Surviving grizzlies and hitchhikers in yellowstone national park

by Kim on July 15, 2012 · 50 comments

The first thing I saw upon entering Yellowstone National Park was a bison trundling down the road directly at our car. I felt like I was Jim Carey’s character in The Truman Show and the director had whispered cue buffalo

Don’t worry, we dodged the buffalo

We rented a teensy tiny cabin near Yellowstone Lake because I was too terrified to camp in grizzly country. My decision to stay in a cabin was sealed last year when two unsuspecting folks got munched to death by grizzlies in the park. 

No grizzlies in here

Now, before you comment to tell me that it isn’t typical bear behavior to feed on humans and that I’m more likely to die in a plane crash than have my face eaten off by grizzlies (thanks for the reminder!) let me just say that bear encounters are my phobia and they have been ever since I had a run in with a curious brown bear ten years ago. 

Our cabin was fantastic because it afforded us the luxury of working up a sweat all day and then showering at night. Also, Yellowstone’s Lake Lodge was located a quarter mile down the road and had IPA on tap and a big front porch filled with rocking chairs from which we could watch the sun set over Yellowstone Lake. It was pretty close to perfect.

Celebrating a good day at Yellowstone

Sunset from the porch at Lake Lodge in Yellowstone

Due to my aforementioned phobia I was also too afraid to do any backcountry hiking. On a few separate occasions I worked up the courage to try but each time we arrived at the trailhead I’d see the posted warning: BEAR ATTACK!  Are you prepared? and I’d melt into a little puddle of fear. I was not pleased with myself. 

Brian was not pleased with me either because I forced him to walk around with bear spray attached to his hip. Each morning I’d nag him into practicing deploying it until he’d give in and whip the spray out of its holster in quick succession like some goofy small town movie cop. 

Brian will kill me when he finds out I posted this picture

Aside from the imminent threat of death-by-grizzly Yellowstone was amazing. I knew beforehand that the park was filled with geysers and colorful hot springs but nothing could prepare me for seeing these geothermal wonders first hand. The colors were out of this world.  It was a thrill to think that deep in the ground beneath my feet magma from an active volcano was heating water that was rising to the surface before me. I mean, the ground was boiling.  

The wildlife in Yellowstone is stunning.  Over 3,000 bison roam freely through the grasslands and can be spotted everywhere: in the roads, the fields and the hiking trails. 

A bison relaxes at Yellowstone

On our second day in the park a black bear ran across the road in front of us. Later that evening we noticed a crowd gathered on a hilltop and joined them in watching a mother grizzly and her cubs roam in a field far below. 

The black bear that crossed the road in front of us

We saw coyote and elk and deer too.  Wherever we turned we were reminded that we were visitors in the home of many amazing creatures.  I loved it.

On our final day in the park we drove towards the north entrance hoping to take a dip in the Boiling River.  At the Boiling River thermal water from Mammoth Hot Springs empties into the Gardiner River creating pockets of hot water in the otherwise cold current. It’s a favorite swimming hole for locals and park visitors alike. 

Unfortunately the river was closed because of the fast moving currant so we drove to Gardiner, Montana to catch a glimpse of the iconic Roosevelt Arch. President Theodore Roosevelt dedicated the arch in 1903 upon creation of Yellowstone-America’s first National Park.  

Brian stands at the Roosevelt Arch at Yellowstone’s north entrance

On our way back into the park we picked up two dreadlocked hitchhikers thumbing their way to east Yellowstone. They looked harmless enough but I knew that if they caused us any trouble Brian had one of a hell of a reflex with that bear spray. We’d be okay.

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{ 47 comments… read them below or add one }

Barbara July 15, 2012 at 2:22 pm

Wow guys, this place looks amazing!

How come though that you are wearing a big bulky jacket and Brian only a t-shirt :D

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Kim July 15, 2012 at 7:26 pm

It is definitely an amazing place!

It was cold at night in Yellowstone but Brian refused to recognize it.

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Tracy July 15, 2012 at 3:06 pm

This post just brought me back to all of the amazement I felt when I was there for the first time, you described it perfectly! Don’t let Brian kill you because you posted that picture, I don’t think a bear would attack you all because Brian looks like such a bad ass with that bear spray.

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Kim July 15, 2012 at 7:26 pm

He does look like quite a bad ass, doesn’t he? The sunglasses help too.

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Jen July 15, 2012 at 3:52 pm

It is such a pleasure to read about your adventures! I always look forward to seeing new posts! Keep up the great writing, beware of the bears, and have fun.

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Kim July 15, 2012 at 7:28 pm

Thank you Jen- I’m so glad you are enjoying the posts! There are more bears to come in my future…

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Carmel July 15, 2012 at 4:41 pm

We (me, mom, Shawn) all really appreciated your Truman Show reference. This entry made me laugh so much…I could just hear your voice telling this story. Glad you survived! Looks like an amazing adventure.

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Kim July 15, 2012 at 7:28 pm

Carmel, it was a lot of fun. Have you and Shawn been there? You’ve got to put it on the list!

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Lindsey July 15, 2012 at 5:53 pm

Bison! And bears! I was planning a trip to America at the beginning of this year and it got to the point where my friend refused to come with me unless I quit being so excited about finding bears. Probably a wise decision. Also probably for the best that plan fell through!

I adore the part about your bison welcome!

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Kim July 15, 2012 at 7:29 pm

Lindsey, I understand why your friend would be scared! It is amazing to see the bears but just not too close.

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Traveling Ted July 15, 2012 at 8:11 pm

It can be unnerving to hike in areas where you are not at the top of the food chain. I understand your fear as I have hiked in parks with mountain lions and black bears in the U.S. and tigers in Asia. Never hiked in grizzly country myself.

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Kim July 16, 2012 at 8:44 am

It is unnerving! For some reason Mountain Lions and even brown and black bears don’t scare me. But grizzlies! They can be unpredictable!

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Rhonda July 15, 2012 at 8:37 pm

We DID camp at Yellowstone and also did not become grizzly trailmix but glad you enjoyed the cabin and IPA on tap:)
Great photos…can’t wait for the next update!
J&R

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Kim July 16, 2012 at 8:45 am

After I saw the campgrounds at Yellowstone I think I probably could have handled camping. I think the bigger concern is the bison! But I was happy with our cabin and especially happy with the shower. I have learned that if I am going to live out of a tent I need to have a shower nearby.

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Rhonda July 16, 2012 at 4:10 pm

I do not blame you there!! A shower at least every couple of days is essential. Enjoy

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Michele C July 15, 2012 at 11:01 pm

The picture of the bear isn’t showing up for me (reading on my phone), but I can see all the other pics…there must be some deeper meaning in that? Your phobia is corrupting my interwebs experience!

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Kim July 16, 2012 at 8:46 am

Haha. I told you my phobia was strong! You aren’t missing much. The picture of the black bear looks like a fluffy, sorta greasy block dot in a sea of green.

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David - GeoPosted July 15, 2012 at 11:59 pm

Looks like you had a good time. Can’t wait to get there myself in a few weeks and see for myself. We also chose to go with cabins for accommodations. Happy to hear those are working out. :-)

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Kim July 16, 2012 at 8:46 am

Ohh ENJOY! Try to go to the Boiling River. Everyone raves about it and I’m so sad I missed it.

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Pamela July 16, 2012 at 4:53 am

It seems like the perfect place to get in touch with nature. Also, the animals look healthier than the ones we’ve seen in Southeast Asia. I am proud of the amazing national parks we have in the US, thanks for sharing!

Pamela

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Kim July 16, 2012 at 8:47 am

I am also very proud of our US park system- it really is “America’s best idea.”

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Sarah July 16, 2012 at 7:03 am

After watching a fabulous documentary series on Yellowstone last year, I have wanted to see this amazing place for myself – and thanks to your brilliant account of your experience – I feel a little closer! I’d been puzzling over your fear of bears, so thanks for sharing – while in Yosemite last year, we were all bitterly disappointed NOT to have had any close encounters!

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Kim July 16, 2012 at 8:48 am

We are camping at Yosemite in a few weeks and there are a lot of warnings about bears in the campgrounds. I’m already stressing a little, but because they are black bears I feel a little bit okay with it.

You are never guaranteed a bear sighting but they seem to be prevalent in Yellowstone.

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Jose@Tierras Patagonicas July 16, 2012 at 9:00 am

Great pictures, I love the bisons.

You should come to Patagonia, lot of thermal springs too, you are going to love it!

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Kim July 17, 2012 at 9:13 am

Jose, we are DEFINITELY coming to Patagonia and plan to do a ton of hiking and backpacking. I’m so excited about it!

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Keirnsy July 16, 2012 at 9:16 am

I’m SO glad you own that amazing little camera. These photos are OUT-OF-CONTROL.

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Kim July 17, 2012 at 9:14 am

I know, I LOVE that little camera. Best purchase ever.

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SitesseeingUSA July 16, 2012 at 9:57 am

The last time I was near Yellowstone, the owner of our rental cabin suggested a trail that would lead up to a nice lake in the middle of the forest. Sounded perfect to us, so off we went. As soon as we got there, we noticed that there were 0 cars in the parking lot and the trail was completely isolated. Needless to say, we never finished our hike. I’m sure the end destination was beautiful, but it was Fall and I’m sure the grizzlies were busy trying to find food. No thanks.

Great post!

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Kim July 17, 2012 at 9:17 am

One thing that scared me is that all the signs said to hike in a group of three or more… but there were only two of us! A week later we backpacked in the Grand Tetons (also grizzly country) but with a group of five. I felt much safer!

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Sarah Somewhere July 16, 2012 at 11:42 pm

Ha ha ha! Love the hitch hiker quip!!!! Those photos are magnificent! Tyrhone has always wanted to go to Yellowstone, and your story now has me sold. Great stuff! Greetings from China, we’re doing it baby!!!!

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Kim July 17, 2012 at 9:19 am

Luckily we did not have to bear spray the hitchhikers! Sarah, I really think you would love Yellowstone. I’ve never really seen anything like it in my life. PS- YOU ARE IN CHINA!

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Cheryl Dinan July 17, 2012 at 5:26 pm

Kim I am keeping up with your travels, I love the writing and the pictures!!! Take care and stay safe. I love you two. Mom

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Kim July 18, 2012 at 8:52 am

Hi Mom, I’m so glad you are reading and following along. Love you.

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Maddie July 17, 2012 at 8:18 pm

I know it’s a very real phobia for you and nothing anyone says will probably make it better but as long as you’re sensible with food and scented products when camping you should be ok.

I’ve woken up in the night a few times in Canada convinced there was a grizzly outside the tent but keep trying to tell myself that we’d be incredibly unlucky to have one attack in the night.

Pics are great! So glad you’re enjoying the parks.

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Kim July 18, 2012 at 8:53 am

Just don’t start reading about all the attacks and watching the youtube videos! Trust me, I don’t do myself any favors by doing that. I know what you are saying is right… I need therapy!

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Hannah July 18, 2012 at 4:11 am

Yellowstone is one of the most amazing places I have ever been, and it was so great to be taken back there for a while as I looked at your gorgeous photos. I was constantly amazed by the diversity in wildlife and scenery there, and look forward to going back one day – we were lucky enough to enjoy the hot springs on our trip, so you guys will have to come back too so we can hang out it them together :)

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Kim July 18, 2012 at 8:53 am

Hannah, I would love to go back and sit in the Boiling River with you guys!

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Dustin@WeGoRTW.com July 19, 2012 at 3:49 pm

Funny about the bear spray, EmSue wanted it too but once I priced it at $30 I said no it was too much and skipped it :) thankfully we ended up not needing it but perhaps you could resell it.

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Kim July 22, 2012 at 9:39 pm

We are headed to Sequoias and Yosemite soon so I’m not quite ready to give up the bear spray yet. It makes me feel better though I told Brian “we’re basically gigantic skunks” with the bear spray.

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Holly July 20, 2012 at 1:24 pm

Did you see any wolves? My dream is to go in the winter and cross country ski with the wolves. The City of Portland actually has a trip there that I have been eying for years.

Where was the IPA from? Snake River brewing?

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Kim July 22, 2012 at 9:43 pm

We did not see any wolves :( We thought we saw one and got VERY excited but it was just a coyote. There are a few meadows that you can drive to in the very early morning in hope of spotting some wolves- but mostly they are reclusive.

The IPA was from Snake River and it was delicious. We are having a good time drinking microbrews from around the country. I know you would approve!

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LG August 8, 2012 at 8:38 am

bear encounters are my phobia too. my boyfriend always rolls his eyes when we hike to my singing/clapping/stomping in an effort to warn the beasts off!

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Kim August 12, 2012 at 9:45 am

Oh yes, I definitely understand the “singing, clapping” dance in the woods!

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Hal August 15, 2012 at 7:50 am

Sweet blog. I cruise on a sailboat when I can, and you guys are cruising on your feet. Cool. One thought on hitch hikers. Pepper spray inside a car is an interesting idea. Don’t try it at speed.:-)

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Kim August 17, 2012 at 7:32 pm

Haha, luckily we didn’t have to try the pepper spray at all!

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cynthia August 29, 2012 at 1:11 pm

I think we were in Yellowstone at the same time.., and you are the 4th person(people) I “know” who were! The beauty was almost too much. But I survived it. :)
I only saw one moose and no bears… but lots of buffalo!!
Love following your adventures. Travel on!

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Tracy Antonioli December 4, 2012 at 11:10 am

So I know this is an old post, but I stumbled across it while doing research for my own cross country trip (which is months away; we don’t leave until June)and I just had to comment. I love this post. First, my husband is insisting we spent five days–five–in Yellowstone. I thought that was too much, but that part of this trip is his to plan, so I gave in. You made me MUCH more excited about it. And second–this post is oddly hysterical. I love your humor. And your captions. A lot. So thanks for the laugh! (For the record, I’m all but forbidden to post photos of my husband on my blog; you are very lucky that bear spray pic didn’t result in divorce!)

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