EAST GLACIER, Mont. — Thanks to my wife Tina’s quick camera skills, a grizzly bear almost met an untimely demise last week.
It was a chilly Sunday afternoon when Tina and I made it to Logan Pass, the best view at the top end of Glacier National Park in Montana. It was the last day the road to the pass would be open for the season, so there were a lot of people at the visitor station wrapping up their summer vacations.
Walking past another couple outside their car, we heard the wife say, “Over there! Look!”
“I don’t see it,” the husband said.
“It’s a grizzly bear!”
He might have missed it, but the bear was easy to spot on the mountain clearing just across the street. The beast was big and gray — and fast. And heading down toward the parking lot.
Tina quickly tipped her hat up, put her Nikon D40 to her eye, focused fast and fired off a dozen or so shots.
We were impressed we actually saw a bear, whatever kind it was. Inside the visitors center, we overheard the park ranger mention to a family that there had been no grizzly sightings that high in the mountains in about a year.
“Tina, go show her your pictures,” I said. I might have pushed her, too.
“Hey, what kind of bear is this?” Tina asked the ranger, zooming in on the hulk on her camera screen.
“Where did you see this? When?” the ranger asked.
“Just now, out there,” Tina said, pointing out the window to the clearing, maybe 50 yards away.
As if on cue, the bear plowed out from behind a tree, very near the two-lane highway and a hiking path. He was heading across the clearing at a quick pace.
“That’s a grizzly!” the ranger hollered, throwing on her hat and jacket and jumping on her radio to other nearby rangers.
She ran to the chilly outside, saying, “I wondered why all those people were heading over there!”
Sure enough, tourists were walking toward the bear’s path, snapping pictures all the way. I wasn’t interested in facing a 400-pound mindless killing machine, but we headed to the path on the other side, behind the visitors center. We stayed close to the station as the rangers doubled back, running past us and yelling, “Stay there!”
Farther up the path, we saw hikers heading toward the mountains. In between, the grizzly was sashaying casually between them and us. Not so close, but close enough.
“Tina! This is all your fault!” I chided. “You caused a panic with your pictures.”
“Shut up!” she said, kind of giggling, camera ready for that National Geographic cover shot.
Then, from behind a batch of trees, we heard two gunshots. Uh, oh.
And there went the grizzly, hauling bear butt across the hillside, scared of the warning shots from the rangers.
We wondered what would have happened if he ran in the other direction: The rangers seemed prepared for questions from children, not for a death match with one of nature’s toughest critters.
Tina took an unexpected series of photos of a bear running for its life, a gray streak of muscle and fur against chilly gold grass.
After talking with other visitors and showing off Tina’s pictures, our work was done. We had kept the park safe — or at least caused a poor bear to be scared senseless.
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