Thursday, August 04, 2011

Bearing Up

Back in 1970, when we visited Yellowstone National Park the first time, there were bears all over the place. You could bearly drive a mile without coming to a bear jam, where tourists would stop their cars, and regardless of the warnings, feed the bears. Apparently the National Park Service got tired of dealing with bear v. stupid people confrontations (bears are cute and friendly, until the picinic basket is empty), so they began to reeducate the bears about the dangers of hanging out with humans. A popular motto in the park became “a fed bear is a dead bear”  because any bears that now become acclimated to humans are relocated, and if they return, they are euthanized. Today, driving through Yellowstone, you will barely see any bears. They do sniff around the campgrounds on occasion, and a visitor may get eaten by a grizzly in the back country on occasion, but for the most part the bears and humans in the park keep to themselves.


A local entrepreneur who used to enjoy seeing the Yellowstone bears got the idea to recreate the experience in a controlled environment, so he opened Yellowstone Bear World near Idaho Falls, ID, about 60 miles west of the park. Here tourists drive their own vehicles through the park to get a good look at dozens of black bears roaming free. DSC_0172 All of the bears here were born in the park and hand raised, but, except for closely supervised opportunities, the bears and people are separated by car windows, which aren’t allowed to be opened. Since people will be people, there are also lots of handouts and signs warning folks that they are responsible for their own actions – meaning the park won’t pay up if junior decides to flee the back seat and present Yogi with some tasty body parts.


The park also has a section containing grizzlies, but we saw just one, and he seemed more intent on cooling off in the stream than in investigating the tourists.


There are other animals in the park as well, including a rare white elk, and several varieties of deer. There’s also a moose named Stiltz, who, like all moose when I try to get a picture, was hiding in the trees when we drove by. So, no picture of Stiltz.

Tonight, unless it rains, we’re going to a local rodeo and tomorrow we’re heading through Yellowstone Park to the same campground where we camped on our first trip three years ago. I don’t think there’s wi fi or cell service there, so it may not be until next week that I add another entry here. Oh, last time we were in this campground a large grizzly bear was reportedly seen in the park. But don’t worry, we have whistles and bear spray.


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