Wild About Wyoming – Yellowstone NP

I don’t even know where to begin. We have never been to a National Park with as much diversity as Yellowstone. To quote for the National Park Service website

Marvel. Explore. Discover.

Visit Yellowstone and experience the world’s first national park. Marvel at a volcano’s hidden power rising up in colorful hot springs, mudpots, and geysers. Explore mountains, forests, and lakes to watch wildlife and witness the drama of the natural world unfold. Discover the history that led to the conservation of our national treasures “for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.”

Yellowstone has been a national park for 146 years. Founded in 1872, it truly has something for everyone. We spent 3 days exploring and we could have spent 30. I doubt a lifetime would be long enough to see and experience everything. One of the things I loved about it was how much of it is accessible by vehicle…

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There are 5 entrances into the park and the main road is laid out in sort of a figure 8. We were staying at Henrys Lake State Park in Idaho (a place I sincerely recommend), so we always came into the park through West Yellowstone.  Visiting in late September was perfect, a light jacket was all we needed and the throngs of tourists who flock there in the summer had mostly vanished.

Within minutes of entering the park, we saw out first wildlife…

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The west entrance follows the Madison River and pullouts on the road allowed for photography without obstructing traffic…

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We drove along Firehole Canyon Drive to enjoy the first of several waterfalls…

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We spent the rest of the day checking out many of the geothermal spots. Between geysers, bacterial mats and boiling mud I was pretty much left speechless…

When we made it to Yellowstone Lake, we walked along the boardwalk. We were nearly done the loop when we came across a small herd of female elk and their young ones…

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Unfortunately,  there is an idiot in every crowd and a 20-something stepped off the boardwalk (for a better picture naturally) and spooked the herd. They moved down into the hot springs area and stayed there…

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On the way out of the park that evening, we were lucky enough to see a pair of bull elk not far from the road. We were the first to pull over and get a few shots. What I hadn’t immediately seen was the Great Grey Owl in the tree above them…

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It didn’t take long for the roadside to be crowded with cars, so we moved on before someone caused an accident.

The next day, we drove north after we entered the park, heading to the Mammoth Hot Springs area. When we passed Thundering Mountain, I had to stop and get a shot. Yes, I know you aren’t supposed to take pictures looking into the sun, but it was nearly blocked out by the steam. And, yes, that is a layer of frost on the ground…

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Just down the road, the scenery was such a contrast to the steaming mountain…

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We finally made it to the Mammoth Hot Springs and took some time to explore.  I was intrigued by the dew…

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Millions of tiny droplets covered the plants. And I caught a chipmunk having a mid-morning snack…

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But the colorful formations are what took the cake…

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Our final destination for day 2 was South Rim Drive. This lead us to the “grand canyon” of Yellowstone, complete with an amazing waterfall…

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Knowing it would be our last day in the park, we set off early to try and catch more of the wildlife. Of course I couldn’t pass up another waterfall…

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Just as we were passing by, these 2 buffalo decided to but heads…

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After watching them for a while, we headed towards Lamar Valley. From everything we had read, this was the best place for wildlife viewing. Also it was noted for being a well traveled wolf route. It wasn’t hard to know were the wolves were expected…

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Unfortunately, we arrived about 20 minutes after the wolves. They had already laid down for the day and wouldn’t become active again until late in the afternoon. It was interesting to note most of the tripods held spotting scopes, not cameras.

We spent most of the rest of the day just watching the buffalo and enjoying the scenery…

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We couldn’t leave Yellowstone without watching Old Faithful erupt. We got there early, found a seat and waited. It didn’t take long for the crowds to arrive…

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Old Faithful was as punctual as predicted and we watched her amazing 4 minute spectacle with awe…

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Steve and I  often talk about which of the national parks we have visited is our favorite. We almost always agree, you can’t possibly pick one over the other because they are all unique. Each one offers something special. But, I think Yellowstone’s diversity makes it my top pick!

I’d like to thank Laura over at Chapter 3 Travels. She and her husband, Kevin, visited Yellowstone a few months ago and wrote a fantastic piece about it. They stayed at Henrys Lake SP, which is how I found out about it.

Next up…Grand Teton National Park

Do you have a favorite national park? I’d love to hear about it…

Joining the 30% Club

We feel downright privileged to have been inducted into the 30% club! When we first arrived in Alaska, we had no idea such a club existed. The chalets where we worked were usually the final destination for our guests. They had already explored Fairbanks, Denali National Park and Anchorage. The Kenai Peninsula was the end of their adventures. Time after time, we heard stories of visiting Denali NP only to be terribly disappointed they didn’t get to see Mt. Denali. I mean, after all, it IS the tallest mountain on the continent – how can you not see it?!?!?

Mt Denali is 20,310 feet tall, that’s about 3 1/2 miles. Its 2 peaks are over 2 1/2 miles apart. It’s hard to imagine you couldn’t see it! But the fact is, given its location and size, it creates its own weather.

“Denali is so massive that it generates its own weather; much the way a huge boulder submerged in a river creates whitewater rapids. All mountains deflect air masses and influence local conditions, but Denali rises so abruptly and so high that this effect is more dramatic here than perhaps anywhere else on Earth. Storms barrel in from the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea and collide with Denali’s towering mass. Weather can quickly change from sunny and clear to blizzard conditions with fierce winds, intense cold, and heavy snowfall.”

                                                         From The Alaska Range and Denali: Geology and Orogeny

This pattern of weather convergences means it can be sunny and 70˚ in town and Mt Denali could be obscured by fog and clouds. It’s estimated only 30% of visitors actually get to see Mt. Denali. We were in that 30% – FOR 3 DAYS IN A ROW!!!!   Denali means “the high one” in Koyukon, a subset of the Athabaskan language family, sometimes thought to mean “the great one.” Every time we got to see Mt Denali, I was in awe.

The park has an incredible history and many of the stories can be found here.

The First 15 Miles

a map showing the predominately east-west road through denali national park

Private vehicles can only be driven on the first 15 miles of the 92 mile park road. To go beyond Savage River, you must take the park shuttle or hike. We spent our first day driving those 15 miles and seeing all we could see…

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The view on the left side of the road
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Compared to the view on the right side of the road

It was strange how the left side of the park was in bathed in dappled sun while the right side was shrouded in clouds. There would be no view of Denali today, but, we did get to see some informative signage…

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And when we made it to Savage River, we were treated with a surprise…

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A rainbow over Savage River

We weren’t worried we didn’t see any wildlife on the first day. Guided by the weather forecast, the next day we planned a trip on the shuttle to the Eielson Visitor’s Center – Park Road Mile 66.

The First 66 Miles

We opted for the transit bus, as opposed to the narrated tour bus. The up side of the transit bus is you can disembark, hike, then grab another bus, while you have to remain on the tour bus. We promptly departed at 7:30am, along with 58 of our newest friends. Our shuttle driver Annie filled us in on what to expect, she said we’d stop for all wildlife sightings and several scenic overlooks, in addition to potty breaks for the 8 hour ride.

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Our first view of Mt Denali was over the mist settled in the valley. But, we had seen it! Already a member! As the morning worn on, we stopped for several wildlife encounters…

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Meet Mr Caribou
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Those 2 black dots at 2 o’clock and 8 o’clock are grizzly bears

It was a bit frustrating for me, jostling for a view out the window, but we made it work.

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Those white dots in the center are Dahl Sheep

Are you noticing a pattern? Lots of dots. The colors on the mountains reminded me of Death Valley, except this color came from brightly colored fall foliage instead of minerals…

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The park road winds past colorful mountains

A good part of our day was spent taking pictures like this…

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At mile 46, we stopped to check out Polychrome Overlook. The myriad of colors were astounding…

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Lots of buses filled with tourists

We also stopped along the route for the iconic picture of the park road with Mt Denali in the background. Yes, everyone else has taken this picture, but I couldn’t resist…

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We did get a closer view of some grizzly bears, but unfortunately, the sun was shining toward us and the bears ended up with a halo…

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We also saw a couple moose in the distance…

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And lots more “dots” on the mountains…

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I loved watching this group of caribou. With winter around the corner, they are beginning to shed the velvet covering their antlers. It’s  not a good picture, but the antlers were almost orange…

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The views, despite being out the window, were breathtaking…

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When we arrived at the Eielson Vistor’s Center, Mt Denali provided an amazing backdrop…

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We decided to stay at the vistor’s center and catch a later shuttle. We were treated with a couple minutes of solitude before the next bus arrived. While we were basking in the splendor of Mt Denali, some of the wildlife posed for a closeup…

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An Arctic Squirrel
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Munching away on an apple peel someone had carelessly or purposely dropped

The park rangers go to great length to educate the public about the dangers of feeding ANY of the animals. Annie had reminded us time and again, it was best to eat on the bus so as not to leave so much as a crumb for the critters. But, you know people, some of them just can’t help themselves.

We walked along the trail and looked back at the visitor center…

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And ahead to the 33 more miles to the base of Mt Denali…

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Hard to imagine, Mt Denali is still 33 miles away!

One of the interesting things about Denali NP is the fact it is a “trail-less” park, with a few exceptions near the entrance. People are encouraged to find their own path. Go out and walk on the tundra. Feel the springiness of it under you feet. Enjoy it in your own responsible way.

It was time to head back. We had seen everything we had hoped to except the wolves. Pretty darn good day!

Up next…Cruising the Denali Highway and Abandon Igloos

Are you a member of the 30% club? Did you even know there is such a thing? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

 

 

No, We Didn’t Win the Lottery

After reading about all of the adventures we’ve had this summer, you must be thinking we hit the lottery. I mean, really, who could afford to do all of those things?

Links go to the blog post I wrote about the adventure.

Two glacier cruises…

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Our cruise with Kenai Fjords Tours
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Our cruise with Major Marine

Two Helicopter tours…

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Marathon Helicopter tour
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Seward Helicopter Tours

Dog sledding…

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Turning Heads Kennel

Rafting…

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Rafting with Alaska River Adventures

Took the tram…

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Riding the Tram

Visited the wildlife center

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Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center

And did sight seeing on our own…

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11 1/2 week old eagle in Homer

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One thing I haven’t written much about is the fact we are working. For May, June and most of July, we worked full time, 40 hours a week. We are the “On Site Hosts” at the Spruce Moose Chalets in Moose Pass. What does an on site host do, you ask? Well, lots of things. But one of the major things we do is be an ambassador for the area. Chalet guests come from all over the world and want to have the best experiences possible. But how can we recommend an excursion if we haven’t tried it ourselves? Would you recommend a restaurant you’ve never eaten at? No! So what I did was contact all of these businesses and explained to them we would be here for the summer and wanted to be able to tell our guests about our adventures. I asked if they would be willing to give us a discount in exchange for our testimony. Simple as that! Nearly every place I contacted offered us a deal and discounts varied from place to place.  We never would have been able to afford to do all these things if I hadn’t been able to leverage our position as the on site host.

I still have one more post to write (maybe two) about our time but I am pretty much caught up. Finally!

Our job contract here is almost up. We will be leaving Moose Pass on Sept. 4th, but our adventures are far from over! We are heading up to Denali for a week (where we have an interview for a job next summer), then we will be heading down to Haines for 4 days. I have mapped out a pretty ambitious trip back to Florida, 4 National Parks and lots of cool sights along the way. I hope you continue to follow our adventures!

We’d love to hear your comments!

Up, Up and Away

Our adventurous side was calling and Marathon Helicopter Tours answered! We’d seen Resurrection Bay up close on our glacier cruise, but seeing it from the air was an entirely different experience.We checked into their office at the airport, received our safety briefing and were soon ready to take to the air. Our pilot, Mike, has been flying helicopters since 2006 and moved to Seward in 2012. He clearly loves what he does! As we lifted off, he pointed out various Seward landmarks, giving a running commentary on the landscape…

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We hugged the shoreline as he told us how the 1964 earthquake forever changed the face of Seward (and all of southern Alaska).

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We flew over some kayakers enjoying the first sunny day we’d had in a while…

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Soon, we made our way up into the mountains, with stunning views of Resurrection Bay for contrast…

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We saw mountain goats, deftly crossing the rocky outcroppings…

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As the mountains gave way, we got our first look at Bear Glacier and its bay…

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With a practiced ease, Mike swung his flying machine towards the glacier, giving us a close-up view of its beauty…

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Mike explained the ridge of dirt on the glacier is a medial moraine. A moraine is the accumulation of dirt and debris on an icefield. When it is on the edge of the glacier, it’s called a lateral moraine and when 2 glaciers combine, their edges become the middle and a medial moraine is formed…

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As we flew near the edge of the glacier, we could see the lateral moraine forming…

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The landscape seemed other-worldly, as if Mike had transported us to another planet…

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As we crossed into the airspace over Kenai Fjord National Park, we were treated with the sights of glacial lakes and rivers…

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Mike’s in depth knowledge and humorous commentary is only surpassed by his ability to spot wildlife far below of the forest floor…

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We knew our adventure was nearly over as we flew along the Resurrection River with its many creeks and streams…

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It was an amazing adventure! Mike, in one word – AWESOME! The scenery so breathtaking, I’m still winded. If you’re ever in Seward, stop by Marathon Helicopter Tours and they will take you on an Alaska adventure you’ll never forget!

Have you ever been on a helicopter tour? Was your adventure as fun as ours? I’d love to hear about it!

 

 

 

 

Where are the Bears?

In an effort to get caught up, this post is going to be about several day trips we’ve taken around the Kenai Peninsula. We are always on the lookout for wildlife, particularly bears. Black and brown bears (grizzlies) live on the peninsula and we spend a lot of time exploring the area looking for them. We’d been told the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge was famous for bear sightings. We set off early one morning to drive Skilak Lake Road, an 18 mile dirt road in the refuge. We had barely gotten a half mile from Waldo when I had to stop and admire the reflection on Upper Trail Lake…

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When we finally arrived at Skilak Lake Road, I realized something – it was Memorial Day weekend. There were people everywhere, the campgrounds were packed and the bears were in hiding! But, the scenery was lovely…

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Mt Redoubt, in the background, is a volcano – it last erupted in 2009

We did finally get to see some wildlife…

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Oh ya, and we did see a squirrel, but i didn’t get any pictures of it. Another day, the town of Hope was our destination. The Alaskan gold rush began in Hope and there are lots of places to explore. After we turned off the Seward Highway, we were treated to some stunning vistas overlooking Turnagain Arm…

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Usually, we make sure we have a full tank of gas before we head off to do any exploring but we had both verified there was a gas station in Hope, so we didn’t top off the Jeep. What we didn’t know was the price of gas in Hope was $4.50 a gallon! Holy crap! Over a dollar more than in Seward. AND – cash only! That’ll teach us! After we emptied our wallets, we drove along Palmer Creek Road…

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The breathe taking views eventually led us to a hiking trail. There were quite a few cars parked at the trail head, but we grabbed the bear spray and our cameras and started down the trail…

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It didn’t take too long to realize the snow covering the trail was too deep for us to enjoy the walk. As we were debating turning around, I caught movement in the brush…

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This willow ptarmigan was foraging in the underbrush, making way more noise than you would have thought for something that small. We watched until it disappeared and headed back to the Jeep. Since it was getting late in the day, we decided to head back home. As we passed Tern Lake, I saw a pair of tundra swans. But, Steve saw what I had missed! The babies…

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It didn’t take long for a crowd of onlookers to appear. It seems when one person stops along the road with a camera in hand, everyone stops. Apparently, I’m guilty of the same thing. We were driving along Kalifornsky Beach Road, just south of Kenai, when I saw a guy on the side of the road with his camera. Steve and I turned around to investigate – was it a bear? Nope, but almost as cool. It was a caribou, munching away on the tender new shoots…

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We hadn’t driven 3 miles further down the road when we saw Ms. Moose doing her part to control the dandelions…

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After turning off of Kalifornsky Beach Road, we headed north to Captain Cook State Recreation Area. The weather wasn’t the best, so we didn’t have a very good view across Cook Inlet, but we did see some more wildlife…

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We finally got a few sunny days and we headed to Cooper Landing. We stopped at the boat launch and watched as the rafters and fishermen began their journey to the Upper Kenai River…

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Steve decided to drive down Snug Harbor Road which follows the back side of Kenai Lake.  I was enjoying the scenery when Steve abruptly did a u-turn. Why? Was it a bear? Nope (again) it was a beautiful waterfall that couldn’t be seen from  the passenger side of the Jeep…

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We finally made it to the end of the 18 mile road and found Snug Harbor…

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While we were sitting there, a couple in a canoe returned to shore, only to find out their battery was dead…

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We tried to jump start them, but to no avail. We ended up giving them a ride back to Cooper Landing so they could call for a tow. They were grateful we were there, it would have been a very long walk back to town!

Another day, we when were looking for bears, we saw mama moose and her baby…

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So, we’ve done all this driving around Kenai Peninsula looking for bears when we could have stayed at home and let them come to us…

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I took this picture in our driveway! I watched until I thought it was gone. Steve drove to the bottom of the hill and didn’t see it anymore, so we figured it had moved on. Come to find out, it had circled back to Waldo and checked out our grill…

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Like the bear print on the lid to the grill?
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 I guess it was unhappy dinner wasn’t ready!

One of our guests shared this picture with me…

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Now we know where the bears are!