We Have Arrived

We have made the trek from Texas to Gardiner, Montana where we are “relaxing” prior to starting our summer.  I put relaxing in quotations because we are doing anything but.

In my last update I said we were a day out of Denver as I was writing.  We arrived at Buckley Air Force Base the next day in the early afternoon.  Buckley is located in Aurora, CO just to the east of Denver.  We used Buckley as our home base while visiting with my sister, Mary Ann Cutter and her family, my brother, John and his family and my cousin Heather.

We didn’t do much relaxing while in the area as there were too many people to see and too much sightseeing to be done.  We made two trips into Rocky Mountain National Park.  The first was with John, Sandi (John’s wife) and Mary Ann. Connie and I met up with John and Sandi at a predetermined Starbucks – Well sort of.  We agreed to meet at a Starbucks on US 287 that was in a King Soopers parking lot.  US 287 splits not far from where we got off I-76 and we ended up in the wrong Starbucks, although I maintain we were correct for data given.  So, a little later than planned we met at a Starbucks and then drove north to pick Mary Ann up in Longmont.  From there we turned to the west and after inspecting some of the devastation left behind by the September 2013 floods in the area we were on our way to see the mountains and the wildlife of Rocky Mountain National Park.  Not long after entering the park we came upon our first traffic jam.  Connie and I used to seeing bears, wolves, bison or elk causing such back ups were looking on the ground for the cause.  Looking at the people out of vehicles we soon realized everyone was looking high up in a tree.

There was a Great-horned Owl nest in the tree.  At first I thought I saw some movement within the nest, but everyone was focused on a branch near the actual nest.  The adult owl was out posing for photos on this rather overcast morning.  She or he looked pretty regal on the perch and seemed to be tolerant of all the snapping cameras and chatter from below.

After getting the best shots we could we moved on to open the parking space for the next visitor.  We didn’t have to go too far before we came upon a group of Rocky Mountain Sheep who were actually below the road and easy to see and photograph.

This fellow looks like he is getting ready to charge one of his buddies, but the truth is he was just walking to what must have been better looking grass to eat.

You couldn’t have asked for a much better pose than this one.

After a few more hours of driving with a stop for a picnic lunch alongside a creek we made our way back to the entrance we had used to go into the park.  As we passed the owl nest I noticed that the owlets were now out on a branch so we stopped for more pictures.  I have to pause here for an admission of photographic sin.  I pretty well knew from the morning’s stop that hand holding my camera at the required angle and with the less than adequate lighting getting clear shots very difficult.  I once again failed to pull out my tripod to give myself the best chance at super sharp images.  So, the photo below represents the best of the attempt.

By the way, this is a lesson that seems to have taken some time to learn as you will come to realize by the end of this post.
We ended that day with a wonderful dinner at one of our favorite restaurants in Greeley, Colorado, The Happy Fin.  By our I mean all five of us happen to like the place a lot.  After dinner we reunited Mary Ann with her car then the four of us headed back to Denver and the Starbucks where our car was parked.
The next day was Sunday.  John and Sandi have a 35 year habit of watching the Indianapolis 500.  Mary Ann was going to go to work, so Connie and I made plans to have Brunch with my cousin Heather Crawford.  Heather lives and works on the east side of the Denver metro area, so we met her downtown for what turned out to be a wonderful brunch.  The food was wonderful but catching up with all Heather’s adventures was priceless.  Heather is the other person in my expanded family tree who enjoys running.  She has taken to half marathons and runs one every few weekends.  On Memorial Day she broke her routine by running the Boulder to Boulder 10K which is one of if not the largest 10K in the world.  My hat is off to her for being able to deal with the crowds in the those big races.  Especially a 10K because you never are able to find open running room.
Our conversation with Heather inspired me to go for a run when we got back out to the RV park at Buckley AFB.  I struggled with the altitude and a tweaked back, but I was able to get four miles in without hurting myself.
Sunday evening Connie and I drove to Greeley to have dinner with Mary Ann and her son, Christopher and his family.  We had a good time getting caught up all of them and seeing how much the boys have grown since we saw them in December.
Memorial Day found us back together with John and Sandi for another ride up to Rocky Mountain National Park.  There were things we hadn’t seen on the first day so we needed to revisit.  We would not be disappointed.  During our several hours in the park we saw some 14 moose and many elk.  The scenery in the high country was absolutely breath taking.  Most of the moose we saw were seen from the rear or in heavy cover, so these photos represent the best views we got.

This young bull was just starting to show antler nubs.

The views were really pretty tough.  However, John and Sandi are amazing at spotting these incredible animals and were able to point out several we would likely not seen without them.

Then there were the mountains.

Need I say more?

This second trip to Rocky Mountain National Park would mark the end of our stay in the Denver area.  Fairly early on Tuesday we were on our way to Cheyenne, Wyoming where we would get some overdue maintenance done on the coach and enjoy a brief visit with my longest standing friend, Stephan Pappas.  We were able to accomplish the maintenance on Tuesday and breakfast with Stephan on Wednesday making it a pretty efficient stop over.

After breakfast we drove to Sheridan where we spent the weekend visiting with my Aunt Rose Marie and doing a few chores for her as well as visiting many of our favorite restaurants with her and my cousin Fred Patz and his cousin Dede Patz.  It was a great few days in Sheridan that didn’t include a lot of driving allowing me to get a little rest.

Sunday found us underway by 8:10 AM, possibly a record for us, heading for Yellowstone via Billings, Montana.  There is a truck wash in Billings where I like to stop to the get the rig washed and waxed before parking it for the summer.  The weather was sort of drizzly as we got into Billings which was good for us as there were no trucks at the wash.  We were in and out of Billings with a wash, wax and fuel fill-up in less than an hour.  We were doing something right for sure.

The drive ended at Rocky Mountain RV Park and Cabins in Gardiner, Montana.  We will be here until June 8th when we move into the park.  Our plan was to get some sightseeing done before we started work and to hopefully see some new-born elk, bison and pronghorns before they get too big.

We have spent two days exploring the park as I right this.  We have not been disappointed in what we have seen to date.

On our very first drive into the park we stopped to look at a hawk and while he was far too distant from us for any kind of a good photo, this Mountain Bluebird did some pretty good posing for us.

Not to be out done by Rocky Mountain National Park, Yellowstone National Park has a family of owls making their home right alongside the Mammoth Visitor Center.  There are three owlets in this family.  We were able barely see one of them on our first visit.  We did, however, see both parents.

I think this one is the father.  He seems a bit smaller than the other one.

This is the one I think is the mother.  She was napping in a big tree about 100 yards from where the nest is and was being harassed by Robins who must have their own nest in the same tree.  She didn’t seem to be too concerned about the Robin who just kept flying into her to get her to move away.

I couldn’t get a picture of the Robin hitting the owl, but I did get this shot of the Robin making a pass in front of the Owl.  You can see the Robin’s breast to the right of the Owl.

There were several people standing under this tree watching the action and taking copious photos.  Suddenly a couple broke free from the Owl crowd and was looking behind all the photographers.  I turned just in time to get this and a few more shots.

This is a Red Fox carrying a Uinta Ground Squirrel.  I suspect this adult was off to feed to some little ones somewhere in the area.  It was one very healthy looking fox for sure.  The former ground squirrel looked to have been pretty healthy before its demise as well.

That was day one.  Yesterday we took a ride with our friends and fellow workers, Rick and Donna Dumar and we were lucky enough to see a young bull moose near Elk Creek in the northeastern part of the park.

If the moose we saw in Rocky Mountain National Park were difficult to spot, then this guy was just a lucky spot.  I saw him as I rounded a corner.  It was another 200 yards before I could pull off the road.  Then I was able to snap two quick photos before he moved into deep cover.  We eventually attracted a crowd and spent several minutes vectoring people and their or our binoculars onto what was by then a very difficult animal to see.  It was great fun.

Up on Dunraven Pass we spotted another Red Fox.  This one was just sitting on a snow bank posing.  He seemed to be a fairly old animal and possibly not as well nourished as he would like to be.

That said, he gave me some great photo opportunities under less than desirable lighting conditions.  I had a lot of fun with this guy until I realized how much traffic had backed up around us.  I am certain the traffic would have backed up whether we were there or not because this fox was just right out in the open.  However, I didn’t want to be viewed as contributing to a major traffic jam.  This was the second time when I should have been using a tripod and didn’t.  Live and learn.

Later in the day we got held up by our first true “bear jam” of the season.  There were several bear management personnel and rangers working this sighting near Mud Volcano.  As we were approaching the site, the bear was trying to cross the highway so the bear management personnel stopped us giving us front row seats from which to watch the action.

There seemed to be a lot of speculation among the visitors present as to which bear this is.  Many were saying that he was definitely an old grizzly known as Scarface.  A close examination of this bear reveals that he is not a grizzly, but a black bear.  Note the very pronounced curve to the claws and the long face and lack of hump on the back.  I suspect that since he is radio collared the bear management folks know which bear it is, but they were not saying anything while we were there watching.  Whichever bear this is, he or she needs to get in some serious eating to gain back what would appear to be a substantial bit of weight lost over the winter.
Finally, we drove around to Norris and north and back to Mammoth.  The road between Norris Campground and just north of Swan Lake will be undergoing a major reconstruction over the next two years.  The portion immediately north of Norris Campground is underway already.  I snapped the following photos as we waited in line to proceed in a single lane and while making the drive through the area.  I hope to repeat this process to document the construction process throughout the summer.

That is about it for now.  We hope you enjoy the photos and invite to you to keep coming back to see and read about our adventures in year four at Yellowstone National Park.



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