Where the Bears Aren’t

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Just one month ago, I was suffering a bit of anxiety about my pending summer vacation. While deciding what to pack for a trip to Yellowstone National Park, I stumbled across a few suggested packing lists on the internet. Not terribly exciting as far as packing lists go, until I got to “bear spray.” That one item showed up on every list I found. I grew terrified that I needed to pack this item because it wasn’t a matter of “if” but when I would encounter a bear in the park.

Armed with bear spray-fueled confidence, I made my way through the park, stopping to enjoy as many natural wonders as possible. My husband and I spent ten hours in the park, covering both the north and south loops. Not one bear. If I seem a little disappointed, that’s because I am! I guess some part of me hoped I would see a bear – a very distant bear – at least once.

The park is riddled with signs cautioning visitors not to fraternize with the wild animals. Apparently, quite a few people actually try to get close enough to pet or take a
selfie with the bears, bison and moose that inhabit the park. Bad Idea.

While I had nary a single bear sighting, I ran across a mother moose and her calf, and umpteen bison as I toured the park. Bison may look like extra-large cows wearing funny hats, but I can tell you they are anything but amiable. Sure, they look innocent enough chewing on vegetation, but just provoke one – I made direct eye contact with a bison as it ran past the car window. These large beasts do not want to be friends.

You may wonder how I got close enough to a bison to make eye contact with it through my car window. It happened outside of the park. We were driving from Grand Teton National Park, just south of Yellowstone, heading toward Jackson Hole,WY when we encountered a gaggle of bison crossing the highway. I learned that when bison want to cross the road, you let them.

Traffic was backed up both ways, as the herd made its way across the road, then back again. Apparently, the grass on the other side was not greener after all. My husband and I sat in the car, holding our breath, so as not to agitate one of the large mammals, but other drivers were not so timid. A few left the line of cars and headed right toward the crossing bison. Let’s just say the bison ultimately prevailed.

So, where were all the bears?

I wanted to know that, too. A park worker told me they may have been in the high country because of the heat. The best time for bear-peeping in northwest Wyoming is during the spring and early fall. Not wanting to waste my gallon of bear spray, there is a good chance I will be back at Yellowstone in April, when the mamas are out with their babies – keeping a healthy distance while admiring all of God’s creatures, big and small.

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