Those of you who read this column have probably guessed that one of my favorite things about living in northwest Wyoming is being just a short drive from Yellowstone National Park — and that I wanted to see a bear.
Well, this month I’ve gotten my wish — and then some.
While some folks spent their Fourth of July holiday grilling and relaxing, I spent mine at Yellowstone, getting up at 4:45 a.m. to take the Chief Joseph and Beartooth highways into the Northeast Entrance. There were tons of critters out that day — bison, elk and even a bull moose that had breakfast next to Salt Butte Creek.
Last, but certainly not least, there were bears out that day, too — five of them, including a black bear under a tree in Lamar Valley eating a roadkill deer carcass and a juvenile black bear eating some bugs out of a log south of Tower Junction.
But the best was yet to come.
On Saturday, after waking up well before sunrise, I decided I was going to head to the park. And as I was on the East Entrance Road, just southeast of Lake Butte, I came upon a line of cars parked alongside the road. Curious, I stopped and asked what the buzz was about.
Lo and behold, down in the valley, was a female juvenile grizzly bear relaxing under a tree. And not just any grizzly — she was mostly cream colored on her head and body, with dark brown legs and feet. More than that, while she was relaxing under that tree, she often rolled over and stuck out her tongue. If I didn’t know better, I would have assumed that she was striking poses for us.
Not surprisingly, she is one of Yellowstone’s best-known bears — a de facto park celebrity. While park officials do not name animals, that has not stopped parkgoers and wildlife photographers from naming her Snow, because of her light coloration.
She was born in the winter of 2014-15, so she’s about 3 1/2 years old. She remained with her mother (known to many as Raspberry) until early June, when her mother chased her off and decided to mate again. Since then, Snow has been out and about in the eastern portion of the park, adjusting to life on her own.
What has made Snow famous — besides her striking coloration — is that she has been photographed many times throughout her life, from making her debut as a cub in 2015 all the way until now. Besides the photos that I took of her Saturday (see Tuesday’s edition of the Powell Tribune), Snow is a favorite subject of many wildlife photographers at Yellowstone, including Sandy Sisti of Wild at Heart Images, Kate and Adam Rice of KAR Photography and also Yellowstone National Park Ranger Peter Mangolds.
One quick note: While we were staring at and shooting photos of Snow, there was a park ranger there to ensure everybody stayed safe, human and grizzly alike. Though Snow seemed pretty relaxed that day, she’s still a grizzly bear, albeit a young one, and still dangerous if she gets a bee in her bonnet.
Nevertheless, seeing my first grizzly (relatively) up close was one to remember. Hopefully, it won’t be my last grizzly sighting — or Snow sighting, for that matter.