It is fairly well known that Virginia has a nice population of American Black Bears, and that population tends to favor the habitat found in the western part of the state, including Shenandoah National Park. On the other hand, I have visited the western part of the state many times, including Shenandoah and the Appalachian Trail, and have only seen a bear one time. That one time was a fleeting glance of a very distant bear while hiking up White Oak Canyon Trail.
That is until my recent trip to South River Falls Trail.
I was taking my time hiking back up from the falls. My pace was what I call "bird watching speed" instead of "hiking speed". The total distance of the hike was somewhere around 3.5 miles, and I took 5 and a half hours to hike it. As I hiked, I would periodically stop when I heard or saw something that warranted some investigation. Other times I would just stop to listen and wait on the off chance that something would be moving through the trees and pass me. I was expecting that "something" to be avian. When I noticed movement down slope from me that was dark, furry and not small, I realized my interest in just birds was a tad too focused.
I was so excited about seeing a bear that my pictures suffered. The only photos where you can tell there is a bear are when the bear's head is behind a tree. The bear was probably only about 20 yards away, down slope from the trail. I had no indication that the bear ever took notice of me (which in hind sight is a good thing). My theory is that it had a den down there because it moved behind a pile of brush and fallen trees and it never came back into view over the next 15 minutes (when I decided to move along).
So, here is my lame bear picture. Hopefully you can tell there is a bear in the photo, even if it is headless. At the rate I am seeing bears in Shenandoah, I should see another one in about two years. I will be better prepared to get a good photo when that happens!