Before we knew it, the time had come to say goodbye to Jane and Dick Kendall, our support team, to shake off the mystique of the Spanish Peaks and head south through crowded, but always beautiful, Yellowstone Park. Arriving at Old Faithful, we were back into the things we had sought to escape -- crowds of tourists, long lines at the hamburger stands, large and gaudy souvenir stores, soda-pop dispensers. The kids were as excited as gophers in a city dump. We waited for an hour to see Old Faithful erupt, and then came my only disillusioning moment of the trip. I glanced over to catch the kids' reaction to the geyser. A couple of them were engrossed in their newly purchased comic books. We settled into camp on Jackson Lake at Colter Bay, Wyo., looking across to Mount Moran and the Grand Tetons, which are higher and more dramatically shaped than the mountains we had left. It is the spectacular scenery that attracts so many summer visitors. Although commercial sources insisted business was off 18 to 30 percent (due to fears of gasoline shortages), it was difficult to locate a vacant campsite or cabin after midafternoon. Trails where you wouldn't run into other hikers every few hundred yards were hard to find in the foothills. Tourists and campers spilled out of the lodges, came in RVs and crawled out of tents, cabins and motels for miles around. Horseback riding in the Colter Bay area was like riding on a slow-moving merry-go-'round, usually with 25 to 40 tired and listless mounts strung out head to tail and plodding over flat terrain. It was a far cry from riding with our own small group over mountain trails in Montana. After one such ride, we found a smaller stable near Jenny Lake, a lovely area about 15 miles from the Colter Bay metropolis. It provided more spirited horses that carried us over trails and across streams into the foothills of the Grand Tetons. What the young campers really enjoyed were the evening rides, with the wranglers cooking western-size steak suppers along the trail and coyotes circling not too far away. This was more like the West they have come to know from watching television. Yellowstone and the Jackson Hole area did offer more chances to see wildlife. We saw moose, an abundance of elk, a pair of trumpeter swans, coyotes, hundreds of gophers and chipmunks, deer and too many bear. In the Colter Bay area we sought a campsite on the edge of the forest, as far removed from the hub of activity as possible. Park rangers advised us there had been no bears in the area so far this season. However, they added, it was near the time when they could be expected to come down out of the mountains, " . . . probably just black bear; not likely to see any browns or grizzlies," we were told. I didn't consider that an especially reassuring statement, and slipped into my sleeping bag just a bit apprehensive and with a large frying pan and a beater at hand. Bear season, 1979, opened shortly after 2 a.m., with the arrival of a large black bear at the entrance to my tent. He was a good-sized bear and, considering the ferocity with which he was attacking my ice chest, very hungry.I yelled, beat the frying pan vigorously and generally over-reacted. But it worked. I poked my head out of the tent and watched him lumber up the trail. With five grandchildren in my care -- three of them in a separate tent -- I decided to stand bear watch. The intruder roamed the area for the rest of the night, taking one more crack at my ice chest as he left the camp at daybreak. For the remainder of our stay, we had bears in camp every night. We took our cleanups more seriously after this, stored everything in the car trunk and scoured the tent and cooking area after every meal.Our care paid off. The black bear stayed away from our tents. But the biggest excitement was yet to come. On our last night in camp, shortly after we had turned in, we heard a bear near our tents. There he was, caught in the cross-beam of our flashlights -- very much larger than our previous visitor. He was brown, and he showed no intention of retreating no matter how much noise we made with the frying pan. When he finally backed off a couple of hundred feet, we slipped out of the tents hoping he would take off when he saw us. He didn't. My son, Dick, father of two of the campers, had joined us for the last four days of the adventure, and it was very comfortable having him there at the moment. Our decision was to get the kids into the car and consider some other sleeping arrangement. The bear had dropped back into the woods, or so we thought. As Dick made the run to the front of his tent to get his boys, there was the bear, all 400 pounds of him, less than 100 feet away. We caught him in the high beam of the car lights and a magnificent sight he was. By week's end, rangers had trapped two of the black bears and transported them back to high country. It's not my intent in relating this experience to imply that bears are a major threat to campers. They are dangerous only if campers fail to take normal precautions. This is bear country, and warnings are prominently posted, advising campers to store food at a distance from their tents, even if it is in an ice chest. If there is no car trunk, suspend food from trees at least 10 feet above ground. Smokey may look like a friendly sort of fellow, but it isn't necessarily in his nature -- or the nature of very many of his cousins -- to be that way. Like most of the cowboys in the area, we headed for the weekend to Jackson, where we mingled with thousands of other tourists, shopped for souvenirs, watched them capture Mean Mike in the Town Square as they do every night in season, ate a chuckwagon supper and went to the local rodeo. We caught the San Francisco Zephyr out of Rock Springs and, as it rolled across the lush flatlands of Nebraska and Iowa, I drafted the After Action Report. It is dotted with words like exhausting, adventuresome, educational, spirited. It was an experience the young campers will long remember. I could sense, perhaps more than they, that with the passing of time they fell more and more under the spell of the mountains and wilderness. They came to understand and appreciate that an ax is not a toy, but an essential tool in the woods. They learned how devastating a forest fire can be when they saw towering columns of smoke rising from a fire in the northwest corner of Yellowstone which, in several weeks of burning, had destroyed nearly 20,000 acres of timber. What better way to impress them with the importance of drowning a campfire and never leaving a fire unattended. They learned how to pitch a tent, dig fire pits, conserve water on a long hike, secure tents with extra guy lines in storms, be sure-footed on narrow trails. They came to understand the fragile ecology of the woodlands. They know now why the rules require hikers to stay on the trails so as not to stamp down wildflowers and seedlings that are tomorrow's forests. In the end, they could seat a horse reasonably well and knew enough not to spook them in the corral or on the trail. On the final day, on a raft tumbling through the white water of the Snake River, at a deep point in the gorge, they saw bald eagles secure in their perch, majestic in flight. So now they know that, rare as they may be, they do exist other than on silver dollars and in paintings. They understand now how important it is to protect the small numbers of wild animals that still remain -- even bears. In another year or two, my campers will be ready for intermediate camping -- higher mountains to climb, back-packing and overnight trail rides. And the Old Trail Boss will be there, if only in spirit.