Thursday, July 26, 2012

Yellowstone Afterimages

You know how, when you glance at the sun, then look away, you are left with a brief image of the sun?  Well, I spent most of my time in Yellowstone chasing critters.  As they are most active in early morning and late afternoon, I found myself at times glancing at an early morning or late afternoon sun.  On a few of those occasions, I was rewarded with the wonderful light that is available at such times.

Dawn in the Lamar Valley
I was up early, looking fruitlessly for wolves in the Lamar Valley.  The coral clouds were the first real color of the day.

Late afternoon in the Lamar Valley
The settling sun to the west changed the color of these peaks to the east.  In front of me was a bison wallow, really more of a mudhole than a flowing stream at that point, but the upper end still had nice edges.

A setting sun over Yellowstone Lake
Seeing a likely looking sky as the afternoon moved toward evening, I drove from the Fishing Bridge Campground to Lake View Butte, a parking lot at the end of a 1 mile side road.  I sat there and watched the sun drop down and change the color of the sky.

Looking south from the edge of Yellowstone Lake
Peeking through the distance at times, the peaks of the Grand Tetons, 100 miles away, were fading in and out of sight.  What really drew me, though, was the way the sky to the west filtered amber light onto the remains of the burnt out forest around me.

Yellowstone Lake Sunset
That ride to the end of the side road marked my last evening in Yellowstone, and did so magnificently.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Trout Lake, Yellowstone

Near the campground where I am staying, a short and steep hike brings you to Trout Lake.

For a while, I just sat and watched the reflections shimmering in the afternoon.  Then dragonflies drew my attention.  They are so small, and so fast - could I?


I kept noticing ripples on the surface from fish rising.  I stood and, using my polarizer filter to help see into the water, I saw why the lake had been named Trout Lake.

These two trout, both 14 or 15 inches, "danced" together for at least 10 minutes.  When I moved on, they were still playing tag.

Of Wolves And Idiots

Most of the industrialized world is familiar with traffic jams.  Here in Yellowstone, and neighboring Grand Teton and Glacier National Parks, they have bear jams, bison jams, elk jams and so on.  These occur when there is something notable to see.  With bison, they may occur when the bison decide that the road is for their use rather than yours.  Whatever the cause, the result is a long line of stopped cars in the roadway.

A black bear draws a lot of attention.  A grizzly bear draws a LOT of attention.  Wolves draw a WHOLE LOT of attention.  People seeing wolves seem to become idiots and forget that they have a task of higher priority, driving their car.

I drive around solo.  I need to split my attention between the driving task and the sightseeing task.  As a result, I almost never see critters on my own.  I spot them when I encounter one of these critter jams, and I look around, finally seeing the reason.  It can be very frustrating coming back to the campground and hearing others tell of the animals they saw, while I, driving the same road, saw nothing.

Anyway, a few cases deserve illustration.

On my first day in Yellowstone, I encountered a critter jam.  It was alongside Gibbon Creek, above the meadow where I took the elk photos.  To my right was a rock wall going up.  To my left was a pull-off area, filled with cars.  Below that was the creek.  Cars were stopping in both directions in the travel lanes. 

I found an area to my right wide enough for me to park off the road.  I parked, grabbed my camera and walked back.

Across the creek was the carcass of an elk.  It had been opened and pulled apart, with the entire left ribcage of its abdomen - shoulder to hip, spine to sternum, resting about 15 feet up the bank.  The two right legs were there; the left legs were missing.  It looked to me like a bear kill, because it would have taken massive strength to pull the kill apart that way.

Speaking with a Ranger, I learned that it was a wolf kill.

Then, on the ridge on the opposite side of the stream, overlooking the kill, the stream, and us spectators, the alpha male appeared.

Two days later, cars were STILL pulling off at that spot, people (myself included) getting out and sitting and just looking, though there was no sign of wolves or kill.

About 5 days later, I had been spending my time driving up and down the Northeast Entrance Road through the Lamar valley.  This area is known as the prime area for the herd animals and the predators.  Bison were always present and often created bison jams.  I saw a black bear on a few of these early morning excursions.  I would get to a jam, park, look, and ask what it was that I was not seeing.  "Oh, you should have been here a minute ago!" is the response I usually got. 

On one occasion, a wolf was moving through the brush to the north of the road.  Every available spot to park was filled.  People were out of their cars, taking photos or just watching.  A Ranger was in the center of the road, trying to clear the jam.  One idiot stopped his car right by the Ranger and asked if he can stop "for a second, just to take one photo".

"No, keep moving," the Ranger told him.

Just then, the car behind this idiot, driver rubbernecking, slammed on his brakes, barely stopping before hitting the idiot.

"That's why," the Ranger said.  "You almost got rear-ended." 

The idiot moved on.

One thing to add to this tale -  I was the idiot. 

It is really easy to get caught up in the excitement, in the desire to get that shot, and to forget that I am still sitting behind the wheel.  I know, more than most, the risk of stopping on a roadway, much less stopping where there is a distraction.  I know it.  I KNOW it.  And still... I guess we all have some idiot in us.

The final outcome of this tale is that the next day, I was able to safely get a photo of that same wolf.  Apparently they had a kill nearby and they frequented the spot for several mornings.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Yellowstone Waterfalls

Waterfalls - I love 'em.  Yellowstone, however, is not known for its waterfalls in particular.  One, the Lower Falls on the Yellowstone River, is iconic but most of the others are little known.  They drew me.

Located on a side road south of the Madison area, a rugged canyon frames this waterfall.

North of Madison along the loop road, a parking area and a short walk yield a wonderful view.

Just off the Grand Loop Road between Mammoth and Tower, Undine Falls sparkled in the midday sun.  It would have been fun to see it in mid- to late afternoon, with the sun full on the falls.

This waterfall is at the Tower area, and can be seen with a short walk.  The trail to the base is washed out, making a shot from that angle not obtainable.

A half mile hike is needed to get to a viewpoint of this waterfall.  It is not the grandest, but I really liked it.

Yellowstone - Fools in the Wilderness

Yellowstone is a majestic land of nature. 

It is also a place of danger if one is not sensible.  You can't get into the park without being warned that wildlife is dangerous.  It can be possible to get reasonably close to wildlife, as I did to this elk.
Hmmm, maybe that bit of grass was not too tasty...

It can also be possible to get too close.

These elk were, in effect, surrounded by people.  The closest ones were within about 25 or 30 feet. 

They were running a real risk.  A short time after these shots, three kids ran out into the field, within 15 or 20 feet of the two bull elk, and were jumping and waving their arms at them.  The elk were shaking their heads, and were obviously tense and posturing.  Ultimately, they moved up and across the road between cars to the field on the far side. 

I got no photos of that - it was raining, and I had no protection for my equipment.  I fully expected that those kids were going to be trampled.

Me?  I use a 500mm lens to get close to most critters, like these mule deer.

In some cases, I used a wide angle lens, because the critters came so close to me.  This bison was shot from within my car as I was stopped in the road, waiting for the herd to clear the pavement.

Yes, that bison is big enough to hide a truck!

The Lamar Valley in Yellowstone has been called America's Serengeti.  This is why.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Holland Lake

I am working my way south from Glacier, heading slowly toward Yellowstone.  Some folks I met told me that there was a nice National Forest Service Campground on the way.  On their recommendation, I headed for Holland Lake.

The campground sits at the edge of the lake.  It is uncrowded, and there are no hookups at the sites.  The real attraction is the lake.

It is a beautiful mountain lake, reflecting the trees along its shores.

At the east end of the lake, a stream drops over the edge of a pass, forming a waterfall.  It is mostly hidden by the trees, but honest, it is there.

To see it up close, a strenuous (for me) hike gets you to an overlook midway up the falls.

While that is pretty nice, the view of the lake below is just awesome.
Turns out, their recommendation was a really good one for me.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Mountain Light

An extremely talented photographer, Galen Rowell, wrote a book by this title.  I learned a lot from his books, and although I am captivated by grand views and rushing waters during the day, I am fascinated by the changing light that happens between day and night.

In Glacier, whenever weather cooperated, I was chasing the mountain light, whether it be approaching sunset high in Logan Pass,

sunset itself,

or early evening, nearly dark.

or in one case, a 5:00 AM sunrise that lit my "bedroom" with a reflected crimson glow that yanked me out of bed and into the car to chase to a viewpoint so I could photograph the full moon setting behind crimson peaks and clouds facing the coming day.

That's a memorable, rewarding way to start the day.


The scenery in Glacier National Park is magnificent.

Mountains and valleys...

Hiking trails alongside rushing streams and waterfalls...



So how close is too close?  I guess that depends on the critter, its actions, and your shelter or protection.  In each case of an encounter with a wild animal, these all have to be weighed.  You need to consider not only if you can safely depart, but also if your presence will harm the animal by accustoming it to people.

On the Going To The Sun Road, near the top, cars in poor condition tend to overheat.  They boil and spill antifreeze on the pavement.  This attracts some bighorn sheep and mountain goats, which have become addicted to the substance.

According to the Rangers, it does not seem to harm them, but their presence on that winding, narrow road definitely puts them at risk.

Outside the park, I was on a hike.  I sat to rest on a rock next to a waterfall.  A chipmunk emerged near my feet.  Definitely NOT too close on this encounter - unless it decided to run up my pants leg!  No, it didn't, but I WAS thinking ahead...

I saw 5 black bears in the park and one outside the park.  Even though I was on foot for my first sighting, it was not scary.  The bear, about 140 feet away, checked me out.  I checked him out.  He went back to feeding.  I took some photos, then returned to the trailhead.  Here are a few more, first one from the Canadian part of the park, feeding next to the road...

Now one from Many Glaciers, several hundred feet away in a field...

Finally, this morning I helped a Campground Host roust a young black bear that was spending too much time in and about the campground.  Our job became making the campground a scary area for the bear.  If we could do so, its visits would become less frequent, and it would be less likely to become a "problem bear" that might have to be destroyed.

Getting within 50 feet or so, yelling, throwing sticks, and so on to move it away was definitely a new experience for me.

Finally, leaving Glacier, I was driving through the Blackfoot Reservation.  Off to my right, 500 feet or so away, I saw a bear.  I pulled into a convenient turnout, grabbed the big lens and got out.  I watched this guy feed on a carcass for about 10 minutes.

It was just a bit disconcerting when he spent about 30 seconds staring back at me.

I figure that 500 feet was close enough.