Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Kings Canyon All-American Safari 09/07-10/12

Ruth and I are just back from an outstanding weekend in Kings Canyon, the kind of trip that needs more than one blog post to do it all justice. There will certainly be more from this trip coming down the pipe but let's start with the BEARS! How about this pretty girl? (above) We met on a trail and first saw each other from a distance of about 25 feet. It was love at first sight, a romance for the ages. She was nervously curious about us and actually paced us for about a hundred yards, holding to a parallel course about 50 feet above our trail. 

Everybody should know by now that Southern Sierra fun spots like Mineral King, Sequoia, Kings Canyon and Yosemite are overrun with black bears. These bears are accustomed to the presence of people and are pretty good at not being seen by the vast majority of visitors to these parks. Until this trip I had only ever seen one bear while visiting Kings, and that one had an ear tag and a radio collar. On this trip Ruth and I saw 4 black bears from less than 50 feet away. Three of these encounters occurred on hiking trails well away from campgrounds. All four of these bears were wild, no tags or radio collars on these guys. 

The big boy in the photos above and below was our first bear sighting of the trip. He was just off the road near Zumwalt Meadow, being a bear, doing bear things. He was actively rummaging for ants or termites, and as I watched him I realized that this bear was probably really only interested in one thing, socking on as many calories as possible before first snow. We sat on the shoulder of the road just 50 feet away from him, watching Ruth's first bear. I don't know how long we were there, but it was a while. Every now and then the bear would turn and look straight at us, just checking on us. Having the opportunity to park it there and watch this animal as he went about his business was an amazing experience.

The young bear in the pictures above was our second bear of the trip. We were wandering around near Roads End when he popped up out of a gully about 40 feet away. As with the road-side bear, he wasn't interested in anything but scrounging for bugs, packing on fat for the winter. I am very proud of Ruth and the way she handled her first bear encounter. She played it cool, taking her lead from me. I first put myself and some distance between Ruth and the bear. I talked to the bear as I would to a horse, low and slow. It worked. The bear briefly focused on me before resuming his hunt for grubs. Ruth recognized that this had been a special experience, a positive interaction with a wild bear and she was appropriately "wowed". I was too. That was as close as I'd ever been to a bear.

Spot the bear.
On two different occasions we saw mother does with two fawns. 

The big cinnamon below was tearing bark off this fallen tree in an effort to get to bugs. There seemed to be an urgency with these bears, they know winter is coming. We saw the bears mostly in the morning hours, but we ran into one bear at around 3PM. I have to guess that the bears in Kings Canyon are figuring on no sleep 'til hibernation. 

In addition to the deer and the bears we saw a big osprey and an assortment of small animals: royal jays, squirrels, chipmunks, bats, owls, lizards. All of these interactions were special, I felt pretty privileged to have seen all this in just 3 days. 

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