Tuesday, July 6, 2010


Yellowstone National Park, Blacktail Ponds: April 30, 2010

After two and a half days of too much snow, it finally looks safe to go into the park.

One lone bison running. Why? We don’t see any herd for it to catch up to. Sometimes bison seem to run just for the fun of it, but this doesn’t look quite right.

Ah ha! There is a grizzly on the far side of the valley. No wonder the lone bison cow wants to get out of the area. We park to watch. The cow is soon out of sight. The bear is far away, but coming closer.

Full of anticipation we watch the bear head towards Blacktail Ponds. An untouched bison carcass lies surrounded by open water in one of the ponds. Each time we pass we pause to see if a bear has found it yet. Most winters an unfortunate animal or two breaks through the ice and drowns. Usually a bear pulls the carcass to shore before the ice is properly melted, but this carcass has been visible for days.

The grizzly heads right down to the shoreline. What! He swims the narrow channel between two ponds, maybe fifty feet from where the bison floats. No sign he recognizes the presence of the bison carcass. He comes out drenched and shakes gallons of water from his deep pelt. He now follows the long path that cuts the string of Blacktail Ponds from a shallower, marshy strip. A flock of yellow-headed blackbirds lifts up from the bulrushes bordering his path and fly with the wind, past the grizzly. He looks up as they pass.

The bear is getting too far from us to watch so we drive on, only to find ourselves stuck in a bear jam. What luck! Cars are stopped in the middle of the road in both directions and we are stuck too … and the bear is headed towards us.

The grizzly is on my side, so it is up to me to get any photos. I put ‘Big Bertha’ (our 500mm lens) on the window and shoot as the bear gets bigger … and bigger … and Big! My last frame cuts off his ears and his front claws! I should have switched to a smaller lens, but by then I realized it was time to roll up my window – quickly.

That grizzly was near! So near he chose to cut between cars right in front of us and even gave our car a gentle bump as he went past, as if to say, “Move over Honey.”

What a treat.


  1. what an amazing experience !and an opportunity for that great photo. I love the description of a "bear jam". Were they stopping to look at the bear, or to let him through the traffic?
    I am in awe. We dont have bears in Australia and on my visit to the US I saw the bottom of a bear as he went across the road and in'to the bushes.

  2. What an adventure. A bear coming that close is thrilling no doubt. Just look at those claws. Love your sketch too. You got that look on the bears face just perfect.

  3. Alissa: Be sure and read what I just posted about 'jams.' and Thank you for you kind words.