Sunday, October 5, 2008

Big Meadows, Shenandoah National Park

After heading off on my own over the last two weeks to take on some solo hikes, my wife and I had the chance to hike an old stomping ground - Big Meadows, in Shenandoah National Park. As a kid, I went to Big Meadows with my family many times. More often then not I was more interested in what I could put in the fire then what I could see on the hike. Oddly enough I also don't remember ever hiking the actual 70 acres of the "big meadow" which gave this destination its name. Located 3,510 feet above sea level, this area was known for wandering elk and buffalo prior to the 1900's. Climate change and population increases in Virginia ultimately ran these guys out and replaced them with deer, brown and black bear, and fox to name a few.

During our trip I wanted to make sure I paid attention to the little things often missed during a hike where the intent is to cover distance. The hike of the meadow proved to be a great opportunity to take a look at over 200 different types of plants and all kinds of animals. I also learned pretty quickly that finding an old apple tree ensured I could nearly put a saddle on most of the fairly tame deer in the park.

On the way back from dinner shortly after sunset, a mama bear and her two cubs ran across the road and disappeared into the woods. Against my better judgment, I immediately pulled off the road and dove into the brush without a second thought. Armed only with a camera that couldn't take a picture in such poorly lit conditions and my clearly tiny skills to make a sound judgment, I headed off in the direction of snapping twigs and snorts. My wife stayed behind which was a smart call because she probably would have needed to point rescuers in my general direction once my curiosity officially got the better of me. As I batted away thorn bushes and silkweed, and hoped that there were no snakes under the fern-laden ground cloth which made viewing the path impossible, I saw a cub shoot up a tree, take a look at me, then head off into the darkness. I quickly ran after it as thoughts of being digested by a bear ran through my mind. In the darkness I could hear twigs snapping and rustling seemingly right around the corner and I slowly made my way towards them. About 20 feet in front of me another cub went scurrying down a huge tree and ran off again into the darkness. I could still hear something up in the tree and made my way closer. As I stepped nearly under the tree to gain a better vantage point being that I couldn’t see anything until I moved pass other foliage, I came face-to-face with the absolutely gigantic mother bear who was so far out on a limp I couldn’t imagine how the tree didn’t topple over. The bear took one look at me, growled loudly, and made an instant jump as if it was going to charge me. Short of soiling my pants, I quickly decided that was enough and immediately headed out while talking as kindly as I could to the bear so she knew I was human, a human headed away, and a human not interested in her or her cubs. When I got back to the car, my wife said she could hear me talking to the bear and knew that I was yet again trying to find a way to test my life insurance policy.

1 comment:

cathy said...

I had to check out your blog as I took my daughters to Shenandoah Park last summer and would love to return. There are certainly some beautiful sights to see in the Blue Ridge Mountains and on a clear day - one of the most beautiful drives.