A close encounter
What would you do if you came face to face with a cougar?
Lynn Chamberlain has been a professional outdoor photographer for over 30 years. His photos frequently appear on the DWR website and in a variety of publications. He lives in southern Utah and is the Conservation Outreach manager for the DWR's Southern Region.
IN ANOTHER LIFE, I was employed by the Zion Natural History Association and worked in the Kolob Canyon Section of the Park. I answered questions and sold souvenirs to guests at the visitor center.
Each day I would drive my car to the South Fork of Taylor Creek turnout to eat my lunch. This is one of the most beautiful places that I know of. Towering cliffs form a funnel that manages to contain your attention to the canyon and lets the eye feast on the contrast between the red rock and the green vegetation.
On one occasion, I was sitting on the edge of the rock wall eating a sandwich and watching a pair of peregrine falcons snatch swallows from the air to feed to their young. An uneasy feeling came over me and I felt as if I were being watched.
At first, I looked behind me to see if a coworker was playing a trick on me. No one was there. I began to scan the scene to see if I could detect anything. For a long time, I saw nothing.
As my eyes took in the side hill to the south, I noticed the white mustache and pointed ears of a mountain lion lying on a large boulder about 100 yards from where I sat. I didn’t see it move, and it was looking right at me so assumed that it had been watching me from the moment I arrived.
For some reason I felt no fear at all. I watched the cat and it watched me for another few minutes—until it finally got bored. Then the cougar stood up and walked back up the canyon and out of site.
I have had a lot of interesting experiences with wildlife. I try to put myself in a position to see and enjoy animals whenever I get the chance. This experience goes down in my book as one of the best. I felt like I walked away from it with a better understanding of wild cats and a great respect for one of my favorite creatures.
Cougars can live just about anywhere in Utah. You’ll find them in the mountains, deserts and foothills. If you’re heading into any of these areas, it’s a good idea to be prepared for an encounter with a cougar. Take a few minutes to learn more about staying safe in cougar country.