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Fitness and Photography for Fun - A blog on staying fit by hiking and doing photography by David Mendosa

Yellowstone Thrills

September 2nd, 2012 · 5 Comments

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Our first full day of this visit to Yellowstone National Park gave Mark and me thrills at both ends.

While Mark and I enjoy traveling on our own, guides can be valuable in providing an introduction to a new area. We therefore signed up for a “Wake up to Wildlife” tour scheduled to depart from Roosevelt Lodge at 7 a.m. on August 18 in a historic 1936 tour bus. That was a late start for two photographers who like to take advantage of the first light, but it was the best we could do. Actually, we didn’t even do that well.

The bus, driven by tour leader Helga Ihsle Pac, was about half an hour late because of a traffic jam. Even Yellowstone has traffic jams, but this one, like most of them in the park, was due to animals, not vehicles. She said that a large herd of bison had blocked the road. Mark and I had a similar experience a few days later.

I had assumed that getting such a late start was bad luck for us. But you never can tell.

A Chinese story tells of a farmer who had one old horse to till his fields. One day, the horse escaped into the hills, and when the farmer’s neighbors sympathized with the old man over his bad luck, the farmer replied, “Bad luck? Good luck? We’ll see.”

A week later, the horse returned with a herd of horses from the hills, and this time the neighbors congratulated the farmer on his good luck. His reply was, “Good luck? Bad luck? We’ll see.”

Then, when the farmer’s son was attempting to tame one of the wild horses, he fell off its back and broke his leg. Everyone thought this very bad luck. Not the farmer, whose only reaction was, “Bad luck? Good luck? We’ll see.”

Some weeks later, the army marched into the village and conscripted every able-bodied youth they found there. When they saw the farmer’s son with his broken leg, they let him off. Now was that good luck or bad luck?

For us, in fact, just a few minutes later when we arrived at the western end of the Lamar Valley what we saw were wolves. Never before had I ever seen wolves in the wild, but I knew that Yellowstone has more wolves than any other place in the lower 48. Still, only about 100 wolves live in the park, a smaller population than that of any other large animal there.

We were lucky (I think) to see them right at the start of the tour. We were unlucky (I think) that they were about a half mile away. Not even hoping to get a photo of the wolves, I nevertheless captured the distant images of two of the wolves in the shot below. The dark spot to the left of the wolf at the back is probably blood from their prey, and two or three ravens are in the center. The second wolf is in the left foreground.

Two Wolves in Yellowstone's Lamar Valley (Canon 7D with 100-400mm lens at 400mm, f/8, 1/1000, ISO 800)

Two Wolves in Yellowstone's Lamar Valley (Canon 7D with 100-400mm lens at 400mm, f/8, 1/1000, ISO 800)

Click on the picture above to enlarge

After the wolves moved into the trees, I focused on my fellow photographer, Mark. He was a bit closer.

My Friend Mark with his Canon 5D Mark II and 100-400mm lens (Canon 7D with 100-400mm lens at 100mm, f/8, 1/1000, ISO 800)

My Friend Mark with his Canon 5D Mark II and 100-400mm lens (Canon 7D with 100-400mm lens at 100mm, f/8, 1/1000, ISO 800)

Click on the picture above to enlarge

Helga had mentioned to Mark and me that the hike to Trout Lake at the eastern end of the Lamar Valley might be a beautiful place for us to hike in the afternoon after we finished the tour. I had never before had the guts to hike in Yellowstone before because of all the bears that live there. Researchers estimate that the park has about 500 black bears and 150 grizzlies. But before leaving Boulder I had spent about $50 for a small can of bear spray and a holster and at the beginning the the Trout Lake Trail practiced using it (making sure that I shot away from Mark and me and not into the wind). Carrying the bear spray, of course, insured that we wouldn’t see any bears. I guess that was good luck.

Yellowstone's Trout Lake in Early Afternoon Sun (Canon 7D with 18-200mm lens at 18mm, f/11, 1/350, ISO 800)

Yellowstone's Trout Lake in Early Afternoon Sun (Canon 7D with 18-200mm lens at 18mm, f/11, 1/350, ISO 800)

Click on the picture above to enlarge

When we drove back from Trout Lake toward our cabin near Roosevelt Lodge, we spotted a large herd of bison on the far side of the Yellowstone River near its junction with the Lamar River. This herd gave us a different sort of thrill.

Lots of people were watching the bison from their cars and along the road. But I could see great photographic opportunities if Mark and I walked down to the river, which, I assumed, could shield us from the bison on the other side. And since they were up on a bank with the dark hills behind them in the last hour of the day’s light this could be unbeatable.

It worked. I was actually more than a few inches away from this angry-looking bison.

Having a Bison Look Down On You Can Be Interesting (Canon 7D with 100-400mm lens at 400mm, f/8, 1/350, ISO 800)

Having a Bison Look Down On You Can Be Interesting (Canon 7D with 100-400mm lens at 400mm, f/8, 1/350, ISO 800)

Click on the picture above to enlarge
This Bison Also Looks Rather Too Interested in Me or My Camera (Canon 7D with 100-400mm lens at 310mm, f/8, 1/1000, ISO 800)

This Bison Also Looks Rather Too Interested in Me or My Camera (Canon 7D with 100-400mm lens at 310mm, f/8, 1/1000, ISO 800)

Click on the picture above to enlarge
Some Bison Enjoy Dust More Than I Do (Canon 7D with 100-400mm lens at 320mm, f/8, 1/350, ISO 1600)

Some Bison Enjoy Dust More Than I Do (Canon 7D with 100-400mm lens at 320mm, f/8, 1/350, ISO 1600)

Click on the picture above to enlarge

Still, the bison were across the river. That is, until they all decided to cross to the side that Mark and I were on. We had walked down a short trail to the river bank, and the bison decided to walk up that very trail. They blocked our escape route unless we wanted to wade across the river like they did, but in the reverse direction.

The Bison Herd Begins to Block Our Escape Route (Canon 7D with 100-400mm lens at 115mm, f/8, 1/1000, ISO 800)

The Bison Herd Begins to Block Our Escape Route (Canon 7D with 100-400mm lens at 115mm, f/8, 1/1000, ISO 800)

Click on the picture above to enlarge

Mark and I waited it out while the bison began to surround us, albeit not too close. We waited with a video photographer named James Brundige of First Light Films. When we made our initial retreat from the oncoming herd, James muttered that he regretted that he had to leave $50,000 worth of video camera gear behind, but he had no time to take it with him. Fortunately, the bison showed no interest in his gear or in us as the herd slowly passed by us. By the time the sun had gone down we were able to safely climb back up the trail to our vehicles.

Back at the lodge for dinner, Mark bought each of us a shot of the best single-malt whiskey that money could buy to celebrate our escape. We had good luck. I think.

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Posted in: Photography

5 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Gretchen // Sep 2, 2012 at 5:56 am

    Did James get his video equipment back?

  • 2 David Mendosa // Sep 2, 2012 at 7:45 am

    Dear Gretchen,

    Yes. As soon as the bison moved away from us, James was able to retrieve his camera gear. A little later, James, Mark, and I hiked back up the trail to our vehicles. There we found some people waiting to congratulate us for our escape.

    Best regards,

    David

  • 3 winnie // Sep 6, 2012 at 5:57 pm

    Well you can’t roller skate in a buffalo herd.

  • 4 GREG BANOWETZ // Sep 27, 2012 at 9:13 am

    I HAVE A CATERING COMP 1069 BBQ AND ALL FOODS I HAVE DIABETES 2 FOR 16 YR
    I HAVE BEEN GETTING YOUR NEWS LETTER FOR YEARS , LOVE IT AND IT GOES TO MY FRIENDS
    HOW I BOUGHT A CAMERA CANON IT3
    AND ARE JUST STARTING
    I LOVE YOUR PIC’S AND I LOVE THAT YOU PUT THE SETTINGS
    THANKS

  • 5 David Mendosa // Sep 27, 2012 at 9:26 am

    Dear Greg,

    Thanks for letting me know. I hope that your love of photography gets you as active as it got me!

    Best regards,

    David

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