Road trip: Grizzlies, wolves, elk, oh my!

We didn’t get to go to a rodeo on this trip. But that’s OK. The alternative turned out to be much better.

We needed to be in Boulder, Colo., for dinner on July 1. Other than that, the calendar was open. Thanks to our spontaneous trip to Yellowstone, we had already paid the entry fee to the Grand Tetons, and it was good for seven days.

Although I wanted to take my friends to a rodeo – it’s quite an experience – the only one we could have managed was in Cody, Wyo. Without boring you with geography lessons, it meant we could do one or the other, but not both.

The consensus? Tetons.

We packed up our things and headed out of Bozeman early in the afternoon on June 30. Our route took us once again to Yellowstone. We began winding our way through the park, stopping at the Fountain Paint Pots, Old Faithful and for the various animal sightings along the way.

As the afternoon turned into evening, we crested the snowy Craig Pass, drove past the West Thumb of Yellowstone Lake and began our final trek south. Through gaps ahead, we began to get glimpses of the world famous rugged peaks.

A final few bends in the road, and there they were. Awe-inspiring is the best I can come up with at the moment. The sun was just starting to set, tinging the snowy crevices pink and coral. Really, there’s no easy way to describe how those mountains so thoroughly dominate the scene. They’re bold and brash, daring you to take your eyes off of them.

We took our share of photos (see above). But that’s not the half of this story.

Just as we entered the national park, a flashing road sign warned of bears with cubs on the road ahead. Sweet! But the pessimist in my head said, “Sure, whatever. Don’t get your hopes up.”

We preceded with caution. What’s that? Brake lights! Bears? Nah. Just a bull elk.

It was a race to get to an overlook before the light faded entirely. We rounded another curve and saw a sign for a scenic overlook – and a ton of people lined up along the edge.

Wow, these people are serious about getting their scenic photos. But as we drew closer, we realized the majestic peaks in the distance weren’t what the buzz was all about. No less than half a dozen high-powered binoculars were trained on the flatland below where a unique and somewhat odd scene was playing out.

A grizzly sow and her two cubs were in the open to one side. About 50 feet away to the other side was what the observers swore was a black wolf, reclining in the grass, facing the bear and her cubs. Those who had been there for a while said a coyote had also appeared, approached one of the cubs and been surprisingly rebuffed by the young one.

We got our turns looking through binoculars, took photos of the mountains (the animals were too far away) and started out again. Our destination, Dubois, Wyo., lay east of the Togwotee Pass, about 50 miles away.

As we drove away, we tried to digest what we’d seen. We just saw grizzlies! And a wolf (possibly)! All the while, the jagged peaks in the rear view mirror wouldn’t let us forget the main reason we’d come this way in the first place.

The evening got darker as we headed east. Only a few cars were on the road.

Just 15 minutes into the drive, the car ahead of us flashed the brake lights. We slowed. What’s that on the road? Holy cow, it’s a BEAR – and her CUB.

MORE BEARS.

We froze. The pair crossed the road ahead of us and began meandering down the grassy shoulder towards us. We forgot to breathe for a second as we tried to stay as quiet as possible. The pair pulled even with our car and paused while the sow rooted around. The cub scampered over to the road sign and stretched its short, stubby front legs up to brace itself on the post.

We braved a few photos. Despite the flashes, it didn’t seem to faze them. I’m including one. *cough* You may notice the darkness of the photo … I swear there are bears – you just can’t exactly see them.

For a few brief moments, we were mere feet away from one of the West’s most intimidating creatures. But then a tractor trailer came steaming down the hill from the opposite direction and sent the pair scrambling for the woods.

That’s OK. Despite the fact that we don’t have visual evidence, we know. In a span of 30 minutes, we saw FIVE grizzlies and a black WOLF … we think. In one of the most spectacular settings possible.

Not a bad way to start wrapping up a road trip, I would say.

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