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Trip Report ~ Bear & Wolf Sightings ~ by Tim Easterday

08 - 21 June 2012

Yellowstone Grizzly Bear taken by John William Uhler - Spring 2012 © Copyright All Rights Reserved

~ June 2012 ~

Yellowstone Grizzly Bear taken by John William Uhler - Spring 2012 © Copyright All Rights Reserved

Friday - 08 June

Day 1. Up at 3:00 AM. Too excited to sleep any more. After a shower, final packing, and some Chinese steamed bread for breakfast we are out the door at 5:00 AM on our way to the Atlanta airport. By 6:00 AM we are in the airport, bags checked, and breezed through security. Still have 2 hours until our 8:00 AM flight but it s better to beat Atlanta traffic and relax a while in the airport. Our first flight to Salt Lake City is totally full but fortunately right on time. It s amazing that a rather large aircraft like the 767 has such pitiful overhead storage space. We are in Zone 1 thanks to American Express so there are no issues finding space for both our camera backpacks. We only have 40 minutes for our connection in SLC and make the long walk to the other gate with plenty of time to spare. The next flight to Jackson Hole is also right on schedule and very quick. Only about 35 minute's flight time. I picked seats on the right side of the plane, hoping we would pass the airport and turn around for a landing from the north. We did just that, allowing a great view of the Tetons from the plane prior to landing. Getting off the plane was almost surreal with the Tetons looming large in the background. It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. It was warm when we arrived the warmest we would experience until our last day. Baggage claim took a while but at least our bags made it. We got right in the Emerald Aisle line for National and were off in no time with our rental a Chevy Traverse.

We immediately headed south to Jackson to do some shopping at Albertson's. Most everything seemed overpriced but what else are you gonna do? We bought a hard sided cooler, bread, PB&J, Nutella, oranges, apples, lettuce, sandwich meat, mayo, diet Mtn Dew, shower stuff, and a few other things I can t remember. We bought bear spray there too but later realized it was way overpriced compared to most other places. Had some trouble with my Amex card and after a phone call to customer support all was good and we were on our way back north.

We stopped by the visitor's center at Moose Junction to get a pass and look around. We bought the $50 annual pass since it was the same price as two week's entry. On the way north we made a few stops at Mormon Row and turnouts along the highway. The views were amazing no matter where you were! We checked in at Colter Bay cabins and spent some time unpacking and organizing things. The cabin was bigger than most cabins in Yellowstone and originated from the early 1900's when it was used for a worker's camp for the original Jackson Lake Dam. There was another cabin attached on the other side of the bathroom but we weren't bothered too much by noise from the neighbors. The shower had plenty of hot water and great water pressure, although the shower stall was a bit cramped for me. The floors were always ice cold so it's good to keep some thick socks next to the shower when you get out. There were only a few electrical outlets in the cabin and we needed to unplug some lamps to make room for battery chargers, cell phone chargers, and our electric water pot. That water pot was one of the best things we brought with us. In the mornings we used it for coffee with Starbucks Via instant coffee. In the evenings we would occasionally make instant noodles.

We were hungry for a real dinner so we decided to try out the Ranch House restaurant which was right next to the cabin area. It was decent food but overpriced for the portions you get (and better than most food in Yellowstone). After dinner we headed out at 7:00 PM and drove down the Teton Park Rd. We took the road up Signal Mountain until the first overlook and saw some elk along the way. We got out at the overlook and were attacked by a swarm of mosquitoes. The view at the overlook wasn't that great and the mosquitoes were unbearable so we ran back to the car and made our way back down the road. As we turned back north we saw some cars pulled over a small bear jam! We caught a quick glimpse of a black bear's rear end as he/she headed back into the forest. No time to get a photo but at least we saw something. At the Jackson Lake junction we turned back towards the north and immediately hit another jam. It was a bull moose on the east side of the road before the Willow Flats turnout. That was neat! After a few photos we headed back to Colter Bay for some much needed sleep.

Day 1 Photos

Saturday - 09 June

Day 2. We heard heavy rain during the night. Between that and the loud heater in our cabin, we didn't sleep too well. At one point during the night I got up and switched off the circuit breaker to the cabin heater. The control knob just spun around so it was impossible to figure out how to set the temperature or turn off the heater. It was just too hot and too noisy to sleep. We were up at 3:00 AM and slowly got ready and out the door by 5:30 AM. We drove back down Teton Park Rd. and I spotted grizzly 610 and her three cubs just past the Mt. Moran scenic turnout. They were only about 10 yards off the road at first and we had them all to ourselves for the first 30 minutes. We stayed in our car taking photos and just enjoying this magical experience. It was so peaceful out there watching these very wet bears dig around the sagebrush. Eventually other cars finally saw what we were looking at and we realized that we just started our own bear jam! We watched them for nearly two hours. They moved farther off the road and we felt safe enough to get out of the car for more photos. No rangers ever appeared (probably too early) and the bears moved farther away until there was no point in sticking around. We continued south on the road, stopping at every turnout and also stopping at String Lake. There was a fresh dusting of snow on the mountains which made for some pretty photos.

We then stopped at Jenny Lake for the hike to Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point. It was still a little early so we had to wait a bit for the shuttle boat to begin operations. It was a great hike and the views were incredible! We went past Inspiration Point and almost to Cascade Canyon until we decided to turn back. You really feel the effects of the altitude when hiking up these steep trails! Along the way we saw many marmots and some very tame ground squirrels who would come right up to you, almost begging for a handout. People reported seeing a deer & fawn along the trail but we never saw it.

Back on the road we encountered another jam at the Taggart Lake trailhead. There was a female moose just across the road standing there by the creek. We got some good photos and moved on. After a stop at the Chapel of the Transfiguration we turned around and headed back north on Teton Park Rd. The weather was starting to turn worse quickly at this point. We stopped for the moose again just to see if anything changed. As we continued north the temperature kept dropping and we saw snow. We were back to Colter Bay by 2:30 PM and spent some time shopping in their general store. The prices there were actually better than Albertson's and they had a pretty good selection. We picked up a few more things there as well as some beer for me.

In the evening we went back out and found a jam at Pilgrim Creek. A large blonde female grizzly had just crossed the highway and was headed to the east. We took the gravel road there as far as we could (the ranger had it blocked off). We stayed there a while getting photos of blondie even thought it was a long way out, even for 400mm lenses. There was quite a crowd gathered back there on that dirt road! After she moved too far out too see we headed back to the car but people kept coming and coming. We went back south on Teton Park Rd. but didn t see any wildlife. We were back in Colter Bay by 9:00 PM and immediately went to bed.

Day 2 Photos

Yellowstone Grizzly Bear taken by John William Uhler - Spring 2012 © Copyright All Rights Reserved

Sunday - 10 June

Day 3. We managed to sleep until 4:30 AM this time. By 5:00 AM we were out the door and checking out of the Colter Bay cabins. We went back down Teton Park Rd. and saw some pronghorn antelope and elk but nothing else. It was snowing and 35 degrees and not really pleasant to be doing anything. We decided to start going north into Yellowstone at 7:00 AM. As we reached the south entrance it was snowing pretty heavily. We stopped at Moose Falls and Lewis Falls. It was a winter wonderland and snow was actually covering the road around Lewis Canyon. By the time we reached Grant Village, there was little snow but there was cold, strong winds.

We got out at West Thumb and walked around but it was not a good day for photos. The freezing cold and winds made it very unpleasant to be outside. Light snow continued to fall all day. We made a quick stop at Kepler Cascades. That's when I realized I lost my wedding ring. My ring was already loose from losing weight and the cold temps made the ring that much easier to slide off. Sometime when I was taking gloves on or off the ring came off but my hands were too cold to notice. Luckily I found the ring later that day under the driver's seat.

We arrived at Old Faithful by 1:00 PM but our cabin would not be ready until 3:00 PM. We wasted some time by walking around the upper geyser basin. We almost waited around for Grand Geyer but the cold, snow, and wind was too much for us. By 3:00 PM our cabin was ready and we relaxed and stayed warm for a while. Our Old Faithful Lodge Cabin was a duplex unit that was pretty small with just enough room for two people. The floor was carpeted so not too cold for bare feet. I couldn't get used to the separate hot & cold faucets in the sink. The shower here was also small like Colter Bay but very powerful. During our stay there we took two showers a day just because it felt so good.

Later in the evening we went back out for Old Faithful eruptions but the gray skies were not good for photos. We headed back to the cabin for a hot shower and sleep. One nice thing about the lodge cabins was the close proximity to Old Faithful. We were 200 yards at most from Old Faithful.

Day 3 Photos

Monday - 11 June

Day 4. A slightly later start for us this morning we managed to sleep until 5:00 AM and were out the door by 6:00 AM. We stopped for some photos of bison and calves right along the boardwalk around Old Faithful. A larger male bison was really tearing up some small trees. It's great to get out around Old Faithful early in the morning because it is so peaceful and there is hardly another soul out there. We headed over to the Snow Lodge Obsidian Dining Room for their breakfast buffet. That was really good, great service, and a perfect way to begin a day of lots of walking. After we were sufficiently stuffed we headed back towards Old Faithful for a few more photos of the bison. By this time they were mostly laying around. We went back to the cabin to prepare for our long walk of the upper geyser basin.

We started our walk of the UGB around 8:00 AM. We made it out to Morning Glory Pool in a little over two hours time and waited about 30 minutes for Riverside Geyser to erupt. Riverside erupted for a long time and we eventually moved on after getting enough photos. Daisy Geyser was predicted to go off soon so we waited around there for that eruption too. At first we confused another geyser for Daisy and were waiting on the wrong side. I eventually realized my mistake and moved across to the other side with plenty of time to spare.

We got back to the cabin at 3:00 PM and napped for a while. At 6:00 PM we went back out to see if anything was happening. While still near the lodge I noticed that Beehive Geyser was erupting so I sprinted down as fast as I could go to get some photos. I was moving like a star running back, dodging people right and left. I would stop at one point, quickly take some photos, then sprint on to a lower point and take more photos. Eventually I made it down near the river where I could finally stop for a while. That really sucked the energy out of me! It took me a while to catch my breath. We then walked up to Lion Geyser and caught an eruption around 6:30 PM. The website came in pretty handy on my phone for figuring out when a geyser would erupt based on the last eruption time, as long as I had a good data connection. Around the upper geyser basin I had a good roaming signal on my AT&T phone but data would be slow or none at all during the middle of the day. Maybe it was due to the crowds during the day using up all the bandwidth. After the Lion eruption we headed back to the cabin for some beer, snacks, and sleep (after another hot shower of course).

Day 4 Photos

Tuesday - 12 June

Day 5. Another good night s sleep! Here's a tip: bring earplugs. It helped me to not notice noise from the neighbors and it helped my wife not notice my snoring (well, almost). We left the cabin at 6:00 AM looking for the bison around Old Faithful but didn't see any wildlife. We took some sunrise photos of Old Faithful before heading out to Black Sand Basin. More photos then on to Biscuit Basin, then Midway Geyser Basin. We got some up-close photos of Grand Prismatic Spring before going over to the Fairy Falls trailhead. It was about 10:00 AM at this time and the parking lot was already filling up. We hiked down to a small clearing I had seen from the Grand Prismatic Spring boardwalk and made our way up the hill. We got some great photos from up high the sight was so beautiful I had tears welling up in my eyes (and I am not the most emotional person). After we were satisfied with our photos we went back to the car for sandwiches. We proceeded north to Firehole Lake Drive and took in the sights there. Great Fountain Geyser did not have an updated prediction time written down so we moved on. We caught Pink Cone Geyser already in eruption as well as a White Dome Geyser eruption. We went over to Fountain Paint Pots and had fun trying to capture exploding mud bubbles in photos. I snapped several hundred photos of the same spot hoping to catch the right moment. My Canon 5DMKII is kind of slow so it's fire off about 10 shots, wait a few seconds for the buffer to clear, fire off another 10 shots, wait, repeat. My wife's 7D was going off like a machine gun! Hmmm in addition to a longer lens now I think I need a fast 2nd camera body.

We were pretty tired at this point and headed back down to Old Faithful to relax in the cabin a bit. But we couldn't relax for long. We checked on the Grand Geyser eruption time and decided to walk down and catch the eruption predicted at 3:15 PM. We were lucky today and Grand erupted almost exactly on time 3:11 PM. It followed with two or three encore eruptions (can't remember now), which one of the regular geyser gazers said was rare. Castle Geyser was due to erupt soon and again we didn't have to wait long. Castle began an eruption at 3:55 PM. It was a long eruption, plenty of time to move around and capture different compositions.

We walked back to the Old Faithful Lodge cafeteria and ate an early dinner at 4:30 PM. I had the meatloaf and my wife had the trout. Both were not great and indicative of the food in most of the Yellowstone restaurants. The meatloaf was very dense and seasoned a bit too much. The trout was overcooked and very fishy tasting. While we were eating Old Faithful erupted again. By this time we were feeling under whelmed by OF eruptions, especially after seeing Grand go off. We got some huckleberry ice cream at the shop in the lodge and sat on the porch enjoying the nice evening. We did the tourist thing and bought some Yellowstone tee-shirts and hats and then went back to the cabin to pack & organize the car as this was our last night at Old Faithful. For just the two of us we sure can fill up an SUV with all sorts of crap. I am so glad I rented a larger vehicle, and the extra clearance underneath was great for those times when the off-road parking was rather precarious.

Day 5 Photos

Wednesday - 13 June

Day 6. For some reason the heater failed to work on our last night in the lodge cabin but we stayed warm anyway. It was just a wee bit chilly getting out of the shower. We were up at 4:00 AM and out the door before 5:00 AM. We watched an eruption of Old Faithful all alone at 4:58 AM. We went back to our cabin to make sandwiches and coffee. We finished packing up the car and went back to Old Faithful for eruption photos at first light.

As we were leaving the area I decided to stop at the lower store for some gas. It was a good decision because we saw many bison adults & calves up close and personal right around the gas station. There was also a large herd in the river valley. At one point I went back to the car to change lenses and saw a large shadow moving next to the car. A group of bison were walking right around our car. I jumped in the back seat with the door still hanging open and called out to my wife to watch out behind her. That was close! We got some good photos and gassed up once the bison cleared out.

We drove north on the main loop road and encountered some big bison just strolling down the road like they owned the place. They walked right by my windows and I could look into their eyes and sense them sizing me up. Just a bit up the road a big elk slowly crossed the road in front of us. We then stopped at Firehole Falls Drive for some photos of the waterfall. It was still early and rather dark in the canyon. Mosquitoes attacked from all directions. We proceeded through Madison Junction to Gibbon Falls for more photos. I am still kicking myself now for not driving the road out to the West Entrance. We drove every road in Yellowstone but that one. I might have finally gotten a photo of a bald eagle. As we approached Artist Paint Pots we noticed a traffic jam just past the side road and decided to check it out. There were three male elk with good-sized racks out in a field to the west of the road. We took a few photos and turned back towards Artist Paint Pots. Artist Paint Pots was not that impressive and it seemed a little dried out in places and too wet in other places the paint pots were much better at Fountain Paint Pots. Still, we took tons of photos hoping to capture a bubble at just the right moment.

We continued north on the main road making a quick stop at the Chocolate Pot. We went into Norris Geyser Basin but did not walk much of the trail. By this time we were pretty much tired of hot pools and geysers. And I had a pretty painful blister on my pinky toe that limited my walking. I never should have decided to change shoe inserts at the beginning of a trip! I went back to my other arch-support inserts and that seemed to help the toe rubbing issue (thank God I brought both inserts with me!). It was also a good thing I brought a box of Dr. Scholl's blister treatment cushions with me. Those things are fabulous!

We stopped at Sheepeater Cliff picnic area for lunch and some relaxation. We walked back to the cliffs further down the river and got some marmot photos. Those rocks are tricky to walk on and I slipped and tried to protect my lens before protecting myself. The lens never got a scratch and I ended up with a couple of bruises and scrapes, more embarrassed than injured. As we continued north we stopped by Swan Lake Flats for more photos. We arrived at Golden Gate and the wind was fierce through there! It took all our strength just to stand still against the wind. We quickly finished a few photos and continued on the road to the Hoodoos. We made it to Mammoth Hotel by 3:00 PM and checked into our room. It was unbearably hot in our 4th-floor room and stayed that way through the night. I really wanted an afternoon nap but could not stand being in the room at all. We opened the window and left it open all night but the room never cooled down. For an early dinner we had some instant noodles and then had huckleberry ice cream (again). I really wanted to drive up the Old Gardiner Road but it was closed. We drove the main road up to the arch for photos. We then drove into Gardiner to look around and do some grocery shopping. I think if come back again we will stay in Gardiner instead if we stay up in this corner at all. There is really no added value to staying at Mammoth when Gardiner is so close. On the way back we saw a large group of elk with some young ones and also spotted a rainbow.

Day 6 Photos

Thursday - 14 June

Day 7. We had an awful night's sleep at Mammoth. There was constantly noise in the hallway all during the night. People slamming doors, rolling suitcases, and the room was still freakin hot! I was up at 3:00 AM and couldn't wait to get out of that hotel. We hit the road at 5:00 AM for sunrise photos. I had seen some great photos online from New Blue Spring but that was dried up. Actually most of Mammoth Hot Springs was dried up. We moved over to Canary Spring and captured some great photos as the sky lit up with color prior to sunrise. We drove up to Swan Lake Flats and waited a while but saw nothing of the grizzly that frequented this area. We moved on towards Tower, stopping at Undine Falls for a few photos. Not impressive and not a good time of day for photos. After passing by Phantom Lake we spotted a black bear down the hill from the road. It was never in a great position for photos and eventually moved on further away from us. As we drove on we encountered another black bear at Elk Creek. This one seemed to make a daily appearance as we later learned. He was pretty far away and our photos didn't turn out that great.

We kept on driving past Tower Junction and out to Lamar Valley. We stopped and talked to the wolf watchers to see what was going on. What a nice group and they let us look through their spotting scopes at the wolves and a grizzly way off in the distance. To our naked eye, and even with 400mm focal length they were all nothing more than dots in the distance. Next time we should rent a good spotting scope. Further down the road, we watched an interesting situation where a bison had been killed and the rest of the bison were gathered around it holding a little funeral (just like elephants). A wolf kept circling the bison looking for a way in but gave up and headed in our direction. The wolf eventually got about 100 to 150 yards away from us before turning and disappearing into the sagebrush. We moved on and stopped at Soda Butte Creek picnic area where a black bear was spotted across the creek. Again, too far away for decent photos. We watched for a while before heading on out the park to drive the Beartooth Highway. In the Silver Gate area we got some good photos of a fox and three kits that live under a garage next to the road. They are beautiful and it was fun watching their antics.

We continued out on the Beartooth Highway and once we got near 10,000 feet I was not feeling well and my wife took over the driving. It was worth it as all the views were breathtaking. We drove out to Rock Creek Vista before turning back. Once we got back down near Beartooth Butte I felt much better and took over driving from there. I guess I can't handle the altitude above 10,000 feet. On the way back through the park we did some more wolf watching in Lamar Valley. Again, it was a lot of dot-watching and not very interesting. There was another black bear near Tower Junction but he had decided to take a nap almost totally out of view.

We arrived at Roosevelt and got our name on the list for dinner. After a wait of 45 minutes we finally got a table. We had the pork sliders for an appetizer and both got the bison burger for our entrees. The pork sliders were served very quickly and were very good. They came with chipotle mayo very tasty! We were hopeful that our main course would be just as good, but unfortunately it was not. The bison burgers were terribly overcooked and bone dry. I think they were precooked and then grilled again. One side was black. It took a lot of water to wash them down. We filled out the Xanterra survey card and were brutally honest. I doubt I will ever go back there again.

We drove south over Dunraven Pass. I was nervous most of the time due to my fear of heights and also pretty tired at the time. We made it safely to the Canyon area and went to check in to our Canyon Lodge frontier cabin. Check in was frustrating as the young guy assisting us seemed to struggle with everything. He said our cabin had already been assigned and it took a lot of help from other workers there to get us into a cabin. I was so tired at this point I just wanted to get to my cabin and this was making me very impatient. Eventually things were sorted out and we were into our cabin by 8:00 PM.

The cabin at Canyon was larger than the Old Faithful Lodge cabins but a bit more run-down looking. Actually the entire Canyon area was run-down and in my opinion, an embarrassment to America's first national park. Every day tour buses dumped out throngs of foreign tourists in the cabin area and I often wondered about their impression. The roads and parking lots were full of holes, dirt, and gravel. Dust was constantly kicked up everywhere. Construction was going on around the restaurants so hopefully this area will improve when the work is done.

Just like Mammoth, our Canyon cabin was very hot when we first arrived. We opened up all the windows and left them open all night. The shower was good but the hot water took a while to warm up. My biggest gripe about the Canyon cabins is the idiotic door latch that requires two hands to get out. Most of the time we are leaving the cabin with our hands full and it's a pain to drop everything by the door just to get it open.

On the bright side, I was getting a full strength AT&T cell signal (not roaming) with good data speed all around the Canyon area. My wife's phone with Sprint service never had a signal during our entire trip.

Day 7 Photos

Friday - 15 June

Day 8. Wow, hard to believe one week of our vacation is over! We didn't sleep great due to the hot cabin. We hit Hayden Valley and stopped at Grizzly Overlook to see if anything was spotted out there. There was a dark wolf way out in the valley and at one point we heard wolves howling off in the distance. That was chilling to hear that sound! We went back to the Canyon and set up our cameras at Artist Point hoping to catch the rainbow. Unfortunately a thin layer of clouds got thicker during the morning and we never saw a rainbow (although we did see a hint of color in the photos after getting home and reviewing them on a larger monitor). During our wait for the rainbow we watched an osprey perched on the rocks below us. We trained our lenses down to his location and waited for the moment he took flight. It was a long wait he sat there for at least half an hour before taking off.

After giving up on Artist Point by 10:00 AM we went back to the cabin to make some sandwiches and have an early lunch. We decided to explore more of the park and headed south towards the lake and then taking the east entrance road. At Sedge Bay we encountered a coyote crossing the road. We talked to someone there on the scene and learned that he was hunting marmots on the hill. We watched him for a while, taking photos of him tearing apart a marmot before he grabbed what was left of his kill and moved up out of sight. We continued east and spotted some bighorn sheep right along the road. They were lazily lying about the grassy area atop a short cliff above the road. Later we stopped at a restroom and got some photos of a marmot eating grass. We turned around at the east entrance and headed back into the park. We stopped at the Lake Butte overlook for a short nap before continuing on.

At Pelican Creek trailhead we found a large jam of cars and people everywhere. A large grizzly had crossed the road and was back along the trail. A ranger was on the scene keeping everyone back. We shouldn't have stopped for that nap! We spent three hours at the location waiting for the grizzly to do something. Occasionally the ranger would leave for some reason and idiots would walk back on the trail. Fortunately they never got far, but I kept my finger ready to take video in case one of these idiots got too close. While we waited the grizzly would nap a while, then get up to tease us, then go right back down to the same spot to nap again. He would occasionally scratch himself and roll over in the dirt, seeming to enjoy himself very much. He finally moved on, going farther out into the trees closer to the lakeshore. The cold and wind were getting to us so we moved on as well. One thing we learned in Yellowstone is that animals and the weather will control your schedule so it's useless to plan anything too detailed. Who knew we would spend nearly 3 hours just sitting around watching a bear? You can't plan that.

On the way back north to Canyon we spotted another coyote crossing the road. We stopped at the Canyon Grill for dinner, or whatever that place is called in the general store. My wife had the Gyro which was actually very good. I had the chicken tenders which were OK, but needed some sauce. After dinner we drove over to the north rim drive, stopping first at Lookout Point and then we walked down to Red Rock Point. Back up at Lookout Point we spent some time watching the osprey nest. We continued on to Grand View Point, Inspiration Point, and finally Artist Point again for sunset photos. We stopped at the general store on the way back and just made it in two minutes before they closed for the night. We just had to get our huckleberry ice cream fix for the day

Day 8 Photos

Saturday - 16 June

Day 9. We slept better during the night. Our cabin cooled down with the windows left open. We still haven't run the heater and never would during our 4-night stay at Canyon. We were up early and out in Hayden Valley by 5:00 AM. We stopped at Alum Creek hoping to get some sunrise photos but there was a huge amount of fog hanging low over the valley. As we were standing there we heard a group of wolves howling in the distance. That sent chills down our spines, in addition to the chills just from being so darn cold! After the sun was up and starting to break through the fog, we started to head towards Grizzly Overlook but I spotted a coyote and immediately turned around back to Alum Creek since he was headed that way. We got well in front of him and captured some photos as he came right towards us, then he turned and walked out through the sagebrush. We drove around a few times but there was nothing else stirring in the valley.

We went to the Canyon Dining Room for their breakfast buffet. It was similar to the Obsidian Dining Room buffet but lacked a few items. However it was still a lot of food for the price and we were fueled up for another long day in Yellowstone.

The weather was looking much clearer today so we again headed to Artist Point to catch that rainbow. It arrived on schedule about 9:45 AM and was visible until 10:00 AM when the color started to fade. Satisfied with our photos, we went over to Uncle Tom's Trail and took the stairs down for a closer look at the falls. Going down was easy but in my opinion it's not a great view for photos. However, there is a nice double rainbow visible. It was crowded at the bottom, shoulder to shoulder people, and we squeezed in a few shots before heading back up. The way back was much more difficult and we stopped a few times to rest. But we recovered quickly, possibly from all our cardio training and keeping ourselves hydrated. We took the rim trail over to the upper falls viewpoint and then decided we needed a nap back in the cabin.

After a short snooze we drove over to the brink of the lower falls parking lot. What a busy place in the afternoon! We made the walk down with just our wide angle lenses and it was a nice path with many switchbacks winding back and forth (no stairs on this trail). It was awesome to stand at the edge of such a powerful waterfall. Well worth the hike! I don't think our photos can quite capture the experience. The hike back up was not too bad and we spotted some marmots along the way (they are pretty much everywhere). We went back to Lookout Point to watch the osprey nest and spent two hours there. We attracted quite a crowd every now and then as people were wondering what our lenses were pointed at. We met a lot of nice people while standing there and it was interesting to talk to some English birdwatchers. I met many people from England who seemed to be avid birdwatchers. The osprey couple would switch places about every 20-30 minutes and we tried to capture those moments when they came in for a landing or took flight away from the nest. We could see two eggs in the nest whenever they stood up.

It was getting late in the afternoon and we were finally hungry. We made sandwiches back in the cabin and of course had to stop for another pint of huckleberry ice cream. Feeling energized again we drove the middle road to Norris and back, stopping briefly at Virginia Cascades. It was a pretty boring drive. Later we were back in Hayden Valley watching a grizzly try to give her two cubs swimming lessons but they did not seem too interested. She then ran from them and would stop and turn to face the cubs, almost like some attack training. She would then run away fast again, possibly training their instinct to chase. It was all very interesting to watch. Eventually they settled down to a much slower pace of digging around the sagebrush or just lying around. We looked for a good sunset spot and settled on Trout Creek with it's winding waterways and lush green grass. I was about to give up after the sun officially set due to the cold wind but just then the sky really lit up with some good color.

Day 9 Photos

Sunday - 17 June

Day 10. We actually slept in today, if you call waking up at 6:00 AM sleeping in. We drove up north over Dunraven Pass. This time I did not have any issues with my fear of heights. We stopped at Tower Fall and were pretty much the only ones there early in the morning. We spotted some colorful birds in the trees while watching the waterfall. Back on the road we stopped next at Calcite Springs. We spent a long time with our tripods setup waiting for the sapsuckers to switch places in their nest (in a dead tree just about 10 feet off the steps up to the overlook). When we had enough photos we got back on the road but immediately ran into a small bear jam just past the parking lot. The whole time we were there watching sapsuckers there was a black bear and two cubs just down the hill! We stopped quickly to get some photos but the ranger sternly told us to get moving. We tried parking down by Rainy Lake and walking back up but another ranger driving by told us not to waste our time since we would be turned back anyway. We drove back to Calcite Springs parking lot and ran down the hill to get set up for photos. The rangers already had us quite a ways back so it was difficult to get good photos. The mother bear meandered around the dead trees while the two cubs slept at the base of a tree. Eventually the cubs started stirring and getting more active. They were still too far away for good photos but we tried anyway. It was just fun being there watching them. After an hour or more had passed, the bears moved farther away and out of our sight. Again we had spent nearly 3 hours total watching things we never planned on. That's the nice thing about having nine days to spend in the park we really don't have to rush anything.

We drove out through Lamar Valley but absolutely nothing was happening. Not a wolf watcher in sight. But then it was late in the morning due to all our bird watching and bear watching. We got to the Trout Lake trailhead and waited a bit for a proper parking space (definitely a popular place). It's a very steep hike at first but fortunately very short. We hiked around to the back of the lake to watch the trout swimming up the shallow stream. It was hard to get photos of them. We never saw an otter while we were there. We hiked back to the parking lot and made our way back into Lamar Valley. On the way we saw a car sitting far off the road and stopped to see what was going on. A family in a Toyota Camry had gone off the road and ended up in the sagebrush and rocks. It was a very steep drop off where they left the road and they were lucky there wasn't a rollover. It could have been much worse. It turns out they were Taiwanese so my wife struck up a conversation with them in Mandarin. We offered to give them a ride to somewhere but the rangers were going to take care of them. A flatbed tow truck showed up and used the winch to drag the car out of the brush. It was painful watching the car lurch up over some large rocks as it was being dragged up the hill. I hope the underside of the car wasn't damaged too much. The front end looked a little loose but otherwise there was not much visible damage. The family was all OK and that is what really mattered. Their young son was more worried about his Coke in the back.

After that brief excitement we drove to Hellroaring Trailhead to look for the elusive pikas. We looked and looked in the rocks but didn't see a thing moving. We got to Elk Creek and there was a large bear jam but we had just missed the bear. We looked for a while but couldn't spot him. On the way back to Calcite Springs we saw the same black bear and two cubs from the morning coming down the hill towards Rainy Lake. The ranger was keeping everyone moving but I pulled over just past him to get some photos. I was legally off the road and well over 100 yards from the bears but he yelled at me to move on. We obliged and slowly moved on getting a few last photos from the car.

Back at Calcite Spring we watched the sapsuckers for a little while. We drove up Chittenden Road on the way back to Canyon and it was incredibly windy up there. Some rain pelted the car and we could see sheets of rain coming down in the distance on all sides. By the time we got down into Hayden Valley the sun was shining again but the wind was too much for us. We decided to go back to the cabin early and relax while enjoying some drinks.

Day 10 Photos

Monday - 18 June

Day 11. Our last night at Canyon passed and we awoke early at 4:00 AM hoping to catch a better sunrise at Alum Creek. We made hot chocolate before leaving instead of coffee because we expected to have coffee later at the buffet (big mistake). This morning the temperature was the same as our last sunrise here but there was absolutely no fog, not even much mist coming up from the river. We took a few photos as the sun came up and then drove around looking for anything in Hayden Valley. All was quiet this morning except for the usual geese and ducks. We returned to the cabin to find that all power was out in Canyon. Good thing we were already showered and ready to go. We cleaned out the cabin and dropped off the key. We had hoped for another breakfast buffet but due to the power outage there was no buffet offered. I work in the backup power industry maybe I need to get them a good deal on a generator or two! This can't be an uncommon occurrence and they definitely need to keep those kitchens going. They only offered a few pre-prepared hot breakfast plates but why pay almost the same as the buffet for a single plate? These should have been offered at a discount. We went over to the cafeteria looking for coffee and they didn't even have any. We got some hot water for free and went back to the car to make our Starbucks instant coffee.

We left Canyon in slightly sour moods and made a stop at the brink of the upper falls (since we had not been there yet). It was still pretty early and we were the only ones there. We made sandwiches and walked down the short trail to the edge of the falls. The upper falls, while not as large as the lower falls, seem to run much faster as all the water is being squeezed through a narrower opening. It was too early for good photos, it would probably be much better in the afternoon.

We drove back out to Sedge Bay and back but nothing was happening. After the disappointment of not getting our breakfast buffet we were in the mood for some good food. We went to the Lake Hotel to have lunch. We were impressed from the moment we walked into the dining room. This is more like a fine dining restaurant where the tables are set elegantly and the staff is attentive to your every need. We had a nice view of the lake as we watched the wind whip the trees around and stir up clouds of dust. We started with the bison carpaccio appetizer which was good but a very small portion for the price. I had the beef sliders and my wife had the smoked salmon wrap. Both were excellent! My sliders were perfectly cooked, pink in the center and very juicy. The meat was seasoned just right. My wife's wrap was very flavorful and a good portion for the price. We took our time eating since it was not pleasant to be outside.

We asked about our cabin but they were in a real mess due to the power outage earlier. Though they had power, the phone lines were out and all the computers were down. No check in was possible at the time. We headed over to the general store for yet another pint of huckleberry ice cream and returned to the Lake Hotel to sit in the lobby looking out over the lake while eating our dessert. I kept checking with the front desk about our cabin and they kept telling me another 30 minutes. Eventually they started only checking in people with multiple-night reservations. Apparently those were easier since the rooms were already assigned but single-night reservations were not pre-assigned. That made no sense and made us feel like our reservations were less important than everyone else. They finally got our name on a list and by 5:00 PM they called our name to check in. Everything had to be done manually and was a very slow, confusing process. What would we do without computers? Our cabin was just a short distance from the hotel and it was the nicest lodging anywhere during our vacation. The cabin had obviously been recently updated with modern furnishing and fixtures. It even had a Keurig coffee maker but they only supplied decaf coffee (what's up with that?). After getting settled in we drove back out to Sedge Bay and back but there was not much to see. We stopped at Fishing Bridge and got some pelican photos. We returned to the cabin early, hoping the winds would eventually die down.

Day 11 Photos

Tueday - 19 June

Day 12. Up at 5:00 AM after a good night's sleep. It s a little difficult sleeping in a small double bed after being used to a king size memory foam bed at home. But we managed though we missed our cats. By this time in our trip we were really ready to come home. We made it over to the Lake Hotel dining room right at 6:30 AM for their breakfast buffet. This was the best buffet anywhere in Yellowstone. The star of the buffet was several large fillets of smoked wild salmon. They had all the fixings to make a great bagel & salmon sandwich cream cheese, capers, red onions, chopped egg whites, and chopped egg yolks. All of the other items on the buffet were similar to other locations but everything seemed to be cooked a little better and tasted a little better. The coffee was great too and even though the buffet was more expensive, we still got our money's worth.

By 8:00 AM our bellies were near the bursting point and we were on the road headed out of Yellowstone. But Yellowstone was not done surprising us. About 13 miles south of the Lake Hotel we spotted a large brown-colored black bear very close to the road. I really thought it was a grizzly at first due to the size and color. He paralleled the road for quite a while and we kept moving to stay ahead of him. We got up to a turnout on the other side of the road where we thought he might cross. The ranger was right ahead of us and told us we were OK as long as we stayed in the car. Finally a nice, understanding ranger in Yellowstone. The bear slowly approached the road and kept looking across but was getting spooked by cars stopping. The ranger did a great job of clearing the cars out and finally the bear made a dash across the road. The ranger yelled at the bear to keep moving now she was starting to sound like the other rangers! The bear then disappeared into the thick forest between the road and the lake. What a way to end our Yellowstone experience!

We stopped at West Thumb for about an hour. Our previous visit here had been on that cold, snowy Sunday when we first entered Yellowstone. Today was sunny and it was still early enough that the winds were bearable. Once satisfied with our photos we continued south, stopping at Lewis Falls and Moose Falls. It was a much different experience without all the snow. We took our mandatory photo standing in front of the leaving Yellowstone sign and left the park.

We drove down into Grand Teton and took the Teton Park Road, stopping at Jackson Lake Dam and Jenny Lake. Later we just missed the two orphaned grizzlies near the Windy Point turnout. We waited around looking for them but they didn't make another appearance. We drove out to the main highway and stopped for photos at Schwabacher Landing and Triangle X Ranch. I really loved the view of the Tetons from Schwabacher Landing. I wish we could have fit in a sunrise there. We then drove up to Pilgrim Creek just to see if the blonde grizzly was around. What we found was a large bull moose eating along a small pond there near the dirt road. We watched him for a while and got some very close shots. I felt I was a little too close at one point but people actually got in between me and the moose (and they would stand right in front of my camera go ahead and get plowed by the moose, jerks). I had some good photos so I backed off and left the scene. I was amazed at how many people showed up and how quickly they arrived. There must be a good social network via texting or cell calls for everyone to find out so quickly.

We went up to Colter Bay to check in for two more nights in one of their cabins. This time the cabin was not so old and larger inside. There were also a few more electrical outlets and a better heater. However this cabin was plagued with large ants and spiders. And it was not cleaned too well either. We made the best of it and enjoyed our last instant noodles for dinner along with some tasty pasta salad we picked up at the Colter Bay general store (the chipotle chicken salad is awesome). After our little dinner we drove around a bit, out to Oxbow Bend, then around the dam and back. Nothing was stirring tonight.

Day 12 Photos

Wednesday - 20 June

Day 13. Our last full day of vacation. We were up very early for sunrise. We went down to Oxbow Bend but the thick clouds obscured the sun and ruined any chance for good photos. We drove around looking for any action but it was very quiet this morning. We headed back to the cabin to warm up and rest a little. We went back out at 8:00 AM and noticed a lot of activity at the Jackson Lake junction. We had just passed the junction on the main highway (headed in the direction of Oxbow Bend) when we stopped and asked what everyone was looking at. A grizzly was spotted in the trees just along the road. It was headed back the other way so we made a quick U-turn and tried to get ahead of the bear. Just past the junction headed back north, I made another U-turn and pulled off the road hoping to catch the bear crossing. It did cross, and right behind our car! I don't know if this was 399 but it was tagged with orange tags visible from behind. We quickly turned on Teton Park Rd. and parked off the road to watch the grizzly run through the tall grass. It was really running, making its way towards the taller bushes. We went up the road, just before the no stopping zone and saw 610 and her cubs out north of the road. They headed in the bushes towards the lake so we drove up to the other side of the no stopping zone hoping they would come out the other side. Unfortunately they tried to cross the road far away from us and much closer to where we were sitting before. They went back to the north side of the road. We drove back to the other side of the zone and watched them in the open for a while before they again disappeared in the bushes. I talked to one of the rangers a bit the same older lady I had seen at just about every bear jam in the Tetons. The rangers in the Tetons seemed so much friendlier and relaxed.

After that excitement we headed south and saw nothing along the way. We made it to Dornan's and shared two small pizzas for lunch. That was great pizza and we would have ordered a 3rd but by then there was a huge line waiting to order. Later it occurred to me that I should have just asked a server to put in another order for us. We checked the stores for huckleberry ice cream but for some reason nobody in Grand Teton sells it. Why??

We went out again looking for the orphaned grizzlies and then walked a little ways back on the Taggart Lake trail. We decided to head back to the cabin early to get everything packed for tomorrow's flight home. It was a little sad to be leaving but at the same time we were really looking forward to coming home.

After we were all packed up we drove around again in the evening but there was no animal activity anywhere. We went back to the cabin, got some wine and walked around Colter Bay.

Day 13 Photos

Thursday - 21 June

Day 14. I was awake at 3:00 AM and finally decided to get out of bed at 3:30 AM. I guess I was a little anxious to come home. We ate the last of our bread, peanut butter, and Nutella and checked out of Colter Bay by 5:00 AM. We drove down the main highway and arrived ay Mormon Row at 5:30 AM. There was already a big group of photographers there they were all English and seemed to be traveling together. I wish I could have talked to them but we were all busy setting up and finding just the right spot. Right after we arrived the sun started to hit the tops of the Tetons and it was a little after 6:00 AM before the sun cleared the hills behind us and lit up the barn. We stayed there for quite a while, moving around for different compositions and further back to get some telephoto shots. More people kept coming and would annoyingly stand right in front of me when I was clearly setup taking shots. We then moved on to the next barn to the south and took a few more photos. We drove a little further south and found the remnant of another barn. I don't know if there were any more barns to see but I really had to find a toilet soon!

We drove over to the visitor's center to pack up the tripods and use the restroom. We got there before they opened and I anxiously stood right by the door until they were unlocked. We hit the gift shop after using the facilities and we ended up buying more tee-shirts. But somehow our bags were lighter on the way back! We drove a little down Moose-Wilson Road to kill time and spotted a female moose on the way back. We stopped for photos and started a traffic jam. We spent the next two hours driving around, out to Jenny Lake and back. We took a few more photos of the gorgeous mountains and soaked in the great views for a while. Then we gassed up the rental and headed to the airport.

The flights home were just as uneventful as the trip out. Everything was right on schedule and we even arrived at our gate in Atlanta about 15 minutes early. That doesn't happen too often! By 9:30 PM we were on the road home. It was so different being back in Atlanta traffic (which was pretty busy for this time of night). Everything seemed so fast and I was trying as hard as I could to focus. I was pretty tired at that point and just wanted to get home. 45 minutes later we pulled into our driveway and were home at last! It was great to see our pets again they definitely missed us. It was also great to sleep in our own bed again, even though our cats seemed more interested in trying to keep us awake. I dreamed of Yellowstone that night.

Day 14 Photos

Great Blue Heron taken by John William Uhler - Spring 2012 © Copyright All Rights Reserved

Yellowstone Grizzly Bear taken by John William Uhler - Spring 2012 © Copyright All Rights Reserved Yellowstone Grizzly Bear taken by John William Uhler - Spring 2012 © Copyright All Rights Reserved 

Great Blue Heron taken Great Blue Heron taken by John William Uhler - Spring 2012 © Copyright All Rights Reserved Great Blue Heron taken by John William Uhler - Spring 2012 © Copyright All Rights Reserved

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