Copyright Artistic Earth Photography. All rights reserved. 

by Lorraine Storms

Clearly, we can see what my priority is..

Brake Lights
posted: 11 October 2015

We got up at 5:30 am to try our hand at spotting wildlife.  We’d been told by Kirk that wolves and bears are frequently spotted in the Lamar Valley, and Nate had wanted to fish Pebble Creek, so off we went.  Unlike Yosemite, Yellowstone is wonderfully laid out, with roads forming a rather large figure eight and several smaller offshoots here and there.  A figure eight meant that even though there was lots of driving, you weren’t stuck on one long (and positively snore-worthy) road for the entire trip and that you could get where you wanted to go by planning out the best route.  (Get that?  The best route. Not the only route.)

We didn’t make it very far before "Eagle-eye" Nate spotted a bull moose far off in a meadow. We pulled over and took out “the big lenses” to try to capture a good photo of him, but he really was just too far off and constantly on the move.  As we watched him, fascinated by the elegance with which he moved, we were almost equally fascinated at the cars that slowed to a crawl as they passed us.

We quickly discovered in Yellowstone that very few people actually spend time

spotting the wildlife on their own.  Most drive around looking for brake lights and

people who are already pulled over with a camera lens hanging out the window.

So when you go to take a shot like this:

Everyone is quite clueless as to what it is you must be looking at, which is kind of funny, so every now and again, Nate and I would pull over and start pointing just to see who would follow…

Not far down the road, we found ourselves surrounded by bison on all sides.  And all I could hear was this:  

Just start listening at 0:55.  That’s the beginning of what played through my head nonstop for two days straight.  I can’t lie.  I was soaking it in.

Despite the frequent “buffalo jams” (as we’d begun to call them), we remained entranced.  I never tired of watching.  Brake lights frequently confirmed that there was an animal up ahead (buffalo or otherwise, but usually buffalo).

We made it all the way to Pebble Creek without a single sign of wolf or bear, despite having seen numerous antelope, elk, and bison along the way.  I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t slightly disappointed.  (How silly is that???  Surrounded by more wildlife than I thought I’d see in a million years and I’m disappointed because I didn’t get to see wolves or bears.)

Nate spent a few hours fishing while I put my seat back in the car, read a book, then closed my eyes and snoozed.  You see, the night before had been a bit of a rough one as we had camped next to a most obnoxious family.  As a mother of two, I really hate to call anyone’s family obnoxious. 

We had been woken up at least 4-5 times during the previous night to a young toddler’s blood-curdling screams and coughs, followed by “nonononononononononono!”  The coughing had me feeling bad for the baby since I figured he was sick and his parents were trying to medicate him.  I thought back to all of the times I had a sick young daughter at home and I struggled to get her to take the Tylenol that would make her feel well enough to get some rest. But after the third time, I wasn’t feeling so bad for the kid anymore…  I was just, well, annoyed.  (Anyone who knows me knows I like my sleep.)  Bugger off, kid.  You’re ruining my night.

And what was wrong with those parents anyway?  Who goes camping with a child this young?  We didn’t take our girls camping until they were 4 and 8 years of age.  Who takes a 1 year old camping?  More importantly - WHY?

The parents finally (Finally!) put the kid in the car for a while to calm him down (why they hadn’t thought to do this earlier, I don’t know), but everyone in the entire campground was awake.  (Though they weren’t all as lucky as us - getting to camp right “next door!”)  I will forever be traumatized.

I didn’t get much sleep in the car either, though, as I, 1. couldn’t get comfortable and,

2. had to listen to a family that pulled in for a rest get out and chat right outside my car

window.  An entire parking lot and they chose to pull in directly next to the only car in it.

If there’s one thing I learned while going cross-country, it was that people never fail to

amaze me.  (And that’s not necessarily a good thing.)

I finally gave up, got out and followed the creek a bit to find Nate fishing.  Despite

listening to a man who’d been watching him explain to his wife that “this fisherman’s got

his line all in a granny knot,” I was pretty sure Nate was confident in what he was doing. 

And I was right.  He was simply changing flies.  Nine cutthroat trout later, Nate and I

headed back to the car and back to the campground.  At this point, I could hardly keep

my eyes open while Nate, with the prospect of catching bigger fish, couldn’t have been

more energized.  He dropped me off at the campground, so I could climb in the tent to

get some sleep.

Unfortunately, I noted that our neighbors’ tent was still set up and I couldn’t figure out why anyone would still be hanging around with a sick kid.  (I discovered only later that the kid didn’t appear to be sick at all…which only made things worse since now he’s just a snot-nosed brat in my book.)

As I collapsed onto the sleeping bags, a huge clap of thunder pealed through the sky, but Nate was already gone and on his way to the Gibbon River.  Crazy.  I found out only later that though the sky had opened up where I was and let loose a downpour, Nate had dealt with hail.  Yep.  Hail.  (Do notice, however, how long it takes him to actually leave the fishing site.  He's still casting even when the hail is obviously not going to stop.)


Despite that it rained for a solid hour, the tent remained dry and cozy.  When Nate arrived back an hour later, he quickly climbed into his sleeping bag in attempts to warm up and catch up on a little sleep of his own.  I guess hail kind of takes the fun out of fishing.  (News to me.  I thought nothing could defeat Nate’s love for fishing!)

At 5:30 pm, we finally got up and headed to the lodge for showers (Showers!  Aaaah!) and laundry!  We followed it up with dinner at the slowest restaurant we’ve ever seen - The Canyon Lodge.  Dinner was okay, mediocre at best.  Cold french fries, meh.  But at least it wasn’t another dehydrated camp meal.

Remember Mel and Tim Johnson and their boys from Crater Lake?  Well, right before we’d lost cell reception in Idaho, we’d gotten a text from them, telling us that they were staying at Bridge Bay Campground.  It was a 45 minute drive from where we were staying at Canyon Village, but what’s 45 minutes in the scheme of hundreds of hours on the road over the course of three weeks?  I mean, really?

Not knowing exactly where in the campground they were staying, we knew we were taking a chance at driving there, but we figured if nothing else, it was just another trip through Yellowstone to see the sights!  We took the gamble and began the trip, but - brake lights - we were quickly stopped in a traffic jam for two gorgeous bull elk!  People were out of their cars and some of them were way too close!  I, too, was out of the car to get a few shots, but you can bet that I didn’t get this close!

Slightly delayed, we got back in the car and were ready to get rolling again…until we encountered a mama bear and her two cubs in the meadow…easily spotted by - you guessed it - brake lights!  Okay, delay.  Like everyone else, we pulled over and got out.  Yellowstone had rangers stationed to the area to make sure that people didn’t get too close to her.  (The den was nearby and these bears are frequently seen here.)  Nate filmed for a while and I snapped some photos.  I didn’t imagine the thrill I’d feel at seeing a Grizzly in person.  They are enormous.  That should go without saying.  Really.  But, in person, it’s just a whole other ballgame.  And we were a good 100 yards away! (Which was plenty close enough for me, thank you very much.)

The cubs were positively adorable, wrestling and running in the tall meadow grasses, playing hide and seek with one another while mom rustled up some grub (literally, I think).  It was quite the sight to witness and I am glad that we had the opportunity to see it!  My photos were nothing to brag about, but Nate was able to get some fun video with his iPhone, a spotting scope, and a cheap adapter.  Worked out okay!

The wolves…well, they continued to elude us.  We arrived just minutes too late to catch them just a few miles down the road from the bears and disappointingly had to admit that we weren’t going to see them at all.

Finally, just as we were beginning to lose all light from the sky, we arrived at Bay Bridge Campground, about an hour later than we’d originally intended.  We had no way of knowing if the Johnson family expected us at all or if the campground would even let us know which site they were camping in.  To make matters worse, we were in a long line of folks waiting to check into their campsite…  Nate finally made it to the front of the line.  Because we couldn’t confirm the Johnson’s last name (we didn’t yet know it at that time!), they wouldn’t give us the exact site.  They did, however, give us the loop in which they were camping.  So, off we went to find them in the dark. We drove the entire loop and just as we were about to give up, we spotted their van parked at the very last campsite.  Adam and Taylor quickly spotted Nate as we pulled up and jumped out of their seats to greet us!  Despite the fact that it was now 9 pm, the Johnsons offered us a fire, a seat, and hot tea and coffee. We spent a few hours talking and enjoying their company and were glad to talk about a little of everything.  It’s an odd thing to run into friends you’ve only just met, but we were glad we had the opportunity to spend more time with them.  The boys shared their tales of zip-lining in southern Idaho and showed photos that they’d taken of some of the Yellowstone wildlife, while we gave them tips on where to find and photograph bears the next day.  The boys soon climbed into bed, leaving the "grown-ups" to talk.  (Really, who's actually "grown-up" here?  This trip has made me feel like a kid!)

Their campground was completely opposite of ours, with no trees to block the night sky.  It was easy to see the Milky Way and we quickly spotted a satellite or two making their way across the expanse as we shared our thoughts about how important it is to keep kids fully involved and in love with the outdoors. It appears we share similar philosophies!  Given how quickly we got along, this doesn’t surprise me.

It was close to midnight by the time we left their campground, saying goodbye to our newfound friends and knowing we’ll likely never see them again.  It’s too bad they don’t live on the east coast...  Perhaps we can utilize a blog to convince them to move.

Okay, probably not.

On the way back to Canyon Village, we were startled by glowing eyes, but not nearly as startled as the male Grizzly that had just finished crossing the road and turned to look at us.  Up close, we were definitely reminded of how large they are!  Holy cow…I mean, bear.

It was off to bed when we reached our campground at 1 am and, thankfully, the campground was quiet. Tomorrow we would be up early to head to the Grand Tetons, in an attempt to attain a campsite at the infamous Jenny Lake Campground.  But that’s a tale for another day.

Continue reading Day 20

Think someone should tell him about a thing called a telephoto lens?

Naturally, I couldn't get any photographic evidence of the larger ones...

"License and registration, please?"