Bears! Oh My!

One of the attractions of Yellowstone NP, is the chance to be relatively close to wildlife that you don’t normally see around your neighborhood.  For those of us that live in a metropolitan area such as the Dallas/Ft Worth metroplex, this can include things as common as birds.  But when you plan a trip to Yellowstone, you plan and dream for the big game.  Sure, bison are great to look at and to photograph, but there are a couple thousand of them roaming around the park.  Everyone has snapshots of them.  Elk?  Just head up to Mammoth and you will see that the elk have called that place home for some time now.  But when you mention seeing a wolf or bear, a photographer’s mouth begins to water and they must know where!

On my last trip to YNP, I was fortunate enough to be close enough to photograph a momma grizzly and her two “cubs”.  They are about 2 years old from what I have been told.  They were in a field next to the main road in the Hayden Valley.  Armed with my Canon 5DmII and my 600/f4 lens + 1.4tc, I was able to get a few pretty decent shots while remaining at the “legal” distance.  Now mind you, I was not alone.  There were probably about 50 other people pulled over also snapping away at the same scene.

The bears rooted around eating what they found for quite a while as the crowd remained calm at the side of the road.  There was a Park Ranger present which I’m sure helped keep any who might think about approaching the bears to get a closer shot, and also providing a better meal for the bears, so everyone was good.  Eventually the bears approached the road and the ranger spread the people to give the bears plenty of room to cross over.  Then it was up and over a hill and they were gone.

One of the joys of being in a situation like this is the opportunity you get to share with others.  While I was taking picture with the “big lens”, I had a few people approach me and ask if they could look through my camera to get a better look at the bears.  I was happy to oblige.  There was a lot of ohh-ing and awe-ing as each person got their first close-up view.  I especially enjoyed the squeal of excitement from the group of young Japanese school girls who spoke little english but were clearly excited as they got their first up-close look at the “wild beasts” of Yellowstone.

So, the next time you get the chance, don’t forget to share your experience with others.  Taking good photos is one thing, sharing the experience with others not only deepens the experience for all involved, it brings us all a little closer together through the sharing.

The Coyote

I don’t know what it is, maybe some level of snobbery perhaps, but when you go to a place like Yellowstone NP to photograph wildlife, many photographers give the coyote absolutely no respect.  Everyone is all excited about the wolves, and I admit, so was I.  But let us not forget about this little guy.  The coyote may not travel around in packs like the wolves, and may not bring down the big game like the wolves, but, at least in my opinion, they are just as beautiful a creature.

My trip this year gave me the chance to see a few coyotes up close.  One came and sat down about 15 feet from our vehicle one morning, allowing me to get out and take several shots of him in the early morning sunlight.  While he appeared to be tame, one must never forget that at Yellowstone, all the wildlife is just that–wild.

So next time you are out at a place such as Yellowstone, don’t forget about the coyote.  They deserve to be photographed too, and given the chance, they may even pose for you.

Yellowstone: Mammoth

In the north-west section of Yellowstone, there lies Mammoth Hot-Springs.  Here can be see numerous geo-thermal features that will amaze and astound.

These travertine terraces have been created by deposits of the minerals in the water coming up from the ground of the hot springs over hundreds of years.  The calcium algae in the water creates all the colors.  I happened to be there on an overcast day which helped prevent the colors from being washed out in the bright sunlight.

A little further down the road is “Roaring Mountain”.  The name for this mountain seems obvious when you stand before it.  The constand steam rising from the mountain is enough to make you think twice about wanting to climb on it.

If you have not seen this wonderful place, I would highly recommend you go at your first opportunity. This is an amazing place, not only for photography, but just for seeing such a wide variety of the things that God has made on this planet, all condensed into a relatively small area.  Words, and even pictures, simply do not do justice to this area of our country.

Go!  Take Pictures!  And Share!

Yellowstone: Day Six – The Last Day

Day six… our last day here before leaving.

The day started out by resting.  Yesterday wore us (as my daughter would say) “smooth out”.  We took our time getting up and then roamed Gardiner to do the requisite t-shirt shopping!  Gotta get the kids and grandkids all taken care of.  I wasn’t going to get one, but then I saw one that said “The mountains are calling and I must go. – John Muir” and had to have it.  It expressed my feelings very well.

So, once we got that all taken care of, and then shipped the box of t-shirts home because our bags were already full, we headed back into the park for one final day.  We decided to give the Lamar Valley one final shot before calling it a day.

As usual, we entered the park and went to Mammoth, where the elk were lounging around being the center of attention.  I love how this one was lying right next to the sign saying “Danger! Do not approach ELK” as if to say, “I dare you.”  The people were being good though and kept the distance.  No “tourons” (tourist/moron) out today.

Turning east from Mammoth, it didn’t take long for us to find yet another bison herd.  They decided they needed to cross the street in front of us, and since in the national park the wildlife has the right of way, we stopped and waited for them to pass.  Besides, they really are beautiful creatures even if they are abundant here.

Further down the road, we caught a view of a couple of them who weren’t really getting along all that well at the moment.  They were kicking up dust and pushing each other around with their heads.  We watched for a while, but then they grew tired and just walked off together.  Maybe it was just an exhibition match for our enjoyment!

As we made it to the Lamar Valley, it became very overcast and rainy.  We stopped at the footbridge pullout to watch for wildlife, and I promptly fell asleep.  It was so peaceful, and with the sound of the light rain on the hood of the car, the next thing I knew I woke myself up snoring.  I turned to Karen and ask how long I had been out.  She said, “about 20 minutes.”  That was a very peaceful 20 minutes, let me tell you.

So not seeing any wildlife, we started up the car and began to make our way back.  We saw a few wolf-watchers sitting up on the hill near the confluence, but when we looked out over the valley we couldn’t see anything.  I later read that the pack was way out in the distance feeding on a recent kill, but they were way out beyond the reach of cameras.

Continuing back, I spotted this scene off in the distance and decided to pull over.  It reminded me of an old western painting of a frontier landscape with the bison crossing the river and the others up above the cliff.  Again, a very peaceful scene to add to the day.

If nothing else, this was certainly bison day.  As I approached a blind curve, a small gathering of bison decided they needed to go around the curve in my lane.  So, I let them.  They moved very slowly with me, and now 5 other vehicles behind, followed.  Once around the curve, they turned off on another road and allowed the rest of us to continue on.

I wanted to take one more pass over the Blacktail Plateau trail, hoping for one last glimpse of something exciting.  While there were no big mammals to be seen, I did catch a glimpse of this mountain bluebird.  He caught me by surprise so much that I didn’t really get a chance to focus on him before he flew off.  But one more bird to add to my list that I have seen.

Making it back to Mammoth, the elk are still the stars of the show.  You can expect to find them pretty much any time, and they are always happy to pose for your photographs.  Nothing like shooting wildlife “in town.”

And then, the saddest shot of all.  Our last sight of the “Leaving Yellowstone” sign.  It has been a wonderful trip and one we won’t soon forget.  Especially with the abundance of photos that we took.

God created some wonderful things for us to enjoy in this world and I can’t wait to see what He shows us next!   Until then, keep the batteries in those cameras charged.  You never know when a photographic opportunity will present itself to you!

Yellowstone: Day Four

 Day four begins slow.  Being worn out from the previous days, and with the beginnings of a head cold, we sleep in a bit and get a bit of a later start.  As usual, we meet the elk in Mammoth as we enter the park, but today there is a twist.  Apparently one of them has made friends with a magpie.  We watch as they seemingly “play” for several minutes.  It occasionally looks like the magpie is whispering in the elk’s ear.  It was amusing, but we move on.

 Since we got a late start, and being a little disappointed with the wildlife turnout over the first three days, we decide that today we would do the “tourist” thing and check out the features of the park, and if we happen to see wildlife, so much the better.  As we head south from Mammoth, the features begin to show themselves in very dramatic ways.  The steam coming from this river, combined with the smell of sulfur lets us know that this is not your normal river.  In fact, when you pull over and look, there are areas where the water is bubbling.  I never got a straight answer if the water was actually boiling or if the bubbles was just gas escaping, but I wasn’t going to stick my hand in to find out.

 Our first stop was at the Norris Geyser Basin.  There is a boardwalk there where you can walk out over the basin and smell the sulfur first hand.  What a treat (note sarcasm)!  It really is pretty cool to be this close to the exit ports of a live super-volcano when you really think about it though.  Like I told my friends back home before we came, if it goes off while we’re there, don’t worry about us cause we won’t have time to care.

 After leaving Norris, we come across this beautiful elk displaying his rack which begged me for a picture.  I know I have some relatives who are hunters who are wishing they had THEIR equipment right about now.  These truly are magnificent beasts!

 A little further down the road we catch this small, multi-colored geyser.  Again, note the steam coming from the water.  Very hot.  Do not touch!  Very pretty though.

 Next stop is a place called “Artist Paint Pots” which are essentially “boiling” mud pits and holes with colorful deposits around them.  The surprising thing to me was how much plant life there is that actually survives around these things.  I would have expected the toxicity of the ground to be prohibitive to such growth.  Guess that explains why I am not a botanist.

 And no trip to the Artist Paint Pots would be complete without the requisite “boiling mud” photo.  Karen caught this one at just the right time!

 After making the climb to the top of the paint pot area, we were admiring the view when a kind passer-by offered to take our picture.  So we handed him one of Karen’s cameras and I must say, it turned out pretty good!  Thank you kind stranger!

 Down the road from the paint pots we came upon Gibbon Falls.  This is yet another of the Yellowstone waterfalls which are literally right off the roadway.  But as each of them have their own character, more pictures must be taken.  Something about the roar of the water just puts me in a mood, a very good mood.

 From there, we continued along the Grand Loop road, around the southern part of the park, and then turning north, we passed by the West Thumb of Lake Yellowstone.  There Karen caught this photo of the small island with the single tree.  It looks so lonely out there, but also very peaceful.  Of course, the mountains in the background don’t hurt either.

 A little further up on the West Thumb, we spotted this elk, just standing out in the water.  Not really sure what she was doing, but it gave me another chance to pull out the 600mm lens so I stopped.  I carried that thing all the way up here and I’m going to use it!  At one point she looked over her shoulder at me and I snapped…the picture that is.

 We continued on and crossed over the Fishing Bridge area and out to Mary Bay.  By now the sun was beginning to get low in the sky and clouds were building.  Kare caught this magnificent shot of the cloudy reflections in the water.

 And as the geese begin flying home, we also headed back to Gardiner for the evening.

Since my main goal for this trip was wildlife, I was beginning to feel a tad disappointed, but at the same time, I truly enjoyed being here nonetheless.  This is a beautiful place, with or without wildlife.  Once more, we are thankful for the things we saw.  Time to rest up for day 5.  It will prove to be a very exciting day!