Sunday, February 22, 2015


My favorite animal is the bear. I have encountered them relatively often on my hikes and backpacking trips. The species I'm most familiar with is the black bear (Ursus americanus). This animal ranges all over the North American continent and I can tell you from personal experience that there are a lot more of them these days than there were when I was a kid.

Back in the days when I first started traveling in wilderness and park locales, I would rarely see them. About the only place I could be assured of spotting a black bear in those days (mid 1970s) was in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. And even there you were not always assured of seeing one, even though they were habituated to human food sources back then.

In modern times, because of improved habitat protection and the enforcement of hunting laws, the black bear has made an impressive comeback. I now see them in places where they were just rumors, or where they were present but genuinely rare.

The other species that I've seen while hiking is the Grizzly bear (Ursus arctos horribilus). The griz has a reputation for belligerence and aggression. Although the truth of the matter is that most bear attacks are by black bears due to the sheer numbers of black bears as compared with grizzly bears. Still, you stand a much higher chance of being struck my lightning than you do of being menaced by any kind of bear.

In all of my years of tramping about in wild places, the only spot where I've been that had grizzly bears in any number is Yellowstone National Park. And I saw exactly two griz in that Park, both being at some distance, which is the way I think we would both prefer it. If a grizzly is far away then there is not likely to be any misunderstanding about my presence in his world.

In just a few short months I'll be heading to griz country again: Glacier National Park. That spot has just about the highest density of grizzly bears in the lower 48 states. I am hoping to see them there, although I do know one guy who visited Glacier and never saw a single grizzly. Hopefully I will see them while we're visiting, and hopefully it will be at a respectful distance.

A young black bear Carole and I encountered in Beartown State Park in West Virginia.

A black bear I saw this year in Douthat State Park.
The only grizzly I have ever encountered while hiking. Just before I started my trek to the summit of Avalanche Peak in Yellowstone National Park. As you can see, it had no interest in me and seemed keen only on moving far away from me.
I spotted this grizzly sleeping in a bed it had scooped out for itself on the banks of the Lamar River in Yellowstone National Park. He was very, very far away. This is a cropped photo that I took with my most powerful telephoto lens.
This is the only brown phase black bear I have seen. I spotted it in Grand Teton National Park. It was so interested in feeding that it never raised its face from the brush. I have no idea what it was eating, but it was moving along the forest grazing on something. Here in the east, one almost never sees any other coloration of the black bear but the darkest of black.

A bear in Beartown!


Colleen Yarnell said...

every time i have been to Glacier the part of Logan Pass trail to Hidden Lake has been closed due to grizzly activity. I never saw one though we had a black bear run in front of our car by Lake Mary

James Robert Smith said...

Sounds like what happened with my old friend. He didn't see one, either. I'm hoping that I do get a chance to snap a few grizzly bear photos while I'm there.

Kent Tankersley said...

Great shot of the sleeping bear! Last time in the Tetons/Yellowstone, I think we saw something like eight grizzlies, maybe mostly in the Tetons.

A few years ago, I had a boss (based in Munich) whose husband was obsessed with photographing grizzlies. For at least 3 years in a row, they took their summer vacation in Yellowstone just for that purpose. Apparently, he got lots of good photos.

James Robert Smith said...

I don't blame him. I envy him. If I could, I'd take a long vacation to Yellowstone/Tetons every year.

We managed to see only two griz in Yellowstone and none in the Tetons. But we saw zero black bears in Yellowstone and only one of those in the Tetons.

Another funny thing was that we saw exactly ONE pronghorn in the Park and on the way to the airport in Salt Lake City (passing through cattle country in Wyoming) we saw hundreds of them.