July 20, 2003
Bear watching has quickly become one of my husband’s favorite things to do on vacation. After seeing his first black, cinnamon–black, and grizzly bears in Yellowstone last year, he is now "bear obsessed"!!
Over 300 black bears live within Shenandoah today, but many people never see a bear while visiting. The thick summer foliage often prevents this, however, timing is everything . . . being in the right place at the right time!!
Spotting a bear from the road requires patience as well as diligently searching for them. Having an "eagle-eyed husband" who sees everything while driving also helps!!! The key to seeing black bears in Shenandoah is to SLOW DOWN!! Don’t drive over 10mph and focus your eyes from the roadside to about 20 feet within the tree line. Look for anything big, close to the ground. We found ourselves pulling off to the side many times to let traffic pass, but it paid off!! We saw a total of 12 black bears, 7 of those on our last day!
Our first bear spotting was Sunday afternoon. We immediately pulled off into the grass, grabbed the cameras/lenses and hurriedly tried to capture a photo of this black bear sow with three small cubs. We were both excited at this point, as we hadn’t expected to see any bears! Monday found us slowly driving the northern half of Skyline Drive: absorbing the scenery, stopping to explore at the turnouts, and of course, bear watching!!! The "eagle-eyed" driver saw another one, but by the time I turned my head, it had disappeared into a wilderness of green!
Thursday night found us "bear watchers" having bear withdrawals! After dinner in Harrisonburg, I suggested a quick trip back to mile marker 31, hoping to see the mama bear and her three cubs again. We took I-95 from Harrisonburg to Highway 211, which provided a quick entrance into the park. We drove slowly, eagerly looking, but not spotting anything!! Disappointed, we turned around to leave and as we approached the park entrance, my husband spotted another black bear!! He must have bear radar . . . I swear a bear wasn’t there earlier!!!
After three days of rain, we were ready to get out, do a hike and do some more "bear watching" on Friday, our final day. As we rounded a curve, while crawling at a snail’s pace, Robert poked me and whispered, "It’s right there . . . right by the road"! We grabbed the cameras and sure enough, another bear, eating happily! As I inched a little closer to the opposite side of the road, another little black head popped up!! More cubs!! Two this time!!!
With renewed spirits, we were content to just drive and enjoy the scenery. Within a couple of hours, we had three more bear sightings, of which two were mine (finally I got to see them first)!!!!
We love seeing bears, and although they are so cute and cuddly looking, one must always remember that these are wild animals and to keep your distance.
From journal Spending Time in Shenandoah