Stopped by a Trail Sign and a Yellowstone Grizzly Encounter

The other night I had a dream about a grizzly bear. Anytime a grizzly bear shows up in my life, even if it’s merely a dream, I sit up and take notice.

A few weeks ago I read a blog post about grizzlies, and this morning Michael sent me a link to an article about a woman who survived a grizzly attack.

The power of the grizzly beckons and wants to be noticed.

One of my favorite blogs is Off the Beaten Path: Hikes, Backpacks, and Travels. The author is living the life I’ve always wanted to live. She writes about living in Montana and of the travels and sights her and her husband have seen, mostly out west. Michael and I have talked very seriously about selling our house, buying an RV, and traveling the western parks. If I had my choice, I’d settle down somewhere in Montana or Wyoming in my little RV and never look back.

Off the Beaten Path wrote a great post a few weeks ago about backpacking in grizzly country and her fear of a seeing a grizzly. It reminded me of my own grizzly encounter in Yellowstone.

Shortly after I met Michael four years ago, I mentioned to him that I was driving up to Yellowstone in a month. My daughter, a geologist who lived in Jackson Hole at the time, was flying down to visit us in Texas and we would make a mother-daughter road trip back up to Wyoming. I don’t know what possessed me, but I boldly told Michael he should fly up and see Yellowstone with me, that it would change his life.

I met him at the Jackson Airport a month later.

While we were in Yellowstone, towards the end of our stay, we wanted to take an all day hike off the main tourist trails. We chose a trail in the vicinity of  West Thumb and Yellowstone Lake and drove over from our campground. When we gathered our gear and walked up to the trail head, however, we were stopped by a sign stating the trail was closed due to “bear activity in the area,” but that it would open up the very next day. Michael assured me that hiking one day early would be okay.

I hesitated. My daughter had been a park ranger in Yellowstone for several summers before she found full-time work in Jackson Hole. I had heard many stories of dumb tourists and their disregard of the park rules–sometimes with deadly consequences. I had also been a teacher for many years and following the rules was ingrained in my psyche.

I had a really bad feeling about going on that trail. Other than my guilt at not following the rules, it just didn’t feel right. I felt very, very strongly that we shouldn’t take that hike.

I told Michael I wanted to use the restroom before starting off, and headed over to the port-a-let. It was mostly just an excuse to buy myself some time. I came out and told him I didn’t want to hike the trail, that maybe we could find another one, apologizing for my timidity and trying to explain my hesitation.

We got back in the car and turned around to reverse. Just as we started to back up, a grizzly came sauntering out of the trees, not ten feet from the car.

Even in the car, I was scared. I’ve seen quite a few grizzlies from a distance, but never one even remotely this close. They are massive, with long claws–and despite their size, they’re fast. I was glad we had the protection of the car, but kept the motor running and the car in drive.

The grizzly ignored us as she went about eating vegetation in the parking lot. We were the only ones there, and felt honored to be able to be so close to such an impressive animal. We sat and watched her for a long time, and Michael took a ton of photos.

This experience only reinforced the certainty for me that I never want to see a grizzly on a hike, up close and personal. I’ve been on several hikes in the past where people have passed us on the trail and excitedly asked: Did you see the bear?!? My answer has always been the same: No, and I don’t want to see the bear!

I was so glad I listened to my intuition and we hadn’t gone on that trail.

We drove a ways and found another perfect hike to the top of  Sepulcher Mountain–and we didn’t see a bear all day.

Related: article in Slate Magazine about investigating grizzly bear attacks in Yellowstone

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6 comments

  1. beechcreekproject

    Great story and awesome pictures. It doesn’t look like you are living vicariously through anyone. You seem to be having adventures of your own. Keep hiking and stay safe.

    • Mind Margins

      My daughter has told me how to act if I ever encounter a bear on a trail, and she’s even given me bear spray, but I don’t know if I would be able to stand my ground if one charged me, or if I could play dead if one attacked me. I would probably die of fear before the bear killed me.

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