The day we came face-to-face with a Grizzly

My heart stopped. ¬†Just moments before, we had been happily enjoying the down-hill momentum and views into Glacier’s central valley, that was until company round a bend ahead. ¬†We froze in our tracks. ¬†A giant male grizzly dominated the trail just 20 meters beyond.

Of course, I’m well-aware that Glacier National Park is home to a grizzly bear population – warning signs are everywhere – but I never really expected to get THIS close to one. ¬†I had hoped to catch a sight of one form the car window. ¬†That would have been nice. ¬†Nice and safe. ¬†If anything, I had been on higher alert earlier that morning as we set out, completely alone, from the Siyeh Bend trailhead. ¬†Crossing through Preston Park meadows still enveloped in mist, I made sure to make our presence known, and scouted the area for any sign of movement. ¬†Nothing.

 

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Entering Preston Park ahead of the sun

 

Leaving the timberline far below, we wound up a shingle trail to summit Siyeh Pass. ¬†There we found a plump lonely marmot, hair blowing in the breeze, admiring the view. ¬†He didn’t seem bothered by us, so we let each other be, taking in the same view of a previously hidden eastern valley with tiny glaciers dotted high above.

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Capturing the views from Siyeh Pass

 

From Siyeh pass the views really exploded.  No longer sheltered by trees, the trail begins a tight descent, switch-backing 3220 feet alongside the stunning Sexton Glacier.  Both Conrad and I became so preoccupied with trying to capture the splendor on our cameras Рfailing completely Рthat concerns of bears left our minds.

Our cameras had just returned to bags as the trail began evening out, hugging the edge of Goat Mountain. ¬†That’s when the creature appeared, completely startling us. ¬†Conrad was in the lead (thank God), as we simultaneously¬†stopped dead in our tracks. ¬†He had seen us too. ¬†Definitely a grizzly. ¬†His dark coat hung over huge¬†hunched shoulders, with the tell-tale long snout that identified his bread. ¬†I suddenly felt very vulnerable. ¬†We hadn’t seen another human-being all day. ¬†And here we were carrying a bag full of trail snacks. ¬†What idiots! ¬†I bet we smelt good enough to eat too.

 

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If only we’d seen this BEFORE the bear!

 

My mind rapidly began processing every bit of advice I’d ever consumed about bears. ¬†I knew enough not to run. ¬†Even though instinct kind of made me want to. ¬†Now, what was the difference between dealing with¬†grizzly verses black bears again? ¬†The bear was holding our gaze. ¬†It felt like a Mexican stand-off. ¬†He seemed unsure too. ¬†Then, slowly, he resumed his stride, edging even closer. ¬†Shit! ¬†I’m going to die! ¬†I immediately began clapping my hands and shouting loud, incoherent¬†nonsense – anything that sprung to mind that identified us as people. ¬†Meanwhile, Conrad frantically released the can of bear pepper spray from its holster, the can we had debated paying $50 for just days before. ¬†He pulled the safety tab out ready. ¬†I cowed behind him.

I’m so grateful we never had to dispense the noxious mace. ¬†For one thing, a strong wind was blowing in our direction so we would have probably blinded ourselves! ¬†And for another, by the bear choosing to have a change of heart and divert off of the trail instead of confronting us, he kept himself safe. ¬†Not that we could have defeated him, but National Park policy often dictates that ‘troublesome’ bears – those deemed a threat to humans – are killed. ¬†So we both happily got to live another day! ¬†We watched as he leisurely passed us further down the slope, eventually stopping to inspect some fallen timber, to no doubt on the hunt for food.

 

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The only photo of the bear – taken once our safety seemed fairly certain & my pounding heart recovered

 

I spent the remainder of the descent along the gushing Baring Creeks constantly looking over my shoulder, rattled. ¬†I didn’t dare get any food out. ¬†But wow! ¬†What an encounter. ¬†My respect for nature increases every day.

 

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Baring Falls. Sunrift Gorge.

 

 

We hiked the Siyeh Pass Trail from Siyeh Bend, ending at Sunset Gorge. The trail is just over 10 miles long and gains 2240 feet.  There is a further option to extend the hike up to Piegan Pass and view Piegan glacier, but you will have to back-track from the pass to re-join this circuit.

Photographed in early August 2018.

Road-tripping USA: Yellowstone to Vegas in 21 Days

I first became captivated by Yellowstone watching a BBC documentary. ¬†It charted the dramatic seasonal changes to the park’s ecosystem, including majestic elk migrations, ¬†hibernating bears, and the ever-changing foliage. ¬†Animals fought the harsh perils of winter. ¬†Not all survived. ¬†The geothermal landscape struck me as hostile and wild. ¬†With a land mass larger than the states of Rhode Island and Delaware combined, and sitting on top of a super-volcano thought powerful enough to cover the continental US in ash, Yellowstone sky-rocketed to the top of my bucket list. ¬†But America’s first National Park is not the most convenient place to reach from the UK, so we put it on hold until we had the time to take a big trip.

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The rainbow-hued Grand Prismatic Spring is Yellowstone’s largest hot springs

Our chance finally arrived in September 2015.  In-between jobs we took 21 days to explore a chunk of the wild west, flying into the mountain town of Bozeman Montana via Denver.

Our plan was long but simple. ¬†Hiring a car and beginning with Yellowstone, our route to Vegas would transport us south through 5 National Parks, 3 State Parks, and a National Monument. ¬†It would span 4 states – technically 5 but I’m not counting Idaho’s 44 miles – with most of the driving distance concentrated in Utah. ¬†We would stick to the scenic, off-beat roads wherever possible, aiming to avoid the dreaded interstates at all costs. ¬†Thanks to the ever-changing scenery and epic natural wonders dotted along almost the entirety of the drive, I can truly say this trip was the most memorable, completely awesome¬†of all time. ¬†I only wish we had longer. ¬†I thought I’d share our itinerary along with some highlights for anyone hoping to visit this part of the US.

The High-level Itinerary

Day(s) Key Locations Rough Driving Route
1 Bozeman to Gardiner – Yellowstone North Entrance I-90 & US‚Äď89
2-4 Yellowstone N. Park Mainly Grand Loop Rd
5-6 Grand Teton N. Park US-20, US‚Äď191/ US‚Äď287, Teton Park Rd
7 Jackson, WY [via Mormon Row] Teton Park Rd, Moose Wilson Rd, US-26, Antelope Flats Rd, Mormon Row, Gros Ventre Rd
8 Logan, UT US-26 & US-89
9-10 Salt Lake City [+ side-trip to Cottonwood Canyon] US-89
11 Richfield, UT [Via Park City] UT-224 [Guardsmen Pass Scenic Byway], US-189 and US-89, UT-24 & UT-118
12-13 Bryce Canyon N. Park [Via Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument & Capital Reef N. Park] UT-119, UT-24 [short detour], UT-12 [Scenic Byway 12]
14-17 Springdale, UT – Zion N. Park UT-12, US-89 S & UT-9
18-21 Vegas [Via Valley of Fire S. Park] UT-9, I-15, NV‚Äď169 & I-15S
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Map created on Roadtrippers
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Catching views of the mighty Yellowstone Canyon from North & South rims
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The view from the Fairy Falls trail – after a brief scramble up an adjacent hill
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Staying for 2 nights in the historic Yellowstone Lake Lodge the animals came to us
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Making it to Yellowstone sights early and having them to ourselves: West Thumb Geyser
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The Colter Bay Nature trail, giving us this screen-saver worthy view of the Tetons
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When a lone elk crossed our path on the String & Leigh Lakes trail releasing an echoing cry
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Watching the sun go down from the bar of Jackson lake Lodge

 

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Catching these frisky moose at it whilst driving near Jackson Hole
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White Water rafting on the Snake River: FREEZING but beautiful

 

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Taking a bike tour of Sat Lake City and learning all about this quirky place

 

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Hiking in Big Cottonwood Canyon outside SLC where we saw even more moose

 

 

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The scenic overlooks of Bryce Canyon

 

 

 

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Attempting to reach the top of Angels Landing in Zion [before loosing my nerve!]
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Meeting friends in Vegas

 

A parting word of advice: ¬†A week before our trip commenced I was glancing over the Yellowstone N.P website and discovered – to my horror – that a section of the grand loop road (the only road through the park) would be closed for construction works during our visit. ¬†This changed some of our plans and might be the reason why our route looks a little disjointed. ¬†I would recommend checking out this kind of information on the park’s website¬†long in advance – ops!

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Regional View of Yellowstone & Grand Teton Parks. [Click on map for detailed park maps]
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Channeling my inner park ranger

 

 I hope to write some separate posts containing more details once I get around to sorting out the hundreds of photos!