Having entered into our 11th State, South Dakota and still desperate to see some bears (we were seriously starting to doubt that they even existed!) we made the decision to go to a drive through Bear Country USA to catch a glimpse of the fantastic creatures. Not quite the same as seeing them in the wild, but a lot safer!
After spending the night in the Spearfish Creek Inn, we made our way to Bear Country USA. We’d heard stories about bears attacking cars because they had food in them, so as we paid at the gate Barry asked if the food in our boot would be ok. The girl replied saying it “should be” as the bears were pretty lazy. “should be”? We weren’t too sure about that. We really didn’t want to return our beautiful car to our hero Marvin at Alamo covered in scratches and teeth marks! Feeling hesitant but desperate to see some bears, we reasoned that they wouldn’t let us through if it were dangerous, so in we drove.
Now, because the animals roam free in wildlife parks, you are never guaranteed to see them. But as soon as we entered we could see the distinctive antlers of some elk sitting amongst the grass and they weren’t small! We felt it was a good sign that we’d already been met with some animals just a couple of minutes into the park. As we continued on we saw some reindeer – none of which had a bright red nose! – but they were covered in a very shaggy looking fur. Then we saw some Arctic wolves. They were wondering around, walking between the cars, so we got to have a really good look at them.
Next up were some Big Horn sheep and some Rocky Mountain goats. They were kept separated from the wolves by a fence, but I only imagine it must be torture for the wolves to watch walking around all day as I’m sure in the wild they would be their dinner.
Up until this point we’d been driving along at a steady pace, just stopping every now and then to take for photos. Suddenly we hit a traffic jam and all the cars had stopped. We looked down the queue to see what was going on and a bear was pacing up and down in front of a car. A bear! They do exist after all! They had no chance to get by and were just sat there waiting to pass. Every now and then the bear would pause at the side of the car, allowing them to move forward if they were quick enough. Then the bear would start walking pacing again and the next car would have to wait. We were stuck in the queue for about 45 minutes. We were moving round, slowly so at least we had various animals to observe and keep us entertained, but by this point Barry was busting for loo. We were nowhere near the exit and you couldn’t exactly jump out the car and go behind the bush without the threat of being attacked by a wolf or a bear. As time ticked on he was coming closer and closer to wetting himself. I told him he needed to man up and train his bladder to hold it in longer, but he couldn’t. So for the second time on our trip, he peed in a bottle. Luckily he has good aim, so he didn’t spill it anywhere, but it did mean we drove around for the rest of the day with a bottle of urine in the car.
Not long after ‘pee-in-a-bottle gate’ we reached the bear that was pacing back and forth. It was right next to the car, wondering round us. Then a second bear came to join it. It was fascinating watching them in the safety of our car, but I can’t imagine bumping into one on a trail in a national park. You wouldn’t stand a chance if they attacked you. They’re so big, with their huge paws and sharp claws. As the bear stepped aside, we were able to continue driving and there were loads more of them. We thought that there would just be a few, but we were so wrong.
As we drove on through, we saw some mountain lions. They were behind some fencing though, so I can only presume that they are more dangerous than the bears. We’ve been on trails where it’s warned us that mountain lion inhabit the area, so having seen them here in cages, I’m glad that we didn’t encounter any.
Once we were out of the wildlife park, we were able to park up and see a big grizzly bear. They were kept in an enclosure. Not sure why, but they’re a lot bigger than the black bears, so maybe they’re more dangerous. We then walked round to Babyland, where they keep all the baby black bears. There were about 10 of them and they were all play fighting with each other, running up a tree and hanging from it. They were so cute, I could’ve stood there all day and watched them, but we had other things to do…