If you ever get a chance to be in the vicinity, you should visit Beartown State Park in West Virginia. The place was protected because it's a giant maze of rock formations. Some of the grottoes are so steep and dark that snow persists in them until August in years of high snowfall. In addition, there are a lot of old growth hemlock trees there. Fortunately, the state of West Virginia has seen fit to treat this grove against the aphid infestation that is killing that species off. Hopefully they'll survive this plague until something is done to biologically control it.
The neatest thing happened on our hike through the maze, though. As we emerged from the trail and went to our truck which was parked at the trail head, we noticed a dark form foraging along the road leading to the parking lot. It was a bear! In Beartown State Park! How cool! I edged closer to the animal so that I could try to get some good photographs. It appeared to be a young, but very healthy individual. Fortunately, I had a fairly good lens on my cheap digital camera and was able to capture a few half-decent shots. One thing that I noticed right off was that the bear had been tagged, a yellow marker sticking out of one ear. They have an open bear hunting season in West Virginia, so I assume the tag is for that reason--in case the bear is ever killed by a hunter he can drop the tag off at a game station. I hope this bear is never shot.
She wasn't completely comfortable around people, and as soon as another hiker closed the door of his vehicle, the bear turned and vanished into the forest. I reckon she didn't care much for motor vehicles. A good sign.
Seeing that bear made our day, and added something special to that entire trip.
We first spot the bear. Merely a dark shape beyond some brush along the lonely drive to the parking lot. We'd just emerged from the forest along the trail.
I get a tad closer. I never did figure out what the bear was eating, but she was intently grazing on some vegetation at the verge of the forest. Usually when I see bears in the forest, this is exactly what they are doing--grazing on some vegetation or chowing down on acorns or berries that I can't quite make out.
She doesn't like us being so close and moves down the road a bit.
Once again stopping to eat. That's when I noticed the tag in her ear.
This was as close I dared get. I was actually much farther away than this photo seems to imply. Of course I was using the zoom function. This bear seemed very healthy indeed with a gorgeous, lustrous coat. My guess is the bear was two or three years old.
She moved a little farther away, being made edgy by the encroaching humans.
This was the last photo I got before she'd had enough of us and went moving deep into the forest.