Shortly after the bear affair I was driving out of the park. My heart was still racing from the encounter with the grizzly and my whole body must have been flushed with adrenalin.
That's when I saw him in the rear view mirror - a park ranger, blue light flashing, motioning for me to pull over. "No, Sir," I told him, "I had no idea I was going 15 mph over the speed limit." I went on to explain to the officer that I never speed. In fact, I told him, my wife and children all call me "Pokey" because I'm always driving so slowly.
The ranger wasn't impressed, so I continued, "I've just been chased half-a-mile by a grizzly bear," I told him, "Look here!" I showed the officer the photos on my digital camera. That's when he accused me of stalking the bear and provoking him in order to get a once-in-a-lifetime photo. He told me about another man whose remains had been found elsewhere in Alaska. Beside that man's scattered bones and blood-stained, shredded clothing was his digital camera containing the last pictures he had ever taken, "They were remarkably like your own photos," the ranger told me. He accused me sternly, "You could have gotten yourself killed."
By this time I was shaking. How dare the ranger accuse me of stalking the bear, when I was the one who had been stalked. I had just been through one of the most harrowing experiences of my life, and here he was suggesting it was somehow my own fault.
"OK, OK," the ranger said, just calm down. I believe you; I'll let you go this time." But first he asked if I would stay there long enough to tell my story to a park biologist. He sent a radio message and 15 minutes later we were joined on the side of the road by a studious looking man who was very interested in hearing a detailed retelling of the bear encounter. He told me this was unusually aggressive behavior for a grizzly in Denali National Park, and he closely examined my photos to see if he could identify the particular bear involved. Then I was released, and drove north.
New adventures awaited.
Part 9 of 9
Up the bank on the other side of the river was the front half of the loop trail, where I had been hiking just 30 minutes earlier. I looked over and saw that there were several other vacationers on this section of trail. Closest to where the bear emerged from the river was a lone male hiker.
The grizzly approached this man even more agressively than he had the couple, appearing to me to be aggitated by this second human encounter. The bear made a bluff charge to within a few feet of the man, then stopped suddenly. Apparently the man had read the same instructions for scaring away a bear that we had because he was clawing at the sky and yelling loudly, "Shoo, bear, shoo; go away, bear!"
While taking advantage of the situation to make tracks back toward the trailhead, I stopped just long enough to take this shot, praying all the while for the man's safety. Although in this photo it appears that I am on the same side of the river as the bear, actually I was shooting across the river, which makes a bend at this point.
Part 4 of 9
Eh, don't worry...it's just a bear with huge teeth and claws to shred you apart!
Ok, so yes....they are scary. However, they are made out to be ferrocius. Truth is, bears don't want contact with humans. They only attack when made to feel defensive. ie. You walk up on them around a carcas, or their sows. Or perhaps them.
There are many trails you can take wherever you are in Alaska. It's not always easy to see them until perhaps too late. This is why it is recommended to wear a bell on you, shout as you go here and there, and carry either pepper spray ( i know, that sounds funny, I'm still trying to accept that myself), or possibly a gun.
If you take a tour, you don't have to worry. If you go hiking, then it's a possibility. More people are killed every year by lightening than by bears. Alaska has the highest concentration of bears, along with B.C. in Northern America.
I recently bought a book on Bear attacks, and being from Florida and never encountering a bear, or being in that possibility, I figured it would be a good idea. I'd recommend educating yourself before hiking with the possibility of meeting a bear.
Here's a shot of an arctic ground squirrel at the Eielson Visitor Center picnic area. It was really checking me out! Groundsquirrels are one of the animals most easy influenced by handouts from people. It is illegal to feed animals in the park and it also doesn't help them. Human food does not give them the nourishment they need to survive the winter and they will be stocking up on the wrong foods. Human feeding also creates a larger food source, thereby increasing numbers of these rodents in park areas where people are. A large amount of these small animals will also attract bears as they are a major source of protein for them. Unlike in other parts of Alaska, there are no salmon spawning in this park and very little in the way of fish. Therefore, bears depend on the squirrels. Bears coming to these picnic areas where people often are, is dangerous and in the end could make the bear a problem bear. That would most likely result in its being shot. Don't feed the wildlife
Respect the animals and their home. Remember that we are the visitors to Denali National Park. The animals living here are engaged in a daily struggle to find food and water necessary for survival.
Don't leave any food, garbage, food containers and so on.
!!! Do not approach within:
0,4 km (1/4 mile) of grizzly bears
25 m (75 feet) of wolves, caribou, moose and Dall sheep
300 m (300 yards) of eagles, falcons
100 m (100 yards) of fox, wolverine lynx or coyote dens
1,6 km (1 mile) of wolf dens
P.S. Check out the travelogue "Alaska Animals" to see the postcards I brought from Denali :-)
In what almost amounts to the center of the state, Denali supports a thriving populations of mew gulls. Besides the mosquito, the gulls are probably the most intimate with park visitors, hovering around every waterway and tour stop along the park road. Like the gray jay in the lower forty-eight states, the gulls will strike at morsels in your hand or light on the smallest speck in the road. Keep clear whenever possible and yield the way. The gulls are highly territorial.
If you find a bloodied animal during your hike or exploration, be careful. . .it should be assumed that a bear knows of the carcase, and may be quite close in guarding it. If the bones have been picked clean, that means that the bear has taken its fill, and the last caretakers (the birds and rodents) have likewise rejected the carcase for further sustenance. Denali's grizzlies subsist on vegetation and vermin, but moose and caribou calves are common victims in the summer -- practically the only time the bears can get meat proteins. Therefore, if flesh remains on the carcase, backtrack immediately.
Grizzly bears are amazing animals and seeing them in the wild is an experience that you will carry with you forever. They are however wild animals, and therefore unpredictable. If you are hiking here or camping in the back-country or even in fixed campgrounds, make sure you pay close attention to the rules and adhere to them. There has never been a fatal mauling by a bear in this park. The rangers work very hard to educate people who will be hiking and camping to keep it that way. Please listen to what they have to say for your own safety, as well as that of the bears.
This place is as wild as it can get, so do check for whether, wildlife and bring all the necessary stuff to survive. The bright side is that you get to be close to nature and a wonderful experience.
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