Go On Safari In Yellowstone And Grand Teton National Park

The thought of going on safari generally conjures up mental images of driving across the African savannah dressed in khaki and wearing a pith helmet while spotting elephants and lions. But did you know that it is possible to get a true safari experience in North America, without having to endure a very long trans-Atlantic flight?

Luxury travel company The Clear Creek Group is now offering the Wolf and Bear Expedition, which promises to take adventurous travelers into Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks in search of the two legendary predators. The three-day trip pairs visitors with a wildlife biologist who then guides them into the the famous Lamar and Hayden Valleys, which are often referred to as “the Serengeti of North America.” Those two destinations feature an incredible amount of wildlife, including bison, moose, elk and more, set against a dramatic backdrop of sprawling and beautiful landscapes.

The Wolf and Bear Expedition begins and ends in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, but while on safari, travelers will stay in the wonderfully quirky Montana town of Cooke City. Accommodations are included as part of the package, as are side visits to Old Faithful, the spectacular Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and the terraces of Mammoth Hot Springs.

Of course, the real highlight of the trip is the wildlife, which will take center stage thanks to the expert guides on these trips. They’ll know how to locate the predators in the wild and they’ll give travelers an opportunity to observe them in their natural settings.

Having visited Lamar Valley myself, I can tell you that it truly is a magical setting. I’ve seen the wildlife there and it is quite the experience. While I was there, I spotted a large moose, a pack of wolves and numerous elk and bison. Sadly, I didn’t get the chance to see a bear, although on this excursion it sounds like that is more likely to happen.

The four-night itinerary for the Wolf and Bear Expedition is packed top-to-bottom with activities for a very busy few days. Prices start at $3675 with bookings available in May, June, September and October.

[Photo Credit: Clear Creek Group]

Alaskan Town Invaded By Record Number Of Polar Bears

The 250 residents of the remote town of Kaktovik, Alaska, have grown accustomed to living on the edge of the wilderness, but even they had to be a bit surprised at all the ursine visitors that came calling last month. In mid-September, the sleepy little community found itself over run with a record number of polar bears who came looking for food while they wait for the return of the pack ice.

Located above the Arctic Circle, the people of Kaktovik routinely supplement their meager supplies with an annual whale hunt, which provides meat for the lean winter months. Following the hunt, the carcasses of the whales are left on the beach for predators and scavengers to pick clean. Typically this attracts numerous polar bears that are looking for an easy meal, but this year there were far more bears than normal. On September 13, observers counted 80 polar bears in total, which broke the old record for the most spotted in a single day. The previous record of 65 was set back in 2004.

Researchers believe that it could be more than just the promise of a free meal that brought so many polar bears together at the same place and time. This summer saw the Arctic ice melt at an unprecedented level, which may have forced more of the creatures to head to solid ground while they waited for temperatures to drop and the ice to return. Unlike most animals, polar bears actually eat more regularly in the winter and look to their fat stores to get them through the leaner summer months. Any time they can get an easy meal it is a cause to congregate.

Lucky for the bears, the ice began to form once again on September 16 and now has started to thicken and spread across the Arctic Ocean. That means the animals will soon be able to head north once again, leaving Kaktovik behind for anther year.

[Photo credit: Loren Holmes]

Bears Cause Closure Of Great Smokey Mountains National Park Campgrounds

Officials at the Great Smokey Mountains National Park announced the closure of two campgrounds this week due to increased bear activity in the area. They also posted numerous warning signs throughout the park, reminding visitors to remain aware while traveling through the wilderness. The Bear population has reportedly become increasingly bold when approaching humans, and while there have been no injuries as of yet, park officials are urging caution.

Stretching across parts of Tennessee and North Carolina, the park covers roughly 816 square miles of rugged forest and mountain backcountry. With more than 9 million visitors last year alone, the Great Smokey Mountains is the most visited national park in the entire U.S. system. Many of those visitors come with the hope that they’ll catch a glimpse of one of the park’s many ursine residents.

The two campsites that were closed include the Cosby Knob Shelter, which falls on the Tennessee side of the park, and Campsite 113, which is located in North Carolina. Other sites that are under a bear warning include Derrick Knob Shelter, Russell Field Shelter, Campsites 21, 24, 34, 35 and 61. Additionally, further warnings were given for Abrams Falls Trail, Bullhead Trail and Laurel Falls Trail. Officials said that the closures and warnings will remain in effect indefinitely.

Those who plan on visiting the park and staying for an extended period of time are advised to be very careful with their food and garbage. Either can attract a hungry and curious bear looking for its next meal. Backpackers and campers should use a bear bag to hang their food from a tree and use caution when storing anything inside their tents.

With bear populations in the Smokey Mountains continuing to grow, it’s likely the closures of these campsites could become a regular affair. Lets just hope that both the travelers and the bears stay out of each others way as much as possible and no one gets hurts.

[Photo credit: HBarrison via WikiMedia]

New tour combines flightseeing, kayaking and bear viewing on Alaska’s Admiralty Island

Watch Inside the Fortress on PBS. See more from Nature.

The United States Forest Service recently awarded Above & Beyond Alaska a 10-year permit to operate guided day trips by kayak around Admiralty Island, a highly protected area where an estimated 1,800 brown bears — the largest concentration in the world — roam free. In fact, Admiralty Island has more brown bears than all the lower 48 states combined, causing the native Tlingít people to call the island “Kootznoowoo,” meaning “Fortress of the Bear.”

Although several other outfitters offer bear-viewing opportunities, Above & Beyond Alaska is the only company permitted to offer guided brown bear viewing trips by kayak. This allows travelers access to areas that are hard to reach on foot and also might allow visitors to Admiralty Island a chance to get even closer to the bears (and other wildlife, such as the eagles that are pictured) without disturbing their habitat. Above & Beyond Alaska is certainly living up to their name, and has put together a tour that starts in Juneau with a 25-minute floatplane flight followed by a sea kayak excursion that offers two different viewing experiences: either a rugged trip to Windfall Harbor, where bears can be seen frequenting streams from the kayaks, or a slightly more tame outing to Pack Creek, a popular destination where travelers can spot bears from a viewing tower.

The seven-hour tours will be available May 15 through September 15, with peak season falling between July and August when salmon are spawning. Rates start at $569 per person. For more information on Admiralty Island, see the above video from PBS.

Photo courtesy Above & Beyond Alaska.

Bear spray accidentally discharged inside Grand Tetons visitor center

Visitors to the Grand Tetons National Park visitor center got a very unpleasant surprise recently when a can of bear spray was inadvertently discharged inside the building. The incident prompted an immediate evacuation of the entire facility, as the potent pepper spray soon spread throughout the center.

Apparently, one of the park’s rangers was preparing for a morning program in the visitor center’s auditorium when a man entered the room and quickly grabbed a seat without first taking a look at the chair. In doing so, he sat down directly on the can of bear spray, releasing its contents throughout the room, and sending the occupants scrambling for the emergency exits.

The powerful chemical didn’t stay contained to the auditorium for long however, as the ventilation system soon pumped it throughout the rest of the building. By the time an emergency response team arrived on scene, more than 20 people were suffering side effects from exposure to the pepper spray.

Bear spray is an incredibly potent version of the same pepper spray that is commonly used by police or for self defense by individuals. In this case however, it has to be strong enough to take down a 500 pound bear rather than a 200 pound person. The spray is actually an oil that is blasted out via an aerosol, and when this particular can went off inside the visitor center, it not only spread throughout the facility, itended up contaminating merchandise in the gift shop, including t-shirts and stuffed animals.

Anyone who has done any hiking in the American west knows that bears are a potential danger, particularly in national parks such as the Grand Tetons or Yellowstone. In many places, bear spray is actually mandatory gear before heading into the backcountry, and the ranger in this story was likely preparing to instruct visitors on its use. Unfortunately, they received first hand experience in just how powerful the spray actually is in a way that is usually only reserved for the bears.