded.
At the Park boundary is the soldier station. Fortunately the regulations are easily complied with, and in a few minutes the speedometer is again registering the speed limit. One season’s operation of the automobile regulations demonstrated to the powers that be that the average motorist is a saner and more reasonable being than was at first supposed; as a consequence, there has been a considerable downward revision of the rules governing his actions.
Shortly after the entrance is passed the grade becomes noticeably steeper, and leaving the stream that has been so closely followed, a sharp rise carries the road over the divide through Sylvan Pass at an altitude of eight thousand four hundred feet. Gliding down the western slope through the cool, silent forests affords an indescribably keen enjoyment, and the motorist must have travelled far who has experienced roads as well built and maintained as this, more than a mile and a half above sea-level in the midst of rugged mountain summits.
Eleanor and Sylvan Lakes are skirted in turn; the latter a dainty body of water set in the depth of an alpine forest and guarded by a grim peak at its head. The waving pines on the islets that dot its surface and the dense growth along its shores dispel any thought of the short distance to timber-line and eternal snow. As the road continues down a gently winding course all expectations are centred on Yellowstone Lake, till at last it flashes afar off through the pines—a great body of water scintillating under the turquoise brilliance of a Wyoming sky. In another instant it is gone and the road turns to hurry down to it in a flowing ribbon that stretches ahead as far as the eye can reach through the forest and across many a meadow of luxuriant grass.
Half hidden in the long grass of these mountain parks scattered herds of elk and deer may be seen grazing within a few hundred feet of the road, and not even the rasping shriek of the electric horn seems to disturb the peaceful and contented existence of nature’s animals. Prior to the admittance of horseless vehicles to the Park, it was argued that the smell and the unnatural noise of the motors would drive the animal life away from the roads and would bring to an end one of the most fascinating features of this wonderland.
When, however, the whir of the motor as it toils up the rugged heights of Mt. Washburn, and passes almost unnoticed within two hundred yards of a band of the most wary of wild animals, the Rocky Mountain sheep, and when at night the bears, having feasted on ”beefsteaks that have proved too tough for the tourists,” make bold actually to clamber into the motor-cars and despoil seat cushions in search of sweets unwittingly left in side pockets, it will be appreciated that the contention that the motor-car would frighten these animals was quite without foundation. The whole atmosphere of Yellowstone seems to exert a soothing effect on both man and beast, and it is said that “Even broncs won’t buck in the Park.”
— Excerpt and photo from Charles J. Beldon “The Motor in Yellowstone,” Scribners Magazine, 63:673-683 (1918).
— You also might enjoy Henry G. Merry’s story about the first car in Yellowstone.