Does a bear poop in the woods? Um yeah, and I almost stepped in it.
The fact is that half the time I am hiking; my ultimate goal is to see a bear. It’s probably a way to rationalize spending hours wandering in the woods – and it’s certainly a motivator to get one of my kids to come with me. Try “Hey Anthony, let’s go see if we can find a bear in the woods!” vs. “Hey Anthony, let’s go spend 3 hours hiking up the side of a mountain in the cold!” and see which one can get him to put down the Nintendo DS.
Despite the searching – I’ve only seen a black bear one time. And despite my desire to see another, the sighting was a surprise – and in fact scared the shit out of me. And despite the wine tasting that preceded the hike, yes I am CERTAIN it was a bear.
We had just stopped for a quick tasting and to buy a few bottles for dinner at Chester Gap Cellars (http://www.chestergapcellars.com) in Chester Gap, Virginia – about 5 miles south of Front Royal. We found a trailhead at the end of the road at the top of Chester Gap which provides a nice 2 mile hike up to the Compton’s Gap parking lot at mile post 10 on Skyline Dive. (http://www.summitpost.org/compton-peak/153626 ) It’s a perfect trail for bears because of the enormous old growth woods that provide den habitat for the winter.
Almost to the top, first Anthony – then Gabrielle – froze and pointed into the woods. When I finally realized what they saw, I immediately freaked, and we started yelling and singing and trying (almost unsuccessfully) not to bolt back down the trail. He followed us for a few steps then decided that our loud rendition of the Gilligan Island theme song was too irritating to deal with, and went the other way.
It was terrifying – and amazing. A few months later we went back looking again, but only found evidence on the trail that bears in fact DO poop in the woods, and yes, we almost stepped in it.
This is a great time of year to look for bears – they are active and busy gorging themselves on acorns and other foods getting ready to hibernate. Shenandoah National Park is said to have the highest concentration of black bears of any national park in the East with almost one per square mile.
Anyone else have any advice on a good spot for bear sightings? In the meantime, I would highly recommend a trip out there in November or December, and don’t forget to stop at of the best vineyards in Northern Virginia in Chester Gap. Grab a bottle of their Cabernet Franc, get out there before the acorns are all gone, and be careful where you step.