Osprey, Mono Lake © Robert Sommers 2023

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Les and Robert's excellent adventure

She comes in colors everywhere, but she don't care, she's a rainbow...

Leslie and I have just returned from a short vacation, our first trip together in quite a while, at least since the trip to the San Juan Islands. We flew to Salt Lake City a week ago and after renting a small SUV, drove the five or so hours to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, taking the route through Bear Lake and the lovely Star Valley. Slightly unfamiliar blossoms of lilacs and tulips now dotted the pastoral landscape and tickled our eyeballs.

Schwabacher's Landing
We got to Jackson around 10:00 p.m. The oddest thing happened on the way near Hoback, for a brief moment of about three seconds a large grizzly ran pace for pace with the car, across the road and then it disappeared into the night. Les only saw the bear in her periphery but I watched the unbelievable event occur in its entirety.

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River

We hadn't been to the greater Yellowstone region in about five years and I had never visited in late May or the spring ever for that matter. Quite different.

Gone were the beautiful yellow red and amber aspen trees that graced the landscape of the fall. Everything was instead imbued with verdant hues of spring green and light lavender. Elks conspicuously stood out on the green hillsides. Snow remained piled on the peaks the whole length of the Rockies. I felt like I was hanging out in a real life Eyvind Earle painting.

It turns out that my planning failed to take something quite serious into account, Memorial Day. While my internal calculus factored the kids still being in school, it neglected the fact that it was a national holiday. Oops!

Snake River view, no HDR
The area was besieged by humans, in all forms but frankly, mostly wealthy Chinese and Indians, who have appeared to supplant the last wave of French and Russian tourists.

I have engaged in enough racial stereotyping of late that I think I should just cease and desist but will tiptoe enough into the ethnomix to say that the Chinese, while fairly cold and dispassionate, also lack your western notions of customary driving practice and basic manners.

Not content to recapture Philippines, Taiwan and the South Chinese Seas, the Han are now poised for a silent and probably shotless takeover of the New World, their wallets fatly stuffed with American bills and credit paper, thank you Walmart.

Andrew was kind enough to loan us his palatial digs and we took Leslie's brother up on his nice offer. I would try out my new camera gear, which my wife has not mentioned once, bless her heart and hopefully refine my technique and become a better photographer. Now I had the best tools available.

The truth was that things didn't really unfold as I had hoped, at least not at first. The weather was drizzly and gloomy, well the first day anyway. I wasn't motivated. This was a vacation and it was important that it be a vacation for both of us. I think it was, but maybe just barely.

I have been in a bit of a funk lately. For some time I have withdrawn further and further into my garden, drawn closer to the birds and blooms and farther and farther away from my fellow man and woman. I abhor crowds, especially where music and alcohol and involved. Went out recently and was heckled by the hip hop host, for being so crabby and uptight.

I like humans well enough on an individual basis but have really been intensely fleeing compression of late. Need room. Grab the road not taken by all means, thank you Mr. Frost.

I have been seeking silence and desolate areas, free from any vestige of chatter and the least amount of human impact possible. Mostly love civilization but need nature and peace right now, for some odd reason.

Old house in the Targhee
So it was a bit of a drag to see so many people at Yellowstone. Les and I did what we do, we made it work, driving to the most remote areas possible and putting over three hundred miles a day on the car in these pursuits. Places like Slough Creek and my favorite Sylvan Lake, Pacific Creek and Curtis Canyon. Out of the way places. Extremely long days, we got back exhausted in the dark every night. Almost work, but the most immensely satisfying type of work, exploration and discovery.

Second most photographed barn in America
I approached the weekend with the photographic goal of not pushing it, seeing and capturing what was presented to me, visually speaking. Waited for my pitch. It turns out that I didn't get a lot of grand landscape views, for a variety of reasons that I don't need to share, but got an awful lot of great animal shots, many of animals that I had never photographed before, let alone seen, nor had Les.

Everyday we received some wondrous gift. Like this red fox below, which is actually a beautiful yellow color. She was posing so gracefully for us on a stump.

And a large badger, one of two I espied digging around in the Lamar Valley.

Ever make the acquaintance of a yellow bellied marmot? Exquisite company. Here Mr. Marmot is sniffing his favorite golden blossom.

Make sure you click on these pictures so that you can see them larger on your screen.

We saw this moose and her calf browsing in the Gros Ventre River bank one sunny morning.

Elegant beasts.

Saw a black bear and her cubs the next day, content to scrimmage around the forest floor until the young bruins decided to engage in a juvenile little tree climbing.


Incredibly cute. On the way back from Cooke City, Montana we stopped at a turnoff and saw this osprey nest, perched high in a conifer. Thought initially it was a bald eagle but it turns out that it is home to two ospreys.

The nest was some distance away and it gave me a chance to try the Sigma tc 1401 1.4x teleconverter on the Sigma 150-600mm c lens. I perceived no noticeable degradation of image quality with the device considering the distance.

By the way if you go to Cooke City you have to try the food at the Beartooth Cafe. We had the sweetest smoked trout with cream cheese and crackers and the servers were equally sweet. Excellent cheese/potato soup. Great tunes too.

Caught some bighorn sheep one day in the National Elk Reserve, perched high on a rocky ridge.

Ever hear of a goldeneye duck? This is a Barrow's goldeneye, Bucephala clangula to be exact and was gorgeous. This is a diving duck, as opposed to dabbling or puddling ducks. That's enough duck talk, I suppose, Quack, quack, quack...

The whole bird thing is different up there, so wonderful. We saw magpies and bluebirds, yellow headed blackbirds, red winged and tricolor too.

Warblers, robins, raptors of all feather, we saw two bald eagles gracefully circling in the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone but alas I had the wrong lens on the camera and they were out of reach, something my spouse says happens all too frequently.

Bison, of course, Bison and elk beyond count. More pronghorn than I have ever seen. Pika. Black bear.

black bear male in a field near Cooke City

We viewed a grizzly mama with a two year old sow moving slowly high on a ridge line far away and barely worth trying to capture.  We got very close last trip, saw plenty of other wonderful things this time around.

This trip was more about experiencing than recording, thank god. We often got up at five in the morning to go out. Twelve hour days. We pushed it, almost too much. Definitely would not be the cup of tea for those of our friends who like to get pampered. Little of that but we did eat well as long time readers would expect.

Second night, whisky pork chops and garlic mashed at the Gun Barrel washed down with vodka. great breakfasts at the E'leaven, my favorite. Best Huevos Rancheros I have ever had and tasteful Grateful Dead on the sound system. Had a jalapeno bacon and pepper jack omelette the second day that was superb. The young manager, Hunter, is a very nice man, originally from Pittsburgh and his food is fantastic and not in the least bit pretentious. A place to go to eat, as simple as that sounds.

I learned about the new camera and nikkor 24 70mm lens all week. Became a better or at least wiser photographer. Made some stupid mistakes and wish I had the week and opportunities back to reshoot. But that never happens. Some people are never satisfied. Shot mostly mirror up, on the tripod, electronic curtain, cable release, base iso of 64.

I have a lot of shots to process. Not nearly as many as usual but I think that some are promising. The camera is good. The operator needs work. It is already making me up my game.

But learning and artistry is not about a final status or achievement. It is about a never ending process, to both master tools and refine our eye and capabilities. Hopefully we all keep getting better, if not smarter or wiser. I figured out the dumbest crap this week. What took me so long?

We drove home through Idaho Falls, Pocatella and then the 15. Stopped off in Lava Springs for a hot soak and massage. Took the 10:05 and got home around 1:00 a.m. Operating on fumes, had to pay bills today, first day of June.

It was a nice trip. Think the next one might be a quick jaunt over to Utah with some photographers. We will see.

Mammoth Hot Springs
God do I love this new camera!