After spending two years in Africa and going on countless safaris, it was virtually impossible not to keep an eye out for animals while we traveled around the California wilderness.
Camping in various parts of the Sierra Nevada, we stored our food and toiletries in bear-proof lockers. Although it was still cold in the beginning of May, there had already been multiple bear sightings, both at the campgrounds where we stayed in Yosemite and around the Lake Tahoe area. Unlike our safaris in Kenya, during which we’d seek out Africa’s famed predators from the relative safety of a safari vehicle, we were perfectly happy not to come upon any bears during our hikes or at our campsites.
However, we were incredibly excited to encounter what we thought was a wolf while driving around the back side of Glacier Point in Yosemite. His cold, steely eyes spooked D a bit, so we didn’t stick around long taking pictures, especially once the animal slunk out of the woods and made a beeline for our car.
We were so excited about our find that we told a couple of volunteer park rangers the next day. They promptly burst our bubble. As soon as they heard where we had seen him they said they were certain it was not a wolf we had seen. Rather, it was a coyote – one that had been spotted multiple times hanging around that part of the woods, “panhandling,” hoping to score some food from the passing tourists.
We saw another panhandling coyote on our way in and out of Death Valley a week later. He had taken up refuge by a roadside sign, which provided a small amount of shade. He looked pretty different from the coyote in Yosemite — smaller, skinnier, more bedraggled, and with completely different coloring. But that’s the remarkable thing about this species — according to National Geographic, coyote populations are at an all-time high in the United States because of how incredibly adaptable these animals are, surviving on whatever they can find, from rabbits and rodents to insects, snakes, and grass.
Unfortunately, these predators aside, America offers slim pickings for animal lovers. There were deer in pretty much all the major parks we visited, and a handful of rabbits on the shores of Mono Lake. On the coast, we saw elephant seals and sea lions. And of course there were the adorable little red island foxes we saw scavenging around the campsite of Santa Cruz island.
And then there were the omnipresent squirrels and chipmunks, and though we snapped a couple of pictures for variety’s sake, we could never muster the same level of enthusiasm for these rodents as some of our countrymen. We were having lunch at Glacier Point, trying to keep the squirrels from stealing our food while enjoying the majestic views of the Yosemite Valley when an excited visitor exclaimed, “Oh my God,” whipped out her iPad and, to our amazement, started chasing after the squirrels while completely ignoring the wondrous panorama in front of her.