Ryan's Journal

"My life amounts to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean. Yet what is any ocean, but a multitude of drops?" — David Mitchell

Everyone Who Saw a Grizzly Bear, Raise Your Hand

Posted from Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming at 9:36 pm, September 11th, 2013

Today was the day of many animals. Wake-up at 6:30 was followed immediately by a drive through the northwest corner of the park. Audrey was half-in-the-bag as we communed with elk and sandhill cranes. Following breakfast ninety minutes were allotted for the trip’s first downtime, and then we departed for the park’s north entrance, visiting with more elk, a handful of pronghorn, and a few bighorn sheep along the way. The elk were particularly good sports, with a herd of a dozen or so playing in the river while the resident bull kept tabs on everyone. We then returned to town, where due to its green lawns the park headquarters is an attractive home to a small herd of elk, including a massive bull who attacked no less than five cars this morning (“he got ’em good” is the word on the street). Park rangers had dutifully cordoned off the elk behind wooden barriers labeled “Event”, so we viewed these city dwellers from a safe distance. With the preliminaries thus completed, the real safari began.

The destination was the Lamar Valley in Yellowstone’s northeast corner, but we stopped numerous times along the way, including at an overlook where we spotted a herd of several hundred bison in the valley below. Upon entering Lamar a pronghorn greeted us at the side of the road, and after we had stopped he ambled directly up to me – I got back in the car to get out of his way, but he was still almost close enough to pet. He then posed for what are likely to be the best photos I’ll ever take of a pronghorn. And this encounter was just the beginning.

Continuing through the valley bison were everywhere, often standing just a few yards off the road. Eventually we stopped at a spot with an expansive view and got out the binoculars to see what we could find – perhaps a hundred bison, maybe fifty pronghorn, and a dozen cranes were the result of that survey. At around 5:30, with the sun beginning to sink, we headed back to a pull-out where earlier a couple had told us there was a nearby buffalo carcass that had attracted bears during the past two nights. As the time went by more and more people appeared, many of them with spotting scopes in hand. After just over an hour of chatting with the many hardcore wildlife enthusiasts who had gathered, I spotted some black dots moving on a far-off hill, and shortly thereafter a lady with a spotting scope began yelling “they’re on the carcass!” For the following hour we watched a mother grizzly and three large cubs feast on buffalo, with a brief interlude while she fought off what was either a pair of wolves or coyotes. Eventually she wandered off, and through binoculars and scopes we followed the family back into the woods. A brilliant sunset, a drive home in the dark featuring deer and elk, and a delicious and most-definitely girly drink (the “Huckleberry Princess”) finished off an excellent day.

Pronghorn Antelope

Hats off to this pronghorn for posing against a perfect background.

Pronghorn Antelope

I’m not sure what the protocol is for having a wild animal approach within a couple of feet, so as he walked a bit too close I snapped a photo and retreated back into the car; this photo was not taken at maximum zoom.

Lamar Valley Sunset

Lamar Valley sunset. Awesome end to an awesome day.

Porkchop the Magic Geyser

Posted from Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming at 9:45 pm, September 10th, 2013

We’re going to bed with the sounds of a bull elk bugling a few hundred yards away. This is a good vacation.

This morning’s wake-up call was at 6:30, and even though all activities are optional Audrey joined me for a stroll through the Upper Geyser Basin. We had it mostly to ourselves as the mist cleared, and spent time photographing Morning Glory Pool with two ospreys keeping us company. Following that adventure we ate breakfast at the Inn and then departed Old Faithful, embarking on a tour of many paint pots as we visited Fountain Paint Pots and Artist Paint Pots and their boiling muddy mud. The sound those things make is strikingly similar to what one hears two hours after a baked bean dinner, and Audrey did a lot of eye rolling while I did a lot of giggling during the mid-day excursions.

After the tour of many paint pots it was time for the visiting of much falling water, with photo stops at Firehole Falls and Gibbon Falls; my streak of ugly waterfall pictures continues, but Audrey got some nice ones. With the waterfall options exhausted we hit Norris Geyser Basin, the park’s oldest and hottest. This basin is far-and-away the most other-worldly, and after several miles of strolling the camera’s memory cards were full and we were composing ballads dedicated to Porkchop the magic geyser – the sun was strong today and may have scrambled our brains moreso than usual.

Following our departure from Norris the trip was first interrupted by a bison strolling down the double-yellow of the road and passing within a foot or two of the car, and then by a bugling elk who stopped traffic in front of the Mammoth Hot Springs. After arriving in Mammoth and eating dinner we walked back to our cabin in the dark with more bugling greeting us – apparently the resident stud is out prospecting for additional lady friends. Tomorrow is another animal day, with another early start planned, so hopefully the wildlife gods will smile down upon us yet again.

Bison in Upper Geyser Basin

This is the stock bison photo that everyone who visits Yellowstone takes, with the one exception being that this photo is of Stumpy the tail-less bison.

Porcelain Basin in Norris Geyser Basin

Like most photos I take, this one doesn’t come close to doing justice to its subject – the Porcelain Basin in Norris Geyser Basin truly feels like something from another planet.

Gurgling Magma

Posted from Old Faithful Inn, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming at 9:57 pm, September 9th, 2013

It’s EXTREMELY late by the standards of this trip, so this journal entry may be somewhat abbreviated.

We’re staying on the geyser side of the park, but the animals mostly reside on the opposite side, so today we got up early-ish (6:30) and headed off to the Hayden and Lamar valleys. The weather was nice, the scenery was tremendous, and elk, bison and pronghorn were out in abundance. Other sightings included an osprey chick on its nest, a few zillion geese, what we assumed were cranes (they were far off, but the shape was right), and some bubbling thermal features that looked scary enough that “do not touch” signs were not a necessity. There was also some confusion early in the day when we pulled over at a sign labeled “Sulfur Cauldron” and encountered a coned-off vent sending a wisp of steam up from the asphalt, but things were clarified quickly thereafter when we realized there was a MASSIVE sulfur spring sending plumes of steam skyward just a few hundred feet away.

Despite the fact that we’re seeing most of the wildlife from a car traveling on a paved road, one of the great things about Yellowstone is that when you’re here you feel like you’re seeing America as it existed 150 years ago. The trees haven’t been logged, there aren’t roads, mines or buildings off in the distance, and the ecosystem is more-or-less what’s it’s supposed to be. While three million visitors each year obviously means that the “pristine” feel is somewhat of an illusion, it’s nevertheless quite inspiring to get at least a glimpse back in time at something that is otherwise mostly gone forever.

The Loon of Lewis Lake

Posted from Old Faithful Inn, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming at 8:13 pm, September 8th, 2013

We woke up in the Tetons and Audrey and I are now sitting on the third floor of the Old Faithful Inn lobby under the 92-foot high log ceiling and with its 500-ton, 85-foot tall stone fireplace as our view; life could be worse.

The great vacation of 2013 truly got underway today with a meandering drive through the forests, canyons and mountains of Yellowstone and up to the geyser basins, where Audrey and I made a pilgrimage to the Grand Prismatic Spring. The overlook we hiked to isn’t on the maps, but also apparently isn’t a place that the park discourages visiting, and while she wasn’t happy with me initially after forcing her to hike up the steep hillside (no swearing was involved, but if looks could kill then this journal entry would have been written from the other side of the clouds), Audrey later admitted that the views of this unbelievable natural feature were most definitely worth the exertion.

It’s been a while since I’ve had an extended period to just go out and meander in nature, and the following days should be a much-needed chance to refresh the soul – I can’t (and shouldn’t) complain about my work situation, but day after day in front of a laptop doesn’t always leave a person feeling like they are living life to its fullest. Tomorrow’s plans for soul restoration include searching for animals on the east side of the park – aside from a lone bison the beasties have been surprisingly elusive thus far. A late afternoon thunderstorm cut the day short today, but tomorrow the weather forecast is for sun and the plan is to head to Hayden Valley, so photos of critters should accompany future journal entries.

Grand Prismatic Spring

Grand Prismatic Spring – we had a much more dramatic and complete view than the (tiny) people on the boardwalk at its edge.

Not a story about the airport

Posted from Culver City, California at 10:19 pm, April 12th, 2011

Since the only real excitement thus far this month has been a (*ahem*) roundabout flight to Salt Lake City nine days ago, it seems that another subject for a journal entry is needed. While spending a very, very long time at the airport I started going through photos from the Autumn 2009 road trip and found a few more that I kind of liked:

Yellowstone Canyon

Cliffs in Yellowstone Canyon.

Fall Color in Yellowstone Canyon

Fall Color in Yellowstone Canyon.

Mammoth Hot Springs

Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone National Park.


Posted from Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone National Park at 9:25 pm, September 21st, 2009

Today was the earliest day of the trip thus far with a 5:30 wakeup – Audrey was surprisingly mentally alert, although she had scouted the entire town the night before to make sure she could find coffee (for anyone in a similar predicament: there is a pot they keep brewing at the desk of the Mammoth Hotel). After the drive out to the Lemar Valley we joined Russ (the ham radio operator), Rick (the wolf biologist) and a small crowd on a hillside and got to watch three wolves, some bison, a few elk, a pronghorn and a handful of bighorn sheep through the myriad spotting scopes that people had with them.

After breakfast the temperature had risen from 25°F to a balmy 35°F so we headed up to the huge, terraced springs that give the area its name. Following that excursion and a short nap Audrey wanted to add Montana to the list of states she’s visited, so we made the quick trip up to Gardiner, stopping along the way to photograph a pronghorn that was standing in a turnout – having recently told Audrey that I thought the pronghorn is the one animal that is so wary that it would never, EVER let anyone get closer than about fifty yards, this fellow spent five minutes posing for pictures thirty feet away from us.

We ended the day with a drive up to the Norris Geyser basin which is the home of Steamboat Geyser, the world’s largest geyser, capable of erupting to over 300 feet in height. Its eruption cycle is from four days to fifty years, and with the last eruption having occurred in May 2005 we decided not to wait around to see if it was our lucky day. While the geysers were neat, the highlight was actually the scenery along the drive, including a stop on the outbound and return trip to re-visit with some of the wolf folks who were on the lookout for the Blacktail pack which had killed a bison in the area; we missed the wolves but saw (and heard) a coyote and a good number of elk, and Audrey was given a really cool photo by a really nice professional photographer who was hanging out in the area, so all was well.

Pronghorn Antelope

Pronghorn antelope. I wish I could say that this photo was taken in a remote corner of the park and not at a turnout on the side of the road…

Grass in Hot Spring

Grass growing in a hot spring pool. I got all artistic and stuff with this one.

Not in a National Park You Won’t

Posted from Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone National Park at 9:25 pm, September 20th, 2009

After the late night last night we slept in a bit and luckily were able to switch our room to a cabin in the north part of the park, making for a more leisurely day. Highlights of the drive from Grant Village to Mammoth Hot Springs included another stop at Yellowstone Falls, many hundreds of additional bison, a coyote that everyone (including me) initially seemed to be mis-identifying as a wolf, and finally a group of five bighorn sheep wandering along the road. The sheep in particular were very cool, and by driving ahead of them a bit we got them to wander up to us, allowing for extreme close-ups of sheep nostrils the likes of which the photographic community will never condone.

The evening activity was a trip out to the Lemar Valley for wolf watching. As everyone knows, the way to find wolves is to look for people with big, expensive spotting scopes and stand next to them, and we were very successful at this. With winds whipping and temperatures in the forties a group of us stood on a hill and watched two black wolves more than a mile away. Seeing wolves is always very cool, but the crowd we were with added a bit of additional color – at one point after noting that the wolves had mange Audrey joked that she wanted to give them some medicine. A guy off to the side in a cowboy hat turned to us and in very serious and thick southern drawl intoned “Medicine? Lady, not in a national park you won’t.” We found out his name is Stacy, he is from Tennessee, and apparently one does not make any off-color remarks about wolves in his presence. We’re heading back in the morning for a bit more wolf-spotting, and based on conversations tonight it sounds like we’ll be seeing many of the same people again.

Bighorn Sheep

Bighorn sheep. Terrible background on this photo, but I like the eyes. Also, note the nostril detail, clearly my photographic specialty.

Bison are Large and Dangerous and Tasty

Posted from Grant Village, Yellowstone National Park at 10:45 pm, September 19th, 2009

Tiredness abounds, which portends a brief and possibly dull journal entry. Our last day at the Old Faithful Inn saw another early wakeup followed by a car trip around the geyser basins, photos of bison, much fog (of the elf and pixie variety), and lastly an eruption of the very cool beehive geyser. After checking out of the inn we sped off to our next lodging site at Grant Village (“People mostly just sleep here” is how the very friendly girl at reception responded when we asked about the local sights). Within an hour we were on the road again towards the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. The route passes through some massive meadows on the way in which we ran into numerous bison-induced traffic jams. Tips learned today when dealing with massive numbers of bison:

  • Don’t let your dog out of the car. Bison and dogs don’t mix.
  • Don’t form a barrier of cars and people in the bison’s path; they aren’t the smartest of animals and “run at the thing that’s in my way as fast as possible” seems like an option that they are not opposed to exercising.
  • When a bison wants to cross the road, let it.
  • Finally, the IQ of some people seems to drop 40-70 points around large, unpredictable wild animals as demonstrated by the old lady and the foreign guy who walked to within six feet of a bison, blocking its path; we drove away before we could witness any potential carnage.

Following the bison adventures we did some hiking around Yellowstone Falls, visited with some very friendly and tolerant squirrels and chipmunks, and photographed a herd of deer before grabbing dinner and making the long drive back to our hotel room. Tomorrow promises to be another full day, although sadly it may be our last in the park unless an additional night of lodging becomes available.

Please Step Away from the Elk

Posted from Old Faithful, Yellowstone National Park at 9:35 pm, September 18th, 2009

For anyone visiting Yellowstone in the future: while park rules forbid you from invading an animal’s personal space (25 yards from all animals except for bears which get 100 yards), it is apparently ALSO against park rules to allow an animal to invade your personal space – after an elk wandered to within about ten yards of Audrey and I a ranger pulled over to inform us that we were very, very bad people; he may be correct, but a female elk without a calf that is simply grazing isn’t the most vicious of creatures. That unfortunate incident aside, it’s still extremely cool to see elk and bison at such a short distance.

Our day started a little after 6 AM with a trip out to see Old Faithful at sunrise, followed by a stroll around the Upper Geyser Basin. On our way back to the lodge around 10:30 we noticed that Grand Geyser, the world’s largest predictable geyser, was expected to erupt between eight and noon. Figuring it was past due we sat down to wait, and for the next ninety minutes baked under the sun until, at 11:55, a plume of water jetted 150 feet into the air for ten minutes; it was worth it. The afternoon found us in the car exploring some of the other nearby geyser basins, running afoul of the park law, and in general having a very nice time. The pictures below hopefully do a better job capturing the day than my limited grasp of the English language is capable of.

Bison.  Large.

Gigantor in golden grass.

Fountain Paint Pots

Boiling muddy mud.

Happiness Maximus

Posted from Old Faithful, Yellowstone National Park at 10:20 pm, September 17th, 2009

Yesterday is the first day of the trip without a journal entry – the blame for this oversight lies with Jacquie, and specifically with the moment after dinner when she asked “have you ever tried absinthe?” Despite being guilty of promoting inebriation, Jacquie and Roy are two of the finests hosts I’ve ever had the pleasure of staying with, and between the amazing meal, the tour leading, the beautiful home, and the ginormous dog that resembled a cow it was a very, very pleasant visit.

After an excellent breakfast of sausages, waffles and bluberries, a tour of Lander from Jacquie, and an unfortunate bathroom incident with the very large and temporarily crippled dog, Audrey and I hit the road for Yellowstone, arriving a few hours before sunset. Having never visited this park without seeing massive numbers of animals I gave her an ironclad guarantee of at least two large animals, but one juvenile elk later I’m eating crow. Despite the lack of fauna it’s still amazing – for the first time in my life I’m spending the night in the Old Faithful Inn, and I’m quite literally giddy walking around a six story, 110 year old log hotel that is a few hundred feet from the world’s most famous geyser. We had dinner and a drink in the bar, watched Old Faithful erupt from the deck, and are now heading to sleep in our 100 year old room awaiting any adventure that tomorrow might bring. Life is very, very, very good.

15 miles south of Old Faithful, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Posted at 5:45 pm, October 27th, 2002

Yellowstone is a place that just has an incredible amount of riches — today I’ve seen hundreds of bison and elk, two bald eagles, dozens of deer, a coyote, and I’ve heard wolves howling. And all of this is in addition to the geysers, hot springs, and other scenery.

One of the nicest things about this park is that since it has been protected for so long the animals have learned both not to fear people and also how to deal with having people around. As I write this I’m watching a huge buffalo wander down the road — when a car comes he slowly makes his way to the side of the road, then wanders back out again when they’ve passed. The elk that were near Old Faithful knew where the trails were and kept about fifteen feet away from them, but otherwise completely ignored anyone who came along. And a coyote came trotting by, completely ignoring everything and everyone around him, although he did pause whenever a car started up to make sure it wasn’t going to be coming towards him. Quite a place.