There is no place on earth like Yellowstone Park. A writer friend of mine is on her way to the Park this week and it got me thinking about the Yellowstone I knew as a kid.
I grew up in and around Yellowstone. That was back when feeding the bears was one of the attractions. We always carried crackers and a squeeze-bottle of honey and the bears would come up and wait patiently by your open car window while you honeyed up a cracker.
My father did the original rock work at Canyon Village. You know the huge fireplace that hangs down from the ceiling? He built that and did the rock work on that building so for a summer my family lived in the campground at Norris Junction.
I remember one day my visiting cousin Stevie from Texas and I were building a fort in the woods when I looked up and saw a black bear headed for us. Stevie took off for the campground at a dead run. We always laugh because he crossed a creek and didn’t even get his shoes wet.
I was raised around bears. Back then they seemed to be everywhere. We were taught not to be afraid of them since we were around them all the time. Not that we didn’t realize they were dangerous.
One day two mama grizzlies got into a fight right outside our trailer. They sent their cubs up a tree while they battled it out. It was some fight.
Living in Yellowstone and next door to it, we came away with our share of bear stories. While at Norris Campground, a young couple in a VW bug were putting up their tent and left their car doors open. They happened to have a bag of oranges in the back seat. A bear crawled in and began to eat the oranges.
Panicked, they ran down to the ranger station and demanded he get the bear out of their car. He laughed and told them the bear would leave once he was through with the oranges.
And the bear did. Right after that, the couple threw their tent into the back of the VW and were out of there.
My father hired two young hodcarriers while working in the Park. One night they went into Gardiner, had a few drinks and on the way back saw a lone black bear cub beside the road. They’d had just enough to drink that they thought picking up the cub was a good idea. They grabbed the bear and threw it in the back seat.
They didn’t get a half mile up the road before they came flying out of the car. That cub tore the inside of their car to shreds before taking off into the woods.
One of the bricklayers who worked for my father was feeding the bears crackers and honey with his family when his kids got in a disagreement in the back.
He turned around to holler at them. The bear waiting beside his car grew impatient and reached in, grabbed his head and turned him around again. He had scratches from the bear’s claws but no serious injuries.
Bear stories were always the highlight of the campfire chats in the Park in those days. That was back when the campfire chats really were around campfires and we sat on logs and sang songs. My mother always wanted to sing The Yellow Rose of Texas, since that’s where we were from, Texas.
The rangers would tell stories about tourists wanting them to wrestle a bear so they could get a picture. Or about the woman who put her baby into a bear’s arms when it stood on its hind legs. She snapped her photo, then retrieved her baby.
While we knew the bears were wild and could be dangerous, they were so common place, sometimes even we forgot just what they were capable of.
I once saw a bear reach into the back of an old station wagon, the kind with the rear window that went down, and take out a box of groceries. It was during a bear jam. The bear sat down in the middle of the road and proceeded to open the can goods. I’ll never forget the way the bear could tear open a can with its claws.
What was scary was that there was a baby sleeping in the back of the station wagon next to the box of groceries. The bear could have just as easily taken the baby.
I still love seeing bears. For years we frequented the dumps at both Gardiner and later West Yellowstone to watch the bears. First the black bears would show up. Then about two in the morning, the black bears would take off and the grizzlies would take over.
During my teens, I lived just outside of West Yellowstone on Hebgen Lake. Where do you think everyone went to park and makeout? You guessed it. The city dump.
At our place on the lake we often had grizzlies in the yard. I remember one night walking home from a neighbor’s house on the point across the bay. I heard something behind my little brother and me and turned to see a grizzly bear following us.
We had been taught to just ignore them – and most definitely not run. The grizzly followed us all the way home.
Years later a grizzly pulled a camper from his tent in that same area and ate him. That campground now requires everyone to stay in hard-sided campers.
Few people see bears when they go to Yellowstone Park now. My daughter saw her first bear on a trip to Canada even though she’d been born and raised around Yellowstone.
I know it’s better for the bears to have less contact with us. But I miss seeing them and I’m glad I grew up in that wilder time.
A friend of mine jokes that the romance in my books isn’t about the hero and heroine but about my love for the part of the west where I have lived and still live.
It’s true. I write about what I love. My latest series, Whitehorse, Montana, is set in country that is still wild and remote and a little dangerous. I like that. J
The Whitehorse series continues Sept. 9 with Smokin’s Six-Shooter and Oct. 11 with One Hot Forty-Five.
Look for more Whitehorse books when the new mini series Whitehorse: The Winchesters begins next April with 6 more Harlequin Intrigue mysteries.
My thanks to Petticoats & Pistols for having me back!
B.J. is giving away FIVE books! All you have to do is leave a comment and you’re entered in the drawing. Don’t miss this opportunity to win a really great Romantic Suspense.