photography, travel, wildlife, writing

For the LOVE: Bears

“There were all kinds of things I was afraid of at first, ranging from grizzly bears to ‘mean’ horses and gun-fighters; but by acting as if I was not afraid I gradually ceased to be afraid.” — Teddy Roosevelt

Spring in the northern reaches of the Rocky Mountains means several things, but to me, none is more important and compelling than the emergence of grizzly bears. But I am certainly biased. They are my spirit animal. 

And for those who share the same affection for Ursus arctos horribilis, a mecca is spring in Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks.

Since I don’t make very much of my income from wildlife, it’s tough to justify a super telephoto lens, so I don’t often get nice, tight images of the bears. But I enjoy it immensely none-the-less. Below were some of the moments I was fortunate to experience and capture this May.

Felicia pauses and watches the people who watch her from the highway nearby.

A solitary male grizzly wanders through the spring snow in Yellowstone.

We crazies will endure snow, sleet, and freezing rain all to glimpse the awesome sight of the largest land predator remaining on earth (except of course the polar bear). The childlike wonder is thick even amongst adults when we gather on a roadside together to witness and (sometimes) photograph a grizzly. In these parks, the bears are even known by name (or number).

I was fortunate to see seven bears (not all pictured here) in a ten day period… I “knew” five of them. And I’m not even one of the hardcore bear watchers! 

Felicia makes eye contact. Always a heart-stopping moment.

A tagged and collared three year old female high in the Absaroka snow.

Felicia keeps watch over her playful two year old cubs. They will be kicked out next spring to allow Felicia to mate again.

Grizzlies are some of the most human-like of all animals I have studied closely. They are complex. Sweet and nurturing one moment, brutal and murderous the next. In fact, it is quite common for mother (sow) bears to hang around roads for safety, as adult male grizzlies will kill her cubs to reduce competition and induce mating. 

One of 399’s cubs to be sent on its way in 2022.

One three year old bear I observed is one of the cubs of the most famous bear in the world. 399, an old bear by all standards at 25, had a litter of four cubs three years ago, to the surprise of everyone. This year, she cut them all loose. This is pretty strict grizzly protocol.

This bear was one of those four. Watching her, I couldn’t help but think about how much I hoped her mom prepared her adequately for life alone in the vast mountain wilderness. Her entire life to this point was defined by traveling in the safety of a family of five, enjoying the protection of mom and the playful company of her three siblings. Now, she is a typical, solitary wanderer in the harsh landscape.

Will she make it? If she does, she will join a growing number of successful Wyoming grizzly bears.

399 is known for her successful and plentiful progeny, so I comforted myself as I watched this cub struggle in the snow. I prayed that she would become another survivalist successor to her mum… Queen of the bears.

— Andrew

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Just around this time of year, grizzly bears start to emerge from their winter hibernation in our little part of Wyoming.
I get so excited in the spring for this ritual of nature. My heart is breaking that I can’t be there yet, but we are hunkering down until the coronavirus outbreak calms down. So for now, I’ll reminisce over a few encounters from the last several years… I hope you enjoy!
Last year, I got to witness sow 793 with her two cubs. The cubs are both getting to the age where they are preparing to leave mama and venture out on their own. But there’s still important play and learning from mom that has to occur.
They follow her everywhere. But frequently break into play fights with each other when they get bored.
This was a large sow with two younger cubs that I found in Yellowstone several years back. She was gorgeous. And the cubs were so playful and curious.
It was a brief experience, as they moved out of sight only shortly after appearing near the road.
Then there is of course my favorite bear encounter of all time. The other many sightings of these incredible creatures are most often with dozens of other people. Usually on main park roads.
But this one, was just me and this young griz.
It was probably his first spring alone, judging by his relative small size.
I was driving down (what used to be) a little known, inner park dirt road one morning, when I spotted him digging in the wildflowers, looking for food. I slowly pulled up in my truck. He glanced over at me, took a sniff, and then got right back to business.
I likely watched him for around 30-45 minutes… just us. Toward the end of this magical experience, he got within 10 feet. Don’t worry, I was in my truck the whole time, and I never moved closer to him. He never really seemed bothered by my presence. 
Just before he moseyed off, he raised his head and allowed me to make a quick portrait.
I loved being able to capture the raw vulnerability of such a feared and powerful creature, out in his element, all by my lonesome. I will never forget any of my bear encounters, that’s for sure, but this one in particular, is one of my absolute most favorite moments of my entire life.
I don’t expect anything like it will ever happen again, but I pray that it will. 
— Andrew
P.S. Im in the initial stages of putting together a brown bear photography workshop in Finland for summer 2021. If you are interested, drop me a note so I can put you on the early notification list. More info here.

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…last week in wyoming…



one of my first, and best, friends when i lived in wyoming was kim.  she recently got married and had a gorgeous little girl, kate.  first thing’s first… i had to go see them.


now on to my animals.  a coyote searches for food in the elk national wildlife refuge near jackson.




two ocean lake in teton wilderness provided fantastic scenery.





on the way out of two ocean and pacific creek, one of my favorite views of the tetons materializes quickly.  almost out of nowhere, the jagged peaks come into view with force and drama.





then, of course, the jackson lake dam provides unimpeded views of this beautiful mountain range, the grand tetons.



a lone big horn ram wandered, grazed.


early in the morning, the elk eat dew-covered grasses.




lamar creek.  the hidden gem of the lamar valley.  always one of my favorite spots to sit in the morning.


the lamar valley in the summer is a haven for the american bison.  they graze it heavily in massive swarms.


the lamar valley is also home to many bears.  this pair, one black bear and one cinnamon black were inseparable as i watched them cross miles of open landscape.  i saw this same cinnamon about four years ago in the exact same spot.  glad to see he’s got a lady to keep him company now…


bull elk are scattered across yellowstone this time of year.  typically alone, they seem to know that the autumn rut and breeding season will be coming in a few short months.


sulphur stained ponds dot the landscape of yellowstone.


a lone black bear on the northeast entrance road scavenges in the shadow of the mountains surrounding the montana/ wyoming border, near cooke city.


not even a mile away from the bear, a fox too looks for an evening snack.



on the road to lulu pass, just outside city limits, seedlings, clear cuts, mountains, and sky provide the backdrop for cook city, montana.




early morning, heading back from a night spent at the cooke city dump, the mountains and fog performed a ballet.  mist danced across the tops of trees as the light watched passively from behind the clouds.


and it only gained dramatic crescendo as i made my way back, further into the lamar valley of yellowstone.


after a long morning hike up the side of a peak in the lamar, a lone antelope kept his distance.



a 45 minute exposure at oxbow bend in grand teton national park, well after sundown.



morning glow over the tetons.  i love waking up to this view!!




mid-morning at oxbow bend.  light slowly makes it way toward me from behind, painting my canvas.



jackson lake was glass.  a rare site.




string lake, near jenny lake, grand teton national park.


back to my old haunt in sublette county… green river lakes in bridger-teton national forest.


the lower lake was in tumult, with wild winds from the south rumbling like a freight train through the valley toward the upper green.


the green river was calm the next morning, though the sky overhead read drama.


i hiked the highline trail toward the upper lake.  squaretop mountain spectacularly reflected the patches of sun.




i followed massive grizzly tracks all the way to the upper lake about three miles.  it was not alone.  two smaller sets of tracks alerted me to the fact that a sow with two yearlings could be around any bend.


on the way into little soda lake, the aspen groves catch a reflection more colorful than reality.


cactus patches keep me aware of where i place my feet…


just a few minutes from the front door of my old house in pinedale, soda lake reflects the wind river mountains, creating impressionistic hues that would make any artist salivate.

all images © andrew r. slaton | photographer 2009