Sunday, June 10, 2007

How Close is Too Close?

We rounded the curve at the top of Mt. Washburn and saw it. Four cars stopped, people looking to the right. I pulled rapidly off on the shoulder. Looking down, less than 10 feet away was a grizzly bear. Mary Ann grabbed her camera and began taking pictures out the window. He moved past, and once he'd gotten a little farther, we crept out of the Jeep, and she kept on taking pictures.

A couple of oddities appeared. His face was red from either fresh wounds or old injuries, and he seemed to favor his right foreleg. Every car that passed found a way to stop, and many pulled over into the viewpoint just a few yards away. But the bear was headed that way as well. He was quickly surrounded on two sides by people with cameras. He was well aware of everyone, but his primary task seemed to be digging for grubs.

By that time, he was a bit farther away from us, perhaps 30 -40 yards, but he was just about a dozen feet from the people in the parking lot. I wasn't comfortable, particularly with all the children gawking down at the large, injured bundle of muscle and claw. I kept it to myself, but noted that Mary Ann was in a great position to photograph the massacre if the grizzly took exception to all the attention. I wondered aloud just how many people could hide in the bathroom.

Then the Park rangers arrived, and began ordering people back. Camera-toting tourists must be the most difficult beasts to manage. This ranger at least had people skills, and soon people were re-locating their vehicles and moving back from the edge.

Officially, 100 yards is the limit for approaching the bears, but the ranger was more concerned with moving people to safe postions and coaching them on what to do if the grizzly headed their way than handing out citations. We left shortly thereafter, with about 2 gigabytes of bear photos.

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