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Bear tales
Locals share tales of living in bear country

Sidebar: Bear etiquette at home and in the field

Courtesy Colorado Division of Wildlife Melody Miller knows bears. In her more than four years as district wildlife manager for the Colorado Division of Wildlife in Durango she has seen and heard it all. Asking her to tell bear stories is like asking a longshoreman to tell his tales of the sea – it all depends on how much time you have.

One of her favorite bear stories came from a woman who lived up Wildcat Canyon and left her door open with a bag of cat food sitting nearby.

“A bear came in, grabbed the bag of cat food and sat on the couch with the bag of food between his legs,” Miller said. In a reverse sort of Goldilocks scenario, the woman arrived home to find someone definitely had been sitting on her couch.

“The bear left two butt prints on the couch,” she said. But at least the intruder proved to be a discerning one – he picked the best seat in the house, one in front of the big picture window facing west, the woman reported. “Apparently he decided to watch the sun go down,” Miller said.

Then there’s the story of the clutzy bear who walked away from an incident that would have earned any mere homo sapiens a swift steel-toed kick in the butt, if not a trip to the local intensive care unit.

Courtesy CDOWApparently, a group of motorcyclists had stopped at Purgatory to stretch their legs, and while they were away, the contents of a saddlebag on one bike intrigued a resident bear. As he rifled through the bag, a biker returned and shouted at the bear.

“It startled the bear, and he ended up knocking over the bike, which started the domino effect,” Miller said. “He knocked over the whole line of bikes.”

Fortunately for the bear, the ploy (whether intended or not) worked – the bikers were distracted just long enough for him to make a run for it.

Miller’s list goes on. There’s the one about the bear who walked into a gas station in Cortez; the bear who mastered the electronic doors at Purgatory and entered the resort lobby; the bear who, frustrated over a bear-proof garbage can, carried it off into the woods; the bear who took a swim in a kiddie pool and turned the water brown (“not sure where that bear had been”); and the bear who broke into a car that had been used to transport a pizza.

According to Miller the stories are so varied because, just like humans, no two bears are exactly alike.

“Bears are kind of like people except they wear long, shaggy coats and speak a different language,” she said. “Each one has a different personality. You have the ones that don’t like people and stay in the high country; you have the ones who are social and like people; and you have the ones that are just plain nasty.”

Nevertheless, Miller said overall, bears are inherently well-meaning.

“They’re just a little destructive,” she said.

However, this year’s destruction may soon be coming to an end. Miller said she has noticed bear activity for the season tapering off – a welcome relief over last year when bears foraged well into December and perhaps a sign snow is on the way. She also has found that this year bears are going into their long winter’s sleep with more fat than last year – something that can be attributed to late summer rains that brought fall food sources.

“They have a good layer of fat going into hibernation and quite a few seem to be doing all right,” she said.

As for the prospect of a snowy winter, Miller is cautiously optimistic.

“Only time will tell,” she said. “I have a feeling Mother Nature is trying to tell us that we’re going to have a good winter. We’ll just have to watch the animals and see what they do.”

However, Miller isn’t the only Durangoan with bear stories to tell. In fact, after soliciting Durangoans for bear stories, we found that, like four-wheel drives and fleece socks, we all have ’em. Well, most of us, that is.

“I’m the bear guy, and I’ve never seen a bear,” said Bryan Peterson, of the county’s Animal Damage Advisory Committee, which advises residents on how to coexist peacefully with their furry neighbors.

Peterson’s bad timing aside, here’s a look at some of the bear sightings that didn’t get away.

Why the bear crossed the road

Angel Harris, of Durango, wrote in her harrowing tale of bears and bikes.

“Some friends and I were returning from Purgatory on our motorcycles on Highway 550, headed south,” she wrote. “Just past Dalton Ranch a cub ran out in front of us. We all locked up our brakes and started shutting down.”

Harris said the first two riders managed to miss the bear cub – and each other. But motorcycle No. 3, which Harris was a passenger on, and the cub for that matter, were not so lucky.

“The cub ran square into his leg,” she said.

Fortunately, all involved parties walked or scampered away seemingly unharmed, except for unlucky driver No. 3, who left the scene with a charlie horse to remember the bear by.

“The third guy had a pretty stiff leg for the rest of the day,” she wrote.

Harris said the whole thing happened so quickly she didn’t even know what his the bike until it was over.

“That was the worst part about it was,” she said. “I had my head down because of the wind, so I never even saw the bear”


Andrew Wracher, whose parents, David and Nancy, live in Edgemont Ranch, gave us his story of a bear stuck in a hammock on his parents’ porch.

Apparently, the bear was en route to a suet-filled bird feeder when he became ensnared in a woven hammock.

“At first it looked like he was just out there swinging,” Wracher said. “But actually he was stuck. Every time he would free one paw another one would fall through the netting and he would get more tangled.”

Eventually, the bear realized the side-to-side approach was getting him nowhere – and drawing the unwanted attention of several human glass-pressers – and he escaped out the end by lowering his butt to the ground.

“I think he was really embarrassed,” Wracher said. “He just ran off.”






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