All posts by Troy

Some of Yellowstone’s Wildlife

There are several reasons to visit Yellowstone National Park: The natural beauty of the landscape, geyser watching such as Old Faithful, Looking at colorful hot springs, and looking for wildlife.  Most desired to see here are bears and wolves but they certainly require effort to find. Geysers and hot springs were something I was looking forward to seeing but the opportunity to see a bear and/or wolf was what I was most hoping to see. Everywhere else I’ve hoped to see a bear ended unsuccessfully and this was my last chance during our Monopoly travels.

Sunrise in a foggy valley

On our third day in Yellowstone I woke up before sunrise and snuck out of our hotel in search of early morning wildlife. My plan was to enter from the Roosevelt entrance and drive to Lamar valley in hopes a wolf pack was on the move. On the way, as the sun was rising, I stopped to photograph the foggy valley as the sun rose above the horizon. Ready to continue to my destination I looked again and there in the shadows was a blacktail deer with her two fawns. What a great way to begin this morning! After watching for a few moments I moved on to get to the popular Lamar Valley

A black tail deer with her two fawns

As I drove back and forth through the valley I only saw hundreds of Buffalo roaming and grazing along with the occasional Pronghorn Antelope. Some people next to me had spotted a grizzly bear but I could not see it as it was several miles away and they were using a spotting scope. A little disappointed after a couple of hours, I looked around and noticed that most of the people also in search of wolves had left so decided it was time to head back to the hotel and re-join the rest of the family. A short drive away I ran into a major road block with people all looking at a hillside miles away. Deciding to stop I found a place to park, got out, and began listening to others talk. Apparently wolves had been spotted in this area but where out of sight at the moment. After awhile of looking through the binoculars I did see one of the wolves but it was so far away it was difficult to positively identify for me. Others nearby did confirm it was a wolf though so I was lucky enough to see that.

Fortunately this was not the end of my luck in search of these great predators. On another day, driving back to our hotel from watching Old Faithful there was another encounter. We had an hour and half drive ahead and I was exhausted from the day so my wife was driving while I rested in the passenger seat. Night was falling fast so there wasn’t much to look at. About 30 minutes into our drive something was right there in the road in front of our car. Karen slammed on the brakes almost hitting a wolf staring briefly at us before moving on to the should near our car where it stopped to watch us before becoming a little uncomfortable with us still stopped. Still in disbelief we gazed at this wolf wondering if there were others nearby when another moved slighter higher up from the road. All we could really see was it’s outline and eyes as this was a black wolf blending in extremely well with the surroundings. All of us now on fully awake we continued on in complete amazement that we were that close to wild wolves which so many desire to see but don’t. Because it was so dark and all of this did happen relatively quickly I was unable to get the camera and snap a photograph. Only memories exist of this experience but one I’m sure we won’t forget.

A Pronghorn Antelope

Returning to my morning drive back towards the hotel, I drove around a corner after seeing the far off wolf and there was another traffic jam. Once again I decided to quickly find an available parking spot and see what was causing this temporary ruckus. Quickly I spotted a bear with its cub grazing near a creek below. Finally success! after all of these years hoping to see one here was a bear and cub. I watched as long as these bears remained in sight before returning again to my car. Just before getting in I heard someone say another bear was in a field nearby. After a few seconds I spotted that one and watched as long as I could photographing when ever the opportunity arose. Imagine that? Two bears! What luck. Ok now it really was time to get back with the family as the morning was nearing the end.

A black bear with her cub

Continuing on there was yet another traffic jam although smaller than the previous two so I stopped to see what was there. Some of the other bystanders said it was a lone wolf. Curious I got out my camera and began scanning the area and found what they were pointing to. Unfortunately I had to inform them this was a coyote and not a wolf. They were somewhat disappointed but still enjoyed watching as it meandered among the sage brush. It was fun to see but I really needed to get back so off I went without further traffic jams. Add to this the elk from an earlier visit and plenty of bison and my thirst for seeing wildlife was temporarily filled. You can click on the links above to view those stories.

All in all I ended up seeing 7 bears during our brief time in Yellowstone over three different occasions. The top picture is from our morning driving one last time though Yellowstone National Park on the way to Grand Teton National Park. Another traffic jam alerted us to wildlife near the road so we stopped and ended up watching this bear graze for about 45 minutes. A lot of fun to see definitely making me want to return another time.

Coyote on the prowl

The Beautiful Grand Tetons

While traveling in between Yellowstone National Park and Dinosaur National Monument, we took a few hours to explore the incredible Grand Teton National Park since we needed to drive through it on our way. There were only a few hours and many places to see so the goal was to hit the major highlights. We entered the park around lunchtime and one of our goals on this National Park trip was to at least grab lunch or dinner in Idaho just to add another state to our list of states traveled to.

Many wildflowers blooming near the tall mountains

According to maps, Idaho borders Grand Teton National Park but roads are another consideration. The nearest road on the map was Grassy Lake Road heading towards Ashton, Idaho so we thought we would give it a go. This road was also a recommended place to potentially see moose which would be fun. At first this road is easy with beautiful surroundings to explore but that soon changes as it becomes a dirt/gravel road with many potholes that seem to be designed to wreck your car. About halfway to the Wyoming – Idaho border we determined this was not a great idea and turned around to grab lunch in Colter Bay Village near Jackson Lake. I guess Idaho isn’t going to be accomplished on this trip.

Fishing under the majestic mountains

After lunch we spent some time exploring Jackson Lake and the beautiful mountains rising up behind it just taking in a great summer day in this amazing place. Eventually we continued south through the park stopping on occasion to take in a different view of Jackson Lake, explore the Jenny Lake area, and see the Mormon Historic District before watching the sun set in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. I hope to return here within a couple of years to climb Grand Teton and see more of this incredible landscape.

Mormon row

20 Years Later

Recently my wife and I celebrated our 20 year anniversary and decided to spend a couple of days at Cove Point Lodge were we went for our honeymoon. We enjoyed staying here the first time so wanted to do it again. Just ahead of our trip we looked over photos from our honeymoon to remind us of what we did the first time. There was a photo of us in front of Cove Point Lodge taken from Cove Point which creates this little cove along the shore of Lake Superior that we wanted to duplicate just to see how much has changed. Well, other than us.

Certainly cameras have changed which made it somewhat challenging to attempt to capture the same photo. After some repositioning we got something close but not as close as I would have liked. some of which was hindered by Lake Superior being higher than normal with all of the rain we’ve received this year. Some of the changes noticeable were different colors on the lodge, some of the shoreline in front of the lodge cleared with chairs added to take in the magnificent view of the lake, and new buildings along the shoreline. Otherwise things appeared to have stayed much the same.

Standing in Front of Cove Point Lodge in 1997

20 Years Later

One of the mornings we were wakened by thunder with some lightning. I got up to watch as it was still dark our and you could see for hundreds of miles over Lake Superior so catching a glimpse of lighting stretching across the sky was easy to see. My bigger camera was left in the car the night before causing me to question whether or not to get dressed and fetch it or just enjoy the passing storm. I really didn’t want to get dressed or go out into the rain so I came up with another alternative. Attempt to use the camera on my phone. After some practice I actually was able to capture lightning streaking across the sky. With a little more exploring I found where I could change the settings on the phone camera to basically get what I wanted which allowed me to capture some cool shots of lightning satisfying my desire to photograph the early morning storm.

Lightning from an early morning storm over Lake Superior

Also while preparing for this trip we discovered how poor our memories can actually be. While recalling our first time at Cove Point Lodge we remembered hiking along a river which we were sure was accessed from a side trail from the lodge to the Superior Hiking Trail. Turns out this side trail, which we hiked again this time, does not connect to any sizeable rivers close by. Also we discovered that on our honeymoon we explored Tettegouche State Park hiking up to the high falls. I thought my first time seeing the high falls was actually many years later with our children. Another false memory was how the Lodge was arranged. Yes there was a fireplace, tables and chairs arranged around the fireplace, and a dining area but it did not match the way I recalled it from our honeymoon. While they could have rearranged the chairs the fireplace was in the same place only I remembered it differently. This is one of the reasons I photograph things now because I know our memories are not always accurate.

During our recent trip we did some hiking along the Beaver River nearby and stopping to see Split Rock Lighthouse for the first time but enjoyed much of our time relaxing around Cove Point. Sitting near the shore listening to the waves, watching thunderstorms, and staring at the night sky. After sunset one night we went out to stargaze and could see lightning occasionally near the horizon. Upon checking the radar it showed a line of storms several hundred miles away. That was pretty amazing to think we could see that far over Lake Superior. While it was a little disappointing to realize how much we didn’t remember from our honeymoon, it was an enjoyable couple of days with beautiful weather to take in the North Shore.

Hiking on the Beaver River

Getting Close part 2

Another method of macro photography is to use a larger telephoto lens and zoom in until you get the composition you’re looking for. For the photograph above I set up a tripod with the camera and focused on this grouping of flowers. After taking a few test shots to make sure I liked the composition and the lighting was adequate for a fast enough shutter speed I just waited for a bee to come along in the exact position I was looking for. Seems simple enough, right?

Setting up the shot

But there’s a little more to the story. In order to get a picture with this composition the lighting needed to be right which only occurred for about an hour just before sunset so it took me two nights of setting up in this location to accomplish my goal. Setting up involved getting to this location about an hour before the light would hit these flowers, hiking into this spot which took about 15 minutes, and getting the tripod, camera, and lens put together in the same location with the right height. Above you see a test shot to make sure I liked the set up.

Just a bit out of focus

What’s not shown is there were multiple test shots where I adjusted the focus and shutter speed until I got to this point. While doing this there was a lot of second guessing. Would I even be able to get a bee in focus in the small area of focus to make this an interesting image? Was my shutter fast enough? How fast should it be? Do I want to stop the wings in flight or is it ok to have them blurry from their fast movement? Those questions were answered with a little patients. Once the sunlight moved to this area it didn’t take real long for a bee to make its way to these flowers. Using a remote shutter I started shooting away as the bee moved in and around these flowers. You can see it doesn’t take much to have the bee out of focus.

Pulling the flower down

After reviewing those photos I determined I would stick with my setup and wait some more. Thankfully a few minutes later another bee entered my photograph and again it was out of focus plus this time it pulled the whole flower stem down changing the whole composition. I wasn’t going to adjust the camera for this because once this bee left and the flower stem bounced back up I would be going through the whole focusing again so I just waited for another bee.

Getting closer

Over the course of an hour several bees visited. Some where in focus and others were not but eventually I captured the photograph I was looking for – a bee hovering in front of an in focus flower. There was actually quite a bit of work involved but it was fun just to be out there amongst the bees and flowers watching as they moved from one flower to the next. It was also a good learning experience with a successful photo that matched what I had imagined ahead of time. In addition it was a nice summer evening on both nights and hummingbirds kept me entertained, or distracted depending on how you look at it.

Another one almost in focus

Getting Close

Recently I’ve been out having fun with macro photography. Certainly this presents some different challenges but provides some great images. There’s multiple ways of accomplishing some of these close-ups and each provides a little different result. You can use macro lens designed for this type of photography or telephoto lenses zoomed in. Some people even use microscopes to get really close. My method of choice is to use a small telephoto lens with extension tubes for these images. Extension tubes allow you to get quite a bit closer to whatever you are photographing for some really close-up photographs.

Almost open

Some of the challenges for this type of photography are getting adequate lighting, acquiring the right focus as the focus area becomes substantially smaller, and maintaining your desired composition. Lighting can be a challenge because your lens is so close to your subject that it blocks out light. Be careful of your camera placement or your own shadow may be in the picture.

Full of pollen

For these images of Black Eyed Susans, here’s my setup: I move my camera around using the screen to compose a potentially interesting photograph until I find where I want to take the picture from and then I set up a tripod to position my camera in that location. Once I’m all set up I plug in a remote release so there is a little camera shake as possible and wait for good light as on this day there were clouds passing by. There was also some wind blowing around the flowers so I waited until they would stop moving after a gust. Also, I did this in the middle of the day as morning or evening light would reduce the amount of light for a sharp picture. I snapped the first photo and checked to see that the focus is where I want it. If it’s not, an adjustment to the shutter speed or aperture can help especially if your lucky and an insect enters the flower such as a couple of them seen here.

Wrapped in spiderwebs

A Meteor Shower on the North Shore of Minnesota

A few weeks ago the Perseid meteor shower was expected to peak providing a possible meteor every minute burning through the night sky. For the best viewing, the darkest sky possible is required so we took a road trip to the North Shore of Minnesota and settled in for a great, however short, astronomical show as a near full moon would be rising about an hour after total darkness descended across the horizon. As the sky grew increasingly dark I worked the camera to capture this annual event. Yes, the Perseid meteor shower occurs every summer near the beginning of August.

Meteor flying through the Milky Way

While taking in the meteors buzzing across the blackened sky I wanted to make another attempt at photographing the Milkyway as I’ve spent some time earlier in the summer trying to get a photo showing the arc produced across the sky by the Milkyway if there is enough darkness. Finally I successfully accomplished that with a photo that shows some of the amazing colors available in the night sky with the help of distant northern lights glowing on the horizon and a few city lights off in the distance.

Multiple Perseids

While photographing the Milkyway, many of these photos caught a meteor or two and sometime more streaking across the sky. They may be a little difficult to see in these photos but if you look hard enough, especially in the one directly above here, you can see them. I can see as many as four in the photo just above but the sky is a little too bright to make them out easily. Unfortunately the best ones were not caught by my camera. There were a few that crossed almost the entire visible night sky leaving a trail of light for more than a second. In what seemed like a matter of minutes the moon began rising lighting up the whole star filled sky making it much more difficult to see these meteors however the brightest ones still left a bolt of light as they flew through the universe. While this may not produce the same excitement as a total solar eclipse it is still worth trying to view on a nice summer night. Just be prepared for mosquitoes if they exist where you are.

Meteor falling through space

Hot Springs of Yellowstone

Yellowstone National Park is known for many things but after Old Faithful, probably the best known are the colorful hot springs scattered throughout this beautiful park. Most popular among these springs is Grand Prismatic but there are many others also displaying the amazing colors created by calcium and bacteria. I’m sure, like many others, that seeing photos of these pools of incredible shapes and colors seems a little too enhanced in this age of easy photo manipulation. I was certainly among those. There is no way these colors can be that vibrant. I was wrong. They are that colorful and vibrant. Of course this does depend on the time of year you visit as the bacteria responsible for some of these colors are not as vigorous during colder temperatures.

Interesting shapes and colors of some of the Yellowstone hot springs

Peering deep into many of these pools reminded me of the amazing turquoise Caribbean salt water. I kept waiting for fish to come from under a ledge or to see an urchin waving in the steam but no such thing happened. Still trying to find the source of water filling these pools kept me entertained. No matter how I turned and twisted I could not see far enough down to witness any sign of moving water filtering up through cracks continually maintaining the very warm temperatures causing steam to roll off the surface. I guess I’ll have to trust those experts where the information comes from which is scribed into permanent signs in different areas of Yellowstone.

Hot springs constantly produce steam even in the middle of summer

One of the other challenges in viewing some of these colorful bodies of hot water is the steam rising into the air hiding their secrets only providing a quick glimpse into the pool for only a moment as a breeze uncovers its blue water. It almost became a game between me and the pool to capture a photo showing this amazing blue tinted liquid. Many attempts were won by the pool but eventually a stronger wind allowed for a relatively clear picture.

Black Pool near Yellowstone Lake

Many of the hot springs contained only the Caribbean turquoise waters but a few are surrounded by the vibrant oranges and organic browns contrasting incredibly with these blue pools seen in what appears as unrealistic photos. The Black Pool hot spring picture both above and below steals your attention all by itself but as you look out across it, Yellowstone lake with it’s deep blue water and mountain backdrop makes it an amazing landscape. It’s almost too much to take in with only a short time but that may be all there is as others are waiting to witness this same view so we must yield to those around and hope pictures will capture for the future.

Some of the remarkable colors produced by bacteria in these hot springs

After looking at the geothermal features of Yellowstone National Park for hours or even days, the smell of sulfur rising into the air can become a little overwhelming but there is still one spring that will cause you to forget the miles walked peering at pools of blue and the sulfur smell – Grand Prismatic Spring. There’s a reason this is one of the best known attractions of this large park. In order to enter the boardwalk built to view it you must first climb up a small hill. Along side this hill begins the contrasting orange and brown colors from water continually flowing towards a nearby river making you move more enthusiastically towards the source of this water. During the summer months there are constantly moving crowds of people blocking any early view of Grand Prismatic so you must weave back and forth around others stopping for a photo or waiting for someone else in order to move closer to that first look. Eventually there it is – a blue steam rising from a large pool making you more eager to see what can cause steam to appear this amazing turquoise color. Finally arriving within view of the entire hot spring it is still difficult to put together a full panoramic scene bringing it all together as found in some photos taking from higher vantage points such as an airplane or the summit of nearby mountains. Yet the sight does not disappoint to spite all of the built up expectations from pictures and stories shared by others. Well worth a trip!

 

Grand Prismatic hot springs

In Search of a Dinosaur

In our quest to discover another piece of our National Parks Monopoly board we went on expedition to our 27th of 28 National Park units – Dinosaur National Monument. Located on the border of Utah and Colorado, this park provides many interesting and amazing sights to explore. The first, and most known for, is searching for dinosaur fossils.

Quarry exhibit hall

An easy search due to a shuttle leaving from the Quarry Visitors Center which drives a short distance up the nearby hillside to the Quarry Exhibit Hall which was built around a dig sight exposing numerous fossils. This makes the idea of seeing dinosaur fossils almost unreal. You walk inside the building and there they are! All displayed in a hillside that seems like it was assembled for this display. Once your able to grasp the concept that dinosaurs did in fact roam here and were buried from several geological events it becomes really amazing to see with your own eyes.

One of the complete dinosaur fossils uncovered here

Additionally, there are other displays to complement this preserved dig sight helping to explain all that you are seeing and some of the events that have happened in this very location. One very interesting display is a complete assembly of an Allosaurus skeleton giving you some idea what this dinosaur actually looked like and how big it was when roaming this part of the Earth.

Fossils still partially buried in the hillside inside of the quarry exhibit hall

After looking through the displays, where you can see different fossils and actually touch some, the quarry wall begins to make more sense as you can now start to recognize some of the fossils buried here. For a little help in that recognition there are touch screen computers labeling many of these pieces on the second floor of the Quarry Exhibit Hall. For those really interested in fossils and dinosaurs, hours can be spent here studying each piece amongst the hundreds partially unearthed here. For me, a shorter time is all that I needed before heading back outside to gaze over the landscape and wonder how many more fossils remain undiscovered in all that I could see.

Some of the interesting rock formations found in Dinosaur

A short, warm bus ride (it was mid June in the Western United States) back to the visitors center and we were off exploring more of this beautiful landscape. Dinosaur National Monument is located in a mountainous region where two rivers converge providing for some incredible sights. There are many interesting rock formations throughout the park created from different geological events which also provide for multiple colors layered together with rivers cutting through them adding to the beauty of the area. Many people explore these rock formations from the comfort of a raft navigating the rapids of these two rivers for a great summer experience.

One of the petroglyphs found in different parts of Dinosaur National Monument

Going away from the main visitors center, there are more pieces to discover. One of these include petroglyphs from those who have traversed these mountains centuries before. It’s interesting to try and interpret these ancient drawings to figure out why they took the time to communicate with others on what they were seeing and doing here. Many different sights await being found throughout a day in Dinosaur National Monument however these do not end with daylight. Once the sun disappears a whole different landscape appears that so many miss. While heading back into the park near sunset, I encountered only one or two other people still there. They were either camping or managing the cattle which roam free here. Admittedly there are some added challenges while navigating at night such as animals near the road or even on the road so being alert and driving slowly is a requirement. On different occasions I thought I was going to hit a deer and elk with our car but fortunately managed to miss both leading to an increased heart rate. These increased challenges are well worth the views of the incredible night sky!

Milkyway

Walking With a Bison

After a day filled with incredible views and geological wonders we were driving back towards our hotel for some much needed rest. Along the way we encountered several vehicles pulled over indicating an opportunity to see some of Yellowstone’s amazing wildlife so we found a spot in a nearby pull off and parked the car. After a short hike up the road we saw people watching a lone bison just lazily grazing nearby. Continuing to scan the landscape for bears or wolves I glanced towards this bison from time to time just watching and snapping a few pictures.

Bison after scratching in the dirt

While watching this large animal for a couple of minutes I began to get lost behind my camera taking different pictures trying different compositions. It was getting better and better because I could get increasingly closer shots isolating this bison and highlighting its details until I briefly looked up from the camera only to realize this large, powerful animal was not within a few feet of me. The only thing between me and this bison was a low, wooden railing which would do nothing if it decided to charge me which I witnessed earlier in the day. That same morning I watched one bison charge after anther bison at full speed displaying just how fast and powerful they really are no matter how they may appear most other times.

Face to face with an Amercian Bison

Quickly I backed away seeking the cars behind me as a potential buffer between me and this bison. Fortunately it was more interesting in eating and continued walking away from my area. After a little more wildlife viewing we decided we were ready to get back in our car and continue towards the hotel only there was a little problem. This lone, powerful bison was walking along the roadside towards our car preventing us from leaving. Well, we might as well as relax for awhile until it passes our vehicle allowing us to drive away. Slowly we followed at a safe distance just watching as it walked among the many cars now stopped watching it. Do you think there is some amusement to the bison causing such an event? At one point it stopped and looked at our empty car. “Do you think it will find something irritating with the car and ram it?” I asked. How do you explain that to the insurance company? Glad we weren’t in the car at that point. Can you imagine how that would be? Finally it continued on down the road to meet up with a nearby heard allowing us to make it to the car.

Bison checking out our car

Being one of the first cars into a pull off definitely has its advantages as you don’t have to worry about finding a place to park as within a few minutes the roadway fills with vehicles hoping to catch a glimpse and maybe a photo of nearby wildlife. Also you tend to have a front row seat for watching wildlife. Unfortunately if you decide it’s time to leave you may have to wait while the traffic jam caused by whatever wildlife you are watching has caused clears enough for you to get back onto the road and on your way to the next destination.

Wildlife causing a traffic jam

Once traffic began moving again we prepared to pull out just when that nearby bison heard arrived across the street from us once again stopping traffic. These are definitely not fast moving animals much of the time. This heard would walk a short distance, stop and scratch on the dirt or nearby trees, walk a few steps more, eat nearby leaves, and continue a little further. While it seemed like forever it was really only about 15 minutes before we were once again on the road heading to our hotel for the night. How frustrating must it be for those stuck in this traffic jam far enough down the road and not be able to see what was causing it? At least we got to enjoy it even though the bison were a little close for comfort at times.

_DSC2138

A Warm Yellowstone Greeting

On our first trip into Yellowstone National Park, we were less than five miles from the North Entrance when the first encounter with wildlife began. I call these our park greeters welcoming us to Yellowstone. For me it is a truly great way to start a national park adventure and a good sign of what is to come. While driving a short distance I happened to glance to my left and caught a glimpse of a fawn through trees and brush. Fortunately this occurred near a pull off designed to allow people to stop along side the road to take in the sights of that area so I quickly decided to turn in and see if I could spot that fawn again.

Elk fawn drinking from the Gardner River

Within a minute or two the Elk fawn and its mother appeared coming closer to us. And then there was another fawn in sight. Within a few minutes five Elk fawns and their mothers were grazing within sight and coming closer. By this time the pull off was full of other people all trying to photograph these animals as is typical in Yellowstone. Fortunately this occurred just after 6pm and many people had already left the park allowing for better traffic flow. Not that I really noticed the traffic because these Elk and their fawns were so much fun to watch.

Trying to cross the raging river

Eventually the mothers all decided they wanted to cross the Gardner River coming closer towards all of us set up to capture this event. They slowly coaxed the fawns to wade through this rushing water towards greener pastures. Because of larger amounts of snow this past winter, the river was flowing faster than normal from more melting snow making it increasingly difficult to ford.

Elk fawn struggling in the rushing Gardner River

After a few attempts the fawns decided this was a bad idea with conditions too dangerous for them to safely make it across. They found a spot on the river bank and stood their ground. I wonder if having an audience for this helped deter them from trying to make it through this swiftly moving water? As I looked over this pull off full of cars carrying many people with large cameras all looking for a photograph of these Elk fawns crossing a river for the first time, I could see some disappointment as the realizations they were not going to cross the river. Understandable as how often do you get on opportunity to witness such an event right in front of you?

Not this time

The next twenty minutes or so these fawns would call over to their mothers with these mothers responding attempting to convince the other to get on the other side of the river. After several attempts the mothers all crossed back over the Gardner River to be reunited with their fawns. Several days later we drove by these same Elk and saw that the fawns had successfully crossed the swift river in a different location.

Reunited