Egret and crab

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Teton Bound

It had been well over a year since I had taken a personal vacation and I was certainly due. Ken had invited me to accompany him on his scheduled trip to the Yellowstone/ Teton region but I was vacillating. Pretty broke, certainly stressed and depressed, I didn't think I could responsibly take off but I also knew that I really needed to get away and somehow break my pattern of funk. Tough times.

Thankfully I had a small sale at the last minute. Although my problems were in no case resolved, I figured that I could put them off for a matter of time, especially since I am now headed back into my show season, after an ever expanding summer break.

I called Ken and asked him if the offer still stood and he said that it did. I would fly into and out of Denver and he would pick me up and ferry me up to the parks, deliver me back after our car trip through Wyoming. Wonderful man, great friend and teacher. Leslie is a master of scoring cheap fares and she found a round trip ticket for me at a little over two hundred bucks.

Ken had also reached out to our buddy Pat for company. Pat was on, then off and after I signed on, he assented as well. He would fly to Jackson a day early and then meet us in the park, having rented a large SUV. Cool. Neither Ken nor Pat had ever visited the region before. Pat needed a vacation as bad if not worse than I did. I sold Pat my old camera some time ago, the excellent Nikon D810, and let him borrow my Sigma 50-500 so he could shoot some long range photos on the trip. Fairly new to serious photography, Ken and I have both been mentoring him.

Leslie drove me to the airport last Sunday. There was a serious accident down there on Sunday and both Hawthorne and Sassafras were not moving. I was more than slightly freaked that I would miss the flight.

I made it. Arrived near dusk and then we drove four hours or so to Casper where we holed up at the Motel 6, our road domiciles of choice. Since they remodeled the rooms resemble little bauhaus prison cells, only without the kleenex and thinner bath towels. A modernist's dream.

antilocapra americana

Hit Mickey D's for a breakfast McMuffin and drove towards Jackson late morning. We were in the Wind River Reservation when we were startled by a wolf chasing pronghorn through the fields somewhere north of Shoshone. It was quite a thrill, a first for me. Didn't get a shot of that, too unexpected. But if we had a dollar for every pronghorn we saw this trip, we would be very rich men.

Met Pat at the Teton's visitor's center and transferred our voluminous photo gear and tripods into his SUV. A huge crowd of people was assembled in front of a tree and being herded by a Park Ranger. Evidently we had just missed a black bear and her three cubs. I probably could have seen them but there were way too many people gathered and I chose to lay back.

Brother Pat had nailed a nice picture of a bull moose out of the gate that very morning. Obviously beginner's luck. I was happy for him. Never got one myself this time.

The area was beautiful. It was the perfect time to visit. The aspens were just past their moment of perfect ripening, the gold, orange and amber tones just beginning to fall off the trees. The park is at its quietest these early weeks of October, kids back in school, and many of the tourists back in Shanghai or elsewhere. Great time to visit.

We had been told to expect snow and rain but managed to avert everything but a few sprinkles the whole trip. But the sky was pretty patchy and overcast. You take what you are given.

Having been visiting these parks for over thirty five years I took the liberty of appointing myself tour guide. There was a lot to see and limited time. Ken had scheduled two and a half days in the parks and in my heart I knew that it would not be enough. But I was a guest and kept my mouth largely shut. Wasn't my rodeo. Would try to push it as hard as I could. Lot to see.

I after all, could be there for an entire year and it wouldn't be enough. There is always something new around every corner and the atmosphere is constantly changing. I feed on this stuff like a remora on a whale belly.

Our first stop was a drive up Signal Mountain. It affords great southerly views of Mt. Moran. Although not occluded by the clouds like I usually shoot it, the light was still far from optimal. It was marginal.

Afterwards we drove into Yellowstone and headed for Old Faithful. Also pretty blah. I prefer to shoot this area at first light, alone with the wildlife.

I think that my companions were a bit shocked about the distance from Jackson and the parks and the time we spent on the roads. I am used to it, part of the equation. I started to get a little pissy. I am honestly an animal, I tend to shoot about eighteen hours a day on these sorts of adventures, these guys were merely trying to have an enjoyable vacation. Can you imagine? There was definitely some tension in the car.

Thankfully I was never duck duct taped up and strapped to the roof but I think they seriously considered the possibility at one point.

Ken says that photography is not a hobby for me, it is an obsession. He said that if I had my way we wouldn't get back until 10:30 every night. And he is of course, right. He has seen my ten minute hikes take over two hours plenty of times, short bypasses end up taking hours if not days.

We have logged thousands of miles shooting together in parks throughout the west, have sort of worked up a working truce. With Pat the dynamic changed slightly and I was clearly outvoted on occasion. Poor baby me couldn't have his way all the time. Waaugh... In any case a six legged beast is not so nimble. Whatever came out of the trip would be wonderful and have to do. And it did.

But I had to stop being Captain Queeg and chill out and I think I finally did, to their immense relief. Stopped being so dictatorial and let it ride. But it was tough. I felt like maybe the trip was going to be an opportunity wasted or squandered. Last time I was here I was up at 5:00 every morning at some overview, awaiting the golden hour and first light. Never saw the golden hour this time. Was seriously missing my wife, who is always game for whatever.

As I said, Old Faithful was sort of a drag, we didn't wait for it to show its storied fidelity. There were fewer animals around in the whole park in general than I have ever encountered. Hardly any elk, few buffaloes compared to the norm. Kerry thinks the wolf herds have winnowed the herds down, I don't really know what is going on?

By the way, both of my pals are conservative, I am a centrist dem. I asked what some sound was one day and it turned out that it was a Hannity notification from Fox. Ken and I have a rule that we never talk politics on the road but this time I was outgunned. I pretty much kept my mouth shut. It's not worth it to argue. Nice to not be thinking about politics during such a miserable week nationally.

We drove back to Jackson at sundown, a reasonable hour, and straight to the Gun Barrel restaurant. I had their wonderful elk chops, cooked as perfectly and wonderfully as I remembered. Then back to the Motel 6, feeling pretty bushed.

Next morning I laid in bed and watched the local news from Idaho Falls or Pocatella. The newscaster was talking to a local fashion maven about the wonderful couture of fine flannel, a local favorite. The dresses looked like a hideous bizarro flashback to the fifties, quite dowdy. Fashion for homicidal clowns.

I will never get tired shooting Oxbow Bend
We went to the famous Bunnery for breakfast, at a reasonable and consensual hour. I had lox and eggs, would try to start the day on the right foot. We drove up to Oxbow and took some lovely shots then headed up towards my intended ultimate destination, the Lamar Valley. Had several reports of wolf and grizzly interactions over buffalo carcasses in the last several weeks.

My cohorts and I

We made a few pits, one at Artist's Point for a waterfall shot, never caught the other side. Unfortunately the light sort of sucked. As Ken Seals son once said "if you don't go, you won't know."

I am a bit of a victim of past success. Because I already have so many good shots in the region, I always want to raise the bar. This can be a drag for companions. That is why photography is sort of a solitary pursuit. Not easy to do by committee. I was jokingly allotted three stops for the day.

Stopped and shot a pair of trumpeter swans at one point. Lovely creatures, might have some nice ones, will have to carefully check.

We got to Slough Creek but didn't see any action. The herds were pretty far away. Pat, a gourmet cook, made us a wonderful lunch from provisions that he had graciously purchased and brought. Second day was far better than the first, all of my tsoris and angst evaporated in the beautiful scenery, in the company of truly good friends. I was finally starting to chill.

the elk at Mammoth hang out like statues
I figured we might as well see the whole park and we headed over to Mammoth afterwards and back around the loop counter clockwise to our beginning point. My buds were cool with it and I figured that I had done my job.  I had forced them to visit every practically accessible area of the park.

Grabbed upscale pizza and cocktails later at the renovated Teton Theater before bed. Pat wasn't real happy with the crust.

Next day after a quick reprise at the Bunnery we headed out to the National Elk Refuge. We didn't see any bighorn like Leslie and I did but did encounter a bitchy ranger who got pissy about the direction we parked.

Saw a herd of antelope. The alpha male was diligent in keeping his harem together and in constant alert for his competition.

He would quickly herd any stray wanderers back into his fold. We captured some beautiful pronghorn shots and then headed up to the large panoramic views from Curtis Canyon. Here is a picture of Ken taking it all in. This was both of my friends first trip to really explore this country.

Afterwards we went back down the hill to the Gros Ventre River and Mormon Row. I wish that we had time to stop at the Gros Ventre Campground, Leslie and I had scored moose there before but it was unfortunately not to be this time. We were on schedule.

Afterwards we shot a bit at Schwabacher's Landing, a little windy and blown out but always wonderful.

We drove back and got our car after that at the hotel. Drove the Moose Wilson Road and then out to Pilgrim Creek. Pat followed us in his car. No grizzly. Did see a cow moose and calf in the dark woods. As you can see, you'll have to take my word for it.

We said goodbye to our good friend Pat. He was going to spend a couple days at the lodge by himself and explore in solitude.

We headed towards the Fishing Bridge and the Eastern entrance.

Saw a crowd of cars and stopped along the way, grabbed some shots of a large female grizzly. From a considerable distance, one the ursine beast could cover in about 1.6 seconds.

After a period we headed a hundred yards north and whoa, there was another blond grizzly cub.

It turned out that these two were Raspberry and Snow, a mother and daughter that Leslie and encountered on the ridge two years ago.

A very nice ranger told us that Snow was now three and one half years of age. Ken was very happy, seeing his first wild grizzly and nailing excellent and sharp shots with his Nikon D500 and Nikkor 200 - 500 combination.

I am not that happy with my shots of Raspberry. I should have grabbed my tripod but things were too fluid and I chose to handhold.

This was a big bear and I had to stay on my toes. But I should have done much better. Nothing I can do but brush off my defeat and wait for another opportunity hopefully one day.

I must say, I am very happy with my shots of Snow. What a beauty! I didn't get the bison coming out of the icy river shot, mainly because there were no icy rivers. But this one I am proud of.

To think I knew her when she was a baby!

We drove through the Sylvan pass, my favorite spot in the park. I had never seen it without snow before. Followed the Shoshone River to Wapiti and the wonderful town of Cody. Ken was hankering for a cowboy bar and we went to the Silver Dollar for an excellent burger. Forgot to take a picture of the Hippies must use back door sign. Nice waitress.

Local guide was killed by a grizzly recently. People around here say it doesn't add up. Guy is getting mauled and the rich client supposedly threw a gun at him and said take care of it, ostensibly mounted up to get help. She said no horse in the world will let you on its back with a grizzly so close.

I checked into my hotel, the Legacy. Nice but no elevator and I had a lot of gear. Knees were starting to ache. Great sign at the door.

Ken and I drove to the Irma the next morning, Buffalo Bill's Hotel named for his daughter. I had the best biscuits and gravy I have ever tasted and I never eat biscuits and gravy. Grizzled local cowboys held court at their own nearby table.

Cody is a neat town. At one time in my life I wanted to live there. The saying goes that Jackson Hole is for billionaires, Driggs is for the millionaires, Cody has regular folk, something I kind of like.

My class envy rears its ugly head once again. The chip on my shoulder was most evident in Jackson when the rich manservant in the base price $206,000 Bentley SUV tooled past us at the Albertsons. Capable of 180 mph +, because that is so necessary when you are off road. Picking up crumpets and brie for the masters no doubt. I reflexively flipped him off, no doubt causing my companion some minor embarrassment.

People buy such vehicles for two reasons I guess, because they can and to rub other people's noses in their pretentious wealth. Well, f*ck you. I'm very happy for you. But I would be more impressed if there was some actual utility to the purchase. May I suggest a G-Wagon?

We drove out to McCullough Peaks, a 120,000 acre wild horse sanctuary. We opened up a secondary gate with a come along and drove about four miles on an extremely overgrown and little used road. We passed two bowhunters hunting pronghorn. I was starting to get nervous about getting stuck, still gun shy after my Cochiti experience earlier this summer.

We turned around and found the main gate. Drove on a nice gravel road about six or seven miles to the #75 pipeline marker. You enter an incredible expanse that reminded us both very much of the Dakota Badlands. Drove down into the valley. Just spectacular.

We passed a large watering hole and soon found our first mustang. Gorgeous horse. There are lots of strange piebalds and odd colored paints up there. The story is that the Queen of England gave Buffalo Bill some Cleveland Bay horse stock and that they went wild when released in the area. I saw a couple more horses and a small herd in the distance but never got into the main herd, which I guess is sequestered on the eastern border.

Love the blond mane.

Got incredibly close to some pronghorns. Closer than you are supposed to be able to get.

I am just loading my pictures from the trip, can't really assess them totally at this point. Not going to dog them yet considering the conditions and the fact that I am pessimistic and they usually turn out slightly better than I initially figure.

Always wish I had done things differently, always learning. Took over four thousand pictures, hopefully a couple will be decent. Had a great time in any case, got better every day.

Next day we got up early and visited the Buffalo Bill Historical Center. This is five museums in one, one of my favorite museums in the whole country. Ken was fascinated and really thoroughly checked it all out.

I love the Plains Indian Museum but it seemed like there were less weapons this time, always objects there of immense interest for me.

After touring the Natural History, Whitney, Plains, Buffalo Bill and Gun Museum. The latter was under construction and slightly abbreviated.  After we attended a raptor show and met Kateri and Hayabusa, a golden eagle and peregrine that a group associated with the Draper Museum were caring for.

Lovely birds, unfortunately injured and not able to ever return to the wild.

Afterwards we decided to take the 120 north and get on the Chief Joseph Scenic Highway which some call the most beautiful road in America.

I took this shot near Dead Indian Pass. The road is absolutely spectacular!

I am not sure if Ken would agree but this area was arguably the most wild and beautiful of our entire trip. Wish I could have kept going but we ran out of clock.

I took a lot of shots and will be processing them for a while. Mining visual gold from Wyoming.

We met a local cowboy at a pulloff who was explaining to a friend how he pulled about ten of his cows up the steep grade. Told me they get a bear mauling livestock from time to time.

We drove to Casper for the last night. The next morning we drove to Denver where I caught my flight.

This is my last sunrise, leaving McDonalds in Casper. I am plum tuckered out.

It was a good great trip, we packed a lot in. I want to thank my friends Ken and Pat for both putting up with me and letting me tag along. Hope that we can do it again.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow, amazing trip, great scenery and wonderful photos!