By Mike Koshmrl

Eager roadside hordes got their first spring sighting of Grizzly 399 on May 16, 2023. At 27 years old, she became the oldest monitored grizzly sow in Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem history to produce a cub. (Photo by Marc Kleinman)

GRAND TETON NATIONAL PARK—On Wednesday afternoon, tourists and passersby rolling down North Park Road would slow to ask wildlife photographers like Sue Cedarholm one question: “What are you sitting here for?” 

The Jackson Hole resident was playful and blunt in her response. 

“I’d tell them, ‘I have no idea. Because we’re idiots,’” she said. “It is insane how many people will just sit here all day. Or, before she came out, how many people would sit for days and days and days waiting for her.”

The female Cedarholm was referring to is Grizzly 399, arguably the most famous bear in the world. As expected, publicity poured in immediately after the sow emerged into view on Tuesday for the first time in 2023. To the delight of what could be millions of fans, the lionized bear was accompanied by a lone cub with a distinct natal collar. That made the 27-year-old the oldest marked-and-monitored grizzly sow in the history of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem to bear offspring. 

It’s these superlatives and Grizzly 399’s well-known story, and her occasional struggles, that drew people from around the country in hopes of catching a sighting or snap. Photographer Kelly Larson, of Woodland Hills, Utah, had ventured to Jackson Hole for about the 12th time in the last three years. 

“She was our main objective,” Larson said. 

Objective achieved: He spotted and photographed the matriarch bruin the day she emerged and again on Wednesday morning. 

But by late-afternoon, Larson, like Cedarholm, had been sitting roadside for untold grizzly-less hours, though with no complaints. 

“She’s a legend, as far as motherhood goes,” he said. “And it’s a beautiful setting.” 

His friend, Patrick Collins, chimed in, describing Grizzly 399 as “so goddamn smart. 

“I mean, she knows the depth of water that her cubs can cross,” Collins said. “If they’re too small, she’ll find a shallower place. It’s beyond human comprehension that these animals can do that.” 

Longtime Grizzly 399 admirers like Cedarholm know those traits and habits well. And, whether watching her or just waiting, they believe they are relishing the superstar’s swan song. 

“This is definitely her last cub,” Cedarholm said. “I think this is her final legacy.”

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