I need to catch up on our posts, I am behind but will spare you with the excuses and just get to it. We finished up our park adventure, and over the next few blog posts, I will be recapping some of the final highlights. One of my favorite moments from our last weekend trip (and maybe even the entire summer) was our trip to Prairie State Park. The park has a large heard of Bison that roam the park, and technically they are called Bison and not Buffalo, but that is a whole different topic. From the beginning, I wanted to check this park out. If we were going to name this park like a Friends episode, it would be titled, “The one with the Bison.” Every time we set out to visit a park, I asked Shannon is this the one with the Bison? “Nooooo, Todd, that is not until the very end.” Finally, this time when I asked she said, “Yes!”
We set off for a long weekend to go to four parks and end at Bennett Spring State Park. My family has gone to Bennett Springs ever since I was born and we go every Fall at this time, this had been the final destination plan since the beginning. I would like to say we were not rushing through the last few parks, but we knew we were on a timeline to meet my family at Bennett Springs. We had winterized our camper at this point and decided to stay in a hotel this weekend since we had quite a distance to drive each day. Our original plan was to go to Grand Gulf and then go to Prairie State Park, but since we were chasing daylight, I wanted to make sure we had time to see the Bison at the park that I had spent all Summer dreaming about. We opted to get a hotel room so we could instead get to the park first thing in the morning.
In the morning we got up early, you know I was motived, cause that never happens with us. We drove several hours to the park, and saying it is beautiful does not do it justice. It’s close to four thousand acres of protected prairie land, the most extensive prairie left in the state and the only place in the Missouri where there is wild Bison. There is such a contrast to the majority of the parks in the Missouri, while they are all beautiful it was great to see something that wasn’t your typical tree covered Ozark mountains vibe. This park was so different, rolling small hills and wild grasses as far as you can see. It really took me back to learning about the Great Plains in elementary school, for me it was breathtaking. When you cross the gate into the park, you drive over a cattle guard grate that keeps the Bison from leaving, and there are also significant warning signs about the Bison. I am like seriously excited at this point!!!
Bison are my favorite animal, but it’s much more than that, it’s almost spiritual for me. When my Grandfather died when I was off at college, everyone was dividing up their possessions, all I wanted was a little bronze Bison figurine that sat on a shelf in my grandparents living room. From time to time they let me take it off the shelf and play with it, at some point a leg had broken off of it but I don’t remember how that happened. It was a forgettable item for most, but for me, it was precious gold, a link to my childhood, a link to my grandparents that meant so much to me. At first, when I asked my parents to get it for me, no one could find it. Eventually, they found it, and it has been my most prized possession besides my wedding ring. When I was in college, I discovered that I had a pretty severe case of anxiety which had been affecting me in many aspects of my life, but specifically, it had been causing a significant impact to my grades. That little statue became a safety net for me. It went with me to every test, on airplanes, job interviews, and anywhere that I need some comfort. Eventually I had the three-legged Bison tattooed on my thigh, so I no longer had to carry it with me everywhere.
I have only seen Bison in person a few times and beside them running around at Dixie Stampede I have never seen them up close. Here I am in a park that they are just roaming, how were we going to find a herd of Bison in a four thousand acre park? It quickly sets in that maybe we won’t be able to find them? We weren’t equipped or on a timeline that was going to let us hike far to see them. Our only idea was that we go to the Ranger Station and ask where they typically are this time of day. We had arrived at the park station before they usually are open, but they had a homeschool activity that day and opened a bit early. I walked into the facility, and apparently, the Bison are the main attraction, there was a prairie diorama with a life-size Bison in it, children’s Bison artwork was all over the place. I asked the man behind the desktop where was the best place to see them…his response, “Well this is the one week a year when the bison are penned up for medical check-ups.” I am glad no one was recording my face. In the bigger universe, not seeing the bison doesn’t matter, but I was still very disappointed. I went back to the car. I have seen a lot, been to a lot of cool places, and this should not have been built up so much in my mind, but it was. I mean I was DISAPPOINTED, like tears in the eyes. Shannon goes in, to fact-check my story, or maybe she just went to the restroom…not sure, but she came back with the same story.
Fancy at this point was all jazzed to see these animals that we had been talking about, so I took her out of the car and into the building to walk through the education exhibits. There was a display of other animals in the park, and one of them was a Lemming…”Daddy, what is this?”…Me: “It’s the only animal we are going to see in this park today so take a good look at it,” in my spoiled, disappointed, first world problems tone. What happens next was amazing! That man behind the desk, Dana, said: “Sir, if you’re interested, I could take you back to where the Bison are so you could see them?” Kindness folks, this is it. Dana got into his car, and we followed him down a road that had a sign with “Authorized Vehicles Only.” Little did Dana know that one of Shannon’s little dreams is to see what’s down those “Authorized Vehicles Only” paths that dot all the state parks. Dana took us back to where there was roughly 25 Bison in a pen. We got to stand up pretty close them. Dana told us all about how the Prairie is the star of the show, and the Bison are a means to manage it, which for me was such a cool way to look at it. He shared so much about how they manage the heard and how that includes auctioning off the 25 animals that were in the pen and that this will help the rest of the heard thrive. I couldn’t help but hear Elton John singing the “Circle of Life” in the back of my mind. Dana was such a kind soul and undoubtedly loved his job, and the land he was protecting. The Missouri State Park system has the lowest paid park employees in the country and to hear this guy speak with passion and excitement about the park and the Bison was such an AMAZING moment. Of course, the girls we more curious about the heard of Cows that were on the farmland next to us. We are looking forward to going back to Prairie State Park and camping with roaming Bison next summer. Dana gave me so much that day besides just kindness; a brief spiritual moment with my grandparents, a much-needed attitude adjustment, and a family moment that none of us will ever forget.