We were directly between the grizzly and a bison carcass - not a good thing.
No bear spray, no trees, and my companion might weigh 100lbs with the mud on her boots.
Christine and I had been crossing Swan Lake Flats, a large open grassy plain,
heading into the Gardiner Hole looking for wolf tracks. Earlier that May morning we had been
observing various predators on a bison carcass just across the road so
we knew the bears were around, but it was still a surprise when the big grizzly exploded out of the woods.
He immediately ran back and forth, nose up, testing the air. We knew what he wanted,
we knew where he would end up, we just didn't know how to get out of his way. He was still a ways off but we could easily see
without binoculars. He kept
zig zagging back and forth coming towards us so it was impossible to tell which way to
I reached for my bear spray only to find I had left it in the car. Sheepishly I thought of not
confessing my stupidity but then I just blurted it out in a panic "I don't have the bear spray!" I could see her process
the information and then we discussed what to do. The
road was the only safety around and even though the carcass was in that direction we decided that was what where we needed
to go. We started walking that way quickly.
Running from a bear is the quickest way to be lunch so we moved as fast
as we felt prudent and when the bruin would disappear into a dip in the terrain we would go into a half run until
he showed up again. All the while he kept getting closer and closer.
I distinctly remember one moment when he went up on his two back legs and we stared
straight at each other. I froze in place. He just dropped back down and kept coming.
We were post holing through snow drifts and our lungs were burning from the cold
but we finally made it back to the road just as a few cars drove by. We moved 20 yards
down the road to the our vehicle and at that very moment the bear made it to the
pavement and began running back and forth trying to get across. He finally made
it to the carcass and fed for a long time but I will never forget that feeling of
being out on the flat open field with a grizzly headed straight towards us.
Grizzlies hold a unique place in the hearts of a number of us who go to Yellowstone.
They embody the wildness and unpredictability of the place. Their shear power and grace is so
captivating it draws us back for more and no one who has seen a great bear lift and
move a bison carcass like it was nothing can come away unchanged. It is a unique
and humbling experience to see a bear while out on a hike and realize you have just
lost your place in the food chain. The reality of that sets in quickly and deeply.
On one trip to the park in May it became a joke that we would hike until we
ran into a bear and then we would turn around. We saw 9 grizzlies in 6 days.
The park law is to stay 100 yards away from the bears. Do not move closer to get a better photo.
We've seen people who violated this being escorted back to their vehicle by rangers carrying shotguns and bear spray
and writing them up expensive tickets.
Carry bear spray if you are hiking
and don't hike alone.
Spring is the best time for bear viewing by far. They are moving around hungry and
still down low in the valleys where the roads are. Later when it warms up they go up high to stay cool and forage.
The best places to see grizzly bears are Hayden and Lamar Valleys, around the lake, and Mount Washburn.
Day break is the best time. Watch for crowds along the road in these areas. If a carcass is found keep checking back the
bears will eventually show up.
The grizzlies are a large part of Yellowstone's allure and I hope each visitor gets to safely experience the magic of these
Tim Springer - 2004
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