Back on the I15, back on the road, I started googling campgrounds. We could stay at Yuba State Park for $15. A lake caused by a dam. Fuck dams. Then I found Chicken Creek Campground, a little further out, free, and hey, the kids love creeks!
We drove through Levan, these mormons sure know how to build a solid brick house to last the ages. It was like stepping back in time, lots of wooden sheds with hand hewn shingles. We started up the Uinta National Forest dirt road and noticed that at the 4 or 5 pull outs, there was someone camping in each spot. Its a Saturday and Pat says “There’s no way there’s going to be any free spots.” We arrive at the campground. It’s completely empty. In fact there is someone camping with a horse float just beyond the campground. Pat says “Why are all the locals not in the campground? What do they know that we don’t?”
The horses were whinnying, the kids found all these bullet shells, bits of the picnic tables were missing, bits of deer carcus were strewn about. Dark clouds rolled over and the sky thundered. “I think theres a weird vibe about this place but, I don’t know, I just can’t put my finger on it.” I said to Sarah. “What kind of dangerous animals are around here? Are there bears?” She responds. I say “When there’s dangerous animals, they always put signs at these national forest campgrounds and bear bins. There may be rattlesnakes around, but there’s definitely no bears, its not their habitat.” Another RV rolled into the campsite which made us feel good. “Oh look, more tourists who don’t know better.”
We lit a fire, the clouds rolled over, the sun came out. We saw 2 deer, brown with white speckles, wander down to the creek. The kids were playing ukulele by the campfire – everything felt normal again. I stood up turned around and blinked. “Sarah, Sarah, there is a bear here. There is a bear!” It was on the edge of our campsite with its nose in the air, a huge brown bear against the white dirt road. Sarah has had nightmares about bear attacks and grabbed Molly and went straight in the bus, muttering about not sleeping in the tent that night. I was ecstatic. We’ve been camping in the heart of bear country for months and months. Washington, Oregon, California. Saw countless signs, used countless bear bins. Now here, in seemingly the most unlikely place, central Utah, it appears. Beautiful big furry bear, wandering about. Here is why it was so good. Although it didn’t bother us or come super close, the bear came to us. We didn’t spot it and run it down in our cars with our iPhones out the window. The wild bear, peacefully came into our field of view, and we peacefully observed it. I didn’t take photos of it while it was close, when it looked up I got to look at in the eye. After watching it for about 15 minutes I ran to tell the other tourists in the RV – they were from Germany and just as excited. The Jack Sprat couple. When the bear looked up at us all again, the woman started to freak out. “We are the their food!” she exclaimed. Yeah, german sausage, I thought to myself. But really, we are not their food. Another 30 minutes past, it got dark, the bear was still around, we went back in the bus. Pat went out with a head torch to see if he could find it, its was next to the germans RV, they left the next day at first light.
That night I dreamt of that bear, and told Sarah my dream the next morning. There were two hunters and just as one raised his gun I ran up the to bear and screamed “Run, run!!” It mauled the hunter and then ran with us into the toilet building. Next thing the girls leave and lock me and the bear in. I tried to climb out the vent and it smacked me very hard. Then I woke up. Later on that day a man drove in, squinty eyes, buck teeth, pot belly. No hello, he just says, “Thur’s a burr.” “Yeah we know, we saw him yesterday.” Pat starts chatting, as he does when I start backing away from someone. “My nephew been chasing it with his hounds.” “Is he hunting it?” “Yes, its the beginning of the Burr Hunt, keep your kiddies close.”
We were crest fallen. That beautiful bear. We discussed the difference between hunting bears and hunting deer. We discussed our ancestors who would hunt foxes with hounds. But really we all just couldn’t fathom why someone would want to kill the bear. Then we saw the nephew drive past with 5 hounds on the back of his truck. Now the sun was setting, we were cutting veges for dinner. Instead of listening to the creek, we were listening to the hound’s barks echo in the valley and we waited, with very heavy hearts, dreading a gunshot. We all wish Jamie Joseph from Saving the Wild was with us. She would confront that hunter, she would save the bear. We all were willing the bear to run. We really did not want to see that truck drive past with the beautiful bear, dead and tied onto the back. Yesterday was one of the most exciting days of my life, today was turning out to be one of the worst. Yesterday my girls wondered in awe and saw first hand this world’s immense beauty, today they would witness its immense cruelty.
I walked to the end of the campground to listen, the dogs were still barking, one sounded hurt, the noises were coming closer, I was next to the toilet building, this was all to familiar, I walked back.
Finally the dogs stopped barking and the 2 hunters came into the camp ground. We all went up to talk to them. It turns out they were not related to the older man we met earlier. They chase bears and only kill them if they are problem bears. They had lost this bear’s scent and were heading home. They told us this area is where all the problem bears from Salt Lake City are dropped for a second chance. They have tracking collars or blue spray paint on their shoulders, unlike the bear we had seen yesterday.
I went to bed that night grateful that the bear was still alive, grateful for this public land, thankful for this positive first encounter with one of the most beautiful animals on earth.