A last minute bear sighting was the perfect ending of our first trip to Yellowstone this season
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The berry bushes were high enough to hide a small black bear near the parking lot at Tower in Yellowstone National Park last Monday as it gorged itself preparing for winter. Only occasionally did the crowd of people catch a glimpse of it as it fed — only the movement from the brush gave away its position.
My daughter, son-in-law, my wife and I had only been there a few minutes when thirst overtook the bear’s hunger and it decided to make it past the crowd to get to the creek. As it headed up the hill, it had to cross a trail and with only their cell phones to get pictures, people moved to the trail to intercept the bear.
After it passed within five to six feet from some of the tourists, it headed up over a ridge and my wife and I headed for the creek. It sauntered along the hillside, down into the creek where it drank for several minutes before walking down the middle of the stream to get to its hideaway.
We had heard about this bear when we stopped in Mammoth to watch the lawn-fed elk, but on the way to Tower we got side-tracked by four wolf pups just a few miles north of Tower. They were about half a mile away, but a joy to watch as they dug around in the grass snacking on rodents.
John, my son-in-law, wanted to see and photograph some big bull elk and a grizzly bear so we headed toward Canyon where we had seen them before. Just south of the Canyon Junction, we saw a herd of elk with a big bull inside the trees but people with their cell phones were running toward the herd. Without getting some good pictures, the elk were pushed back in the thick cover to hide.
The last few years, our best area to see grizzlies have been in Lamar Valley or near the road from Fishing Bridge to Sylvan Pass. Since Lamar Valley is closed for construction because of the flooding last spring, we headed through Hayden Valley toward Sylvan Lake and Pass. There were plenty of bison in Hayden Valley to entertain us and the other park visitors, be we were after grizzlies.
We thought that we had struck out because we only saw a few bison on the way to Sylvan Pass, but on our way down, we saw two grizzlies coming out of the trees into a meadow. Both stopped grubbing around for voles in the soft ground and tested the air. With their noses held high, they headed back into the timber at a quick pace, pausing only long enough to turn around and test the air.
“Looks like they are really nervous,” stated a visitor from Star Valley, Wyoming. “I come into the park about every two weeks, and today is the first trip this year that I have seen everything I wanted to see. It has just been too hot for the animals to be out.”
After waiting a few minutes to see if anything else showed up, we headed toward West Yellowstone. The elk near Canyon remained hidden, but we hit a jam along the Madison River. After half an hour in the stop and go traffic, we saw elk but it was really a bear-jam. In the fading light we were able to see and photograph a large, brown-colored black bear. It was a perfect ending of our first trip through Yellowstone this season and hopefully there’s more to come.
With the cooling weather and the need for the bears to put on fat for the long winter ahead, they will become more active and should be seen. More of our adventures to come in future columns.
Be safe and enjoy the wildlife from a safe distance. With the bears preparing for winter and the middle of the elk rut, I was surprised that some people did not sport puncture wounds for their park memories.