Wee Three Bears

June 06, 2013  •  Leave a Comment
Wee Three Bearsp1259671506-5
Three Grizzly Bear Cubs in Alaska

I’m fortunate enough to live in rural Colorado, a place teeming with wildlife. I would never call myself a wildlife photographer though. It’s a very specialized discipline requiring big, heavy, expensive gear and, most of all, patience and an extensive knowledge of your subjects. I will, however, photograph wildlife if they walk in front of my lens. Living where I do, that happens from time to time. Very rarely, animals will pose for me while I’m traveling far from home.

Traveling through Alaska while celebrating my parent’s 50th anniversary a few years ago I had the opportunity to spend an evening touring Denali National Park. Not really a fan of these organized tours, I tried to bow out of this one by citing my recently-acquired intestinal virus as a great reason not to spend the next five hours on a school bus with no “facilities”. I was reminded that since I had not eaten in 24 hours I probably had nothing to “lose”. That argument won out.
I will sing the praises of our driver/tour-guide for the rest of my life. She was a rookie driver but had more knowledge of the park and the wildlife than everyone else on the bus combined. She also had the eyes of an eagle. She could spot wildlife half a mile away and tell us what it was, its sex, what it was doing and what it had for lunch the previous day. She was truly amazing. Even with a 200mm lens I couldn’t see many of the birds she was trying to point out. Our driver had spotted a large female grizzly bear with three cubs a few days prior to our tour. She knew just where to look for them and amazingly, they were just where she thought they might be. A little more than a quarter of a mile away up a drainage above the road we could identify “Mama” and here three brown spots. Mom was slowly eating her way down the hillside while the kids were having a blast sliding down the little remaining snow in the gully. We watched for about 15 minutes while my fellow tourists complained under their breath about the animals being so far away.
We traveled well into the park viewing a few caribou and Dall sheep as well as an eagle or two. We even were blessed by a rainbow in Polychrome Basin. My personal stomach ailments prevented me from being my usual photo-hungry self so the landscape images I made left a lot to be desired. Traveling with 30 other people doesn’t help my creativity much either. I do my best work while traveling solo (but that’s a story for another time).
As we were heading back to the entrance to the park our driver noticed that the four bears had worked their way down the drainage and were now only about 100 yards from the road. She said that we would sit and wait as long as everyone in the bus remained inside and absolutely silent. I’m thinking some of the group didn’t even breathe for the next 45 minutes or so. With the windows on the bus lowered to allow a clear shot, we took turns photographing and viewing Mother Grizzly and her three cubs slowly eating their way to our bus. My seatmate asked me what I thought was going to happen (via whisper). I said I thought they would come right up to the bus. She said “In your dreams”. She was right! Occasionally dreams come true too.
Mom and her three cubs crossed the road 20 feet in front of the bus as we sat in silence and amazement. They dissapeared into the tall brush and it was time for us to get back to “camp”. We had barely travelled a hundred yards when a moose stepped out of the brush right in front of the bus. We almost ran it over. I didn’t get that picture!
Not everyone who travels to Denali has the experiences we had but I highly recommend the trip if you can do it. The more time you can spend inside the park the more likely you are to be rewarded with memorable images. That’s the case everywhere I’ve been but sometimes the Powers of the Universe conspire to reward even short visits. There is no substitute for patience either. Please let me know your thoughts and feel free to share this with the links below. I do have photos with Mom with the cubs as well.

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Crested Butte, Colorado photographer, Dusty Demerson creates fine art photography displayed as prints and canvases and provides private photo tours in and around western Colorado.

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