Searching for Black Bears in the Sequoia National Park!
The last week, I had the chance to join Photographer Brent Paull ( www.amwestphoto.com) at the Sequoia National Park in search for black bears. Brent knows the park very well and has photographed bears in the park many times. So I had high hopes to see and capture bears, maybe even a sow with cubs. We set out early in the morning with first light and made the 1-hour track into the park on Generals Highway – including 50 switchbacks and an impressive elevation gain - up to the Crescent Meadow area. Setting out with camera, long lenses and tripod, we started hiking in this lovely area dotted with green meadows. Although the California hills are pretty golden with dried grassland at this time of the year, it was astounding to find these meadows full of lush grass and colorful spring flowers, a perfect setting for bears searching for food. I wondered how these meadows stay green even in the summer’s heat?
Early Morning under the giants (Sequoia Trees)
Scanning the landscape, the granite rocks form ‘bowls’ surrounded by higher ridge, and when the winter’s snow melts the water collects in the ‘bowls’. Over the years sufficient sediments collected to give enough ground for the meadows to establish. With no outlets for the water other than evaporation, these areas stay moist all summer long providing great areas for grass, flowers and berry bushes to flourish. It’s not only the black bears who find juicy grass in the spring, pine cones in the summer and berries in the early fall to satisfy their hunger, but these meadows are also great for seeing marmots, chipmunks and other small critters, deer as well as a rich bird life. In some of the meadows, small ponds form at the lowest points offering bears who love to swim a place to cool off in the summer’s heat.
Purple flower at the edge of the small pond
Hiking in the higher elevations of the park, these meadows can be reached by hiking over the ridges through the open pine and sequoia forest.
During my 2 days in the park, we visited 4 different meadows, one prettier than the next. Starting out early at sunrise, we were the first day hikers and were surrounded by quiet only broken by bird calls and the sound of crunching sticks and needles under our boots.
Reaching the second meadow on the first day, Brent stopped and in a hushed voice pointed to a bear in the meadow. With the grass quite high and the bear in quite some distance, only its head and ears reaching over the meadow’s green. We watched for a while how his head dipped up and down in a peaceful rhythm, eventually disappearing into the forest. I love being out in nature, being able and privileged to witness wildlife away from the hustle and buzzle of daily life.
At the edge of a meadows, the roots of fallen trees make perfect dens and lookouts for marmots. This young marmot enjoyed the warmth of the early sunshine eyeing us with little interest.
Very well camouflaged, a doe rested in the root base of an enormous sequoia tree.
Around another bend we found a cinnamon black bear deep in the grassy meadow much closer to where we were hiking at the forest edge.
She looked at us and quickly moved on into the deeper meadow ….
Visitor searching for nectar in the little purple flowers
The next day, again setting out at sunrise, another bear crossed our path, looked up and - unfortunately for us - very quickly disappeared into to the forest.
But birds, marmots and flowers offered rich photo opportunities:
Western Tanager in breeding colors (orange head colors)
Adult marmot on the lookout
Marmot warming in the morning sunshine
Tiny but beautiful - flower on the forest floor
Valley and Ridges - structures of the pine tree bark
Afternoon in the Meadows and Forest
The days at the Sequoia National Park proved again how fortunate I am living in California, a state with so much natural beauty from the ocean to the mountains to the desert, such a diverse natural landscape rich in flora and fauna – a photographer’s paradise.
I hope you enjoyed this little glimpse into just one corner of our lovely state.
Til next time,