Spring Awakening! Yellowstone National Park, 2023.
In life, I try to plan ahead, to schedule, and to anticipate as much as I can. From bus schedules to business meetings, to baby bottle feedings and oil changes, timing rules the day! However, no matter how prepared I am, fate, luck and timing are always unpredictable and uncontrollable.
The raw materials of photography are light and time and memory.
Pelicans along the Yellowstone River. 2023.
For photography, timing is everything. When will the light just peak over that range? Which week in spring will be best to capture baby bear, heron, fox, or buffalo? What is the perfect location for fall foliage, summer sun, and winter snow? What schedule works for my wife Stephanie? And, if she cannot join me, at what moment would she be the least upset to learn that I am going solo?
Watcher! Yellowstone National Park, 2023.
In my last posting, Anticipation II, I talked about my desire and need to get away. Preferably to Yellowstone, my go-to destination for spring trips. But my schedule was full and my timing short, and so, in addition to the issues above, I needed to add travel time to and from the park, and my commitments as well as Stephanie’s obligations. I looked at the weather for the park, for the Seattle area, and for the passes I would cross. Even in late April, I checked my winter gear -- hats, gloves, down coat, shovel, chains, and emergency gear. What were my options and when would be best to go?
Sentinel! Yellowstone River, 2023.
After looking at everything, my window was now. This week. After that there was no obvious time when I could take a trip that far away.
Caution, Curves Ahead! Yellowstone National Park, 2023.
Thankfully, I had already discussed this possibility with Stephanie and had her blessing. So, I threw my gear and camera equipment in the truck and headed to Yellowstone National Park and Big Sky country. I had not been there since the flooding, and I wanted to see firsthand the new road out of Gardiner, other impacts on the land, and how and if the Park had changed.
Lamar Valley Reflection! Yellowstone National Park, 2023.
Sometimes, your timing is just terrible. Heavy rain, blasting wind, and super cold temperatures can derail any adventure. Sometimes you have a gorgeous sunrise, but you are in traffic, or your camera is packed away in the back. You get a prime shot, only to find out that the moving car, or a moving animal has left nothing but a blur. Or you pull over only to catch the fading vison of the south end of a north bound elk herd.
Rarely is your timing dead on! For this trip it was perfect. Leaving from Seattle (where my daughter, granddaughter and son-in-law live) I had not been on the road for fifteen minutes before Mt. Rainier showed up in the first bloom of morning light. I stopped at the North Bend Bakery just as they were opening the door.
Good weather and a book-on-tape got me to the park a half-day early, allowing me to sightsee and head for areas I thought I would not be able to visit this trip. Travelling up along the Yellowstone River, approaching Gardiner and the park, I came across a group of white pelicans sunning themselves in the sun. The light was perfect, and I watched them on their log and floating in the river for most of that morning. Timing!
And once in the park it seemed empty. Early season for sure, and early mornings. There were people about, but no long lines stopped miles away to see wildlife, or major backups. I did not feel that I was constantly pulling over to let someone pass me by (I tend to drive pretty slow in the wild -- I am retired, back off!) When I did see wildlife, it was with a moderate group of other friendly morning travelers.
It was surprising to see red lights in the park (construction). But even here my timing was good. And I quickly learned that after the light turned green, you could pull over down the road, let others pass, and have a good window of time before the next group caught up with you.
Standoff! Yellowstone National Park, 2023.
My first morning, I was up and driving before sunup, looking to catch the light coming over the Absoroka Range. Not too far up into Lamar Valley near Phantom Lakes, I came across a young male grizzly sitting on a buffalo carcass. This is what you hope for in Yellowstone, and while I have had luck before, it is exceedingly rare and always special and amazing. I watched that griz for a good hour – and then the wolves came. First one loping across the meadow, then another. A total of five wolves crashing the dinner party. The bear was not happy, but I was ecstatic. I have seen bears, and wolves, but never together and never with the interplay I saw that morning.
Rivalry! Yellowstone National Park, 2023.
When I eventually moved on, I was in high-alert mode for wildlife. Approaching Blacktail Plateau, I noticed a few others staring over the hill. Joining them, we watched as a mother black bear and her two cubs (photo above, and yes, two cubs) made their first journey out of the den and enjoyed playing in the early morning sunlight. Awesome timing!
The next morning, I learned that the bears had left the den later in the previous afternoon and had not returned.
Lamar Valley Coyote! Yellowstone, 2023.
Getting up the next day, my last in the park on this short trip, I skipped the carcass believing (correctly) that it would be gone. I drove by slowly, a few people were stopped, but the carcass was no more. A day of bears, wolves, coyotes, and ravens will do that. A mile or so further on, I saw a small group of people stopping and staring into the trees. I decided to hang back, set up my camera and tripod, and hope whatever they were watching would move in my direction (most often a less than 50-50 proposition). On this morning, it headed my way, and soon a young female moose came out of the woods, browsing along the way, and eventually headed down the ravine and off over the hill. Had I stopped at the carcass, or at the den, I would have missed this moose.
Winter Traveler! Yellowstone National Park, 2023.
When traveling, you never know what you will get. On this trip, I got it all! Weather, animals, no crowds, sunlight, clouds, snow squalls, below freezing mornings to balmy pleasant afternoons and evenings. The park to myself, and time to talk to others in the park. Perfect!
I’ll take a trip where the timing is perfect. How often does that happen? Especially in Yellowstone, where it behooves you to look up in the trees, watch your rearview mirror for those shy and elusive wildlife you just passed by, take your time, keep your eyes open. And always, always, pray for luck and great timing.