Yellowstone National Park was one of the most eagerly anticipated parks on our National Parks Monopoly board from the beginning of our adventures and has definitely lived up to its name. We chose to stay in Gardiner near the North Entrance so our first experience in Yellowstone was to go through the symbolic Roosevelt Arch. The arch itself if beautiful but seems quite out of place now so it must be symbolic as it does not fit the surroundings very effectively. When it was built in 1903, according to a nearby sign, it must have been a grand entrance into this scenic and adventure filled land and now remains as a piece of history here.
This is a vast and continuously changing landscape and as such requires some time to drive through, when you can drive through it as half of the year snow covers many of the roads closing them to most vehicles. During the peak summer months of June, July, and August there is much to see and do but require some additional attributes for vacationers. First you need to bring a lot of patience as travel is relatively slow due to numerous other visitors all stopping along the road to see the incredible views and wildlife, many times without consideration to those behind them.
Secondly be able to accept many things that you can not control. Most of this is from people wanting to get a certain picture of wildlife, the numerous hydrothermal features, special group shot, or that all important selfie. Other times it can be from people trying to catch up to their group or kids being clueless to their surroundings. Relaxing and understanding other people have different priorities and schedules can help enjoy this beautiful time of year to explore Yellowstone. One tactic to get around some of these annoyances is to start really early in the morning and/or staying later in the park when most others are headed back to their residence for the day.
We had four days to explore this massive place and each day brought something new to see with some of these days packing in more than can be taken in for a single day. Fortunately that’s what pictures and maps are for, to recall what each day provided. Before heading to Gardiner I spent several hours doing some research of what makes this National Park special so that while driving around we wouldn’t miss these things. The most recognizable piece of Yellowstone National Park is the hydrothermal features created by molten lava a short distance under the Earth’s crust as a large portion of this area is basically inside a caldera of what is now a dormant volcano.
The next highlight is the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone which has the Yellowstone River rushing through it. This river falls over a 300 foot cliff resulting in a thunderous crash heard for miles as the water continues on into the canyon. With above normal snowfall this past winter melting at a fast pace, the flow over this waterfall is faster and louder than normal. Yellowstone Lake is another of the grand pieces to explore with many doing so either by fishing, kayaking, or boating. Be careful as the water is still cold even during the warmer summer months being able to cause hypothermia which occurred a week before our trip here. While these are destinations within the park, arguably the biggest highlight of Yellowstone National Park is the wildlife. Unfortunately, seeing many of the different wild animals residing here is unpredictable so the only way to have an opportunity to see it is to be on the lookout while driving from one location to another or hiking into some of the back country areas with safety precautions understood and accessible. I’ll continue to go into detail on many of these highlights in later posts.
Actually it’s both because this National Monument is located next to the Little Bighorn River which flows into the Bighorn River which hopefully makes more sense. This was one of the few remaining destinations on our National Parks Monopoly board which we visited recently. This is an interesting but solemn place memorializing a battle between Lt. Col. Custer with his Calvary and 5 different Indian tribes taking place over June 25th and 26th, 1976 as well as the location of Custer National Cemetery.
This battle was won by many different Indian tribes working together led by Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse to defeat the U.S. Army’s 7th Cavalry in a final victory before being forced onto reservations a few short years later. Photos above and below show a beautiful memorial to this battlefield where Indian tribes came together at this location for one cause – preserving and remembering their way of life. It’s sad and unfortunate that this battle had to take place due to the greed of those further east over control of the land and it’s resources, but if it hadn’t happened in 1876, I’m quite certain it would have happened at some point in a desire to possess land by those with wealth and power.
Little Bighorn is a popular National Monument with more people entering hear than I’ve seen at other National Monuments of this size.When asking about this popularity, as this was not the only battle between the U.S. Army and Indians, the response was increased attention due to the high profile people involved such as Custer, Sitting Bull, and Crazy Horse along with this is the only battle that has markers in the exact location where each person died during the battle. Additionally it is a National Cemetery so there are visitors seeking out those buried there.
After this battle was over, those who survived buried those who died where they were found a placed markers so each persons location which is unique. These people have since been moved to different burial locations but the markers have remained and been replaced with the inscribed stones seen in the photo above and below. Red are for Indians and white for U.S. Calvary. There are far more white markers throughout the park than red ones reinforcing how one sided this battle actually was. This gives historians and visitors a more detailed map of what took place on this battlefield over two days.
I couple of weeks ago I was awakened by a bright flash of lightning. After watching out the window for a few minutes I realized the storms were passed us and then I saw a light flash. Being still partially asleep I wasn’t sure I saw that little flash of light as it was 12:30am and fireflies are typically done lighting up by this time.
Becoming a little more awake I continued to look outside only to confirm fireflies were indeed flashing in our back yard. A few minutes later I was out on the deck watching them flash repeatedly. More than we’ve ever had in our backyard. The following night I decided to head out to more wooded areas to see if the fireflies were putting on a show. The first location I tried really wasn’t providing as many fireflies as I wanted so I decided to try another area close by.
Luckily they were putting on a nice show but then another issue arose with a nearly full moon lighting up the landscape making it difficult to see any fireflies flashing. I was able to find a shaded area and get some nice pictures of the fireflies that night. Over the next couple of weeks I’ve been going to different spot when I can and photographing these interesting beetles as they displayed different flashing sequences and colors. Hopefully you can see their trails in the photos in this post. My next goal is to photograph a single beetle lighting up. We’ll see as that is a difficult task as they don’t like to stay in one place very long.
During the past several weeks I’ve been out enjoying the active wildlife and taking hundreds of photographs. Some of the most prevalent subjects have been dragonflies which are fun insects to photograph with all of their different colorations and patterns. People tend to get a little bored with dragonfly photographs as there are a lot of them.
In the main photo above I believe that is called a widow skimmer which is also in the second to last photo from the bottom. Directly above is a four spotted skimmer. After photographing a dragonfly it can be a bit of a challenge to identify it but fun to try and fun to learn what each one is.
These insects are amazing fliers often able to out fly birds to keep from being eaten and also catch insects for their next meal which is a great thing for those that don’t like mosquitos. Their acrobatics can entertain and amaze for hours on a nice summer afternoon.
Above is a blue damselfly hiding amongst the grass. While many people consider it a dragonfly it is actually a different insect in a group known as damselflies. Damselflies have their wings behind them while at rest and are not as skilled at flying as dragonflies. Also they typically are not as big.
During my time attempting to photograph these fun insects, one of my goals was to capture them in flight which proved more difficult than expected. Most of my pictures of dragonflies in the air out of focus or have a portion of their body cut out of the photo or missed them entirely as my reaction time is slower than their takeoff time.
In the picture above rests a 12 spotted skimmer. These didn’t seem to rest much while I was there so there is only a picture or two of them.
Above is another widow skimmer and below is an ebony jewelwing damselfly. These are probably my favorite damselflies because their coloration changes depending on the light they’re in and because of their black wings which flutter softly from leaf to leaf. There will probably be more dragonfly photos yet this year as I continue to have fun capturing them with a camera.
A year ago I was able to wonder around in a nearby forest taking in wildlife. You can read about it here if you would like. There have not been as many opportunities to get out with my camera this spring but recently I did get to spend some time taking in the ever greening forest in search on new life. On this particular outing my goal was to see if a mother coyote had taken up residence in a familiar spot to raise her little ones again and to find out if Eagles had once again laid eggs in their nest from last year.
While slowly making my way in the woods attempting to make as little noise as possible I heard a low growling sound coming from nearby. Scanning the area I saw a head hanging out of a hole in the tree. Watching for a minute or two I noticed this raccoon ever so gently resting its head in this hole looking exhausted from the day.
Enjoying this raccoon for a short time I heard a noise in leaves up the hill from me but couldn’t see what was making the noise. Shortly after a little deer made its way near me but hadn’t noticed me yet. Fortunately I was standing on a log right next to another tree so there was no shuffling of leaves to slowly turn to watch it. As I began to rotate, the deer spotted my movement causing us both to stop immediately. It was so dark in the woods that taking pictures of moving animals was a challenge and I was in a poor position to steady my camera so all I could manage was a few blurry shots and it was gone. This was ok because I wanted to focus more on the raccoon.
Once the deer had disappeared I hopped onto another fallen tree nearby trying to keep the noise down as I moved closer to this hollow tree being used for a home. Once on this tree I quietly removed my backpack and took out the tripod in order to steady my camera in hopes of getting sharper photos. While doing this out pops a bunch of tiny heads trying to figure out what I was doing. Now I understand why this larger raccoon appears to be so tired as to be almost lifeless. It was a mother with several little ones to tend to.
Almost settled in with my backpack and tripod, there was another rustling in the leaves near where the first noise came from but this time it sounded slightly different. I quickly frozen, standing on this log trying to look for movement and then I heard a sound – a turkey. Wow I’ve never had turkeys walk up to me. I always seem to come up on them and scare them away before getting a decent picture. Now what do I do? In order for me to get to cover so they wouldn’t recognize me I would have to move significantly. I decided to concentrate on these baby raccoons but tried to remain steady as to not disrupt the turkeys too much. They did eventually move on away from me so I could once again focus on these little critters right in front of me.
Now I was able to get the camera set up on the tripod and sit comfortably on the log I was just standing on and shoot away as this family would pop in and out of this larger hole in the tree. Enjoying my time watching these little fury creatures I heard another noise off in the distance. It sounded like thunder! I didn’t think there was really any storms in the area so I dismissed it as possibly an airplane overhead or something. Than I heard it again with a much longer rumble. That had to be thunder so I pulled out my phone all while being watched and check the radar. Now what should I do? I can pack up and try and get out of hear or wait it out since it appeared I was on the edge and may only get a little rain. Waiting it out seemed like the better idea as I could see sun near the horizon so this couldn’t last very long. Back to taking pictures of the raccoons.
While sitting there defying the weather, the thunder got closer and more numerous causing me to question my decisions to stay. Finally when it was almost overhead I decided it was time to pack up and leave. It must have been the right decision as the raccoons had all retreated back into their tree as well. Getting out to the edge of the woods I could see the storm which appeared to have just passed overhead. Now the wind was picking up at my back so the approaching cold front must have just came through. Do I go back to the raccoons or continue on to the eagles nest or keep going towards the car? My answer came in the form what sounded like a strong wind gust. But it wasn’t wind. I new my time was up and my choice now was to seek shelter among a clump of large maple trees just as heavy rains began pounding down. After a short downpour I decided to continue to the car and enjoyed watching the sun set behind this small spring storm. Definitely worth getting wet for.
While looking through some photos from earlier this year I came across some of this shelf mushroom with a unique shape. As I examined this fungus it looks as though it was growing on this tree while the tree was still standing and once the tree fell to the ground the mushroom adapted and began growing in this new direction. The photo below shows what a typical shelf mushroom looks like. In fact, I’ve never seen one growing differently than this. They grow horizontally on trees, usually dead trees but not always.
As I walked around this shelf mushroom admiring its form I began wondering several things. First, how old is this fungus? It has to be several years old to be this big as well as growing in one direction for a couple of yeas and then growing in the opposite direction for at least one year. Why did this mushroom continue growing once the tree fell down while others appear to have stopped on this same tree? In nature, and in life, being able to adapt to ever changing situations often brings longevity. How long did it take for this shelf mushroom to change directions once the tree fell over? Was it the very next season or did it take multiple growing seasons continue growing. I will have to find this fungus again and check in on it every so often just to learn more on how it continues to adapt and how its shape changes. Unfortunately my camera battery died so I couldn’t take more photos on this particular trip. Stay tuned for updates…..
I seem to be struggling with material at the moment so I thought I’d post a photo taken recently. This is one of a nesting pair of swans as it slowly drifted by me on the way back to their nest always keeping an eye on me. This pair has been nesting on this lake for a number of years and it’s nice to see them back.
This spring we had the opportunity to visit Western Kentucky which is known well for making Bourbon and horses. In a previous post I wrote about making bourbon so on this weekend of the Kentucky Derby I thought it appropriate to write about horses. One morning we stopped at a horse breeding farm in Lexington where we were treated to some very young horses which they call foals.
In the photo above, this young foal was about 3 months old in a stall with its mother. It’s really amazing to see this young horse as it continues to learn what life is all about. I could have stayed and photographed this little horse for hours and maybe even all day. Surprisingly this little horse already had a halter on which I never really thought about. Kind of like a new puppy where a collar is often times put on early in their life so they get use to it.
What is a horse adventure without actually getting on one. A short drive away, near Mammoth Cave, we found a farm offering trail rides to take advantage of through this beautiful landscape. While riding one of these horses you can feel just how powerful they are as they traverse up and down hills along with the uniqueness of each horse. Even on a hour trail ride you can see each one has a different personality which is kind of fun to watch.
Seeing a 3 month old foal was really exciting but there was another treat for us at this horse breeding farm. In the photo above we’re feeding this thoroughbred carrots but behind it you can barely see a newborn foal. It was born almost 12 hours before this and was still a little wobbly on it’s feet as it tried to walk around in its stall. Such a treat!
What is a trip to Western Kentucky exploring horses without stopping at Churchill Downs? There is a museum here that displays the history of the Kentucky Derby over the last century which is quite interesting. Along with the museum there are tours providing views of different parts of this horse track. As you go through each area you can almost feel the excitement and pageantry of the Kentucky Derby. Now when watching this on TV it brings a different perspective. It’s much more personal with increased interest.