On a sunny Friday in July, I rounded a corner walking a trail through Waterton Lakes National Park, a gorgeous area on the north side of the Canadian border above Montana. Sticking out of a bush, I spotted what I appeared to be a fuzzy black ear. For a second, I thought I was seeing things until the plant rumbled and out popped a chubby little black bear cub.
As it casually pawed at the ground, I scanned the nearby tree line, knowing fully that I didn’t want to be caught between a mama and her baby. The cub must have felt my presence because it looked up and caught my eye for the longest millisecond before scampering off into the woods. The curious adventurer in me wanted to follow the bear deeper into the woods, but my cautious brain told me I may not walk out in one piece. I decided to keep walking the trail.
That was the 12th bear I had seen in three weeks. Each encounter left me feeling the same – heart racing and full of wonder. Living in a city, the majority of my wildlife encounters are with squirrels and stray dogs. While I try not to overlook the beauty of the more familiar creatures, they just don’t inspire the same sense of wonder you can get coming face to face with a bear.
So, a couple of years ago I made a decision. I vowed to myself that once a year, I was going to seek out those heart-pounding experiences. Those moments you can’t find at the water cooler. That’s how I found myself in Canada, how I found myself in the company of so many bears that I felt comfortable uncomfortable.
For this year’s trip, I headed west. I set off from Missouri and wound my way through some of my favorite places in the world. I watched the sun rise at the Grand Canyon and the Grand Tetons. I watched the sun set at Yosemite and Yellowstone. I hiked down to the shore of Crater Lake and up to the summit of Half Dome. I visited places I had never been. I went to Lassen Volcanic National Park before heading north to explore the beautiful Canadian national parks in Mount Revelstoke, Yoho, Banff and Jasper.
It was one of the best months of my life. I saw unpolluted skies barren of buildings; mountains undisturbed by man; wildlife that was truly wild. I came face to face with my fears and arrived home more at peace with myself and the world around me. While the trip to the coffee machine can’t match the climb to the top of a mountain, I know that there is more out there for me to explore, more beauty waiting to be experienced.
My name is Matt, and that was my American Expedition.
**All Photos Credited to Matthew Cowan. Learn more about Matt at www.mnc4.com.