Steve Ropski, Ph.D., a professor in Gannon University’s biology department, recently announced the release of “Let Yellowstone Come to You: A Non-Tourist Guide,” his first solo book. In an interview with The Knight, Ropski reflected on his previous 18 years spent visiting Yellowstone National Park a total of 30 times. The Gannon Book Store has copies available for $14.99. A portion of the proceeds benefit the Gannon Goes Green committee.
Gannon Knight: What went into your choice of title? “Non-Tourist Guide” especially sticks out.
Steve Ropski: It is very atypical. I also had a specific reason for choosing “Let Yellowstone Come to You.” That’s what we always tell people, whether it’s students or just regular travelers out there.
We always tell them, don’t worry about being on a schedule, shut your cell phone off, don’t look at your clock. Things will happen at whatever pace Yellowstone wants it to happen.
Sometimes people will say, “You said we were going to be here at 3, and it’s 3:45!” Don’t worry. Sometimes when you’re late, you see something cool that you otherwise wouldn’t have seen.
The whole phrase refers to, literally, let the park come to you. Don’t expect certain things. Let the park come to you at its own pace, its own speed. So when I say a “non-tourist guide,” it’s that kind of stuff. Things that most tourists would not see or do because they just don’t do it.
GK: What kinds of things?
SR: I’ll give you an example. Old Faithful. Everyone watches it erupt, and literally there’s a crowd of 1,500 or 1,800 people watching Old Faithful erupt. Then everyone runs like psychos to the parking lot to hop in their cars and it’s a big traffic jam leaving.
White Dome Geyser, which is in the book, is a geyser that I think is prettier than Old Faithful. You go down a road to find it and you can stand about only 30 yards away from it safely. But you watch it erupt with 30 other people. It’s a more intimate, different type of viewing than you get with the tourists.
So a lot of times when we go on the trip, there are days when we don’t see anyone the whole day. We’re in the back woods, the back country, so much that we might not see another tourist the whole day.
GK: How is the book structured? Is it a comprehensive guide or a recount of your experiences?
SR: Every chapter is dedicated to a place we spend two or three hours at. There’s like 20 chapters; we’re out there for nine days.
At each site I’ve got places and recommendations, things I’d say to look for. Sometimes we’re in the middle of nowhere and you’ll never know any animals that you’ll see.
You’re not going to see that stuff unless you’re in the back country in the middle of nowhere.
GK: So you would recommend that this is the best way to experience the park?
SR: Absolutely. It’s the way to see the park from a very non-tourist approach.
GK: What keeps drawing you back to Yellowstone?
SR: Everyone experiences it differently, even though we go to a lot of the same locations every time.
Every group has its own personality and I never know what I’m going to see at a location.
Sometimes a location that has always been terrible for 10 years in a row suddenly is a fascinating place to watch animals, and we’ve got to spend hours and hours there where we’ve never spent hours there before. So I never know what’s going to happen.
GK: What made you want to write the book?
SR: I have too many stories in my mind. I’ve got to get them down on paper. There’s too many things that I want to make sure are written.
People actually ask me, “Why don’t you write a book? There’s so many places you’ve been to.” But some of these Yellowstone guides are huge books and readers can be so overwhelmed.
This is short and simple. It’s spiral-bound so you can roll it up in your pocket and carry it around with you as you’re going along, as opposed to some big, tedious tome.
GK: What kind of work went into writing the book?
SR: Three years ago I had a fall semester sabbatical. I came in every day. It probably took about a week for each chapter. I keep a journal every year and I would have all 20 or 25 of my journals on hand and flip through them.
I’d be reading through the journals and think, “Oh yeah that’s a cool thing I should talk about; I forgot that that happened at Old Faithful.”
It took a whole semester to get it done. Then probably another semester to almost a year to get it into a print form that was close to being ready to go.
GK: Is this your first book or published work?
SR: No, no. I’ve had a lot of publications in professional journals. Mrs. Ropski and I have written three lab manuals that we use at Gannon.
I’ve written chapters for books before, but this is my first full, only-me book. I’ve edited a couple of books too, but this is the first book that I’ve written all by myself.
GK: Has the book-writing experience been one that you’d like to repeat? Perhaps on your bat studies around campus?
SR: That’s a good idea. This might lead to other things.
In all honesty, to do it, I’d have to take another sabbatical. Because you can spend the time just doing that and nothing else. Keep the door closed, shut the lights off and just work on this book without any distractions. The sabbatical from Gannon is just a fabulous way to get it all done.