Many years ago, I was a geology major at an eastern US college. The east has many cultural benefits, but not that much in the way of grand-scale geologic features. When the college offered a six-week summer field trip hitting many national parks across the country, I signed up. Our department was very small, and the entire trip consisted of five students and a young professor. We fit in a van along with our tents and duffel bags, and we took turns driving.

If you stuff a bunch of 20-year-olds in a small space for hours at a time with someone not too experienced in managing them (and who talks a lot about geology, to boot), there is a good chance that attention will wander. We enjoyed the scenery, but not too much actual learning occurred. Personally, I spent a lot of my time thinking about the two female students on the trip, and wondering if I would ever have a girlfriend.

About three weeks into the trip, we arrived late in the afternoon at Grand Teton National Park. We set up camp efficiently at Jenny Lake, had an early dinner, and then went for a hike with the professor to Hidden Falls on the other side of the lake.

All over the park, there are signs like “Beware of bears“, “Do not feed the bears“, “Wear a bell so that you don’t surprise the bears“, and “Human sexual activity attracts bears“. (I’m serious, it was there.) Undaunted, we went to the falls.

photo by Yathin S Krishnappa, CC BY-SA 3.0

The falls were nice, I suppose. I don’t really remember them. What I do remember was that I said I wanted to walk the rest of the way around the lake and that one of the female students (let’s call her “Roxanne”) said she’d come with me. The rest of the group went back to the campsite.

Roxanne’s conversation was a little bit disappointing, since it was liberally sprinkled with references to the boyfriend she was missing. Still, we had a pleasant walk until we came to the seemingly impassable stream that fed the lake. (As geologists, we should have expected that a lake had to have a source.) We didn’t see any way across, so we turned around. It was late at this time and getting dark. By the way, it gets much darker in Wyoming than it does where we come from. We had no flashlights.

Soon it was possible to make out that we were on the trail, but not much more than that. And then:

RRROARAARRR! from in front of us. Not cool. We retreated a short distance.

After a few minutes, we moved forward again, to be answered with RRAAARROARROARAARRR! Nope.

We remembered that the important thing with bears is not to show fear and to make noise and assert your position. We yelled, clapped, tried everything we could. “Move, you stupid bear!” RAAAROARAAAROAAAROARROARAARRR! Still no.

We were just about to try wading into the lake and attempting to find the trail again in another spot when our classmates and the professor arrived with flashlights calling our names. They were almost as happy to see us as we were to see them. “Hey,” said the professor, “did you see the moose?”

And there it was, a large bull moose illuminated by flashlight, chewing something slowly and looking vaguely annoyed in a Clint Eastwood sort of way. We walked around it and back to the campsite, then consumed a large package of cookies.

EPILOGUE: Roxanne did marry her boyfriend. I eventually saw a map of Jenny Lake that showed a bridge just slightly after where we turned around. The bear never existed, and I don’t know what became of the moose.