Friday, October 7, 2011

Day 7 (final blog post) - YNP/GNTP- 2011 Fall Trip

7x6 bull elk in Yellowstone's first fall snow. by Mark/MPEG (Midwest Photography Enthusiasts Group)

First, A big thanks to all of you following this blog. I have appreciated your emails and FB messages. Today was our final day in Yellowstone. Because of the snow storm system, we decided to travel to Idaho Falls tonight and leave from here in the morning for the Salt Lake City airport to avoid any potential travel delays associated with the storm. We will be home by midnight Friday night.

We slept in a little and got into the Park around 8:30am today. It was cloudy, rainy with snow expected after 2:00 pm. Yellowstone National Park is expected to get 6-10 inches of snow. Several roads were closed by the rangers by 3:00 pm. Several cars slid off the road over by Old Faithful.  It's amazing how different parts of the park vary dramatically with snowfall. When it snows at 7,000+ feet, it snows!

We traveled through Madison (the bull elk and his harem were there) but didn't stop. We moved on through Norris (really foggy), on to Hayden Valley, no rain there but cloudy, several wolf watchers there with spotting scopes. Two wolves of the Canyon Pack were running around too far out for photos but saw these beauties through a scope. From Hayden, over Dunraven. Dunraven was VERY rainy, foggy,  at some point, visibility was 50 feet! This was an "exciting" drive. Kim drove it and did well. No wildlife seen in Dunraven or Tower. On to Lamar, cloudy and rainy as well but YNP is gorgeous this time of year with red, gold, and orange grasses. Just beautiful. We stopped at the "carcass" but the carcass was nowhere to be found. We were told two grizzlies were on it yesterday and at one point, 7 members of the Pack came in together and drove the grizzlies off of the carcass. We were told (also) that it was Monday evening when the Pack chased and drove the elk cow into the Lamar River (shallow area), and the elk cow fought them off as long as she could until tiring. Several people stayed around until 8:30pm Monday and the wolves had not made the kill yet but did so during the night sometime. The carcass image I posted Tuesday was taken after 1pm Tuesday so that means the carcass was picked clean in 17 hours or less!

While we were at the carcass today, someone yelled "grizzly!"and there was a young grizz at the top of the hill behind us. We watched him travel east to west for a few minutes then he disappeared.... which means Kim (finally) saw her first grizzly bear! A bald eagle landed in a tree by the Lamar River and reared it's head back calling upon landing. It made me smile.

From Lamar, over to Mammoth, more rain and no wildlife spotted. Had a quick lunch in Mammoth, on to Norris, then on to Madison.  I snapped a few landscapes along the way. I spotted a bald eagle sitting in a tree across the Madison River. Perhaps the same one who eluded me yesterday? I was determined to get this one (see pic below). We stopped (we were the only car parked) but we started an "eagle jam". I snuck across the street to get a better view. I snapped several images and then this guy pulls up, gets out of his car and slams his door shut loudly and the eagle flew off. Some people just don't get it. 

It was beginning to snow heavily now and I found the 7x6 bull elk and his harem and got some "snow images" (see pic above). I have a zillion images to go through just of this bull elk! We left YNP around 5:30pm and arrived in Idaho Falls at 7:45pm.  The snow was really falling and the road through the Targhee National Forest was untouched and treacherous. It was 35 miles per hour for a long ways until the roads improved.

Dan and Bonnie went on their own today. They are in YNP one more day.  It was a pleasure having Dan and  Bonnie in the Park at the same time. They had a great time. It was their first YNP/GTNP visit.

This trip is now sadly over.

Kim had a great time, seeing far more wolves than I thought we would see. We were lucky having a carcass (It's simply the circle of life in YNP.)

 This will be one birthday present, Kim won't soon forget.

Every time we visit YNP/GTNP, the trip goes so fast. We really don't want to leave....

We love this place.

Thanks again for following!


YNP Madison River bald eagle- Oct. 6, 2011

This one didn't get away from me!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Day 6: YNP/GTNP - 2011 Fall Trip

behind Signal Mountain Lodge by Mark/MPEG (Midwest Photography Enthusiasts Group)

Today was a bad weather day and tomorrow is worse (based on prediction). 1-2 inches of snow expected Friday but we are heading to the airport Friday morning. I hate rain in YNP. It puts me in a bad mood.

Based on the forecast, we went south to the Tetons today. Left West Yellowstone around 7:30am and arrived at Oxbow Bend around 9:30am. The weather was better than YNP. It rained heavy then some sun, lots of clouds then cloudy most of the day.

On the way down, I snapped a few YNP scenics. Except for a few bison and a couple of mule deer does, the wildlife seems to have vanished. Maybe they sense the big weather changes and snow coming?  We went looking for moose and we found a cow moose bedded down in tall grass. No photo op, IMHO but a zillion people were there shooting away. Grabbed a few images of the Chapel of the Transfig. I wanted to find Kim a bear and we found a cinnamon bear but he/she was back in the brush eating berries and Kim only had a 3 second glimpse of him/her. (Noteworthy in that, a significant amount of leaves have come down since our October 1 visit. We lucked out with a great day in GTNP on October 1.)

After finding essentially zero wildlife, we had a nice lunch at Signal Mountain Lodge. I snapped this image (see pic above) from the back of the restaurant. Not a bad view while eating, huh? The clouds obscured the mountains which was a bummer but that was what the day was like.

We headed back to YNP (snapping a few scenics like Lewis Falls.) by 2:00 pm. We stopped at the Old Faithful General Store, and then headed up to Norris and saw no wildlife except for a couple of bison. It was raining pretty hard by now and we decided to head back to the hotel BEFORE dark! In all my 5 trips to YNP, this was the worse weather day and least productive wildlife viewing wise. It was frustrating. I never even used my 500mm at all today.... and to top it all off, as we were headed to the hotel, I spotted a mature bald eagle in the top of a tree by the Madison River all hunkered down in the wind and heavy rain.  I thought this would make a great "bad weather" wildlife image... so we found the road to get down to the eagle. Kim was driving. I asked Kim to pull up across from him (he was across the river) and my thought was to photograph him out the backseat window with the 500 + 1.4 TC. So Kim stops the car, I quietly get out of the front seat , get in the back seat, scramble for my 500, trying to manage it to be handheld, and just as I was about to open the window... Kim said those dreaded words: "nevermind, he flew off"...... I was less than pleased. I would have made a sailor blush with my reaction.

I thought , of course, he flew off at the last second. It was consistent with the day. Sucky. then more bad news, as we arrived in cell service, my Apple iPhone received a text message, stating that Apple founder, Steve Jobs had died.

R.I.P. Steve, you literally have changed the World. My condolences to his family and the World.

We had dinner with Dan and Bonnie. They were in the Tetons today too but we didn't know it until we had dinner with them. They were going to check out the Beartooth Highway today but decided against it with the impending bad weather.

Our last day in YNP is tomorrow, Thursday, October 6. The weather looks bad all day.

Somehow, I need to find a way to end this trip with a bang!

Stay Tuned for  Day 7, the final trip blog post.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Day 5: YNP/GTNP - 2011 Fall Trip

Grey wolf on carcass by Mark/MPEG (Midwest Photography Enthusiasts Group)

We started at 7:00 am but the weather forecast looked gloomy. It was very cloudy at 7am and we figured it would be a high ISO day but it turned out to be a good weather day overall. After a McDonald's breakfast, we headed into the park and quickly came upon a 7x6 bull elk and his harem. We got some beautiful images of this elk and his girls. We discovered an osprey's nest by the Madison River occupied by two osprey.

We then proceeded towards Mammoth with the intent to check out the Blacktail Plateau 6 mile drive. No wildlife found but a few nice landscapes. We moved on to Tower area. I suggested we drive Lamar and see if anything is happenin'.  We saw tons of bison along the route to Lamar. As we entered Lamar Valley, a coyote popped up from the roadside and crossed the road in front of me, I got a nice image of him from the car with the 70-200.

Things looked quiet... until we turned the bend and I radioed Dan and said," we have a big jam" up ahead. We stopped and asked "what ya got"? and it was one word, WOLVES!. We parked, and set up and didnt realize at first that the Lamar Canyon pack took down an elk cow Monday night (the night before) and the carcass was 200 yrds (rough guess) or so from the road. I used my 1DM4, 500 + 2X TC with a 30% crop on the image posted above. We spent around 3 hours with the wolves skipping lunch. There were 4 wolves present total but only one at a time on the carcass. Also present, a ton of ravens (of course), several magpies, at least 2 coyotes hanging around waiting for their turn, and we had 4 bald eagles around, with two landing and picking at the carcass. The wolves kept chasing all these "visitors off", so they were busy all the time. It was great to watch all the action. Just really cool. It's amazing how "picked clean" the carcass was in such a short period of time. We were hoping a grizzly would show up but no grizz while we were there. We endured 3 rain episodes during this time. We had no plans to leave. Rain be damned.

After this highlight of the day, we split up. Kim and I went over to Hayden and did a few landscapes, went out to Sedge Bay and no significant wildlife noted. We headed back to the hotel and stopped by Madison again and spent a few minutes with the elk and his harem again.

We had a pizza with Dan and Bonnie for dinner.

The weather is progressively getting colder with a real good possibility of significant snow on Thursday. We are hoping for below freezing temps the next two days. The worse the weather, the more wildlife out and about. Plus we want that elk bugling with some nice breath in the frosty air!

So far, it has been a terrific trip. I still need to find Kim a bear. The bears are few and far between here now.  "They are around" but nothing like the Spring (of course).

Two more days to go.  Stay tuned for Day 6.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Day 4: YNP/GNTP - 2011 Fall Trip

Bison Jam in Lamar Valley by Mark/MPEG (Midwest Photography Enthusiasts Group)

Another YNP day in the books.  What a day it was!

We started out (again) in Lamar Valley looking for the Lamar Canyon wolf pack. I really wanted Kim to see them so we left earlier this morning hoping for better luck.... and lucky we were!

We found the "YNP wolfers" at the pullout east of the Hitching Post pull out. And within minutes, of arriving, the pack (I counted 6, others say all 11 of the pack were there) was clearly visible to the naked eye and moving west towards the Hitching Post pullout so we all jumped in our cars and head there.

The wolves arrived at that area as predicted, played around for a while, went up the Cache Valley trail and disappeared. Kim and I traveled west of Lamar as Dan and his wife stayed in Lamar. Kim and I checked out the Slough Creek area and found some pronghorn and bison. We headed back east to Lamar and got into a 3 mile long bison jam. Bison jams are a slow go. See bison jam pic above. Note the beautiful fall colors of the grasses in Lamar (actually all over Yellowstone). In the pic, this is the car in front of us.

Dan and Bonnie stayed in YNP as I took Kim on the a tour of very scenic Beartooth Highway, (on the way there just east of Cooke City, a red fox shows up and is walking down the road towards us, I stopped the car and snapped a few pics of him on the road), we had a great lunch in Red Lodge, MT and then drove to Cody, WY, then to the YNP east entrance, then over to Hayden Valley. Lots of drive time but the Beartooth highway was breathtaking! This is a must see, IMHO. The drive to Cody from Red Lodge showcases beautiful country as well!

On the way into YNP, Kim and I got into ANOTHER bison jam in the Fishing Bridge area. Thats two for the day! Geez.

Kim and I went on to Hayden Valley, snapped a few landscapes, no wolves sighted, some mule deer does, and a bald eagle perched on a tree stump. We then drove to West Yellowstone (Madison) and found Dan there snapping pics of a beautiful bull elk and his harem! Gary D. from Facebook found us in Madison and we all chatted for awhile. We decided to have dinner together at my hotel tonight.

Overall, another great day in Yellowstone.  A big weather system moving in by Thursday, maybe a foot of snow at 7, 000 feet or higher.

Stay tuned for Day 5.  This trip is going fast as they all do!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Day 3: YNP/GTNP - 2011 Fall Trip

bear print on car by Mark/MPEG (Midwest Photography Enthusiasts Group)
bear print on car, a photo by Mark/MPEG (Midwest Photography Enthusiasts Group) on Flickr.

Day 3 and another long day. The weather forecast was 80% chance of rain and it never rained a drop, with cloudy to sunny all day!

We left for Lamar Valley at 7:00am. We arrived in Lamar around 7:35am and (of course) we were told we "just missed " the wolf pack. Dang! (hint: not the word I used). We quickly found a pronghorn buck and 3 females grazing near the road. We photographed them of sometime. Suddenly, the buck took off full speed about 200 yrds west and we wondered why then we saw the coyote it saw... the buck ran at the coyote, stopped about 10 yrds short of him, stared at him, the coyote got the hint, and left the area by crossing the road to the hills. A couple of  other stunning coyotes (beautiful winter coats) showed up and got some nice images of these guys.  Dan stayed with the pronghorn while Kim and I went through Lamar Valley and checked out Slough Creek and found a huge bison herd within yards of us. Got some great frame filling images of these guys. Dan and Bonnie joined us there. 

We moved on over to Mammoth, found several elk cow and a few bucks lounging in the yards in Mammoth. We went to Gardiner, had a very nice lunch and took pictures of the north entrance arch. We proceeded down to Norris area, and photographed Gibbon Falls. We stopped at Sheepeaters Cliff and got some nice images of a few birds and some "least chipmunks". We moved on to Hayden Valley and found a ton of people at the Grizzly overlook.... and sure enough, the Canyon wolf pack was running around about 3/4 mile out in Hayden Valley. With binocs, a spotting scope  or a long lens, you could easily watch them. The alpha female is beautiful. We saw a total of 5 wolves. Kim got to see her wolves but we are hoping for a better day in the morning at Lamar Valley. It is always exciting to watch the wolves.

The day slipped away from us and we headed back to Cooke City for dinner. We are headed to West Yellowstone tomorrow for the next 3 nights.

When we got back in Cooke City for dinner, we parked by the restaurant and a guy, standing near our car (where we parked) remarked to us about a "bear paw print" on our car door! I said, "huh?" and he said,  "look here"!  and sure enough there's a small bear paw print. (see pic above). It looks like a young black bear print. Apparently, the bear made it rounds to the cars in the parking lot as Dan's car had paw prints too! We HAD food in the car but moved it inside for that vary purpose- not to entice the bears. Apparently the smell of food being there lingered on the car. Bears have an amazing sense of smell, for good reason, as their survival depends on a great nose...

Another day in unpredictable Yellowstone.

What will tomorrow bring?

Stay Tuned for Day 4.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Day 2: YNP/GNTP - 2011 Fall Trip

Oxbow Bend Civil Twilight by Mark/MPEG (Midwest Photography Enthusiasts Group)

Up at 4:45am, Down at 11:30pm. It was a full day today as it always is here in these Parks. Alot to see and precious little time to see it. We only have 10- 11 hours per day of decent light.

We started out with a fantastic sunrise at Oxbow Bend. The place was crowded. The parking lot was full. A school bus of several photography students showed up... it seems like "everybody and their brother"was there. The Fall colors in the Tetons are peak and very near peak at Oxbow. Dan and I even climbed the hill across the street (remember this place is 7,000 feet above sea level) so it was a nice treadmill type of workout to get there. We got some terrific images from Oxbow. The posted pic is from my Canon P&S. The place was simply beautiful this morning. After Oxbow, we went Cattlemans bridge, Jackson Lake Dam, Schwabachers Landing (great reflections) then to Mormon Row.

We were told of some Moose over at Gros Ventre Campground. We went there and found nothing.We drove down the road and found a "jam" and the folks were watching a huge bull moose and a cow
down a small hill by a stream bed.

The cow was feeding on some leaves. the bull resting. The light was awfully harsh but we stayed anyway. Dan wanted to get a better shot of the cow so he went down into the stream bed, maybe 30 yds from the cow. The cow "pushed him away" telling Dan he was too close so Dan backed off. The bull gets up and walks toward the cow. The bull apparently sees Dan and decided to bluff charge him (gets within 6-7 feet according to Dan) sending him a message.... I was down in the stream but decided to go back up the hill...about the time I get up the hill, a hear some branches breaking (the bull crashing through the brush) a lady who was down there with Dan comes flying up the hill WITHOUT her camera and tripod! The next thing I see is Dan flying up the hill too! A little startled (eerr shaken up). Folks, this was a huge bull moose.  Let's just say Dan vamoosed it out of there.  ;-) He is ok but the bum knee is sore.

We had lunch, then drove to Yellowstone photographed Moose Falls (yes, no kidding, Moose Falls) ...West Thumb, Fishing Bridge, Hayden Valley, Dunraven, Tower and Lamar Valley. We had a wily coyote decide to walk down the middle of the road in front of our car and Dan and Bonnie experienced their first bison jam in Lamar Valley. Bison all around us. You could touch them if you put your hands out the window (which I didnt...)

We are staying in Cooke City the next two days... the town with ZERO cell service.

6:15am wake up call. Hope to find some wolves at sunrise in Lamar Valley.

Stay Tuned for Day 3.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

DAY 1: YNP/GTNP - 2011 Fall Trip

Quarter moon over the Tetons by Mark/MPEG (Midwest Photography Enthusiasts Group)

Kim and I flew from Cleveland to Baltimore then Baltimore to Salt Lake City. Dan Behm and his wife, Bonnie were on the same flight. The flight out was on time and flawless. Great landing in Salt Lake by the pilot. Nice and smooth.

We picked up our bags, got our rental cars and started the 5+ hr scenic drive to Jackson, WY.

The day was sunny, hardly a cloud in the sky. Beautiful. After some lunch, we resumed our journey.

Once we got to Idaho Falls, we split up. Kim and I continued on to Jackson. Dan and Bonnie got a few groceries and arrived about 45 minutes behind us.

The ride through Swan Valley, ID was very pretty with some great fall colors. Yellow aspens were the dominate color. The ride through the Targhee National Forest and the Teton Pass was beautiful was well. Once we started descending into Jackson Hole, the fall colors were really vibrant. We saw a moose upon entering Jackson Hole. Didn't stop for pics. We decided to spend the rest of the light we had (we got in JH around 6:55pm, Sunset was 7:06 pm.) driving through the park. We saw a male pronghorn, bison (of course) and a wildlfire at the Albright Turnout. (see pic below). We proceeded up the main park route and folks, the fall color now is spectacular! We hit it spot on! By the time we got to Oxbow Bend, it was too dark but looks like great color as far as my eyes could tell. There were several cars still in the OB parking out. We drove by Oxbow and saw a "jam" on the road to Jackson Lake. It was "dark" now BUT we knew why everyone was there as there were several bull elks bugling in the grasslands right by the road. We could see one bull's silhouette and he was a BIG guy!  It was a stereo experience of elk bugling. The rut is on! Kim's first elk bugling experience.

There was a beautiful quarter moon above the Teton range. See pic above. Again, this was a P&S pic with flash going off of course. (ahemmmmm, I know) but again, you get the idea.

We then drove back to Jackson Hole, has some dinner, and checked in hotel. We will be spending up to 2:00 pm in the GTNP Saturday, October 1 trying to see as much as possible as the weather is expected to change here (Jackson) to rain for the next few days. After our visit here, we are headed north to Yellowstone!

We have a 4:45 am MST wake up call. Headed out for sunrise at Oxbow and go from there.

Stay tuned for Day 2.

Albright Turnout wildlife

Albright Turnout wildlife by Mark/MPEG (Midwest Photography Enthusiasts Group)

Please excuse the IQ. This was a P&S image out the car window, in low light at 55 mph but you get the idea!