Friday, July 5, 2013

Blondielocks on the Yellowstone River -- Part 1 Grizzly Bears at Yellowstone

Blondie on the Yellowstone River -- Blondielocks and the Three Grizzly Bears

Enchanted by Yellowstone!

As I'm writing this my family and I are heading into Yellowstone National Park for our final visit. Our adventure started a week ago and began dramatically. Within ten minutes of entering the West Yellowstone entrance we spotted a grizzly bear about 75 yards across a shallow part of the Madison River. He was a big one at 500 lbs or so. Grabbing our cameras we jumped out of the car and stood along the opposite bank in awe watching him meander down the steep slope. Our excitement grew as he approached a tree and lazily scratched his back along the rough bark.

Grizzly Bear sighted just as we entered Yellowstone.

I kept a close eye on the animal knowing that grizzly bears can run as fast as a racehorse. It would take him a few seconds to reach us if he wanted to -- luckily he ignored us. We filmed him calmly walking along the bank of the river and he disappeared up the hill into the thick forest.

As we climbed in the car I noticed the kids' comatose look from days on the road disappeared. In its place was a look of enchantment. The Yellowstone they'd heard about for months was finally a real place, not just a picture in a book. We were astonished at our luck and tried to explain that people spend weeks in Yellowstone and don't ever see a grizzly bear. For me it was an immense thrill to see a bear in the wild. There was the glory of the beast but also the danger that if he chose to attack he could at any moment.

Our next sighting was five minutes later where several cars were at a pull out looking intently up. We found a bright white mountain goat way up the cliff effortlessly clinging to the rocks. A few quick pictures and we excitedly made our way through Yellowstone and the north entrance towards Mammoth Hot Springs. Our eyes were eager for more animals with all of us searching the forests and meadows as we drove.

See the white dot? That's a mountain goat!

Enormous bison were munching grass along the roadside, nearly as big as our van. One raised his tail and stepped towards my open window snorting as I took a picture. The dude was pissed. We watched him cross the road behind our canoe and charge a male bison on the other side of the road. I lost track of him as we drove around a curve my heart beating fast.

Pardon the angle but I was scared ... 
A puff of what we thought was smoke greeted us in a bend in the road -- it was steam rising from the ground. It was Mammoth Hot Springs and the smell of sulfur rotten eggy-ness permeated the car. Around the corner an amazing sight -- a pure white hillside, with tinges of yellow and steam rising all around. The mineral deposits from millions of years were built up to create, in places, what looked like the surface of the moon. Now we were all enchanted.

Mammoth Hot Springs -- a bit like the surface of the moon.

Just into the shops and hotels around Mammoth, a female elk waited at the crosswalk looking as if it were one of the tourists, my memory adding a hat and shawl. Elk and their newly born calves lounged on the grassy knolls between buildings as if they were waiting for the picnic to arrive.

Female elk patiently waiting for our car to pass.

Elk and their young waiting for the picnic. Be right there ladies!

It was as if we'd entered a magical land with surprises around every corner. The landscape was surreal as well, changing from thick hilly forest when we first entered the park to meadows and rolling hills, and near Mammoth strange vistas of dirt covered hills with rocky crags poking out here and there. How could there be so many different landscapes in one place?

At Mammoth, we got out of the car and found a park ranger on our way to get lunch. Bubbling with excitement we told him of our grizzly sighting. He was very impressed and told us he hadn't seen a grizzly yet this season despite being in the park nearly every day. One of his duties was to hold bear talks with visitors and knew all the places you might spot one. He told us that there are 150 grizzly bears in the 2.2 million acres of Yellowstone. To see one was rather like finding a needle in a haystack. 

After lunch we exited the park and headed north to a cabin along the Yellowstone River where we set up for the week -- a gorgeous spot with mountain vistas all around.

View of the Yellowstone River from our cabin in Montana.

Our luck held the whole week as we saw 2 other grizzly bears, one in the evening near Elk Creek walking below us. 
Grizzly near Elk Creek. You can see the damage to a tree in the foreground, perhaps by this bear.
The other bear lazing under some trees along the roadside between Canyon and Mammoth. The later being the most thrilling sighting. We saw a mass of cars pulled over and we parked along the road and walked a hundred yards or so to see what the hubbub was.

A grizzly was sleeping in the grass in the shade of some pines about seventy-five yards away. The bear was relaxed and seemed oblivious to the thirty or so humans gawking at it. After about ten minutes it startled awake, probably some kids running back and forth noisily across the road. Their parents could have used the talk from our ranger friend about being quiet and walking in tight groups near a bear. Running triggers their attack response much like a dog wanting to chase a rabbit.
OK, this might be a black bear, but for the blog we'll call it a grizzly. Wink!
The bear stood up and looked right into my eyes, or so it seemed. This time the safety of our car was out of reach and with very cute and delicious short blonde people wanting to run away, we decided to slowly, in a tight group, to beat feet back to the car not wanting to be part of one of the few bear attacks a year. We were relieved to return to the safety of the car!

Our week at Yellowstone was full of magical adventures and we leave now with not only with pictures and souvenirs from the gift shops but memories my kids and I will cherish forever.

If you want more on Yellowstone, visit their website here:

Part two of Blondielocks and the three bears -- Black Bear edition is here

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