To keep bears and
tourists from bothering each other, the Park Service has put up signs all over
which warn that bears are big, strong, uncertain-tempered animals that can hurt
you. Therefore it is inadvisable and illegal to feed the bears, and if you are
caught doing so it will cost you 25 bucks. Neither the bears nor tourists pay
much attention to these signs, I discovered. At one bear jam we encountered
late in the day, Dick Hardin waited at the tail end of the traffic so that I
could slip forward to see what went on when nobody knew the fuzz was
In this instance
the bear was a yearling who, earlier in the season, with provocation, pushed a
cigar down the throat of a visitor. When I saw it the bear was sitting below a
stone retaining wall at the edge of a scenic parking lot, while the crowd threw
candy, bubble gum and full and empty pop bottles at him. One family—father,
mother and 6-year-old son—were particularly active. The old man had a camera
and wanted to get a picture of his son and the bear close together—very
over the wall and stand next to him, Kevin," the father suggested, and the
boy started to obey with alacrity. A potential accident report was avoided by
the mother. "I don't think he should. There are probably rattlesnakes down
there," she objected, pointing to the pile of garbage around the bear. Now
anyone who wants his child to pose with a beast strong enough and willing to
break a calf's neck or anyone who thinks rattlesnakes live under Tootsie Roll
wrappers is not going to be easily dissuaded from doing anything by a rustic
rangers deal with bear jams by simply chasing the bear in one direction and the
tourists in another. At one jam, Hardin, who is the recognized bear expert on
the ranger staff, got out of the car carrying a pick handle. He gave two
authoritative taps on the road and the bear, an old sow who had been swallowing
marshmallows as fast as the crowd provided them, paused in midgulp, gave a
disgruntled snort, turned around and lumbered off into the woods.
"They get to
know us," Hardin explained. "Sometimes you don't even have to tap. They
just see the uniform and take off." The tourists were neither so well
conditioned or so much in awe of authority as the animal. They grudgingly
dispersed, finally uncorking Highway 441.
A mile or so
beyond this bear jam a pickup-truck camper was parked at a scenic overlook. The
family had put up an awning, unpacked its lawn chairs, table, transistor radio
and a lot of food and gave every indication of having settled in for a lengthy
stay. When Hardin got out of his patrol car the man of the pickup asked
testily, "How come there isn't any water here?"
water at all designated picnic areas," Hardin replied, and nodded to a
large sign that said, in the Park Service's grimly affirmative style,
PICNICKING IN DESIGNATED AREAS ONLY.
hell," said the man forgivingly, ignoring the sign, "I guess we can
make out all right. You know, this rig carries 25 gallons."
mean," said Hardin, refusing to play the rig comparison game, "is that
this is not a picnic area."
"You mean we
can't picnic here?"