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Bookends

Every adventure has a beginning and an end. For those lucky enough to live in the Pacific Northwest (or other, nearly equal beautiful areas), a good way to start any excursion is by recognizing just how wild and wonderful home is. Returning home has its own many rewards.

“I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.” Susan Sontag

Annual Skagit Valley Tulip Festival. Washington State.

On our recent trip to Yellowstone, which is about a fourteen-hour road trip from Bellingham, Stephanie and I began our trek with an early-morning detour to see the annual tulip bloom in Skagit County, just a half-hour down the road . After spending a week in the park, we came back through Skagit to experience just an amazing sunset and riot of color driving up Route 5. Once again, close to home provided beautiful bookend images. And the fabulous local land and water, sunrises, and sunsets continue to amaze. In many ways, the adventure continues.

Big Horn Sheep. Yankee Jim Canyon of the Yellowstone River. Montana.

In an earlier blog “Reflections, Travels North” I detailed the experience of a long solo trip. Those are just great, and I try to get away by myself on a regular basis, last month to photograph rivers in Oregon and Southern Washington. But even better is a long-road trip with my wife. A trip where we discuss life, work issues (past), listen to audiobooks, enjoying our destination, and just spending full drive days headed out and back with one another – close and uninterrupted.

April low-water flow in the Lamar River. Yellowstone National Park.

We get to recount memories, discuss expectations, and sometimes, just laugh at one another and the mistakes we might make. For this trip, I had been telling Stephanie just how much I enjoyed the drive from Livingston to Gardiner Montana. It is a beautiful drive along the Yellowstone River, this time with a clear Montana sky and sugar frosting on the mountains as we drove down towards the park. I mentioned to Steph that on my last two solo trips, I had seen great horned owls along the highway, but there was always too much traffic, or snow, or no pullovers to break out my camera and take that picture. This time, I said, I was going to be ready.

Best of Three Rounds. Pronghorn in Yellowstone National Park.

I was. And there was the owl, just about where I thought it would be. Still too many cars, so I grumbled and kept driving. Another mile, and another owl! Wow! How lucky can you be? This time I pulled over, set up, and focused in with my large lens. What a great horned owl it was. Tall, regal, and, with plastic feet??? What!

Mama? New Born Baby Buffalo. Lamar Valley, Yellowstone National Park.

Presumably the fake owls were nailed up there to keep other birds off the wires (sure looked real at sixty miles an hour), but I was devastated. Years of anticipation, seeing those owls in my mind again and again, all shattered. And worse, listening to the quiet snickering and muffled laughter from Steph as I drove away and limped towards Gardiner.

Early Season Lamar Valley Sun Spot. Yellowstone National Park.

A few days later, we stopped to join a few break-of-dawn wolf enthusiasts as they watched three pack members cross a nearby ridge just east of Mammoth Hot Springs. Stephanie, her usual social self, jumped out with binoculars and joined the conversation. My often less than social persona, turned off the car and stayed to check my camera settings. When I eventually joined them and said good morning, my car started its countdown beeping and then exploded into full alarm mode. So long to wolves, elk, pronghorn, and any other wildlife within a five-mile radius.

Desolate! Early Spring in Lamar Valley. Yellowstone National Park.

How to make friends and look intelligent (not). Queue up more miles of snickering and laughter, with maybe one sarcastic reference to “a professional photographer”? These are the things you avoid with traveling solo.


I do hate crowds, and even more, joining crowds to photograph wildlife. Often, the price paid for being an anti-social curmudgeon results in missed opportunities, sometimes on an epic scale. I want that unique, once-in-million photo that no one else has. In theory, this is a good goal. In reality, not so much.

On this trip, we saw our first bear. Then our second. But there was a crowd, jammed roads, and frustrated park rangers. Based on years spent in the wild, I deduced that the bear would eventually tire of its fleeting popularity and move on. Factoring in wind, elevation, my knowledge of photography, and vast understanding of bears, I carefully projected his travels, left the crowd behind, and set up my camera and tripod in a pull-over maybe a mile north up the road. After forty-five minutes standing in a blizzard -- nothing. Pretty sure that bear was watching me from the woods, rolling on his back, and you guessed it, snickering and laughing.


So chance, fate and luck have more influence on photography than you might hope. Camera skills are needed, patience a necessity, and understanding the subject you are looking for is important as well. Sometimes, these factors blend to produce the perfect image. Sometimes that image just walks down the road, runs out of the grass, or is standing behind you.

Off to Search for Dinner. Nesting Osprey. Yellowstone National Park.

Last fall, I spent two days in Yellowstone with a nesting pair of ospreys and this year I spent another few hours at the same location. Later, I was talking to someone who had also been at that sight. Finished, they climbed back in their car, closed the door, and looked out the window at the grey wolf who was now standing a few feet from the door. Their close-ups, taken with a phone camera, were stunning and beautiful.

Yellowstone Snow. Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River.

For Stephanie and me, coming home after ten-days away was as equally exciting as going away. Writing of our adventures, reviewing photos, reuniting with family, friends, and pup, and totally resolved to see “everywhere” – soon. For each of you (including my photographer friends) Stephanie and I wish you wonderful bookends to each of your upcoming and future adventures, and an overabundance of chance, fate, and luck.

Skagit Valley Sunset. Washington State.

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