Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Yellowstone Park in Spring

Last week I spent four days in Yellowstone National Park photographing all creatures great and small. Some creatures were not so great and many were definitely not small.

I saw bald eagles, moose, elk, mountain sheep, deer, grizzly bears, black bears, bison, pronged horn antelope, sand hill cranes, coyote, dogs, ravens, many song birds and people.

Having spent most of the past five years overseas I realized that I was looking at America with a different set of eyes. I am amazed at how large a country America is - relatively and figuratively. It is very difficult to find a small soft drink to buy. The small size that is commonly available now as well as its associated price is more than I need or want. Bottled water was available for $1.79 a bottle. I filled my empty juice bottle from breakfast with water from the drinking fountains at visitor centers and bathrooms. I can't imagine the $1.79 bottled water being better than the free water that I enjoyed. It is not that I am cheap. Maybe I am, but in Thailand we have to buy bottled water for drinking and it costs all of $0.35 for approximately 5 gallons!

Portions of food served at restaurants are very large and you are faced with the dilemma at each meal of wasting food or eating too much. My observations have been that most people choose to eat too much - way too much. It was rather shocking to see so many morbidly obese people - especially women waddling around Yellowstone. I have never seen so many canes and walkers being used in a public place as I observed in the park.

The populations in South East Asia are much younger than in the United States. The aging population will present serious social and economic challenges for the United States in the near future. In addition to the increased need for services and care for the elderly people, there will be fewer working people to contribute taxes to fund the programs. In m travels on this trip, the effects of the economic crisis was readily apparent. I am shocked at the number of stores and companies that have shutdown. It is all rather depressing - I see it on the faces of the people and feel it myself. There is a lack of optimism that pervades American society at this time.

However Yellowstone was great - as usual. This was my seventh trip to the park and it was just a fascinating as my first trip 33 years ago. The fires of 10 years ago have dramatically altered the scenery in many areas of the park. Twenty years ago I hiked in the back country along Grebe and Ice Lakes. At the time I felt that I was hiking through a jungle. The tall and crowded mature lodge pole pine forest has been burned away and replaced by a more open forest of small pine trees. The sight of these changes at first is disturbing for we always seem to want to maintain the status quo of our lives and surroundings however upon reflection one realizes that these changes are a natural occurrence in the life cycle of the area. The changes provide opportunities for species to adapt and thrive. The species that can take advantage of these opportunities decline. Yellowstone Park is a large theater where the ebbs and flows of life and death are played out each day.

The Park was a bright green due to the daily rains. The precipitation was sporadic and localised. I can honestly say that it did not really affect my visit. Understanding that the rains were responsible for the reemergence of the plants and grasses that the bison, bears, elk, sheep, and deer were feasting upon made dealing with the occasional inconvenience much easier. The lack of brilliant sun light and higher temperatures actually made observing animals easier. One day was particularly cool, wet, and heavily overcast - the best day I had for watching animals.

For some reason on this trip the thermal features as well as thermal activities of the park impressed me the most. It was very as well as readily apparent that the Yellowstone Basin sits atop an active volcanic region. The geysers, mud pots, and hot water springs all give testament to the heat and pressures beneath the surface of the park.

The Park was not very crowded and the anticipated traffic jams due to road construction or tourists never materialized. There were nightly road closings from Norris to Madison but they started at 10:00 P.M. The road reopened at 8:00 A. M. which could have affected early morning efforts to get from West Yellowstone to the Lamar Valley but I slept so well that I wasn't on the road until 8:00 A. M. anyhow. I was fortunate to see Grizzly bears at the beginning of my trip so I felt no need to get to the Lamar Valley for sunrise. It would have been great to see a wolf and even greater to be able to photograph one but most likely an unrealistic expectation. There were many reports of wolf activity from the friendly and dedicated wolf watchers that frequent the Park. However in listening to their expert accounts it was readily apparent how serendipitous a photographic encounter would be - so remote a probability that I could not rationalize or justify getting up at 3:00 or 4:00 A.M. to get to the Valley in the early morning. My 300 mm lens was also not powerful enough to capture a good image of wolf at the typical spotting distances. I slept later, relaxed, and more thoroughly enjoyed each day in the Park admiring the animals and scenery.

I failed in my first tests of cultural re-adaptation in America. I came upon two courting black bears at Petrified Tree in the park. It was not difficult to locate them or to come upon them. Another tourist at a different location where I was photographing baby coyotes told me about it and when I arrived there were two Rangers attempting to control the jam of cars as well as people. I pulled over off of the road and walked down to where one of the Rangers was located.

The Park Ranger was not allowing people pasted the point where he had stationed himself. The other Ranger was not allowing people past the point where she had positioned herself further down the hill. The Rangers wanted to keep the area directly in front of the bears open over concerns for the safety of the people. A female in estrus and a male courting her are an emotional unstable pair of bears.

In addition to controlling the spectators, the Rangers were attempting to keep traffic moving past the site. Besides trying to eliminate emotional flare ups of drivers due to congestion, cars stopped in front of the bear's location could provoke an attack by the bears.

The Rangers politely informed everyone not to go past their position for their personal safety. Our location was demarcated by a small pine tree. I was amazed at the lack of respect and attention paid to the Park Rangers by the motorists. Drivers ignored and openly defied the Ranger's requests as well as demands that they keep moving. Since the Park Rangers were not carrying guns, I suggested that he use the Bear Spray on some drivers to get them to move and to make an example of those who defy authority. The Ranger indicated that he would like to use the spray but could not. Instead he left the tree to go down the hill to the traffic jam to give the offending driver a little more personal attention to get them to move along.

Additional people were joining our group after having parked their cars and walking down the hill to our position. One group of people lead by a plaid shirted wiry elderly man with a baseball cap that honored some naval vessel sauntered past our location towards the bears. I politely called out in a non threatening manner "Excuse me sir. Excuse me sir. The Ranger said that he did not want people going past this point"

He stopped and looked at me and yelled "Who are you? You are not the Police! You shouldn't be telling people what to do!" I shocked myself and calmly replied without hesitation "Fine. Go ahead and get attacked by a bear. I will take a picture and make some money!"

I did not feel threatened by him since his voice and demeanor were more like a small child whining and complaining to their parent then an adult preparing for a physical confrontation. However I was somewhat taken aback by his anger. I suppose that he was upset that in his mind I had attempted to take away some of his perceived freedom to do what he wanted, when he wanted and how he wanted. One of the tourists, I believe her to be English, next to me remarked to me in a supportive tone that I was only trying to help him and that I was concerned for his and his party's safety. I replied that I was not necessarily concerned about their safety but I was concerned that if they were attacked the Rangers would make everyone leave and I wanted to take more pictures of the bears. She thought that I was joking and she laughed.

As the man left he waved good by to me - sort of. I thought it to be all rather amusing. In Thailand people watch out for each other especially in matters that involve figures of authority. As Duang would remind me "America not same as Thailand!"

Having not had the opportunity to photograph a bear attack on a human, my secret desire was to be able to photograph a grizzly bear or even a black bear carrying off or devouring someone's precious FiFi or Fido. I was amazed at the number of people traveling with their dogs. Most of the dogs were lap dogs. It did not seem proper to me to see domesticated canines in amongst the natural beauty and wilderness of Yellowstone National Park. Many of the dogs appeared to be substitutes for children which made the sight of them and their owners even more revolting to me.

I once read about some people who were into low impact camping and were concerned about the color of tents used in the wilderness. They objected to the use of unnatural colors corrupting the natural beauty of the wilderness. I guess that I have gone beyond them. Somehow I believe that it is sacrilegious to contaminate the park with barks, yips, and feces of domesticated dogs - city dogs worst of all!

I left Yellowstone with 1,100 new photographs to be reviewed, edited, and cataloged. I have started the process and with all the wet and cool weather here in Connecticut at my parent's home, I have made excellent progress in the tasks.

Once I return home to Udonthani in early July, I will consolidate my favorites and create a new gallery on my photography website, www.hale-worldphotography.com

Monday, June 15, 2009

Back In The USA

I have been back in the USA for a week now.

I finished my second full day at Yellowstone National Park.

Although it rained almost all day, it was a productive day. These are some shots of a young grizzly bear on Dunraven Pass in the rain. Haven't had time to edit all the photos or to write a blog on the activities of this trip.

I will get around to it soon.


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