Mama Bear & Cubs

At the northern end of Moose Wilson Road in the Grand Teton Nation Park, there is a special place I often go to very early in the morning. I try to go there an hour or so before sunset as well. There’s a large pull-out area for cars to park. Directly below the parking area is Sawmill Pond. Over the past couple of years, I’ve seen moose, elk, osprey fishing, six different black bears and a variety of ducks and other animals in that area. I keep missing the Great Grey Owl though!

It’s well-marked with a sign that states that this area is frequented by bears and your safety cannot be guaranteed. Most people stop and stay just a few minutes especially if they don’t see an animal right away. Some will hike a short distance from the parking area while a few of us will hike a mile or so along the ridge. I like to do it an hour or so before sundown because the sun is in a perfect spot should I see elk or moose.

Two weeks ago I hiked out there a little more than an hour before sundown. I had heard three elk bugling and was hoping to get a good environmental shot of at least one of them.  After about an hour, one of them showed himself and I got this shot. I got lucky again!

Bull Elk showing himself
Bull Elk showing himself

The sun was about a half hour from setting so I headed back. About 200 yards from the parking area, I saw a couple who were clearly in distress. The woman’s eyes were wide open and she was making gestures indicating a big bear and  two small bears were close by. The man was on his cell phone trying to explain in his broken english that they were in trouble because the bears had crossed the trail right in front of them. They were afraid to move and didn’t know what to do.

I told them they were safe with me. I had bear spray and would walk with them to their car. I knew this bear was not interested in us but trying to find food. We are not their prey. She was most likely looking for berries for herself and her cubs. The folks were quite relieved when we got to their car as they continued to thank me over and over again.

By that time, a ranger had come and of course, a horde of people showed up as well. As the ranger and I talked, I kept watch for the bear. I saw it coming toward us. Now, the next few pictures are not of the quality I would like but, I’m posting them anyway. You see, we had to keep moving back because she was coming towards us so it was a little tricky trying to get the shots I wanted. I was also trying to help the ranger with crowd control. (Well, that’s my excuse….. 😉)

Female Black Bear coming towards us
Female Black Bear coming towards us. The little bit of brown on the right is one of her cubs.

Here she is looking back to be sure they were following her.

Are you coming?
Are you coming?

This is a picture of her second cub. We noticed that it was limping and following at a slower pace.

I'm coming too!
I’m coming too!
Just hobbling along
Just hobbling along…..

Mom stopped coming toward us and decided to go back down to the pond area which is 35 yards below the parking area.

Coming out of the brush
Coming out of the brush

She continued to go along the edge of the pond right in front of us. While it was only about 35 yards away, the ranger felt we were safe as long as we stepped back just a bit.

She continued to go to our left towards a berry bush.

Hmmmm this may be good!
Hmmmm this may be good!

She then reached up to sample some of the berries.

That's about as high as I can reach.
That’s about as high as I can reach.

Cub #1, the non-injured one, climbed right up into the bush. It was fun to watch as it swayed around a bit. I was wondering if the small branches would support its weight. Well, they did and it did not fall.

I think there are some up here Mom!
I think there are some up here Mom!
Whoooo, it's a bit shaking up here!
Whoooo, it’s a bit shaking up here!
OK, now I've got it!
OK, now I’ve got it!

Soon, they seem to have their fill and started to move off behind the bush where we could no longer see them.

Time to move on...
Time to move on…

The next thing we noticed, mom was crossing the pond.

I wonder what's on the other side.
I wonder what’s on the other side.

A minute or so after mom made it across, cub #1 swam across too.

Just about there!
Just about there!
Made it!
Made it!

Well, where’s cub #2?.  It finally caught up to the area where mom and #1 had been but they were not in sight.

Hey guys! Where are you?
Hey guys! Where are you?

Soon #2 disappeared behind the berry bush. We couldn’t see it. All of a sudden, we heard it softly calling out to mom. It got a little louder and then even louder. It almost sounded like it was crying.  Saying, where are you MOM! Then it stopped. Next, we saw this.

They have got to be over here..... I hope!
They have to be over here….. I hope!

Yup! It swam across the pond in just about the same area as mom and #1 did.

As it got on the other side, mom came out from the trees to greet it.

Where have you been?
Where have you been?

She was there after all making sure #2 was safe and ok. She was being a really good Mom!

I was starting to worry about you, little one!
I was starting to worry about you, little one!

And then, they went off together into the woods.

Time to go find #1.
Time to go find #1.

Everyone was relieved to see them together again. I hope they find enough food to make it through the winter especially cub #2. If it does, with that drive to survive, it’s going to be an awesome adult bear.

I hope to see you next year little one!

Well, that’s my National Geographic experience for this year. I hope you enjoyed the trip with me.

Thanks for coming by!

Bill