While reviewing The Lost Summer Part 2, I realized that I had left out a visit from a very special couple. Soon after we made the move to Mammoth Campground we were delighted to be visited by Pricilla and Russ Trudell, from way north in New Hampshire. This couple is another of that wonderful group of birders and in many cases cat lovers who are members of the Loons and Larks internet chat group. We, especially Connie, have known the Trudells since about 2000. While on our northern tier of states tour in preparation for the Marine Corps Marathon in 2010 we met up with the Trudells for our first face to face meeting. We had a wonderful time then and we had hoped for the same when they came to Yellowstone. As it worked out, we were able to have dinner and get caught up with what each couple had been doing on their first evening in the area. Unfortunately, we would have to work the rest of the time they were around and were, therefore, not able to spend much more quality time with them. We did try to provide them with some well-intended travel information to afford them the opportunity to see what we knew to be out there. With the limited time they had to visit the park, they were not able to see much in the way of bears and certainly no wolves. Their time in the park was just too short to allow them to see everything. Consequently, they did a lot of driving in order to take in the more static things, but couldn’t devote much time to sitting in one spot to see what critters might show up. None the less, as they were ending their last day in the park they stopped by the campground to say their good-byes and to thank us for our efforts. It seemed that even though they were not able to see all the wildlife they had hoped for, they still had a great time. Now, let’s continue with The Lost Summer Part 3, which is the final chapter of this saga.
The fall brings a lot of photographers to the park. They come for different reasons. Some come to try to capture images of the bull elk battling one another over a group of cow elk. Some come in search of bears fattening up for their long winter naps. Others show up in search of the limited yet spectacular fall colors of the park. There are also the wolf enthusiasts, they usually have the longest lenses. Of course, some are there for as much of all the above as they can manage. These people are up and out of the campground long before first light. Some come back during the mid-day to rest and are then out again in the late afternoon when the light warms up. Over the years, I have developed some loose relationships with a few of these real professionals. I present myself as a newbie in the industry and therefore not likely to threaten their livelihood. I have found that many will share with me where they are seeing and what they are seeing. That made it much easier for me to have a chance of seeing and photographing things this past fall. Connie and I had made the decision that if I wanted to get up and out in the early morning she was okay staying home and getting a little more sleep. So, armed with tips from other photographers, I went out on my own a few mornings in the fall and saw some pretty awesome sights. Here are a few examples.
One of the really neat photographic adventures I made during the fall was to capture the total lunar eclipse of the super moon on September 27. I had kept good track of what time of the evening the moon would rise and where I felt I needed to be to get the most unobstructed view. My location of choice was the south end of Swan Lake Flats. There are two turnouts on the east side of the road that offer a view through a slot between two mountains. The challenge would be when to get there. I didn’t want to get there too late and not find a parking place. Nor did I want to get there too early and risk the need to find a bathroom about the time the moon crept up over the horizon. I knew there would be a lot of people out there as there is absolutely no artificial light beyond vehicle headlights at my chosen location. Complicating my decision of when to leave the campground was the fact that I was on duty. However, I had gotten permission from our ranger to leave Connie on her own so long as I came back in time to help her in the office.
My timing was pretty good. I got to my chosen spot and there was no one there. So, I parked and set up my camera and started taking sample photos to get the range down and figure out the exposure settings I would need as the light diminished and the moon rose. I had not been there long when another car pulled up and a young woman came to me to verify that I was there to see the moon. As we chatted over the next several minutes I learned that she is a newly minted Registered Nurse working as a traveling nurse. Her current work location is a hospital in Fort Collins, Colorado.
While we waited for the moon, we began to hear elk bugling. Off in the distance, I was able to make out two bull elk and several cows. As the bulls moved closer to my location I took a chance and refocused my camera on the elk. They were really a bit out of my range, so I have nothing to share. Then we heard the all so familiar sound of coyotes. They seemed very close. I was eventually able to find them in my binoculars a couple hundred yards from my location. There must have been ten or twelve of them barking up a storm. The coyotes were soon silenced by the distant yet very distinct howl of wolves. My new friend and I were grinning from ear to ear as we tried to locate the wolves. It was now getting quite dark and seeing anything smaller than a light colored elk within 50 yards and moving was nearly impossible. Besides, we needed to be looking for the moon to rise.
The moon did in fact rise and it was some sort of spectacular. Before this evening was over I had posted four shots of the moon on Facebook. My post received over 1200 views. Now, that is obviously not a viral post. However, given that my Facebook friend list is just over 100, I think it is a pretty impressive statistic.
Here are a few of the images of that wonderful evening.
By the way, on my way back to Mammoth I saw literally hundreds of people who were out there doing the same thing I was. Ironically, some of my better images came later in the evening during the second half of the eclipse long after I was back in the campground and we had closed the office for the evening.
We continued to stay busy in the campground. We found that a lot of our off time was absorbed by routine household tasks such as cleaning and laundry. The preparation of a dinner for the Dumars one of our three days off limited the daytime activities of that day as well. So, we were getting out into the park less and less.
Meanwhile, I was somewhat struggling with the learning curve of my new camera. It seemed as though I had started all over at photography. As I think back on the process I have determined that with my old reliable and still quite serviceable Nikon D90 I needed to make rather large adjustments to some of the settings to achieve results that mirrored what my eye could see. With the Nikon D610, those same adjustments must be made in the micro in order work. Of course adjustments to exposure don’t vary from one model to another as an f-stop is an f-stop. At any rate, when we went out and I carried but one camera I found myself deleting many more images than I was saving and not being real excited about the ones I was keeping.
Sticking to the commitment I had made to get out early on days off while Connie slept, I finally made some predawn trips to the interior. What follows are a few of my favorite images from those forays.
I always had a choice to make as to which direction I would travel for those early morning jaunts. The options were to head east with a few opportunities between Mammoth and Roosevelt Junction. From there one could go toward the Northeast Entrance and the Lamar Valley or head south toward Lake and possibly the East Entrance road. I knew of this family of grizzly bears between Yellowstone Lake and Sylvan Lake. Getting there with good light meant getting out in near pitch darkness and then worrying for thirty miles or so about finding bison on the road. Going that far south and east also meant there would be no chance going to the Lamar Valley the same morning for whatever may be there. One morning after returning to Roosevelt Junction and stopping at the gas station to clean my windshield and get another cup of coffee I met a couple Italian dudes from New Jersey who had just come in from the Northeast Entrance. They had some great photos of a grizzly bear that was about ten miles east of the junction and had also seen wolves that were out of their lens range, but possibly in mine just four or five miles east of the junction. Even though the light was not favorable, I got excited and headed that way. To my dismay, the road crew had started work on the Yellowstone River bridge repairs and traffic was being stopped in both directions for some time and then let through one direction at a time. I quickly assessed that the lost time coupled with the already less than perfect light would undoubtedly result in substandard images assuming I was able to find the critters in the first place. As a fisherman would say, those images got away.
The choice to go south brought with it the possibility of some wonderful sunrise images from the Golden Gate or Swan Lake Flats and many points south. I tended to avoid going that direction for some reasonable and some bad reasons. First, it is much easier to get those scenes during the summer months since I live down that way. Of course, in the summer, I would have to get up that much earlier, but I am determined. Second, I was hearing of all these bears down south on the east side and was drawn to them. Having visited Swan Lake Flats a couple times following a trip to the Yellowstone Lake, I have decided I should have spent more early mornings on the flats. I attempted several times to get photographs of the Swans on Swan Lake while the sun was too high in the sky causing the details of the Swans to be blown out. I kept a few of them to share, though.
Our season at Yellowstone National Park ended on October 28th as we drove south from Mammoth to Norris Junction, east to Canyon Junction and south out of the park via the South Entrance into Grand Teton National Park. I was very hopeful that there had been some early season snow on the Tetons to give me another shot at the lost opportunity on our way in. When we got to Coulter Bay it was pretty obvious that there just wasn’t a lot of snow on the mountains. Worse, the sky had a heavy overcast which diffused the light too much. It seemed the whole area was in shadow. So, we continued on toward Dubois, Wyoming with the hope we could stay where we had stayed in the spring while inbound.
Connie had tried to make reservations, but was unable to get anyone to answer the phone and the website was not working well. She ultimately sent an e-mail which went unanswered prior to our departure from the park. Needless to say, we found the RV Park to be closed as we drove by, so we continued to Riverton, Wyoming and a place I cannot in good conscious recommend. That said, the price was acceptable and after all, we did need to stop. So, we made do and we found a good restaurant as well.
Our next stop would be Glendo, Wyoming off of Interstate 25 south and east of Douglas. Glendo is situated on the south bank of Glendo Reservoir. We arrived early enough in the day to be able to drive around much of the south lake beach and got some pretty fantastic photographs of the area. The reservoir exists to provide irrigation water to the farmers primarily in Nebraska. The fall level of the reservoir is always much lower than in the spring. However, the last several years have seen those fall levels somewhat lower yet due to lower starting points resulting from reduced spring runoff and drier summers. Our afternoon drive covered only a very small portion of the reservoir’s southern beach area, but it netted several very colorful and dynamic photographs.
From Glendo, it was a short day’s drive to Greeley, Colorado where we spent several day visiting family. My sister, Mary Ann, lives east of Greeley, so stopping there for a few days is always on the agenda one direction or the other. Her son, Christopher and his wife Coleen and their boys, Colton and Cooper live in Greeley. It is good to see how the great nephews have grown physically and as young men over the passing year.
My brother, John and his family formerly of Arvada were in the process of relocating back to our original hometown of Sheridan, Wyoming. We were fortunate to be able to have dinner with them in Greeley just days before they moved on. We will likely see much more of them in future summers and falls as they will be so much closer to us while we are in the park.
While it is always good to see the family, the lure of our winter home, or as Connie says, our home was making us a bit anxious to get back on the road and head south. The rest of the drive to Central Texas was uneventful and done covering close to our maximum miles per day each day.
We found our home to be just as we had left it even though there had been three sets of visitors staying here for parts of our absence. They all treated our home as we would have and left it better than they found it. We are only sorry we could not have been here to welcome them into our home.
We spent Thanksgiving in Mt. Lebanon, Pennsylvania visiting and celebrating the holiday with Connie’s family. It seems that with each passing year fewer and fewer of the great-nieces and nephews make it back home for the holidays. That situation is driven mostly by the fact that they are gathering significant others and are having to make those tough decisions as to which family to visit for which holiday. That said we still managed to put some 12 to 14 people around a beautiful Thanksgiving Dinner table and also to share some great times with all who had been able to make the trip.
Our Christmas was a quiet affair here in Kyle with just the two of us. We enjoyed sharing the kitchen and making a dinner that could have fed a small platoon. We will be eating the leftovers until our next adventure begins.
We have enjoyed the down time we carved out for ourselves this holiday season. We are spending a good bit of time at the gym and surprisingly less time in the stores. By spring, we should be ready to hit the road and make many more new memories.
I am officially caught up. Hopefully, my next post will be about our New Year adventure to the Texas coast. Stay tuned.