The first call came while I was drinking my morning coffee.

“The bears are up Spring Gulch,” the caller said. “You don’t want to be running into 399 and her cubs on your hike.”

Very true. Though truth be told, before winter set in I did want to see 399 and her cubs.

Another friend called.

“The bears are really close. I’m not sure where but there’s a Forest ranger driving around South Park. If you go hiking bring a fire extinguisher of bear spray,” she advised.

At noon I received my third bear spotting notification.

“Today’s the day to see the bears from the safety of your vehicle,” my friend said. “Or, you can come over to my house. We can watch them from the window.”

It looked like rain. It was cloudy and a little windy. Leaves were falling from the cottonwoods. I figured I’d give it a go.

My urban bear adventure seemed inherently wrong from the onset. Let’s see: I was on the lookout for five grizzly bears and the first thing I did was make myself a big tall travel cup of Typhoo tea. Shame on me. Nonetheless I grabbed my backpack, a pen, a composition book and my iPad in case I had a chance to take a really good picture. I would have taken my camera but it was buried somewhere. I didn’t really care about attempting to take a photograph. I just wanted to see the bears with my own eyes.

In South Park there was a football game at the Middle School with lots of cheering. A man got off the START bus carrying a bag of groceries; a Game and Fish officer went by. I followed him until he pulled off into a parking lot. I drove around here and there and soon noticed a group of others driving here and there, around and around trapping themselves in cleverly designed cul-de-sacs.

Oh where oh where could those bears be? Nowhere, I hoped. This was no place for bears.

I thought about what path I would choose if I were 399 with my four cubs. Soon I parked in a very good spot where I could use my binoculars to glass the meadows and the ridges. When it comes to glassing an area I know what I’m doing.

I stopped, I looked, I observed, I didn’t see a thing. I zipped up my coat, pulled on my gloves and sipped my tea. I saw a mother pushing a baby carriage, her two dogs running ahead. She wasn’t looking anywhere except at her phone. There were a lot of cows around, some horses. A familiar group of cars passed by again and again and again. I felt like I was on a stakeout.

“What the heck am I doing?” I said.

Cows mooed. Geese honked. The cows sauntered up to the fence line to check me out. Two of them stared at me through the driver’s side window. I looked at them, they looked at me, and none of us were impressed.

A late model Chevy truck passed by, then a Range Rover. A runner jogged, the Rover came back, an off-duty wildlife safari guide pulled beside me.

“You’re in a good spot,” he said.

“I know,” I replied.

“I saw their tracks up Spring Gulch this morning,” he said.

“Tracks?” I said. “Whoa, hard core.”

Soon he went on his way. Getting antsy, I took advantage of my friend’s invitation to watch for 399 and her cubs through her large windows while we drank more tea inside her warm house. I got up from the sofa to stretch and saw two cars slow down along the fence line on the main road. Two ladies got out of their car. They were looking at something.

“This is it!” I said.

My friend and I got into motion, jumped in the car and sped to the road. The ladies we had seen were chatting, no bears in sight. Disappointed, we drove a bit, made a turn and looked straight ahead spotting the bears right in front of us: “It’s them!” I shouted.

Brakes were slammed, binoculars raised. There was 399 and her very, very big cubs. We stopped and stared in silence, in awe, alone for what seemed like forever instead of mere minutes. We watched spellbound as mama and cubs made their way toward a herd of cows. The cows froze.

“Don’t make a move!” I imagined them saying to each other. “Make believe you’re invisible.”

It worked. The bears didn’t care about the cows or horses or the camper vans from California, the Prius from Oregon, or the wildlife safari bus that seemed to appear from nowhere.

The bears cared only about one thing: continuing their journey full speed ahead.

Doreen Tome is now thinking about her winter hibernation plans.

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(1) comment

Joan Holliday

I am so happy you could see these beautiful bears in person. I live 2500 miles away in Pennsylvania. I have been following 399 for as long as i can remember through the media and Thomas Mangelson. I am praying they stay safe and can find a good place to hibernate this year as they are so large. Also praying that next year they can survive the people, crowds and can stay away from human food. It would hurt so much if they were killed like some of the bears this summer. Thank you for your stories, I look forward to the next ones.

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