Yellowstone and Bear Country



I recently returned from more than a week of hiking in Yellowstone National Park and all I can say is WOW! We hiked over seventy miles, but enjoyed every hard-earned inch. We are so lucky to live in a country that has such natural beauty in abundance.

Whenever I explain to other people that I hiked in Yellowstone one of the first topics to be raised is bears. Yes, Yellowstone has bears and by reading all the literature, posted warnings and sales pitches for bear spray one would think they were lurking around every corner. I am not making light of visiting areas in bear country. It needs to be a real concern and we did take it seriously, but not everyone sees the bears of Yellowstone when they visit the park.

My wife and I both had bear bells to make noise as we walked so we didn’t startle any bears in the vicinity. One thing worse than an unintended encounter with a bear is to startle a bear unexpectedly and have them feel threatened. Wearing bear bells sometimes brought snarky comments like: “I thought you were Santa Claus.” My retort would be: “Not Santa Claus, but no bear claws!”


Yes, Yellowstone has two types of bears. Grizzlies are more agrgessive than Black bears. – Picture courtesy of naturalunseenhazards.wordpress.com

All the hype does make one a bit paranoid, but I am not sure that is a bad thing. According to the National Park Service, over 100 million people have visited Yellowstone since 1980. During that time 38 people were injured by grizzly bears.

Here is an interesting breakdown according to their website Bear-Inflicted Human Injuries & Fatalities in Yellowstone

Type of Recreational Activity: Risk of Grizzly Bear Attack

  • Remain in developed areas, roadsides, and boardwalks: 1 in 25.1 million visits
  • Camp in roadside campgrounds: 1 in 22.8 million overnight stays
  • Camp in the backcountry: 1 in 1.4 million overnight stays
  • Travel in the backcountry: 1 in 232,000 person travel days
  • All park activities combined: 1 in 2.7 million visits

Also noted is that only eight people have been killed by bears in Yellowstone since 1872. To keep things in perspective, the website reminds visitors that more people have died from drowning, burns, etc.

We had two grizzly bear encounters in and near Yellowstone National Park. We were hiking along one of the paths around Ice Lake in Yellowstone returning to the parking area. Three hikers were hiking towards us and as they passed, they explained that a mother grizzly crossed in front of them with two adolescent cubs and they were going to hike around the lake to get back to their car. This was a significant, lengthy detour part of which was uphill along the roadway.



Picture courtesy of National Park Service

All the literature I read indicated that the chances of being attacked in a group of three or more was only two percent. I suggested to the group that we continue heading back toward the parking lot and risk a bear encounter since we were a larger group and had several canisters of bear spray between us.



Picture courtesy of National Park Service

We walked quickly, but deliberately toward the area near the road where the bears were spotted. We noted their tracks along the path. Apparently they didn’t like the debris in the wooded area any more than we did and they were walking along the relatively clear hiking path.

About one quarter mile from our cars, the three bears (not those three) were spotted about 300 feet ahead of us. The mother bear (very large!) stood up on her hind legs and spread her arms wide in an “it was this big” fashion. I estimate that she stood at least nine feet tall at that point. One of the rather large cubs also stood in the same fashion while the other remained on all fours looking our way. The bears were only there for a half-minute or so when they scampered into the woods.

It was very exciting indeed, but we were glad that we did not have a more intimate bear encounter. We made it to the cars without further ado. My only regret was that the action happened so fast I couldn’t get a picture.

Our second sighting a few days later was of a grizzly with three cubs along the Beartooth Highway near Beartooth Lake. We noticed a group of people along the side of the road, a certain giveaway that something interesting was happening, and we pulled over.

Sure enough, there was a group of three Grizzly bears about 450 feet downhill munching on a carcass that I assume was that of an elk. The speculation was that this was a mother with her cubs, but the bears all looked to be similarly sized…so who knows? The bears were more interested in eating than in what we were doing and since we were a lineup of more than a dozen people standing quite a bit away uphill, it was not a tense encounter.

Bears are large and they look fat, but don’t ever think you can outrun one and don’t for one minute think climbing up a tree is going to help. Read the placards above to see how to survive a bear encounter.

I am an enthusiastic amateur photographer. I enjoy wildlife, but I don’t have an expensive wildlife kit. The closest I come is my Canon SX50HS bridge camera that has a telephoto lens of approximately 600mm of reach. This isn’t the highest quality camera or lens, but I think you can get an idea of what we saw at the bear buffet along the Beartooth Highway.


group of grizzly bears


lone grizzly bear


two grizzlies bears


lone grizzly bear with carcass



After leaving Yellowstone, we stayed in Red Lodge, Montana one night and did some hiking along the Silver Run Plateau, Trail # 102, Loop #3 in the Custer Gallatin National Forest.

There were warnings there as well.



There’s a reason for all these signs. One shouldn’t be afraid, but it is important to take precautions and be aware. They refer to it as being “Bear Aware” and they aren’t kidding.

Yellowstone even uses celebrities to help impress the importance of bear safety upon visitors.



We now have bear encounter memories that will last forever and we are very happy that they turned out the way they did.

 

Read more Hiking and Exploration posts HERE


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All original content on this blog is copyrighted by Jeffrey B. Ross with ALL Rights Reserved. While reference links back to JBRish.com are appreciated and encouraged, please acquire approval for any reproduction of original content from this website.

©Jeffrey B. Ross 2014 – 2018 – JBRish.com



Birding with an Opportunistic & Occasional Birder

We recently spent ten days hiking the trails of Yellowstone National Park. This was a bucketlist item for us and we were thrilled to be able to check off this box. Although we are senior citizens, we logged more than seventy miles along the pathways and mountains of this beautiful and intriguing geographical area.

We were enjoying the beautiful meadows and wooded areas while hiking to Cascade Lake. There were bison in the area (more about that in a later post) and while photographing and admiring these large animals, I saw a silhouette of the bird below. At first it appeared mostly black.


Northern Harrier Hawk

I took several steps closer to get a better look and rather than a raven as I originally thought, I knew this was a falcon or a hawk. What I normally do in this situation is I take several pictures while moving a bit closer for each click of the shutter. In this way, I hope to capture shots that will enable me to identify the bird without chasing it away.


Northern Harrier Hawk

This was a very confident bird. As you can note, it was clearly perched in an open and perhaps vulnerable spot. As I moved a bit closer, it did not move on inch. The only change in posture was for this hawk to turn its head to look at me.

I always try to respect the animals I photograph by giving them plenty of room. I do not get very close because, after all, this is their home and I do not want to frighten them or change their behavior. I try to observe from a distance. I have a Canon bridge camera which does allow me to get fairly close with an equivalent 600mm lens.

After trying to identify this bird, I thought it might be a Harris Hawk, but as I normally do when I am unsure, I post a question in the Bird Identification forum on the BirdForum website. If you are interested in birding or bird identification, I cannot recommend this resource more highly. The members are very helpful in guiding novices to learn how to properly identify birds.

After making my guess and posting the three pictures from this post on the forum, I learned that this was a Northern Harrier Hawk and that the facial markings, referred to as a mask, is the clincher in this identification.

This was a bird that I had seen from a very far distance in Arizona, but I did not have a photograph of it. I was glad to add these photos to my birding collection. I now have seen and identified more than ten percent of all birds that visit North America some time during the year according to the American Birding Association (ABA).

Check out the BirdForum if you have in interest in birds and/or birding.


Northern Harrier Hawk

To read more JBRish.com posts about birding, click HERE.


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All original content on this blog is copyrighted by Jeffrey B. Ross with ALL Rights Reserved. While reference links back to JBRish.com are appreciated and encouraged, please acquire approval for any reproduction of original content from this website.

©Jeffrey B. Ross 2014 – 2018 — JBRish.com