Most of a bighorn sheep is rather majestic, but when it comes to their tails they come up a little short.
The past few years at work have been productive but stressful and the last year in particular left me worn down and burned out. I hadn’t taken much vacation time but we either use-it-or-lose-it at the end of the year, so I was trying to decide if I should take most of the month of December off, or if I should take my normal fall hiking trip and then take a few weeks off at the end of the year. While the idea of a month away from work was very appealing, I decided to split up the vacation and take the hiking trip instead.
I realized that as a reaction to the stress I had settled into a funk and wasn’t getting things done that needed to be done. Needing either carrot or stick to get back on track, I settled on carrots with Yellowstone & the Tetons as Carrot Number One. Planning for the weeklong trip of hiking and photography forced me into action.
My contacts had long since run out and while I had been wearing my glasses instead, I prefer to photograph in contacts so I finally scheduled my overdue eye exam and got new contacts. And since it often rains during my fall hiking trips, I picked up some waterproof hiking shoes to replace my worn out pair, a small army of hiking socks to replace my threadbare contingent, and a couple pairs of waterproof gloves. All of which guaranteed a week of unusually hot and sunny weather during my week in Wyoming, but the wet weather gear has been put to good use ever since with the return of the rainy season to the Northwest.
Since I would be taking our much loved but aging Subaru Outback, I took her in for everything from routine maintenance to replacing a broken sensor and leaking head gasket and especially the broken cargo cover that left all my gear exposed to prying eyes. I also fired up iTunes to create some new CD mixes of recent music purchases to keep me entertained on the long drive.
Then there was an extra memory card and battery for my Canon 7D, which I’ve been meaning to order for a year or two, plus a portable hard drive for storage on the road. The hard drive was a much improved solution compared to the DVD’s I used to burn, the backups of the day’s pictures went much faster meaning I could get to sleep sooner. And while I didn’t need the new memory card for most of the trip, oh was I thankful to have it when I met this black bear eating pine cones on my way down from Mount Washburn. Yellowstone put on a show on my last day and I had taken a ton of pictures, and if not for the new card I would not have been able to photograph this wonderful creature during my last hours before heading for home. The extra card was also put to good use during my Christmas visits to Ridgefield.
There were other things too, like the car mount for the iPhone so that the little genius woman in the TomTom GPS app could guide me safely there and back again despite my notoriously poor sense of direction. Both the mount (from RAM Mounts) and the little woman worked wonderfully and the pair have kept me on the straight and narrow navigating Portland ever since.
All of which is a long way of saying that the hiking trip was not only great stress relief but also great motivation for getting things done large and small that have made life better ever since.
But I wasn’t quite finished with my carrots …
My plans for this fall’s trip to Wyoming were literally made at the last minute. I had planned to take the week off but wasn’t sure where I wanted to go. It had been a while since I had been to Yellowstone & the Tetons and I was itching to get back, but I was also worn out and not sure I was up to the drive. Then I checked the weather and it was supposed to be unusually sunny and hot, which if you’ve followed along here you know is not my favorite photography weather.
I decided to sleep on it and in the morning made my reservations for Wyoming, starting off in the Tetons and finishing up in Yellowstone, then headed out the door. And it was unusually sunny and hot during the day, despite being cold at night, so I had to deal with 40 or 50 degree temperature changes from when I started hiking in the morning to the heat of the day. While the sunny skies did provide good viewing of the Teton range at sunrise, the park staff had been doing controlled burns and a smoky haze hung around in the valley — not thick enough to be interesting, but enough to ruin the clarity of the pictures. The fall colors seemed to be late in arriving and while some of the aspens had turned, many were still green. And my chronic stomach problems flared up several times on the trip, though fortunately never on the trails despite one close call.
But the worst of it was, I wasn’t seeing much wildlife, and so while I was grateful for the chance to visit this wonderful part of the world, the trip wasn’t ranking very highly compared to some of my other visits. But then on my last night in the Tetons I discovered this male pronghorn in the evening light and things started looking up. The next morning I found the bison herd and my mood got even better.
Yellowstone was hit or miss the first few days too, but the last day turned out to be one of my favorite days in the park, ever.
A long way of saying, I’m glad I went.
Play gets a little more serious when calves grow into bulls. These two bulls were much more aggressive than the little calves I had watched at play, but it’s all relative — the old bull laying in the wallow in front of them paid them no heed. They’re all kids to him I suppose.
When you first enter the parks, rangers hand out flyers warning you to steer clear of bison, as they can turn from passive to aggressive rather quickly. I used to think that no one would really need to be told to steer clear of something this large and this horned, but sadly this is not the case. There was a small group of us watching the herd and one of the men got down into the river bed and walked right up to a calf to photograph it. He came back up onto the bank when his wife suggested it wasn’t a good idea to get between the calf and its mother. Fortunately for him it was just cows and calves in the river bed at that point, the herd got a little more testy when the bulls crossed over.