Upon arriving to Sequoia National Park, I was amazed at the amount of snow still presence at this time of the year. My campsite at Lodgepole (7,000 feet) was still covered with snow. Fortunately, I was moved to another campsite at Lodgepole. Of course this year was the largest ever on record snow pack and the mountains still carried large amounts of snow.
My first evening, I hiked along the Tokopah Falls trail. I didn’t pack my camera, as the sun had already set in the canyon. A nice two-mile hike with a 500 feet gain in elevation, would feel good after sitting in the car for several hours. Proceeding along the trail I could hear the rushing river from the Marble Fork of the Kaweah river. The river was quite high from all the snow melt and the speed of the river flow was very fast. Taking my time with no set agenda, looking at wild flowers and scouting out possible photography sites, I came upon my first black bear sighting. A young male, maybe about two years in life, and cinnamon in color (black bears come in a variety of color phases). I placed myself on rock to watch him graze on sedges and fill his stomach after his long winter nap. He would look over at me from time to time, and after about ten minutes he became perfectly content to fill his stomach and ignore me. I started glancing at the sky, and I was loosing daylight quickly and decided it would be best that I start heading back to camp before night fall. As a parting gesture, my bear friend walked directly toward me, he stopped about 20 feet in front of me, and took a drink of water from the creek. We looked each other in the eye and then we both moved in opposite directions.
I was up early and today was primarily a day of scouting for bears and looking for photography opportunities. I started at Crescent Meadow looking for bears. None to be seen. I continued on to Huckleberry Meadow, looking along the way for wildflowers, snow plant and trees to photograph. At Huckleberry Meadow, I was amazed at how wet the meadow was. I would say it was more like a marsh from all the recent snow melt. From there I continued on to Tharpe’s Log. As I hiked along the trail, there was fresh bear droppings all over. I started getting excited of a photography opportunity. The camera was out of the bag and I was ready. As I arrived at Tharpe’s Log, a group of mule deer were grazing. I scanned Log Meadow for bears and no bears were to be found that morning. I proceeded up to Eagle View and took a look at Castle Rock and the Great Western Divide. I knew I would be coming back here later in the week. Maybe even tomorrow. I cruised down the trail and took another glance at Crescent Meadow for bears. None. Bummer!
I decided it was time to move on to Big Loop Trail. As I hiked on, I noted all the Dogwood trees in bloom. I marked in my notebook which trees I had thought would be good photo-ops for tomorrow morning. As I marched on, there he was, my first bear of the day! Another male cinnamon colored black bear. It wasn’t the best photo-op, so I passed and continued hiking on. The blood was flowing now. I hit Big Loop Meadow and sure enough there was a male black bear grazing and he was black in color. Lighting was tough so I worked with what I had. Two bear sightings, one photo-op and I was feeling good. Time for lunch!!!
I headed back to Tokopah Falls. This time my plan was to make it to the falls. I hiked on. I took a rest at a little meadow that I had photographed a black bear with my daughter last year. As I rested in the shade I heard a rustling and then a stick snapping. Directly behind me, were two cute fuzzy bear cubs. They were only about six months old. Glancing for mom, I found her and she had found me as well. She grunted at her cubs and rounded them up and the three of them were gone in the woods. I moved on to Tokopah Falls. There was snow still on the trail. Moving carefully up and over the snow, I reached my destination Tokopah Falls.
Now back at my campsite, the air was cooling and relaxing. I decided to head back to some of the dogwood trees I had marked in my notebook and check them out for possible photo ops. The light was gently falling on a dogwood tree by Auto Log. Some what of a tourist spot, I decided to go for it. My camera was quickly set up and I was clicking away at the dogwood flowers. The flowers still had a green tint to them. Then all of a sudden there was a scream from behind me. I looked and there was a lady screaming bear. All I saw was a rump of a bear moving into the brush. What the lady told me after she had settled down was the bear had walked directly behind me to cross the road. I would have never known that there was a bear there, if she hadn’t screamed.
Today, was a rise and shine day. I was up before dawn getting ready to head out. I had decided last night that I would photograph dogwood in the morning and then head out on High Sierra Trail. My first stop with would be a Dogwood Tree along Bear Hill Trail. It was that in between time of light but the sun was not up yet. Weather conditions were perfect too as there was no wind. I never have had much luck taking stunning pictures of vegetation. Before leaving for Sequoia, I had been studying videos and photography by Christopher Burkett to help improve my photography (this could lead to my next blog-Photographers that have Influenced Me). One of my goals for this trip was to come back home with a Dogwood Tree picture that I was proud of. I didn’t want a picture of a close up of a dogwood flower, but rather a Dogwood Tree in bloom.
I hit Bear Hill Trail with enthusiasm. There was the tree I had picked out. Focused and intent on getting my picture, I moved forward, and then suddenly there was the sound of snapping branches. Within seconds, I was in a stare down with a large male black bear, chocolate black in color. With a white v marking across his chest. He was showing his teeth and barking at me. I froze. For what ever reason I tighten my backpack, subconsciously thinking perhaps that if he does attack, my backpack will help protect me. I clutched my tripod in both hands and got ready to defend myself. He charged. As fast as he charged, he stopped right in his tracks. His face was scared and I wonder later if he was blind in one eye. There was more branches snapping from above the trail. Suddenly a female black bear appeared, solid black in color. He immediately focused his attention on her and went directly toward her. She turned her back to him and he immediately copulated with her. I was frozen in my tracks. I waited it out. After they had finished copulating, they both moved down the hill behind me. I walked back and forth, wondering what direction do I go in now? I decided it was best to stay put for a bit and let them clear out. I took pictures of the Dogwood Tree (please realize that I was never at ease the entire time) and then decided it was safe to head back down the trail. Little did I know that wouldn’t be the last encounter I would have with these two bears.
Deciding I had enough bear encounters for the day, I headed for the High Sierra Trail. The sun was shining in my face as I hiked. I marked sights on the trail I thought would be good photo-ops on the way back by placing rocks and sticks as markers. Ironically, we see things differently from different view points, so I make a point of marking things, so I won’t miss them on the way back. I photographed Tharpe’s Rock, Alta Peak, and Castle Rocks along the trail. As shadows fell on the cliffs, I photographed wildflowers. I photographed Indian Paint Brush at two different locations. I am curious to see if these pictures will come out at all. I tried a relatively new film, Kodak Ektar, which is supposed to be color sensitive to red, so I am curious to see the results. Most of my vegetation pictures along the High Sierra Trail were time exposures, from trees to wildflowers. I took advantage of the no wind factor and experimented.
As I headed back to camp, I spotted a black bear feeding on some sedges.
Was another rise and shine day. I was out on Hazelwood Trail early looking at Dogwood Trees and Giant Sequoias to photograph. I took as many different pictures of the Dogwood Trees as I could before the sun shined through the canopy. I spotted a unique Sequoia in my mind. It was very bright red in detail. I tried the Ektar film to see how it would react to the redness of the bark. When the sun broke through the canopy I headed to Crescent Meadow looking for bear. Scouting around Crescent Meadow I took some pictures of trees, but the wind started to pick up and the wind motion would blur the leaves in my pictures. So I decided I would head to Big Loop Trail. As I moved on, a Long Tailed Weasel ran right in front me.
I worked the Big Loop Trail, not a bear to be seen, except for bear droppings all over the place. It was hot and I decided to sit under the shade of the Giant Sequoia’s. I sat there for a while and glance at the meadow now and then, but nothing. A nice cool breeze started to kick in and sure enough a black bear walked out into the meadow. I was on the move. This bear was tagged and was marked as bear 58. From the notches in his ear, it look like he had gotten himself to a little trouble and he was being monitor for bad behaviour. Then another bear enter the meadow from the right. He was little far away, so I watched him from a far.
Then two bears entered the meadow from the left. I recognized these two bears immediately. The male with a distinct white v across his chest and a dark chocolate color and the female, solid black. The male was agitated being in the open meadow with the female. I didn’t realize how big this male was, until I saw him in the open meadow, with the female at his side. He was the biggest black bear I have ever seen. I was amazed and could only think about what happen yesterday. I took some pictures of the two of them and I am really curious how these pictures will turn out. They moved out of photography range and I let them be. I moved on and the previous bear I had seen was now in photography range. So I watched him for a bit.
From there I headed back to Tokopah Falls Trail. I wanted to spend some time photographing the river. There was also some cloud cover, so I decided this would be a good time to do some black and white photography as well. As I hiked up the trail, I suspected I came across the first bear I had seen on my trip. He was grazing contentedly filling up his stomach. I proceeded to take as many pictures as I could along the river.
Time for me to head home. As always I wanted to stay longer, but it was that time. As I left and headed home, there was a black bear, grazing in a meadow along the side of the road. I stopped and watched him for a bit and then headed home. I now have returned home from a wonderful trip to Sequoia National Park.