Yellowstone Trip – All About the Bears (Part 1 of Many)

It’s getting late in the month again and I have a few posts to go to make my quota for the month.  Luckily there is plenty of content waiting in the wings many of which came from our recent trip out to Yellowstone.  I already posted the oddities collection from that adventure and now it is time to start the wildlife segment.  I thought I would lead with something we do not see much of out here in Illinois.

Black Bears in Yellowstone

If you look real close you will see today’s subjects.  Surprisingly, we had just entered the park from the East side when there were a few cars parked on the side of the road and some people looking out over the valley.  Figuring there was something of interest, we parked and grabbed the cameras.  Sure enough, waaaaaay out in the distance were these two black bears.  Keep in mind, I have a full Nikon 70-200 glass fully out and manually focusing this to get through all the trees.   Although not tack sharp for sure, I am pretty pleased I even got them at all.  Here is a zoomed version and it looks like they spotted me.

Black Bears in Yellowstone

Just 5 minutes into the park and we already had our first bear sighting.   Since I was not sure there was going to be anymore chances to see the elusive bears, I was snapping a ton of shots in the hopes one or two would come out decent enough I could prove we saw them.  It should be noted that there is actually snow on the ground.  It was the middle of June and we were definitely feeling the chill.  Apparently the bears were quite comfortable in their winter fur.  These two shots are a little better, but again, there were hard to see with the naked eye and having to manually focus was making it difficult to draw them in clear.

Black Bears in Yellowstone

After awhile they grew bored with watching us and headed back into the woodlands.  I caught this one taking a final look back probably thinking how tasty I would be for lunch.

Black Bears in Yellowstone

The good news is we actually had 3 other bear sightings while we were out there.  Take the jump to see some much better shot.  Well, actually three better shots and one crappy one with a frustrating story.

I’ll get the crappy one out of the way first.  We were on our second day there and heading North from where we stayed (Canyon Lodge).  Just short of Tower Falls, we hit a traffic jam.  The park consists of single lane roads each way with a few turnoffs allowing people to take in the scenery and more importantly allow others to get through to their destinations.  I definitely do not mind waiting a few minutes while someone admires a pretty landscape or wildlife, but there is a limit to this.  We sat in the traffic stop for over 30 minutes until finally a ranger arrived that forced everyone to keep moving.  What was the cause of this jam?  Let me show you.

Black Bears in Yellowstone

Yes, I snapped this on the move and yes it was a bear sleeping on the side of the road.  Apparently a sleeping bear nearly ruptured my wife’s bladder.  Turns out two rental RVs decided they would just stop in the middle of the road for 30 minutes to stare at the sleeping bear without any regard to the pileup they were causing behind them.  This of course included tons of people leaving their cars to run up and get a close look at it.  Ironic since every single informational sign and pamphlets provided by the park seem to indicate that this is a stupid idea.

So some other people took in the first set of bears with us and hundreds of people witnessed the second one, but Linda and I can say no one else has the following shots.  As we were heading back at the end of a long day, I happened to look up the side of a hill and though I saw something large move just short of the treeline.  I gave our agreed upon wildlife sighting word and Linda quickly found a place to pull off the side of the road (note that we took the time to park the car off the road to not hamper any other visitors.  It was a ways up the hill so I did get out of the car being careful to maintain an escape distance if the bear should get hungry.  Jokingly I mentioned the only requirement for my safety was being able to run faster than my wife.  For some reason, she did not think that was half as funny as I did.   After scanning the rocks for a little bit, we noticed the bear walked out into the opening.

Black Bear in Yellowstone

We couldn’t believe it.  Not only were we blessed with a rare sighting, but we were able to experience it alone which made it seem a lot more unique and special.  There is something about seeing something like this in the wild compared to just walking up to it at a zoo.  It literally takes your breadth away (there might be some fear causing that) and definitely more satisfying to see them enjoying their native lands.

In case you are wondering, all the pictures are of black bears and not brown (grizzly) bears.  Yes, it has a brown coat, but the grizzly’s actually have a hump on top of their shoulders, a concave muzzle and tend to be larger (and more ferocious).   No, I did not know the difference until I looked it up in the Field Guide to the Rocky Mountain States book I picked up before heading into Yellowstone.  That book turned out to be one of the best 20 dollar purchases I have ever made based on the number of times it was referenced during our trip.   Unlike the previous set of bears, this one did not give us even one moment of attention.

Black Bear in Yellowstone

After about 5 minutes this one also headed up into the protection of the treeline.

Black Bear in Yellowstone

This experience will probably stay with me awhile.  Fortunately, we were able to capture the moment digitally allowing us to relive the experience whenever we get bored of looking at the flatlands around us.  I alluded to the fact there was another sighting, but we were unable to get a picture.  As we were heading out of the park I saw a huge bear running across the top portion of a large mountain side across a deep valley.  Even with the distance away, it was one of the largest bears I have ever seen (including zoos).  By the time we found a turnoff and backtracked to the place it was gone.  I personally believe it had to be a grizzly and would have been elated to get even a fuzzy picture of it.  If nothing else, it gives us a reason to go back again in hopes of seeing one of those in the wild.

As with the other pictures in this blog, the images themselves suffered from the reductions and compression required for the web.  At least with the last three images, they are much sharper and pop a little more in their raw form.  Hopefully in the future I can find a convenient way to share the full sized pictures (investigating Flickr now), but until then you will have to enjoy the smaller versions.

I hope you liked see our furry friends in the wild.  Check back soon to see other wildlife shots we took on our vacation. Oh, and next time I will be taking larger glass out with me to really pull in the wildlife.

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