Saturday, January 18, 2014

Looking Back - Bear Country USA

  Our second summer workamping at Bear Country USA began in April 2006. When we arrived there was still some snow in Rapid City. The peacocks were strutting — it was mating season for them. Throughout the summer the peacocks shed their long, beautiful feathers and they turned out to be quite a prize for us and for the tourists. We would drive around in our cart early, picking up any feathers we could find, then during the day we'd look for people to give them to — one for a child, whose eyes would fill with wonder; one for a handicapped person in a wheelchair who would get a big smile; one for a lonely looking tourist, joy, and the others to just anyone we thought would like one! It became a highlight of our day, passing out peacock feathers.

 We were asked to come early this spring to help with the brand new cubs in Baby Land. What a thrill that was! Baby bears have an odd behavior that was so fun to watch. They would use each other's ears as pacifiers. These 4 are lined up, each one sucking the ear of the next. Well, all except for the first one in the line. He was out of luck! They continued this till they were quite large. We saw as many as 8 or 9 lined up once! For helping out with the bottle feeding and cleaning I was given the privilege of naming one cub. I chose the cinnamon cub, third from the left, and I named her Annie!

These two, Mary and Martha, were twins. I held the cubs carefully along one arm, an arm with long sleeves on to protect from the sharp claws, while with my other hand I would hold the bottle. After feeding, I would hold the cubs over a bucket and rub their little bellies so they would defecate, like the mama bear would do with her tongue in the wild, only without the bucket, of course. Some of the cubs were big and strong enough when taken from the dens so that they didn't need to be bottle fed, but some, like these two, still needed the bottle. The others learned quickly to feed from a dish filled with special "bear" formula, and did they ever make a mess doing it. It must have made the ear pacifiers taste all that much better!

We did some volunteering at the Rapid City Rescue Mission. One of our friends there, Monty, was thrilled to be allowed to visit, with us, the closed off region of the park where the babies were kept, and he even got to name this cub "Concho".

Here is Annie again, quite a bit bigger, out in the big viewing enclosure later in the summer. Isn't she pretty? After the first season the cubs go to a section for juvenile bears, not open to the tourists, till they are big enough to be let into the drive-through portion of the park, usually by their third year.

Cubs, and big bears, too, love to climb trees. They would spend quite a lot of time there, much to the amusement of the tourists. All it took was for one to climb up and the rest would follow. We learned early that the cubs were very destructive of the trees, so the caretakers would cut trees in the forest property, stand them up in reinforced holes in the ground, and when they were stripped of branches and needles they would be removed and new trees brought in. That happened several times during the summer.

 The bears and the wolves were together in the drive-through section of the park, but they began their lives, after being removed from the dens, in Baby Land and then in the walk-through area. Here is Vanessa with a new cub. I want one! We were allowed to pet and hold these cuties before they were put out for the public to see and admire.

 Growing pups! They were all quite tame during this stage of their lives.

Here are some adult wolves out in the drive-through area, probably no longer as tame as they were. We enjoyed watching the bears and wolves together. The bears didn't have time for the wolves but the wolves were fond of teasing the bears and trying to snatch their food. There were at least 2 different kinds of wolves at Bear Country, mostly Arctics and Greys. Watch for more critters in a future post!

Friday, January 17, 2014

Looking Back — Our First Workamper Job

Going through old photos, remembering our earlier workamper jobs, I decided to use some of my best pictures and catch up to where I actually began blogging, in 2008, about our adventures. We moved into our 5th wheel in January of 2005 and left for our first workamping job in June of that year. With great excitement and anticipation, and entering into the unknown, we set off for South Dakota. Crossing Montana was an awesome experience. We fell in love! The early pioneers must have traveled in a wagon much like this one. We found this gorgeous scene near the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument near Hardin MT.

Here we are in our modern covered wagon, much more comfortable, just leaving the 7th Ranch RV Park in Garry Owen MT.

We've arrived safely in Rapid City in the gorgeous Black Hills of South Dakota! I'm talking to my best friends to say, "We're here!" Our employer, Bear Country USA, furnished us with a nice spot at the Lazy J RV Park. What we liked best about this park was that it overlooked the east part of the city and on a clear day we could see almost to the Badlands, an hour away. The sky was always gorgeous with frequent rainbows and awe-inspiring cloud formations.

Our boss, Vanessa, was truly the best boss we could have had for our first job. We will never forget her wonderful and kind treatment of us as we began our workamper job at Bear Country USA, a drive-through wildlife park. It has its walk-through area, too, and the new crop of black bear cubs each summer is probably the largest draw to the park. True to the name, the park has around 250 bears, but there are also many other kinds of animals, mostly North American varieties. In future posts I'll include many other critters.

That's a bear sculpture swatting at the plaster salmon in the waterfall above the otter enclosure, and those are real workampers in our "mule" where we spent our days going from restrooms to gift shop to flower beds, to garbage runs, and, most important, to tourists with questions and needs. The best part was that as we drove around we got to watch the animals all day long. We did spend quite a bit of time watching those adorable bear cubs, too. We loved this job so much that we returned for 2 more summers, 2006 and 2008. The park changed management and no longer has workampers, or we'd be there yet.

We shared cleaning duties with one other workamper couple, Ron and Connie, who trained us and then alternated days with us. It was their second summer at Bear Country. Next to them is Vanessa, and seated is Richard, whose job was to pick up handicapped tourists in his golf cart and drive them around to see the sights. We came to love these fellow workers as well as all the other employees at this wonderful and exciting place.

Mr. Keith looking "cool" in the Mule. 

I have hundreds of photos of the bear cubs. This is one of my favorites. We could, and did, watch them for hours, along with hundreds and thousands of tourists. 
Each spring there are approximately 10 to 15 cubs born. They are taken from the dens at about 2 months old to protect them from the male bears and to accustom them to humans. When they are old enough they are returned to the larger bear population in the drive-through area. Bear cubs are like human toddlers. They play endlessly, entertaining everyone. They are even cute while they are sleeping! Their enclosure had a swimming pool, lots of grass, trees for climbing and logs for scampering over. What fun!

The most amazing animals at Bear Country were the two Grizzly bears, Tank, the male, and Cherokee, his mate. They had a beautiful enclosure with a deep moat for protection, but they seemed almost tame. Tank would wave and do funny things to entertain the onlookers and to get treats. We frequently were asked to throw strawberries, or hotdogs, or muffins to the begging bears, for the enjoyment of the tourists. These grizzlies were located right outside the main restrooms so we got to see them several times a day as we cleaned and checked the facilities. I also have hundreds of photos of Tank and Cherokee and I will share more of them in future posts.