“She responded and said, ‘Sir, you are recreating,’ and her tone became very aggressive,” Vaillancourt said.
The seniors quickly filed back onboard and the bus went to the Old Faithful Inn, the park’s premier lodge, adjacent to the park’s most famous site, Old Faithful geyser. That was as close as they could get to the famous site — barricades were erected around Old Faithful, and the seniors were locked inside the hotel, where armed rangers stayed at the door.
“They looked like Hulk Hogans, armed. They told us you can’t go outside,” she said. “Some of the Asians who were on the tour said, ‘Oh, my God, are we under arrest?’ They felt like they were criminals.”
By Oct. 3, the park, which sees an average of 4,500 visitors a day, was nearly empty. The remaining hotel visitors were required to leave.
As the bus made its 2.5-hour journey out of Yellowstone, the tour guide made arrangements to stop at a full-service bathroom at an in-park dude ranch he had done business with in the past. Though the bus had its own small bathroom, Vaillancourt said seniors were looking for a more comfortable place to stop. But no stop was made — Vaillancourt said the dude ranch had been warned that its license to operate would be revoked if it allowed the bus to stop. So, the bus continued on to Livingston, Mont., a gateway city to the park.
The bus trip made headlines in Livingston, where the local newspaper Livingston Enterprise interviewed the tour guide, Gordon Hodgson, who accused the park service of “Gestapo tactics.”
“The national parks belong to the people,” he told the Enterprise. “This isn’t right.”
Calls to Yellowstone’s communications office were not returned, as most of the personnel have been furloughed.
Many of the foreign visitors were shocked and dismayed by what had happened and how they were treated, Vaillancourt said.