The black bear and her two small cubs were foraging in a dense woodland of mesquites, junipers, and Texas madrones when I encountered them some 20 yards off to my right. The mother bear stopped but did not rear up. No doubt she had heard me coming. She looked me over. I was her inferior in every way that counted at this moment.
I was hiking alone that October morning on the 12.5-mile-long South Rim Trail in Big Bend National Park in West Texas. I’d arrived at the park just after dawn, escorted by jackrabbits and roadrunners along the highway, and for the first two hours of steady ascent the only signs of life had been butterflies, a couple of bright yellow Scott’s orioles, and a backpacker who was just returning from a solo campout.