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Marmots and Moose and Bears, Oh My!

“Sometimes I get to places just when God’s ready to have somebody click the shutter.” – Ansel Adams

Buffalo Fork Evening, Grand Teton National Park

In my last blog ‘Just Another Day,’ I focused primarily on the northern Lamar Valley in Yellowstone National Park, which is my usual go-to destination for wildlife. One reason is that Lamar, originally named the Secluded Valley, is some 1,000 feet lower in elevation which means winter snows leave earlier and most wildlife head that way to warm up after a cold winter. * The road from Gardiner to Silver Gate is also open year-round which helps a lot with transportation!

Yellowstone Lake Reflection

After my time in Lamar, I headed south across Yellowstone National Park’s central plateau, past Yellowstone Lake which is the highest large lake at elevation in the United States (7,000 feet), ** into Grand Teton National Park and the National Elk Refuge near Jackson, and eventually down along the Alpine Canyon section of the Snake River. *** So, I got to see first-hand a significant part of the twenty-two million-acre Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE), the largest tract of intact ecosystem in the lower forty-eight. While Yellowstone and Grand Teton make up much of this area, the GYE also includes six National Forests, five National Wildlife Refuges, and both rural and private land.

Sun and Clouds near Grand Teton National Park

As I moved south, the sunny weather I enjoyed in Lamar turned to rain and wind with some snow. There is a reason that early US Cavalry explorers to this area said that Yellowstone has two seasons, winter, and July. It is not unusual for quick turns of weather in this area, but on my first drive to Yellowstone Lake it was frozen over, and two days later there were only miniature icebergs and ice along the shore.

Teton Light Reflecting off the Buffalo Fork of the Snake River

But dramatic weather means vibrant light and opportunities which were better for photography, as the backdrop of storm clouds and sun over the Absaroka and Teton Range was just beautiful. It did not, however, help with photos of the Super Flower Full Moon and total Lunar Eclipse at the end of May. I was out the door before four on that morning and in place long before first light, but neither the moon, the mountains, or anything four feet beyond me were visible. Kind of like photographing black bears at midnight.

Sunrise Moose in Lamar Valley

Jackson, Lamar and the Beartooth areas are great places to see moose. This early morning mama moose was close to the road. Combining a large lens and using my car as a blind, I was lucky to click the shutter and get this shot without infringing on her space or tranquil feeding. Safety is the issue both for the photographer and the wildlife. Equally important is prioritizing the well-being of nature over photography and reflecting on the impacts of your actions. Had she seemed uncomfortable with my presence (she certainly would have been if I had been outside my car) I would have just kept moving.

Marmot, Yellowstone National Park

Getting good images is never easy. Besides safety and ethics, you need to factor timing and luck into any photo shoot (with good equipment and maybe a little skill thrown in). Certainly, being in a beautiful park provides more opportunities than many other places, but I can go through dozens of shots just hoping for that special combination that results in something that really represents the area, the day, or the subject. Most of the time I get to places just before or just after God and nature are ready! I have taken tons of shots of black bears at night, or the south end of a north bound moose, or sitting for an hour to see a family of fox only to realize they were behind watching me watch for them.

Buffalo & Snow Along Slough Creek

While hiking up Slough Creek in Yellowstone, I came across a young grey wolf chasing a pronghorn. I managed to get several out of focus shots and then, finally, my first in-focus photo of a wolf ever. I was thrilled and immediately checked the camera to bask in photography glory – only to find the photo was perfect from the neck down. I had completely cut off the head. The shot below is another good example, the back of a young grizzly hiding behind a guard rail near Cody, Wyoming. Of course, you sometimes luck out (the real secret). Last year I was watching a crowd of wolf watchers on a hill. Behind them, maybe ten feet away, was a badger going on about his business with no one to interrupt him.

Bashful Early Morning Griz Along the Shoshone River, Cody Wyoming

I hope everyone is enjoying the photos and the blog! If so, please like my website and blog, and sign up to follow me as I travel over the coming months. And please share my photos and website with others who love travel, nature, wildlife, and exploration.

Gros Ventre River, Grand Teton National Park

End Notes:

*Lamar is roughly at 6,400 feet v. Hayden Valley which is closer to 7,700.

** Lake Titicaca, in the Andean Altiplano which runs from Peru to Bolivia, is the world’s highest lake at 12,507 feet. Yellowstone Lake has a surface area of more than 130 square miles, roughly 20 miles long by 14 miles wide. Its average depth is 138 feet but at its deepest it goes down 430 feet.

*** Designation of the Snake River as a Wild and Scenic River was signed into law in 2009 and protects 412.2 miles of the Snake River and the major tributaries that make up the Snake Headwaters. Alpine Canyon is within the W&S protected area.

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