Oregon writer, Rain Trueax, and Oregon painter, Diane Widler Wenzel co-author Rainy Day Thought. Diane generally posts on Wednesdays and Rain on Saturdays. There may be extra days or changes as situations warrant. Comments are always welcome and appreciated as it turns an article into a discussion.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Bears in Yellowstone

Bears are always a factor for me when I am going to be in Yellowstone National Park or really anywhere in grizzly country. Most especially if I am sleeping somewhere that might require getting up in the middle of the night to find an outhouse or bathroom. We do carry bear spray, but I don't want any midnight encounters with or without it. I did though want to be able to sleep in the Lamar Valley which meant some thinking about how to work that out.

Farm Boss had built two narrow bunks into the back of the pickup in the canopy area. That might not be as safe as a trailer, but it'd be safe enough. I stopped drinking liquids in the afternoon and happily made it through the night without a nighttime venture into the dark where the most likely animal I might have run into would have been a buffalo who was hanging out near the campground.

That night as I lay there, I thought how hard it was on my body to sleep on a bunk that was only as wide as my shoulders, where I couldn't bring my knees up to my chest when I lay on my side as I love to do; but it was so incredibly wonderful for my spirit to be under that night sky and look out the window at a wilderness I love. People were camping in tents nearby and maybe it was safe. I slept sounder in the canopy.

We saw bears four different times. The first happened because someone had seen a grizzly crossing right by the parking spot above Slough Creek. It was supposedly sleeping in the bushes on the other side. Nobody was going to find out for sure. A little later we saw it heading out across the valley. The photos were very much at a distance as it swam the creek and then ran up the hill.

The next day after watching the wolves for awhile further down the valley, and getting those moon shots, we started to drive toward the campground and I saw the bear in a gully. I told Farm Boss to hurry. He said you don't want me driving fast on this gravel road. Because he had yet to see the bear, he was taken aback when I said yes, drive fast.

The bear crossed the gravel road not far in front of our truck and I got some very nice photos as it went up the hill on what Farm Boss said was clearly a bear trail as it had two paths cut side by side.

Later driving down through Yellowstone we saw a black bear way across the Yellowstone River where it forms a deep canyon at a place called Artisan Point. The bear was coming from lower in the canyon and trying to reach the top. It's hard to say how this story had begun or how it would end given the steepness of that canyon with a thousand feet to fall if it began to slide.

We and many many people watched, cheering it on, as that bear tried different routes, had to turn around and then try another. We left before it had totally gotten to the top but after Farm Boss said he could tell that it would make it. I suppose they don't always; and if it had fallen, it would have been fatal as it was a very deep canyon.

The next bear was a sow grizzly and her cubs in the Hayden Valley. We were alerted by seeing a lot of cars pulled off the road as well as people standing on a rise. That had to be something more than buffalo. They said mama grizzly and two cubs.

We walked to the top of a small hill and got a surprise to see her a lot closer than we had expected on the same side of the river as us. Still she had no interest in humans, and I figured if she got aggressive, we could run faster than some of the others there which is all we'd have to do. She and the cubs were digging for small mammals at least that is how it appeared to us.

Once again I was reminded how hard life is in the wilderness for the animals... predator and prey. That sow had to find enough food to store fat for the harsh Yellowstone winter. She had to teach her cubs to survive and be with them long enough to see that they could do that. Time was running out in late September.


TaraDharma said...

great bear sightings and photos! someday i hope to make it to Yellowstone -- my niece worked there one summer and her stories were amazing.

I don't envy your sleeping on that narrow bed -- my body would have been screaming at me. But sometimes the sacrifice is worth it, eh?

Paul said...

Beautiful bears and a beautiful lady !

Darlene said...

Many moons ago we visited Yellowstone in September. It was dusk when we drove into the park and we saw a big bear. We stopped the car to have a look and the bear put his big paws on the roof of our small station wagon. We had met our first Grizzly and I shudder when I think about it now.

robin andrea said...

Your story reminds me of the first time I camped in Yosemite. I was a New Jersey girl, and I had never been anywhere near where a bear might be, ever. I had some trepidation until I resigned myself to the possibility that I could be bear food! The folly of youthful thinking. There is something to be said about when we humans have a sense of what it means to be prey.

Your bear photos are really fantastic. I've only seen a bear once, and it is quite a moment. But to see a grizzly, wow!

Anonymous said...

Wow! So everything was fine because you could run faster than some of the others [children? elders? people with disabilities?]? Patty

Rain said...

That was a joke, Patty although if you have ever been in Yellowstone, you know how far some people go to get closer to animals than they should. Nobody with disabilities is out there and if they had children there, I didn't see them. It's a choice you all make to decide whether to stay in your car or get out and then how close to get. Normally a ranger shows up to make sure people use good judgment and I saw that twice while there. I do think where would I go if that elk turned and got nasty or the bear ran for someone but the truth is nobody can predict and I try to stay far enough back to not have to worry. People in Yellowstone do dumb things and because of that more than a few have been killed not just by the wildlife but also the geysers and the hot pools. It's what Yellowstone is and people who worry too much about it should not go or at least stay with say a tour if they do. Although given all the warnings I saw at hot springs and the unexpected nature of what can happen, it's just part of the experience. But try crossing a street in a big town and you can face some of the same risks with the unexpected

Anonymous said...

I knew you were joking:)