In 2018, when the Trail Team came out to Ouray… We had scouted out an area for camping on the south side of town, up about halfway on the route out of town. The spot had not been ideal for one camper in our group with an adventure trailer. (There’s a whole conversation we could have as a sidebar to this post) The trail to the campsite had a few rough patches of rocks and some sharp elevation changes. This year, with the three 4Runner sans the adventure trailer, we again scouted the area upon arriving to Ouray. The trail was actually kind of fun, and when we reached the camping area, we found 3 empty spots set beside each other, up against a creek in an empty mountainside valley.
This new-to-us camp spot was ideal, as we were close to Ouray and all of the local mountain passes. Ouray is called Little Switzerland for a reason, for a good chunk of the year, its surrounded by snow capped mountains. In a typical late-June trip, we were going to have our pick of a half dozen mountain trails to head over to the surrounding communities of Telluride, Silverton and Lake City.
As we setup, the three girls took a walk to large boulder that was about 150 yards away, sitting neatly in the grass near the edge of the woods. This single rock was as big as a Large Airstream Camper. The girls climbed it and watched us setup camp from their perch.
Two of us with tents setup on the ground while Don, found a level spot to park his truck to use his rooftop tent (RTT). Don and I were carrying food prep supplies as well… So we unloaded his custom made “chuck box” and my cooking gear to make the trucks easier to deal with on the trails. Lets be clear, the trucks could handle the weight of the cargo. What we could not handle being on the trail with all of our gear getting bouncing around and the endless rattles of pots, pans and cutlery!
At our base-camp for the next three days, we started off every morning with homemade breakfast. I don’t want to brag, but we made breakfasts that would rival anything we could cook at home. As we have done more and more of these trips, I would be lying if I didn’t say that we are getting more extravagant with our meal prep. That’s not to say we have elaborate meals, but we are not scared to use real ingredients to get the job done. On a recent trip, two days out in the field, done fixed homemade biscuits and gravy using a dutch oven to cook the biscuits… And his skottle to cook the sausage and gravy.
Our trip seemed to his a high note on day two when a visitor came close to camp after breakfast. While cleaning up our breakfast, Sophie yelled “Bear”… We all looked at her with question marks over our heads… “huh?” “Not possible” all of us Dad’s thought in unison. It wasn’t till she yelled it again that we took her word for it and started looking around.
Sure enough… Sophie had witnessed a decent sized brown bear crossing the pasture in front of our campsite. He was actually terrifyingly close to the boulder the girls had been playing on that first night of camp setup. The “what-ifs” start flashing through your head when you think about the vision of your kid being on that rock while a bear would have been way closer than us Dads! No worries… This guy took a look at us and kept up scooting into the woods towards town.
Dear readers… A bear passing by camp is a bucket-list event. We have been going out west for over 5 years now, and I have never seen a bear in the wild. We have camped and driven all over Colorado! So, seeing one in the wild, near our campsite… Well, this is one for the folks back home… We will be telling them all the tales of the bear that visited camp! (And we have!)
10 minutes later… Those stories got a whole lot bigger! Summer, was walking to the backside of the camp when she saw a big brown face looking at her from the blades of tall grass behind Jake’s tent. It was a bear! Probably that same bear that was passing by a few minutes ago. She yelled! Several, short, shocked yells! The bear backed off and started walking away. Summer’s yell was a whole different vibe than Sophie’s. Sophie’s had been a fun “hey looky” thing… Summer’s was more of a mortal fear blurt!
What happened next was pure Dad instinct or something… Don, our California guy proceeded to yell in the loudest and biggest fashion I had ever witnessed. He puffed up his chest and began a guttural yell that said I pretty sure was meant to freak the bear out. “Go Away Bear” was the words coming out of his mouth… But it sounded as primal as a dog bark! In the meantime… I grabbed some pans and followed Don with some banging. I know Jake was doing something as well… But I was transfixed on the location of the bear. (Sorry Jake!) The bear proceeded to wander down to the stream and disappeared into the woods.
When the excitement was over… One thing was clear… The RTT was the preferred location to be when a bear shows up. We had all three girls up in Don’s tent looking out the window at us. Nobody was taking sanctuary in a ground tent! NOBODY!
Was this guy hungry and ferocious… And possibly looking to recreate a scene from the Revenant? Not likely. If you had to guess, this bear is probably closer to Yogi and BooBoo in his habits. I am not denying the danger of a wild animal like a bear… But this guy was on a route. The valley where we were staying was a series of camping spots that are probably used quite a bit during the summer season. This bear, like a Midwestern raccoon, probably runs a route through the campsites looking for scraps that campers left in their fire rings or trash from careless campers. It was probably no accident that he walked right up to our site. (Another opportunity for a conversation about Leave No Trace could be inserted here!)
This was day two of the trip… We had to question whether leaving out all of cooking gear in the open was going to be a good idea today. Again, we don’t want to drive the mountain passes with our gear… But we also don’t want items with the smell of fresh cooked breakfast laying around for the sensitive nostrils of the local wildlife. What do you do? We cleaned up… Pulled all trash out and left our gear out in the open. If he was going to come back… He could really do whatever he wanted, regardless of how much of the campsite we pulled up. Who’s to say he wouldn’t sniff something on a tent from a camp out years ago? (Again, more conversations about the dangers of eating in your tent, or sleeping in clothing that you have cooked in could be added.)
When we came back that night from our short day on the trail to Telluride (Part 3, coming soon-ish) the campsite was pitch black. We turned into the campsite, looked the site over with our headlights, and found everything in order. It was doubtful that our new found friend had come back, or that any of his other friends had swung by. A quick inspection verified the lack of wild animals frolicking in our tents or cooking gear. That was a relief.
I would be lying if I didn’t tell you that sleeping that night in my Cabella’s ground tent was done with a slight tinge of trepidation, knowing that a giant man eating bear with razor sharp claws could be plotting to eat my daughter and I alive during the night! Exaggeration? Maybe. But when you hear creaks and snaps in the woods around your tent… You wonder what the intentions are of the beast that is making all that racket. Fortunately, we made it through the night with no incidents.