I've been out "West" three times in states that hold bears. States like Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, California, Oregon. I've seen hundreds of buffalo, elk, deer, and pronghorn antelope. I've been to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons twice. My last trip there, I saw and photographed my first three moose and three wolves as well.
Nope, zero, zilch, nada.
When I finally went back to Yellowstone, nearly 20 years after I first visited it. I made it a goal to see a bear in the wild.
I did research ahead of time, and learned that Hayden Valley in Yellowstone is considered a prime location. My mom and I had two days there to see one, so one evening we headed out to Hayden Valley. If you have never been to Yellowstone before, it is always easy to tell where wildlife is hanging out because there will be 20 vehicles parked by the side of the road and tons of gawking tourists.
On this particular evening, we got near a pull-off in Hayden Valley and saw something like 30 cars all in this one location. I figured "Ok, this can't be just another buffalo or elk, there's way too many vehicles." I get out and walk up to a woman standing close by holding binoculars and excitedly ask her: "Is it a bear?!? Is it a bear?!?" She turns to me and responds: "Oh, I don't know anything about any bears, I'm watching this beautiful Sandhill Crane down here."
Are you kidding me?
I can see Sandhill Cranes by the dozen at home in Michigan, who cares about a stupid crane? (I didn't say that, but I wanted to) There was also a handful of buffalo in the valley below, that's what most of the people were stopped for.
Frustrated, we continued down the road and saw another congregation of vehicles. This one much smaller. But, we had to stop and see what everyone was looking at. As soon as we stepped out, I knew we made the right choice when I heard someone say: "Yeah, see the cubs there next to her?"
Yes, there was indeed a sow Grizzly and her two cubs at this location, but they were more than a mile away foraging in a field. To the naked eye, they appeared to be little more than dots. See my photo:
Thankfully, there was a guy nearby with a spotting scope who let us have a closer look at them through that. I was thankful to have finally seen some bears in the wild, but I really, really wanted to get a closer look at one.
The rest of the trip, despite our searching, we saw no more bears.
I haven't been out west in a while, but I have been up to northern Michigan a few times. Every time I have made it a point to keep an eye out for bears. Every time I've come up empty.
This past weekend, I was in northern Michigan again for the annual "Geocacher Enough" road rally event. While the primary focus of the trip was geocaching, I always keep a close eye out for bears when I'm up here. Especially since other cachers at this event have mentioned seeing them in the past. In the course of running around that afternoon, I was thrilled when our group ran across a porcupine. (an animal I've never seen in the wild before) We even got charged momentarily by it when we (stupidly) cornered it. I ended up getting a few nice photos.