Yellowstone National Park has plans to test driverless shuttles on two routes this summer, and what they learn could change how we get around the park forever.

Jen Austin - Townsquare Media
Jen Austin - Townsquare Media

Three summers ago I took a guided tour through Yellowstone with my daughter and we saw moose, elk, antelope, chipmunks, and so much wildlife it was hard to take it all in.  At one point we ended up on a trail that had been occupied by a bear not too much before we arrived because, well, our tour guide was quick to notice the bear droppings and relayed the info that the bear had probably eaten lots of berries over the past day or two.  The tour guide was armed with bear spray in case we encountered one, but we never did.  She had inside information on bears, wolves, and even the types of bugs that inhabited the trees in the summertime.  Without her behind-the-scenes info, the trip would have been a lot less memorable.

The tour guides will still be taking SUVs full of tourists around Yellowstone National Park this summer, but the park also has plans to test driverless shuttles on two routes to get visitors from point A to point B, according to KTVB in Boise.  The autopilot vehicles will collect information that could change the future of mass transportation in national parks everywhere, so it could impact the Guadalupe Mountains and Big Bend here in Texas.

The driverless shuttles will run between Yellowstone's Canyon Village campground, visitor services, and the lodging area starting May 24th through July 12th.  And then between July 14 and August 31, the driverless shuttle will take people from visitor services to the amphitheater and campground services, the middle campground, and the upper campground.

I'm assuming visitors won't have access to a button that stops the bus if they want to take a picture of the bison lining the route while they're shuttling to the campground.  Now that we're thinking about it, what if bison are on the road?   When my daughter and I visited, we had to stop on the road for fifteen minutes once to wait for the bison to decide that they had had enough staredowns with tourists and it was time to move on.  Will driverless shuttles stop if they need to?  I'm sure they've thought of these things, but it will be interesting to see if the pilot program turns up some issues.

Yellowstone is pristine. peaceful, intriguing, and mysterious, and changing.  And Texas national parks may not be far behind.

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