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The Power of the Bear

There are lots of ‘Trail Creeks’ around Park County.  One of them travels through private lands from Cody to Pat O’Hara and into Dead Indian.  There are dozens of Tipi rings along the now faint trail through the valley.  This was the major route tribes used to StinkingWater river (now the Shoshone River) and its hot springs.

But in my valley there is a Trail Creek as well, also a major travel route from the north ends of the Park, through Sunlight Basin and down either towards Cody or the Clark’s Fork.  The Nez Perce came this way while fleeing the calvary.  An ancient route used for thousands of years, it’s quick access over the mountains north or south.

I love this area.  Most of it was devastated by the ’88 Yellowstone fires, but for some reason the south side of the pass adverted most of the flames and a small perennial creek (Trail Creek) feeds the narrow valley.

Near Trail Creek.  '88 Fire burn

Near Trail Creek. ’88 Fire burn

The route isn’t just favored by humans.  Nowadays wolves, bears, elk and deer use the access more than horses or people on foot.  In fact, if you take the trail, make sure to have bear spray handy.

I did a short run up the south side of the trail today (on the north side the trail name changes and is called ‘Lodgepole’.  Lodgepole creek trail was completely burned during the fires.  The trail is hot with standing dead trees…not so pleasant).  The access road has been closed most of the season due to flooding but is open now.  Go to the end of the dirt road, park, and then you have to pick your way through downed burnt trees to find the trail which turns sharply up a narrow access valley.

Looking west on Trail Creek

Looking west on Trail Creek

As you near the route to the pass, the trail leaves the forest, and enters open areas that have burnt and downed trees.  It was there I saw the young black bear.  He crossed from our side of the creek to the other, and fed continuously, oblivious to our presence.  Although it was true the wind was in my face, once he saw us, he could care less and just kept feeding.  It was then I realized that his hyperphagia (excessive eating to ready for hibernation) had begun.  I watched him for quite a while, trying to decipher what he was eating.  Bears love old burned areas.  For one, they can tear up decaying logs.  For another there are lots of fresh new plants and foliage to eat. And watching a bear move over those logs is a sight, as it is nothing for them.  At one point, my bear had all four paws sideways on the log, like you might see bears on a circus stump.

My photo below isn’t very good, because it wasn’t till he was farther away that I realized I’d brought my iPhone.  I’d seen a partial track down the trail in hard mud, but being incomplete I wasn’t sure if he was a two year old grizzly or a black bear. (3″x3.5″)

Sorry he looks so far away.  iPhone photo, but he is just across the creek looking back at me and Koda

Sorry he looks so far away. iPhone photo, but he is just across the creek looking back at me and Koda

Black bear track 3"x3.5"

His track

After about 1/2 hour and a snack on the trail, I left the bear to his eating.  He never was bothered by Koda and I watching him.  But I decided to revisit his track and spend time looking for bear rubs on the way back.

Fall is definitely in the air.  The berries are beginning and by mid-September a great crop of rose hips will ripen.  It’s been a quick summer because we had a long winter and compressed late spring.  The bears are definitely feeling it as evidenced by this little bear.

Thimbleberry not quite ripe.  Yummy

Thimbleberry not quite ripe. Yummy

Buffalo Berries

I love these, but you have to develop a taste for them. After a little frost time, they are at first sweet, then a really tart after taste.

These are not edible.  They are in the honeysuckle family.

These are not edible. They are in the honeysuckle family.  Notice they are in ‘twins’

You recognize this garden delectible

You recognize this garden delectable.  Strawberry.  The raspberries were ripe as well.

On the way down, I found three distinct bear rub trees–all of them had hair and none of them had my bear’s hair.  All of them had blond grizzly hair.  Grizzly bears are called Silver-tipped because the ends of their hair follicles are silver.  If you hold a hair to the light and you see it fade to ‘white’, then you have a grizzly hair.

bear rub tree

bear rub tree

Grizzly bear rub tree

Grizzly bear rub tree

All those rubs within a mile and a half indicated to me this is a prime bear travel corridor, and that grizzly had been leaving his scent along the trail on the trees.  In the winter, the area is closed to people for habitat protection and that’s a good thing.  Wolves as well as large ungulates use this trail for easy travel into and out of the back country.

It was a great pleasure to watch that bear undisturbed for a while.  Seeing bears on the side of the road in Yellowstone is common, but watching one alone in the backcountry contains an intimacy and magic that is indescribable.

Little Black bear in Yellowstone

Little Black bear in Yellowstone.  My bear was bigger than this little guy.

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