Today started early, so I could walk down to the lake and catch the sunrise. It turns out, first light, and sunrise aren’t nearly so close together in the Tetons. I forgot how long the sun can be blocked from shining on a mountain valley in the Rockies. Nevertheless, I sat on the shore of Jackson Lake basking in the colossal shadow of the Tetons. When the light finally crested the mountains on the eastern side of the valley, all the cracks and crevices really started to show.
Satisfied that the mountains were finished with their show, I decided to take the morning to hike around the park and save the work for later in the afternoon (some things had come up that weren’t emergencies, but needed to be dealt with). I returned to camp, made my breakfast, then hopped on the bike and headed for The Taggart Lake Turnout. It was on the southern end of the parkway, which I had ridden nearly the entirety of the previous day, but the traffic was much lighter and the ride more enjoyable. Once I arrived, I set out hiking the Bradley-Taggart lake loop.
While I had expected to see both lakes, you catch only glimpses of Bradley Lake through the trees, but are treated with the shoreline of Taggart Lake. Both lakes are glacial lakes, filled with water left by the retreating glaciers of the last ice age that formed the Tetons. I was surprised at just how crystal clear the lake water was and spent some of the hike just sitting on the shore and staring up at the Grand Teton.
Just before I intersected back with the trail segment that would take me back past Beaver Creek and to the motorcycle, I passed a family. The mother was standing and watching while the father explained to his two daughters about the ecology of the bugs living under the rocks along the trail. I passed them by and just a few steps later saw it. A black bear had just ambled out of the woods on the south side of the trail a mere 50 feet in front of me. I stopped and quietly got my camera. There was no time to switch lenses, but I didn’t need to as the bear was slowly wandering in my directly.
At this point, the mother had taken notice and the girls were crowded to her. The father was calm and did his best to reassure the two girls, the oldest of which was perhaps 8. I took a couple of quick pictures of the bear as I slowly backed down the trail, the family doing the same. At one point, we stopped backing up as the bear stopped and began to climb one of the pine trees. I might have gotten some more pictures had I not quietly exclaimed “so cool!” The bear heard me, dropped to the ground and started toward us again. As the bear continued to close the distance, I switched from holding the camera to holding the bear spray since the bear was barely 20 feet away. After less than a minute, the bear decided we no longer needed investigating and ambled off the trail into the thicket to the north.
Now, that was an experience I will never forget. Thanks to a calm father keeping his two young daughters from panicking, I was able to experience something pretty damn rare without it becoming truly dangerous. When the bear had wandered off, I looked back at the family. The father had been filming and was putting his phone away. He looked at me and said “I’m really glad you had bear spray.” I could only reply with “I’m hiking alone. Hell yea, I had bear spray.” Hopefully his kids will look back on the experience later and realize how cool it really was.
I spent the rest of the hike pondering it and keeping an eye out for more wildlife, and warning other hikers who were just starting their hike to keep an eye out for the bear. My day was complete. I spent the afternoon enjoying a late lunch and (unfortunately) doing some work (and processing the photos from the trip thus far). That evening, I prepared to leave for the next leg of the trip.