Photographing Bears in Alaska & Why You Have to Stay in the Car

Please bear with me as I tell you one more story from Alaska…

So bears are crazy, right? When we were little, people gave cute, cuddly mini-versions of them to us for comfort. We watched them personified as fun-loving Yogi Bear, the Country Bears, the Care Bears, the Gummi Bears, Teddy Ruxpin and Snuggle on TV & in movies, and they just always seemed so darn fuzzy and approachable. I mean… bear hugs, right? Hello!

I realized just how much I associate bears with warm feelings of nostalgia and safety – instead of, I dunno, inherent danger and torturous death by mauling – when I had my very last bear experience in Alaska.

Yeah, like this guy is going to tear my face off.

Fresh off the high of a near death experience with a grizzly on Elizabeth’s porch, in which my grandparents left me for dead in the woods with a known killer (ok, that might be a stretch), we found ourselves back at the scene of the crime for a BBQ with the addition of Ina, a friend we were staying with in Anchorage. Driving home from the BBQ, we reminisced yet again about the exciting bear encounter a few days before. The sighting truly made my grandparents’ trip, so even though I didn’t see anything but them running unfathomably fast, I was glad they were so hyped.

Summertime nights in Alaska are stunning and cool and they seem to go on forever before dark falls, so it may have been 7 p.m. or 9 p.m. or 11 p.m. as we called it quits at the BBQ and drove the 15 minutes from Elizabeth’s to Ina’s house, where her posse of poodles awaited us. Whatever time it was, it was bright as day.

Ina turned onto her quiet cul-de-sac and suddenly slammed on the brakes, pointing to a neighbor’s house.

“A bear! Holy {expletive}! A bear, look! Right there!”

Ambling a mere 20 feet away from the car, in a neighbor’s front yard, was a bear, alright. A juvenile, maybe 2-years-old, according to Ina, with a tag in his ear. He was much smaller than those we saw from a distance in Denali, but he was a bear, in a residential neighborhood, nonetheless.

At the neighbor's house
Oh, hey, you’re a little bigger than Teddy Ruxpin. Read me a story?

My iPhone was already in my hand – I shamefully confess I pretty much only put it down to shower – so I clicked the Photo button and whipped my seatbelt off with the intention of … um, jumping out to Instagram the bear?!

Because yeah, the first thing you learn about Alaska is that you should shove your Apple device in every wild carnivore’s face. It’s safe, it’s fun and you could totally get a ton of likes on the photo…

I need a therapist.

Lucky for me, Ina was slamming, then jamming, then slamming the brakes as she tried to figure out the best way for us to get in her house and secure her pups (who could easily have become a bear snack that evening if they’d hustled out the doggie door when they heard mom come home), so I had just enough time to realize that getting out of the car might’ve been a death sentence. I would not get a bear hug, or a fun joke, a story, or some unbearable puns… I would get clawed to death and possibly eaten.

My grandpa and grandma were shouting, Ina was driving and stopping and trying to figure out how to save the dogs, I was alternating elbowing people in the face trying to snap photos and slamming my head into the seat in front of me due to braking…

The bear, unfazed by the hysteria taking place inside the car, continued on his merry way from house to house, moving ever closer to Ina’s place and her poodles.

A close encounter
A close encounter

Ina pulled into the driveway as the bear reached her yard.  Everyone was shrieking, “The dogs! The dogs!” Except me – I was still snapping as many photos as I could while fighting the urge to open the car door and get a close up of the bear’s pearly whites.

Though everyone in the car was under the impression that the bear was making a beeline for the poodles, he had other things on his mind as he passed directly between the front of the car and the garage door, into the neighbor’s yard. He sniffed our car and continued on with not so much as a friendly “Hey BooBoo!” 

All I wanted was one solid, up-close animal encounter on my trip to Alaska, and I’d count this one as rare and exciting and heart-pumping as any I might’ve had.

And I didn’t get mauled, so hey. Alaska for the win.

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5 thoughts on “Photographing Bears in Alaska & Why You Have to Stay in the Car”

  1. I really wonder how many people walk up to them and try to cuddle. We’re taught from childhood that bears are adorable, from every Disney adaptation ever made, and stuffed animals. How irresponsible of them!

  2. I really love bears. Sure, it would freak the hell out of me if one was in my backyard, but I still think they are cute. There is a man in Alaska who lives amongst bears in the wilderness. Can’t remember his name, but they come into his garden all the time and he goes up really close. They are really tame around him. It is amazing!

  3. It really is hard to overcome the ‘I have to get a picture!’ instinct. My closest ‘out of the bus’ Alaskan bear picture was taken as I was slowly backing away – I was completely not thinking at the time, but the logical part of my brain and the part that wants to happily skip off towards danger were apparently playing tug-of-war.

  4. I never used to be afraid of bears…until my boyfriend told me a story about a girl who got slowly eaten alive by a bear while she remained fully conscious and even phoned her mom (3 separate times) crying on her cell phone while being eaten. I, of course, didn’t believe him. Because come on. So I Googled it and scarred myself for life because I obviously like torture. True story. Completely true. I can’t even go hiking in the woods anymore without wondering if today will be the day that a cute and cuddly teddy decides to have me for a snack…

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