I love bears. I’m not sure why, but I just do. Years ago, the summer after I was married, my then husband and I drove the Alaskan Highway to work for his fishing guide business in Alaska. Although I knew it would be a long drive (54 hours), I was excited about the wildlife I’d get to see along the way. I was especially excited about seeing bears. Knowing I was excited about seeing bears, my new husband purchased the book, Alaskan Bear Tales, to read as we drove.
Now, I know bears can be dangerous. I take this fact very seriously. Years ago, a friend of mine lost her son to a black bear as he was sleeping in a tent while the family camped. Awful. Yet even though I know they’re dangerous, they still fascinate me.
As I was making my List of 50 Things Before I turn 50, I began to think about some of the places I’d never visited with my kids. Yellowstone National Park came to mind. Even though it was only a five-hour car drive, we’d never visited. I decided to do a little research about Yellowstone and learned that the best time to see bears is in the Spring—when they come out of hibernation. Excitedly, I added “Take my kids to Yellowstone” to the List.
Yellowstone National Park takes up parts of Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana and was the first National Park in the United States. It’s best known for the Old Faithful geyser and its wildlife.
When I mentioned my plans to the kids, the older ones said they wouldn’t be able to come (finals, work, etc.). Duncan, my youngest, said he would go but only if his older sister, Caroline, who was away at college, could come. Fortunately, she said she’d join us as long as she didn’t have to miss any school. This meant we would need to leave late on a Friday morning and get back Sunday evening. No problem. I could work within these constraints—anything to see a few bears.
So on Friday, we left for Yellowstone, picking up Caroline on the way. Instead of checking into our hotel, we decided to go to the Park while it was still light outside. As we approached West Yellowstone, I noticed how quiet the town seemed. Fortunately for us, it wasn’t very crowded yet. “Glad we chose this weekend to come,” I thought to myself. However, as we approached the entrance to the Park, it suddenly occurred to me why we didn’t see hardly any visitors in town. The Park…was CLOSED!
I couldn’t believe it. How could I have missed this very crucial detail–make sure Park is open–? As the reality of the closed Park began sinking in, I wanted to cry. This trip was skiwampus. Sensing my distress, the kids began piping up with “Hey Mom, it’s okay. We can come another time when it’s open. You know what? I bet we can take a walk inside the Park. I see people riding their bikes up ahead just beyond the gates.”
They were right. We could still go inside the Park. So, I zipped up my jacket and we headed into the Park on foot. As we proceeded to walk inside the entrance gate, we nodded greetings to the cyclists who were biking along the road. One cyclist yelled over to us “You can do it!” A smile crept over my face. It occurred to me that we were going to have a great trip to Yellowstone, after all.
We continued walking, enjoying the afternoon sun on our backs and just being in nature. Soon, we saw a huge raven land in the branches of a neighboring tree and watched as it pulled the bark from a stick it held between its legs. We laughed and continued our walk, hoping to see a bear or two.
After walking for a couple of miles, we began to approach a winding road on our left and decided to explore. As we adventured through the trees, we glimpsed a river up ahead. “This must be the Yellowstone River,” I thought. “Maybe we’ll finally see a bear trying to catch a fish.” As we got closer to the River, we decided to walk into the woods to get a better look. Within minutes, we were at its bank. It was beautiful. It was quiet. But…no bears.
After taking a few pictures, we headed back out to the main Park road and proceeded to return to the entrance. As we walked, I kept peering through the trees in hopes of seeing bears coming out of hibernation. Unfortunately, they were still sleeping. Springtime in Yellowstone, it appeared, was not for another week.
After we left the Park, we ate a delicious pizza at Wild West Pizzeria & Saloon. We then headed over to our hotel where we checked in and settled into our suite for the night. Snuggling together in the large King-sized bed, we watched Hunt for the Wilderpeople. After the movie, I announced I was too tired to stay up, and within minutes, I was sound asleep.
The next day, we enjoyed a nice breakfast at the hotel. After eating our fill of waffles with blueberry syrup, we decided to head back home since a bad snowstorm was arriving. After a hot shower, we packed our bags and checked out. As we pulled away from the parking lot, we began to see the first snowflakes falling.
Driving home, I continued to be on the lookout for bears but didn’t see any. Caroline soon fell asleep in the back of the car while Duncan and I took turns answering 100 Getting to Know You Questions. As we drove, I learned that Duncan is afraid of heights and spiders (I knew about the spiders). If he could only eat one food for the rest of his life, it would be cold cereal. I also learned that he has a much better memory than I do. But the most important thing I learned? The trip to Yellowstone was never about the bears..