Two bear footprints worn through dried leaves to the soil beneath in an area burned by the Sherpa Fire along the Gaviota Coast. This print pattern, more distinct in some places than others, continues for some distance along the unburned trail seen in the next photo.
Bears around these parts tend to have a remarkable habit of stepping in the exact same places when walking some sections of their own trails. I’ve seen it all over the forest.
A bear trail will often resemble a human trail. Typically it’s a foot-wide or so single-track path pressed into the leaf mulch of the forest floor.
However, unlike human trails a bear trail through leaf mulch is sometimes also dotted with individual paw impressions that mark the particular places that the bear steps each and every time it walks the path.
These are not distinct paw prints with toe and pad impressions as often seen in mud or silty dirt and which are left by a single footstep, but rather they are roundish holes pressed into the leaves from each foot having been repeatedly placed in the exact same spot.
In areas of heavy oak leaf mulch under forest canopy these paw impressions can become potholes up to six inches deep or more and sometimes push through the leaves entirely to bare soil. To follow in the bear’s footsteps is like taking the sort of measured and precise steps needed when walking on stepping stones.
Bear trail don’t burn. A burned out understory in an oak grove with brown crispy dry leaves marking the course of a bear trail. The trail continued on to a three-way intersection. The same boulder in the upper right corner beside the oak tree shown here can be seen from the other side in the photo below.
While wandering the woods I came upon a puzzling sight. A trail of dried leaves and grasses led an incredible distance across land blackened by wildfire.
Multiple sections of paw impressions in the leaves, as mentioned above, revealed that a bear had left this trail that did not burn. The golden-brown path wound through a charred oak grove for some fifty yards or more between two creek crossings.
In a few places the unburned trail disappeared into large white patches of powdery ash where large oak trees had fallen and burned away, then it reappeared on the other side as a trail of unburned leaves and grasses surrounded by blackened, baked and crusty soil.
The trail could be seen from across the burned out forest from many yards away. In one location this remarkable trail of brown leaves formed an even more notable feature: a triangular intersection at a point where a path branched off on another route.
The trail had been used after the fire. There were fresh paw prints through ashy sections, which was a good sign to see, because not far away the body of a scorched bear lay dead in an arroyo with it’s head missing; the skull apparently taken for a trophy by some eager scavenger in desperate need of a curio for his shelf.
The forest is open and easy to walk through after the wildfire, but the bear continues along its same trail walking the line that oddly didn’t burn.
A three-way intersection on the bear trail. The trail as seen here leads into the distance through center frame, and disappears there around the oak tree and boulder mentioned in the previous photo. The trail continues in the photo here around the two thin sycamores on the right in the foreground and on out of frame toward the lower right corner. Another branch of the trail leads out of the lower left corner. The untrampled triangular space created by the intersection of the trails had burned, but the trails making the triangle largely did not.