Arrival in Bozeman
The flight to Bozeman was great thanks to an upgrade to Economy plus that was arranged by Debbie. An Airbus 319 from Albany to Chicago and no room for carry-on after section 4. Give me a break, United (maybe all airlines) need to stop charging for checked luggage and start charging for carry-on. That would stop the oversized carry-on luggage that fills the overhead compartments. I need to have that expensive camera gear in the overhead with me. Trust ground employees at an airline with my cameras, NOT. Enough time on the soap box with my traveling pet peeve.
Pizza and salad at O'hare International on to Bozeman. not sure what Mr. Vinny ate.
We arrive at 10:45 PM and after securing the SUV we headed to the motel. In this day and age a modern motel without an elevator? What is with that? Strike that Motel of list for future trips.
Checking the forecast for Wednesday we decided the planned early morning drive to Gardiner Montana and an all day ride in the Lamar Valley was on for the next morning.
Can you say Whiteout?
We woke with light snow on the ground but as we drove down I-90 then Rt 89 for the 90 minute trip to Gardiner the snow became heavy and almost a whiteout at times. You really have to love Montana and Wyoming to live here. I do and wish I did live there. :)
About 20 miles from Gardiner on Rt 89 the early morning light started to illuminate the world for us, the snow stopped and our first wildlife was seen. A recent elk kill (probably car or truck) was being visited by 2 Bald Eagles and a group of ravens and magpies. What a way to start the day, we pulled over and the 2 passengers managed a grab shot or two before the eagles retreated to a nearby hill waiting for us to leave. In the last 20 miles from Livingston to Gardiner we counted 10 Bald Eagles, 8 adult and 2 juveniles.
In the Park
At the Roosevelt Arch north entrance to Yellowstone the sun was shining and we entered the park to immediately find bull elk that had yet to shed antlers and then beautiful bison feeding on the Gardiner River before the climb to Mammoth Hot Springs.
The elk looked in great condition and the windswept ground allowed for good feeding considering the time of year. The herd of about 20 bison was feeding along the ice free river with one occasionally took a drink. Lighting was perfect for great images, close-ups and environmental landscapes. After 20 minutes of shooting we drove up the hill to Mammoth Hot Springs and took advantage of the great light to get a few winter images of the travertine terraces.
Winter allows for a steamier view of the terraces and also the sun angle offers some interesting silhouettes of standing dead trees in the travertine area. I'm usually not one to shoot this kind of images but they are different and I have shot them the last few times I have visited Yellowstone. I also tried to capture a few macro shots of the travertine flows to show the miniatures waves of the rock formations, amazing what nature can do given a little geothermal activity and a few eons. Winter is also a better time to get shots of the area with fewer visitors than fall or spring, although it did seem a little busier this winter than in the past.
The drive from Mammoth to Tower was a little boring with just a few Bison at a distance and a nice Bison road jam or two. We did get a chance for a nice landscape or two along the way. The road from Mammoth to Cooke city is the only road open to vehicle traffic in the winter allowing the residents of Silver Gate and Cooke City the only way they have to get to civilization until spring.
Driving in the Lamar it is always a good sign to see a group of spotting scopes out on a hillside. This can only mean that a wolf or pack of wolves has been spotted by a group of Yellowstone's ever diligent wolf watchers. As I have learned a chance for a great close-up of the elusive North American Grey wolf can be almost impossible to get. It takes spending a great amount of time in the park and a ton of luck. That being said seeing this magnificent creature at a distance is a highlight to any trip to Yellowstone.
This year members of the Canyon pack has been spotted within a few miles of Mammoth Hot Springs, not the usual place to see these animals but with the large population of bison and elk around Mammoth it is the source of food that is drawing them to this area.
A group of photographers gathered at a recent elk kill at the beginning of the Lamar Valley. The kill was a bull elk that was pretty much picked over. There was a report that coyote and red fox had been feeding on the carcass as a facebook post by a photographer did show a nice red fox on the kill.
After a discussion with my fellow travelers it was decided that the lack of meat on the elk carcass and the large group of photographers present would make the chance of a coyote of fox returning very slim so we moved on.
The decision paid off as we came across a group of ten big horn sheep rams feeding just before the trail horse tie up at Soda Butte Creek. These rams gave up an hour of great images as they fed along the hillside oblivious to the group of photographers below.
All in all a great day in the Lamar valley, actually I must say the best winter day I have ever experienced in the Mammoth-Lamar area of Yellowstone.
Next up a snow coach ride in Yellowstone...