Posted by: Tommy | August 12, 2010

When animals attack!…or passively come into your camp and freak everyone out

As Anna outlined yesterday, we (mostly because of her) have been taking great pains to ensure that none of the wild animals that we are trying so hard to see in the wild are able to be seen around camp.  Despite Herculean efforts on Anna’s part to ensure bear safety in our camp (and sometimes the camps of others that aren’t meeting her expectations) there have been a few run-ins with animals at camp.

Other than the omnipresent chipmunks and the occasional squirrel, the only animal we saw at camp in Grand Teton was…. a bear.  Well, to be fair, we didn’t see it.  Anna and I got up with the alarm and drove to the bathroom (250 or so yards from camp)  Jack, as is his custom, stayed in bed as long as possible and came out of the tent after we had driven off.  The joke was on him this particular morning, as no sooner did he emerge than he found himself staring at a black bear about 10 feet away from the tent.   The bear quickly rambled off into the woods near the camp, but Jack was shaken.  When Anna and I returned, he was standing on the side of the road, looking very nervous and somewhat pale.  To his credit, Jack attempted to tell me and not Anna about the bear, but her antennae were up for any mention of the word bear and she found out quickly.

That was it for excitement at camp and we were glad to be leaving the next morning at 5am, heading for Yellowstone.  It was a little obnoxious that, after informing our new neighbors across the way that there had been a bear in camp that morning, they proceeded to wash their dishes, throw their scraps and brush their teeth, all about 20 feet from our camp as we watched them, horrified.  All three were blatant violations of bear safety and campground policy.  Again, glad to be leaving that campsite.  We aren’t sure if those folks survived.

In Yellowstone, all was quiet for the first 4 days in Yellowstone. Well, relatively quiet.  One of the worst things about camping in Yellowstone is the ravens.  Not something we are familiar with in Texas, but ravens are really astonishing birds.  Jet black, about the size of a large chicken and apparently smarter than some primates, ravens are known in Yellowstone for being thieves of the first order.  Not content to just steal food that you leave uncovered, there are signs all over the campground warning that the ravens love to steal keys, wallets and have been known to break into cars if the doors are left unlocked.  They work in groups and are really quite interesting.  The first morning, we watched, fascinated, for about 45 minutes as 5 ravens worked together to scope and nearly enter a Toyota Equinox next to our site.  Luckily, we only lost a few cherries to the thieving ravens.

The 5th night we were there, the real excitement started.  Right after the three of us went to bed, a loud ruckus started within easy hearing distance of our camp.  Having heard coyotes in Texas, I recognized their yipping, but this was louder and there were more than I’d ever heard before.  Come to find out, the pack of coyotes were taking down an elk in the field at the entrance to our campground, maybe 300 yards from our tent.

That morning we left to hike Mt. Washburn pretty early and were napping later in the afternoon when Noah and Steph (our Canadian student friends) came to our tent to see if we’d seen the bears.  !!  Of course, we bolted out of the tent at the mention of the magic word.  Yes, they explained, during our nap there had been 5 grizzly bears within 300 yards of camp, presumably looking for the elk carcass from the night before.  Anna and Steph decided to sit in the car until the scare was over.  Noah and I strapped on our bear spray and our cameras, Jack grabbed the binoculars and the three of us went looking for bears.  We talked to one group of campers, about 3 sites down from ours, who had a close encounter with one grizzly, but that bear had retreated to the woods north of camp.

The 5 of us drove to the entrance to see the other 4 bears, but a ranger was there waving off the flood of traffic stupidly coming to see the bear in camp.  We turned back and went to talk to the group that had seen the bear and to see if it would come back out.  It didn’t, but that group did tell us that there had been a grizzly (possibly the same one) near their site that morning as well.  Additionally, when talking to other campers about it we found out there had been a bison that just wandered into camp that morning as well.

About 30 minutes later, it was time for the Sunday church service in the park that we wanted to go to.  On the way out, we came across a momma bear and 2 cubs, trying to cross the road and being thwarted by people in cars trying to photograph them.  We, of course, also decided to photograph them, but from a distance and not in their path.  Parents were letting their children out of the car to get a closer look, which is just criminally negligent.  We ended up late for church due to the ensuing traffic jam, but at least we saw some bears.

Jack and Anna were both pretty freaked out about the bears near camp.  Jack ended up sleeping in the car with the doors locked and I’m pretty sure Anna would have if I were willing.  As it is, we slept with the bear spray next to us in bed and she hardly slept, listening for any noise that might be a bear.  The next night, it was raining and everyone was nervous about the bears, so we cut Yellowstone short and headed to Montana a day early.  All told, there were 6 grizzlies, 1 bison, a pack of coyotes, an elk and a black bear within a stone’s throw of camp….so far.  I’ll keep you posted if we get a moose trouncing through our tent in Glacier.

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