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Spring grizzly

A grizzly crosses a snowy valley just north of the Yellowstone River on the Grand Loop Road on May 4. Grizzlies hibernate, also called denning, for about five months a year in the park and are now out and hungry. The deep snow hides much of the plant life the bears depend on in early spring. (Mark Davis/Powell Tribune)

A veteran photographer working for the Powell Tribune put his thinking cap on before he tripped the shutter last week, and that made for a memorable image.

Mark Davis drove into Yellowstone National Park on May 4 to document the spring opening of the East Entrance. Hundreds of park neighbors and visitors make the early journey each year to refresh their connection with the world’s first national park as it wakes from winter’s slumber.

As a one-year Wyoming resident who moved west after working for big newspapers in Chicago and Omaha, Davis gave his assignment — spring in Yellowstone — some consideration before launching his excursion. “I was trying to illustrate how snowy it was there,” he said.

Grizzlies were out, and other wildlife had returned, including bluebirds, a harbinger of spring and one of Davis’ favorite subjects. But grizzly bears are special, rare, and a Yellowstone icon. How, then, to say “grizzly in spring” in a photograph?

“Everybody knows there’s bears in the park,” Davis said. “I saw three that day. We had shots of grizzlies. We really wanted something that said ‘snow.’”

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Davis was on the Grand Loop Road between Lake and Canyon villages when Ol’ Ephraim ambled over the horizon. “This bear popped over the hill [moving] right toward me,” he said. Davis was the only person around for a short period, and he watched the bear walk into a stand of trees. He figured he might get his shot when it emerged onto a snowfield on the far side.

A bear jam developed, but Davis stuck to his plan and, in due course, the bruin emerged and struck out across the snowfield.

“For me, that was exactly what I wanted,” he said.

Davis exposed for the snow, capturing the detail there instead of rendering it bright white and featureless. Consequently, the grizzly appears in silhouette, creating a strikingly graphic composition.

“I’m petrified by bears, to tell you the truth,” Davis said. “I was alone when the bear popped over. It was an intimate moment. It really was a special time for me.”


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Angus M. Thuermer Jr.: Angus M. Thuermer Jr. is the natural resources reporter for WyoFile. He is a veteran Wyoming reporter and editor with more than 35 years experience in Wyoming. Contact him at angus@wyofile.com or (307) 690-5586. Follow Angus on Twitter at @AngusThuermer