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.

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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

The Porcupine Mountains

Looking over the Porcupine Mountains

Recently I had the opportunity to meet a friend I went to college with for a few days camping at Porcupine Mountain State Park which resides in Northern Michigan otherwise known as the U.P. I was hopeful to see a porcupine since I assumed that’s where the name for this park came from. As we learned while there, the name actually comes from the shape of the mountains. They look like humped over porcupines. It is possible to see a porcupine in this area but not overly likely.

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Yurts are available for rent at this state park making it so a tent or camping trailer is not necessary. There are cabins also if a person prefers that. One of the nice things about the cabins and yurts is they are more remote than the rest of the campground giving you your own little area all to yourself. The challenging part of these yurts and cabins is lack of running water or electricity so using a bathroom with both of these things requires a bit of a walk to get there. Our camping spot was next to Lake Superior. Fortunately the weather was nice and calm so the lake was also. At night we were lulled to sleep by the waves lazily crashing against the shore for a peaceful nights rest.

Sun setting over Lake Superior

There are several ways to spend your time at Porcupine State Park with several miles of trails to hike leading to mountain tops or waterfalls, Lake Superior providing water activities such as boating, kayaking, or swimming in the warm summer months, or just sitting next to your fire watching the flames dance between the logs. While spending some time at our campsite a Least Chipmunk would entertain us with its acrobatics off and on as it collected ripening fruit from several nearby trees.

Acrobatics of a Least Chipmunk

In July the sun sets quite late in this part of the United States so it didn’t actually get dark until after 10 p.m. Eastern time. That really threw my time off because it seemed so late but was still light out to make an evening meal and eat it in the waning light. By the time stars began making their appearance it would be getting really late. One night we decided to find an area to view the Milky way and take some photographs instead of going to bed. After a few hours of doing that there was discussion on whether we should go to bed or find a place to view the impending sunrise. Thankfully our senses returned as it was off to bed for a good nights rest. Spending time in the U.P. of Michigan was definitely peaceful and relaxing.

Milkyway in Porcupine State Park

Independence Day Fireworks – Nature’s Way

While getting ready to enjoy an evening of Fireworks to end the day of Independence Day celebrations another type of fireworks began. Storms off in the distance began displaying beautiful cloud lighting which became a distraction from fireworks being set off from the ground. It was a difficult choice deciding which one to watch as they were going off at the same time and both were interesting and beautiful to watch.

Lightning reflecting in the water

Most of the time I tried to pay attention to those being set off by nearby cities anticipating these approaching storms would continue after their fireworks were done. I did keep an eye on local radar just to make sure we weren’t in danger of storms catching us before the ground fireworks were complete. Once they ended I decided to drop off the family in the safety of our home and head out with the camera and try to capture this amazing display in the sky. Expecting rain to begin within 20 minutes of setting up I moved quickly to get the camera settings and focus correct and attempted to photograph some of this lightning. As it turned out the rain stayed away for over an hour while the lightning continued to flash in the sky resulting in some nice images.

Sky lighting up

Mammoth Hot Springs

Upper Terraces at sunset

With just on hour of daylight left on our first evening in Yellowstone National Park, we took off exploring the several walkways built around Mammoth Hot Spring Terraces. During research ahead of this trip these hot spring terraces weren’t an exciting feature that I was in a hurry to see so this seemed like the right amount of time to quickly explore the area. Upon first viewing these formations I was surprised at how white they were and the formations creating all of these little, unique pools. Something I’ve never seen anywhere before.

Looking up at the terraces

Apparently this extreme white comes from calcium being brought up with the springs and deposited as water from these springs cools which means these terraces continually change. This means that the terraces viewed last summer are not the exact same as the ones I saw this summer which will be unique next summer for different visitors. That’s kind of fun. Still, after walking around these features for a little while I felt I’d seen enough to call it a night and return to the hotel for much needed sleep. That’s when the photographer inside of me kicked in.

Trees that have been overtaken from mineral deposits still growing

Shapes, textures, colors, and living and dead trees creating interesting objects began to appear. Yes, they were there the whole time but I didn’t really see them individually. Algae and bacteria living in this hot water add colors to the pure white calcium deposits creating amazing patterns in the terraces. Add to that trees which have been overtaken by these mineral deposits provide another layer of texture to this scene. Soon I realized I could spend a lot of time here catching these items as the light continues to change highlighting different features of each terrace formation ending in beautiful photographs.

Interesting colors and shapes of these mineral formations

Now there wasn’t enough daylight left to capture the Mammoth Hot Springs the way I would like to. As we continued to explore different areas, the springs became more and more fascinating with their little calcium ridges flowing over past living trees turned into decaying artwork and colored different shades of orange and brown as light continued to fade from the almost clear sky. Other areas provided trees a place to grow as a hot spring would become dormant providing more interesting features. With renewed energy it was off to see more areas and discover more of these steam filled deposits creating calm pools of water waiting to cool as they seep from one to another.

The Mammoth Hot Spring Terraces

Eventually the sky became dark enough to prevent further photographs highlighting these great colors and textures so we returned to our car for the trip to the hotel before crashing into bed for some much desired rest. These Mammoth Hot Springs became more interesting than I would have imagined and every time we passed them on the way to see another location there was a temptation to stop and get more photographs in better light. However that would come at the cost of seeing more of Yellowstone. One advantage to visiting the terraces later in the evening is we really didn’t have to deal with crowds. With this being our first night here it was a false sense of navigating through Yellowstone in mid June. The next day would quickly change this with vastly larger numbers of vehicles and people.

Tree struggling to live in dormant hot spring mineral deposits

Yellowstone

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.

Snow covered mountains of Yellowstone National Park

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.

The Lamar River

 

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.

The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

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.

Hydrothermal features in the lower geyser basin of Yellowstone

 

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.

Yellowstone Lake

Little Bighorn? Which is it?

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.

Warriors riding into battle

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.

Inside the circular memorial honoring each tribe contributing to this battle

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.

Stone momument honoring a fallen Indian warrior

 

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.

The battlefield with markers for each person killed

Finding Fireflies

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.

Fireflies following the trail home

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.

Twinkling in the grass

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.

Dancing by the pond

Chasing Dragonflies

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.

Dragonfly clinging to a blade of grass

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.

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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.

Damselfly

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.

Coming in for a landing

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 face of a dragon

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.

Waiting for the next flight

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.

Ebony Jewelwing Damselfly

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