Following a long hiatus, the Photo Journal has returned. Some recent camera equipment acquisitions have required lots of field testing.
It was a cool, overcast day in Denali National Park, Alaska. Hundreds of visitors had ridden shuttle buses out to Eielson Visitor Center, about 66 miles out on the park road. The standard advice to visitors is that if they want to see lots of wildlife, they should spend time riding the green shuttle buses. However, this means shooting through the windows of old Bluebird school buses, and the wildlife target might be some blurry/fuzzy thing 300 yards out on a hillside. Instead of hanging around inside the visitor center, it seemed much more logical to get out and walk on the trails. The wildflower season had been unusually early and short due to the dry winter, so now just a very few flower species were visible. The alpine trail goes up to Thorofare Ridge, so that seemed like the place to go in case the flowers were still out. Upon reaching the ridge, I could see over to the north side. However, photographers simply wanted the clouds to part and permit a clean shot at Mount McKinley. Eight of us were lined up with our camera lenses pointed south, so we were not paying much attention to anything north.
All of a sudden, somebody was shouting, “Bear! Bear!” In an instant, we turned around to see a small grizzly bear approaching us from behind. I believe that I was the only visitor there armed with bear spray, and I was taking a second or two to assess the situation. The bear was 35-40 yards away.
Right then, the bear realized that there were eight humans, and it really did not want to tangle with that much trouble, so the bear took off running away to the east. The photographers had their cameras clicking away at ten frames per second as the bear departed.
Just a few days prior to Denali, the venue was Brooks Falls in Katmai National Park. Toward the end of a busy day, I was making my second return walk to the campground completely loaded down with cameras and lenses. I had made my way from the waterfall back to the Brooks River pontoon bridge where I looked around for brown bears, but I guess most of them were still at the waterfall in pursuit of salmon. I crossed the bridge and headed up the trail toward Brooks Lodge. As I paused to wipe the sweat off my brow, out of the corner of my eye I noticed that the vegetation underneath one trailside spruce tree had a remarkable similarity in texture to that of brown bear fur. In the next seconds, I kept walking quietly to exit the area. Later I learned from a ranger that, in fact, it had been a sow bear sleeping underneath the tree and only a few feet from the trail. Yikes!