Category Archives: Danger

This Year I’m Thankful For…

PERFECT WEATHER!

Hubby and I usually use Thanksgiving as an “us” holiday. We either get together with friends or go out on our own. This year we decided to go camping in Big Bend National Park. This is where both of us did our thesis research, and basically where we lived for 6 years, so we miss it terribly. Last year around the same time, we went to Alpine, Texas for Art Walk and there was a terrible ice storm. There was a thick layer of ice on everything, and it was snowing.

Ice on the False Red Yucca and Lantana
Ice on the False Red Yucca and Purple Lantana
Snow and lights decorate the Yucca
Snow and lights (and duct tape) decorate the Yucca

Normally I like snow and don’t mind ice too much, but all of our friends who still live in the area stayed indoors where it was nice and toasty, so we didn’t get to see a lot of people. And we had planned on going to BBNP for a day, but the roads were closed because of the ice.

The Parade was cancelled because it was so bitter cold, but the floats were still cool to look at!
The Parade was cancelled because it was so bitter cold, but the floats were still cool to look at!
Vendors had bought ice to keep things cold. Obviously it wasn't needed, so when they left, they tossed it out. It only froze to a harder ball of ice in the middle of the night.
Vendors had bought ice to keep things cold. Obviously it wasn’t needed, so when they left, they tossed it out. It only froze to a harder ball of ice in the middle of the night.

So what was there to do? Go to the coffee shop to drink coffee, and go to the bar to drink beer.

Vanilla Latte from Plaine
Vanilla Latte from Plaine

It was a great weekend, but not at all what we had planned.

Fast forward about 6 months, and I was getting pretty bad “city claustrophobia”. Every time I see a new building go up it makes me want to go back out to Far West Texas and never leave. So Hubby and I planned a camping trip for Thanksgiving Weekend in BBNP, in order for me to keep my sanity a little longer. Thanksgiving is the busiest weekend that the park has because the weather is usually fantastic (cold at night but nice during the day) and it’s a 4-day weekend for must of America. Of course, weather can also be terrible, like the year before. We basically had a 50-50 shot, so it was worth taking. And we won the weather jackpot. 40 degrees at night and 70 degrees during the day, with crystal clear skies. It was perfect. We managed to get a back country camp site on Pine Canyon Road and no one else was around. It was perfect. There were a few other campers further down the road, but far enough away that we couldn’t see or hear them. Solitude. Ahhh….

Our view from Camp - Sierra del Carmen Mountain range
Our view from Camp – Sierra del Carmen mountain range

My main goal for the trip was to try out my astro-photography skills that I had acquired recently (with practice and YouTube) and I had a great time and some awesome success, if I do say so myself!

Stars through The Window
Stars through The Window
Stars over Casa Grande
Stars over Casa Grande
Moon and stars over the desert
Moon and stars over the desert
The desert floor was lit up by moonlight
The desert floor was lit up by moonlight
Stars over the Carmens
Star trails over the Carmens

We also made time to do a hike on the Pine Canyon Trail, and head into Terlingua for some culture…

Having fun with saturation and lighting, post-production
Having fun with saturation and lighting, post-production
Early morning sunrise over the Carmens
Early morning sunrise over the Carmens
Always look back when hiking on a trail. Sometimes the best views are behind you.
Always look back when hiking on a trail. Sometimes the best views are behind you.
Pine Canyon pour-off. The maples are golden against a blue sky.
Pine Canyon pour-off. The maples are golden against a blue sky.
Terlingua Cemetery
Terlingua Cemetery

For those of you who have never been to Terlingua, never heard of Terlingua, or couldn’t imagine how people could live in the desolate and harsh desert floor, you need to see it at least once. Terlingua was once a booming town, known for mining quicksilver, also known as Mercury. Unfortunately they no longer needed Mercury (and they discovered that it makes you go crazy) so the mines closed up and the town became a ghost town. Now the Terlingua Ghost Town is a tourist attraction, and people have begun moving back into the formerly vacant buildings. The cemetery is still in use today, but has graves from the 1800s as well.

The people of Terlingua are interesting. The desert provides inspiration for artists and solitude for outlaws, and Terlingua is the crossroads for these people. Basically, if you want to be left to your own devises, this is where you move.

Terlingua Trading Company - The Front Porch of Terlingua
Terlingua Trading Company – The Front Porch of Terlingua. This is usually where you can sit and have a beer while listening to the locals play guitar and sing.
Starlight Theatre - A famous landmark
Starlight Theatre – A famous landmark

After hanging out and listening to the locals play guitar for a little while, we headed back into the park to drive some back roads to Santa Elena Canyon and then back up to the Chisos Basin to do some more star photos. On our drive, we spotted a rattlesnake in the road.

Poor injured rattlesnake
Poor injured rattlesnake

He had been hit by a car (you can see the blood on his head and on the road), but he was still alive. So Hubby got a long pole out of the truck bed, I directed traffic (ok, one car, but they still almost hit the snake!), and Hubby got the snake off the road.

Snake, safely in the grass.
Snake, safely in the grass.

Snakes don’t have to eat very often so hopefully he can heal up and get better before he starves. We tried our best at least! He was clearly not very happy with us, but it was for his own good.

It was a wonderfully successful camping trip and photography trip, and as badly as I wanted to stay and never come back to civilization, I just wasn’t ready to become a permanent desert rat. That just means that we will probably have to make the trek out to BBNP again very, very soon.

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Living In the Big Bend Region

For many people, living in the Big Bend Region is a dream. They love the area, but the job market doesn’t allow them to live there full time. People take rides out to the desert on the motorcycles or take RVs to live in for a few days of isolation before heading back to the grind of the city. For others, they couldn’t imagine wanting to live in a desert, where so many things either stink, sting, or stick (e.g. skunks, rattlenakes/bees/wasps/other bitey things, and sticker burrs/goat heads/cactus, etc.)  Other people don’t even know that Texas has mountains, and have never even heard of The Big Bend. But, for 6 short years, Hubby and I were able to live in The Big Bend Region while going to college at Sul Ross State University. While we were there we experienced a lot of different things: small town life (i.e. gossip and knowing everyone in town), getting annoyed with tourists for not knowing how to drive their giant rented RVs through town, having javelinas (pronounced ha-va-lee-na) eat rotten bird seed off the ground in my front yard and having the dog go berserk at 3 am because of it, having an epic battle in the backyard with the dog and a skunk at 5 am, ending up with a very disgusting (but proud of himself) dog and a zombie skunk that wouldn’t die. It was a pretty eventful 6 years.

However, our best experiences were outdoors.

During my undergrad career, I had plans to go to vet school so I majored in Animal Science, but developed the realization that veterinary work was NOT what I wanted to do. I was still interested in it, but no longer felt that medicine was my calling. Hubby majored in Biology and through him I was able to meet the Biology Professors and students, and we both decided to get our Master’s Degrees in Biology.

During this time, Hubby worked on his thesis research and I later worked on mine. It was good timing because we could both help each other out while we weren’t working on our own projects. We both researched different aspects of Black bear in Big Bend National Park (yes, there are bears in Texas *eye roll*).  That means that we had a lot of amazing experiences with Black bear and other wildlife while we were looking for the bears. Here is a map of Big Bend that you can use as reference.

My gallery this week consists of photos taken while working on my research, Hubby’s research, and various other trips we took in the Big Bend Region. Each photo has a description of what we were doing at that time. Enjoy. I know I did.

Yellowstone Part 4 – Saving the Best (and Worst) for Last

Wow, it took a lot longer to get this post pulled together than I thought it would! I finally learned how to put Watermarks on my photos, so I was trying to get that done before I posted these photos.  So, without further ado – here is the final installment of our epic Yellowstone trip! You can catch up and read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 here.

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Seeing as how this was a trip to Yellowstone, it was high time we spent some time in the park. By this time we moved to our cabin on the Idaho/Montana border, just outside of the western park entrance. Based on my limited knowledge, the western portion of the park was where you were most likely to see the wolves, so I made sure to book several nights at these cabins to give us a good chance at seeing them. It was also cheaper than staying in the town of West Yellowstone, which is mainly just a tourist attraction since you have to go through the town in order to use the West Entrance. This is also where the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center is located, and I wanted to be sure to check that out as well.

On our first full day in West Yellowstone, we headed straight to the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center. It was smaller than I thought it would be, but I still learned A LOT. They had dioramas of different seasons and species, and had a lot of information about why the grizzly and wolf numbers dropped so quickly. (Mainly, the government at the time thought of bears and wolves as pests, and hired government trappers to kill them off. But more on that later). We were able to watch the grizzlies in their enclosure wrestle and play, search for food under rocks, and munch on tasty elk legs! (Road killed animals go to the Center). The wolves that were there are all extremely old, for wolf standards. They all looked like they were about 15 or so years old and were happy to lay in the sun and get tasty free meals that they didn’t have to hunt down on their arthritic legs.

After the center we went next door to an Authentic Mexican Restaurant. I know, I know. Why on Earth would you go get Mexican food in Montana? It was there, I was starving, and I didn’t think about it. Okay?!

Needless to say, it was terrible food. No flavor. I mean really. I couldn’t make food that flavorless on purpose. Live and learn, right? Now I’m passing on my knowledge to you so you have a better meal somewhere else.

After lunch we headed into the park to look for wild wolves! Yay!

One of the best things about Yellowstone is also one of the worst things about Yellowstone: the number of tourists. We were there before the summer crowd, but toward the end of the week more and more people started coming into the park because it was a holiday weekend coming up. So by Wednesday the park was packed! However, like I said, this is also a great thing because when one person sees awesome wildlife, everyone pulls their car over and you are sure to see whatever it is that they are looking at.

We saw a bunch of cars pulled over so of course we pulled over too. We got to see a huge coyote hunting rodents in their tunnels by pouncing on the ground and breaking their tunnels open, much like they do through the snow (see Part 3).

We continued on into the park, headed toward Lamar Valley, where everyone said is where you see the wolves. We stopped at another pull off where we saw a ton of cars and people with spotting scopes, and sure enough, our first sighting of wild wolves! While talking to a gentleman who had a spotting scope the size of our rental car, we were informed that they had killed an elk earlier in the day, and they were still lounging around letting their fat, happy bellies settle. There was a black wolf, and white wolf, and a dark grey wolf. They were really far off so I didn’t get great pictures, but they were wolves!

After the wolves wandered off, we continued up to Lamar Valley. On the way we got to see a black bear or two, but our only focus was wolves. We got to Lamar Valley and it was the most beautiful place I think I have ever seen. It is now on my favorite places list. Mountains, rolling foothills, herds of bison and antelope, grizzlies grazing on grasses and flowers. It was spectacular. We knew we were in the right place because of the number of people pulled over on the roadside with their scopes and cameras ready. Normally you would wonder what they are looking at, but then you notice that everyone is mingling, and simply waiting. They knew something was coming, and I wasn’t going to miss it.

So while we waited with the pros, we got to see some great stuff. Antelope coming close, bison calves running and playing, a grizzly family running away from some mysterious unseen object up on the hill. Then we noticed the Giant Grizzly on the river below us. Now, I’m no good at judging distance, but I would guess she was about 500-600 yards away. She was feeding on a wolf kill from several days before (according to the pros that were waiting for the wolves to show up) and her name is Scar Face. I’m sure for good reason, but she was far enough away that I had to only take their word for it. According to the pros though, Scar Face has been photographed more times than the Kardashians; I’m guessing because she frequents the area that the wolves are often found in, so people do like I did, and take pictures of her while we are waiting for the main attraction 😉

However, while we waited, Hubby noticed that people were leaving. There were still the same number of people there waiting, but the crowd itself had changed; the pros had given up to try a different spot!

I suddenly panicked – What do I do? Do I stay here and hope that they show up? Or do I try my luck somewhere else? And what if I leave and then find out that the wolves showed up right after I left? Luckily Hubby was there to help me decide. Lamar Valley is pretty big after all, so maybe they will be in a different area. We headed back down the road a ways, and when we were sure we were no longer in the valley we turned back around and headed back to a different pull off we saw. I was getting a little discouraged because by hearing all of the stories, wolves would be everywhere! I wanted to get some good pictures of wolves! Not just zoom in on a picture and have to point out “See? That black speck? That’s a wolf!” I had to see them closer!

By this time my back was aching pretty bad, so I wasn’t going to get out of the car unless there was something photo-worthy, so Hubby got out and made friends with some Canadians who are living in an RV and watching the wolves for the summer. (Fun Fact: the wolves of Yellowstone came from Alberta, Canada. It’s funny that the Albertans come all the way down to Wyoming to see the wolves they gave us!) Suddenly, out of nowhere, a black wolf runs by, down on the river about 1,000 yards away. I’m not sure where she came from, but we saw her swim the river and dash up the mountain before she was gone. I got a couple pictures of her, but nothing spectacular since she was running pretty much the whole time.  Apparently she was Number 89, and she is a rogue female that frequents the valley.

We learned a lot about the wolves by talking to all of the “wolf chasers” (or “sighters” I guess would be a better term).  Because the National Park Service is broke (because it’s always the good programs that get their funding cut first) they could no longer afford to tranquilize the wolves from a helicopter. This leads to shotting them with net guns and tranquilizing them once the researchers have gotten up to them, so the wolves have gotten a bit skittish of people. We also learned that the research program is now on a voluntary basis. The rangers that were paid to follow the wolves now must volunteer their time because the park service can’t afford to pay them. Such a sad situation. What is good though, is that there is such thing as “Citizen Science” much like with bird surveys. Enough people are interested in this subject, that they seek out the animals, watch their behavior, and report back to the rangers. Many of the observers know the rangers and vice versa, so the data that are provided are understood to be factual and non-biased (mostly).

After Number 89 ran up the hill, we started heading back, since it was getting late and we had several hours to drive back to our cabin. We stopped again at our first location because I saw something feeding on the same carcass that Scar Face had been eating earlier.

IT WAS A SILVER WOLF.

We stopped the car and I ran up the hill with my camera and tripod (I had the speed clip this time). While we were watching this grey, I decided to get some video of him feeding (unfortunately, WordPress won’t let me upload my awesome video…I’ll have to figure out how to get it onto YouTube or something). In the video you can hear Hubby and I quietly discussing if the wolf was wearing a collar or not, and if Hubby was going to hide behind me so he wouldn’t get eaten. I stopped filming right before the wolf came right passed us so I could get some still shots of him as well. I probably should have just kept filming because the pictures didn’t turn out great (it was getting dark and he was running) but live and learn, right? (that seems to be a theme for today). After the grey ran across the street into on-coming traffic and almost got plowed by a car, he disappeared up the hill and was gone. At his closest, he was probably 20 yards from us.

Ah. Maze. Ing. I was so happy, and he had gotten so close! I was in heaven. But of course you know what that means, right?

I HAD TO SEE THEM AGAIN. This wasn’t nearly enough. Andrew and I were already planning the next day. Get up SUPER early and get to Lamar Valley before sunrise because that is reportedly the best time of day to see the wolves.

Of course then it took us a few hours to get back to our cabins. And it doesn’t get dark until about 9:30…So we didn’t get back to the cabins until midnight. Last thing we needed to do was get up at 3:30 am after going to sleep at midnight, so we decided that the next day we would relax, get up whenever we felt like it, see the rest of the park, and go to bed early that night so we could get up super early the NEXT morning.

So we did the whole “geyser” thing again the next day and relaxed, doing our last bit of souvenir shopping as well. We had dinner at a restaurant/bar in West Yellowstone called The Slippery Otter, and this place was great! The owner was super nice, they had great food, and really good beer. Finally, we had found good food in Montana!

The next morning we got up at 3:30 am and I drove into the park. At about 5 am we were flagged down by a truck coming up the road, telling us to pull over because 4 HUGE BOATS (on trailers, duh) were about to be coming down the road, and they needed as much road space as they could get! Well of course he flagged us down at a terrible spot – not only was there no shoulder to pull onto, but there was actually tons of tree debris on the side of the road from doing road work in the park the day before! HOW MUCH SPACE DID THEY NEED?! I hoped we had scooted over enough; all we could do is wait. And all I could do while I waited was think about how I’m going to miss the wolves because I’m pinned between a boat trailer and the hillside! Finally they drove by without incident and we headed down the road again, but slowly this time. One thing I didn’t count on was the mount of fog that we had to drive through. Cool morning+geothermal activity=lots and lots of scary fog. I love looking at fog; I hate driving in it. I was super nervous that a herd of bison would be in the road in the fog and I was going to miss my opportunity to see the wolves because there was a dead bison on the hood of my car. So I drove carefully and as quickly as I dared. As the sky began to lighten, it was easier to see that we were engulfed in fog, and it was much brighter than I had thought it would be. I was going really to miss the wolves!!!

Finally we made it to Lamar Valley. I was in such a hurry to get to my spot and wait, that when we saw a truck stopped in the road I almost went around him. Then Hubby saw why he was stopped – the same Silver wolf  from before was standing on the hillside!

The next events were a blur – I took tons of photos, and he wandered off into the sage brush. The truck drove away, and we waited to see if he would come back. He did, and he was actually carrying a child’s stuffed animal in his mouth. No, I wasn’t confused and he really had a live dead squirrel in his mouth – it was a toy. You could see the tag on the plush, and the little stubby legs.  We have no idea why, but he was carrying around a toy.  He dropped it after a few minutes of carrying it around, and then he sort of zig-zagged in front of our car  while he tried to decide where to go, until he walked across the road back toward the river where we had first seen him a few nights before.  Then Ranger Rick pulled up. Seriously. That’s his name. He’s a Ranger named Rick. He asked what we were looking at, and when we told him a wolf, he pulled over and got out his radio telemetry equipment – SCIENCE AT WORK! Sort of. Rick couldn’t identify the wolf because the batteries on his collar were apparently dead; but that didn’t matter, because I got some amazing photos of him while he was with us. Suddenly more and more people started showing up, and we met a huge group of wolf chasers. Rick told us that the black female would be coming by soon (her radio collar was working so they knew where she was), so we waited until, far off in the distance, we saw her making her way through the river valley.

By this point my back was killing me. I could no longer appreciate the magnificent scenery I was surrounded by, because I was in blinding pain.  I told Hubby we had to go to the doctor now.  We headed to the northern portion of the park where the doctor’s office was, but they didn’t open until 8:30, so we had to wait. I was about in tears by this point and when they finally opened, I was at my breaking point. Talking to anyone would cause my voice to break, and I finally broke down and cried in front of the nurse while he asked me all the questions that he had to ask, and cried some more while talking to the doctor. He wrote me prescriptions for muscle relaxers and Vicodin and we had to drive up further north to get them filled at the pharmacy. By the time I received my prescriptions and ate some breakfast, I was done. It was probably 10 am on my second to last day of my vacation, and I couldn’t move without being in blinding pain. I was heartbroken that this is how our vacation ended. Hubby had to drive for the next 2 days because my drugs kept me knocked out. But while I was awake I was still in pain.

Our last night was spent in Centennial, Wyoming, through the Snowy Range. The Snowy Range is one of my favorite places in the US, but I slept through it because of my medicine. We got to the hotel and ate dinner in one of the 4 restaurants in town, and then I went to the room to sleep. Hubby, since he was still on vacation, wanted to go check out the town, so he bar-hopped at the 4 bars in town and met wonderful people wherever he went. I was glad he had a good time, because I felt guilty for being the reason we had to cut the trip early.

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Now my back is feeling better, although not 100%, but Hubby and I are already talking about going back to see the wolves again.

Yellowstone Part 3 – Not Actually In Yellowstone

I ended Part 1 when we were leaving Yellowstone and heading down to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Part 2 was a typical little rant explaining how NOT to be a jerk while you are Site-seeing. Part 3 was the actual hiking of the vacation, in Grand Tetons National Park.

Seeing as how much of Yellowstone tries very hard to kill you by either wildlife attack or geothermal flesh melting, the safest hikes are MILES AWAY in the Grand Tetons. This is probably why you get access to both parks when you pay your $25 admission.  We started off by finding famous places for famous photos. I wanted to re-create the infamous Ansel Adams photo of the Grand Tetons with the Snake River flowing majephtically below, but we couldn’t find THE SPOT.

You know...THIS ONE
You know…THIS ONE

Instead, we found an awesome pull off that was covered up in tourists all taking pictures of the mountains. It was cold and windy, but I couldn’t just stay in the car! Then I wanted to find the famous barn that you see EVERYWHERE.

and you know...THIS ONE
and you know…THIS ONE

I googled it because I didn’t even know what it was called, and I found GPS coordinates for its location. I put those bad boys into our car GPS, and sure enough, it took us right to the beautiful old Mormon barns, complete with an information placard explaining about them. There were hardly any people there, so I waited somewhat patiently (ok, not patiently at all, but mainly because they were rude and walking ALL OVER THE AREA while I was trying to take pictures. Hubby kept telling me they have the same right to be there as me, and they will leave soon so I will be able to get my photos. yeah yeah….It was cold and about to rain! I needed them OUT OF MY SHOT!) There were little squirrels EVERYWHERE and we even saw a coyote that was hanging around, I’m assuming trying to hunt them as soon as the annoying humans got out of his way.

After we took these pictures we headed deeper into the park to do some true hiking. We were going to head to Jenny Lake, via the Taggart Lake trailhead. I really wanted to head to Lupine Meadows, because I knew the lupine would be blooming and I thought it would be a great photo-op. Unfortunately, we decided to head to Taggart Lake first and see how my back was taking the hike. If I was feeling good we would continue up to Lupine Meadows. This is where we made the wrong choice. Half of the 1 1/2 long trail was covered in snow. I’m not talking about a beautiful dusting of snow. I mean FEET OF SNOW. FOR 1/2 A MILE. IN ONE DIRECTION.

IMG_3341
It was pretty, but deceptive
IMG_3343
Still not there, and still walking through snow. This was more of a slush.
IMG_3342
Hubby wondering how cold his feet can get before they simply fall off.

I thought “well, I’ve come this far. I have to finish this trail.” Bad idea. I have no experience traveling through deep snow. I have no equipment for traveling in deep snow. Hubby had holes in his hiking boots so his feet were soaked and frozen by the time we got to our destination. I had slipped and slid on snow that had been walked on so much it was turning to slick ice instead of crunchy snow. I fell through thin spots. Just to let you know, this is a horrible idea if you are having back pain. You use every muscle in your back with pretty much every step you take. So if you jerk to one side, all of your sore muscles get jerked too. Needless to say, we didn’t make it to Lupine Meadows. We did, however, make it to Taggart Lake. And it was breathtaking. Then we had the dreadful realization: we had to walk through all of that again.

I tried to break up the slip-n-slide journey by taking photos of stuff along the way. Where the snow was starting to melt, you could see little tunnels built by rodents in the snow. Now, I always knew that they did this, which is why there are so many silly pictures of foxes doing this:

fox hunting

But what I didn’t know is that it appears that rodents actually move soil in to create the tunnels – I thought they just tunneled through the snow itself, but clearly not, based on these pictures!

IMG_3352 IMG_3353

So while I was ready for this icy hike to be over, I was learning too, which is always fun! Once we finally got back through the snow and came upon the trail split that led to Lupine Meadows, I decided I couldn’t keep going up the mountain, because if I did I would have to be carried down the mountain on a stretcher because of my back. Seeing as how I didn’t want to become a hiking statistic, we headed back down the mountain to the car. I took a few more pictures to break up the hike, and when we got to the car, Hubby instantly took off his boots and socks and cranked up the heater on his poor frozen toe-sicles. Then he got on his phone and ordered a new pair of boots online. Sometimes you really have to love technology.

After our hike we went back to the cabin to take a nap a recuperate before bar-hopping in town. We enjoyed a little bit of night life, then we headed out to the mountain pull-off and I gave my star photography another shot (or two, or two hundred! ha). Since I was so excited about my next photography section, I was super proud of myself for being dressed warmly and prepared for a long time out in the wind. I even bragged to Hubby about how prepared I was. Then I realized that I forgot something. Something pretty darn important.

Part of my tripod.

See, there is this “speed clip” thing that you screw into the bottom if your camera, so you can just clip the camera in and out of the tripod quickly and easily. I took this off of my camera so that I could use my padded hand strap (which uses the same hole that the tripod speed clip uses). Instead of putting the clip back onto the tripod like a good girl, I put it on the table to “deal with later.”

That is always a horrible idea. At least for me. That is how things get misplaced and opportunities can potentially be lost! Luckily though, I’m a resourceful Texas Girl, so I did the next best thing. I made a small pile of gravel and used that as a sort of sand bag for my camera. It worked pretty darn well too, if I do say so myself!

Not only did I get to see some of the most beautiful scenery in the United States during a time that most people don’t get to see it, but while I was sitting on the ground freezing my tush off, I had the chance to hear coyotes singing in the river below, with no other sound and no other person around for miles. It was ah.maz.ing.

(yes, Hubby was there. He was “waiting” in the car. And when I say waiting, I mean unconscious. And snoring. And warm).

This made for a very late night (for me, since Hubby was “waiting”) but it was worth every second. I wished over and over that I had brought my speed clip, but I chalk it all up to the fact that I’m new to this whole photography thing, so I’m allowed to screw up once in a while.

Again, I put most of the pictures into a Gallery below. Enjoy, and send me some feedback! Do you prefer the photos mixed into the story or in the gallery at the bottom so you can enjoy them all together?

Yellowstone Part 2 – Pho Phweakin’ Majephtic

Phteven

Yellowstone was an amazing trip, no doubt. However, when you travel you are always exposed to one thing that is sure to annoy you every time. Tourists.

I know, I know. Technically, you are a tourist too, but if you are anything like me, AND I THINK YOU ARE (gives approving head nod), you are a considerate traveler who wants everyone to be able to appreciate the sights and sounds of nature the way they want, without interruptions.  And unfortunately that’s impossible, because there are some people who don’t have the “considerate of others gene.” And when you are in a place that gets 30,000 visitors annually, many of these people congregate all at once.

Here is one of those times…

…Of course we did the geysers and thermal pools, we saw the frozen Yellowstone Lake, and then putzed around in the Old Faithful area of the park for a little longer to see Old Faithful, the lodge, and the geysers before heading down to Jackson Hole for our first real night of the trip.  While we were walking along the boardwalks of the thermal area we spotted a female grizzly and her young cub! We were so excited to see them. Earlier that morning, Hubby had said if he could see a bear with her cubs, that would make the trip perfect, and sure enough, here she comes wandering out of the woods.  It was amazing! Seeing them wander around, grazing here and there, and just being bears without being harassed was wonderful. They were so majestic! It was almost like I was the only person there. Until I was reminded that I wasn’t.

See, there was some sort of AV club or photography class there as well.  It was a small group of guys who had nice equipment, but acted like they were the most important people there. They would constantly sit down and wait for God-knows-what on the boardwalks and take up the entire thing, forcing people to carefully walk around them, for fear of falling off of the boardwalk and being boiled alive like on the warning posters, telling you to stay on the boardwalk. Seriously. Clearly these guys had already irritated me, right?  So while we were standing their watching this majestic wild animal do her wild animal thing, and she started to wander back into the woods where she came from, it surprised the crap out of me when AV nerd #1, AKA Douchebag McGee, started suddenly yelling for his counterpart, AV nerd #2 (let’s call him Charlie; he didn’t really earn a touching nickname). The conversation went something like this:

D.bag McGee: “Charlie! Charlie!!! She’s moving! There are people on the trail!”

Charlie: (looks up from his camera uncertainly)

D.bag McGee: “Charlie!”

Me: “HEY! WHY ARE YOU YELLING?!”

D.bag: “BECAUSE THERE ARE PEOPLE IN THE FOREST!”

Me: “Do you work here?” (Douchebag had a 2-way radio, so I thought it MIGHT be a possibility).

D.bag: “No, BUT I DON’T WANT TO SEE ANYONE DIE TODAY!”

Me: “There is a ranger RIGHT THERE” (points in the direction of the ranger truck, complete with flashing lights, megaphone, and a barricade to prevent tourists from wandering up to the grizzlies)

D.bag: ignores me and continues to talk loudly to Charlie to see if everyone is safe. States that his reasoning for yelling is he “didn’t want to interrupt radio traffic.”

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The only good thing that came out of this “interaction” is that Hubby and I now have years and years of entertaining each other by randomly screaming “THERE ARE PEOPLE IN THE FOREST! I DON’T WANT TO SEE ANYONE DIE TODAY!!!”

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Here are a few rules to live by when visiting Yellowstone and you see bears:

1. If you aren’t a park ranger, don’t try to do the park ranger’s job. They probably have a better idea of what needs to be done than you do, and more than likely they are already doing that job before you even notice something is happening. They’re good like that.

2. Pay attention to your surroundings. The “people in the forest” were actually walking on a well established ROAD. The road in which Douchebag drove in on, to be exact.

3. Do you not think that peoples’ lives are worth interrupting radio traffic?! If something is TRULY a danger, then yes. Report it. But keep a cool head and try to observe if there is ACTUALLY an emergency before you start freaking out and yelling uncontrollably. And maybe just avoid the freak out all-together if possible. All you do is piss of the Texans next to you. And you do not want a pissed off Texan.

Yellowstone May 2014 576
Pho Phweakin’ Majephtic

Yellowstone Part 1

May is my favorite month. It’s starting to warm up but it’s not too hot, the humidity is usually pretty low, and it’s that wonderful time of year when Hubby and I do our annual week long vacation. For the last few years we have gone to the Florida Keys but this year we wanted to do something different and cheaper. (We are saving up for a big trip in a couple years, so the next couple trips we do will have to be less expensive.) Just like we do every December, we planned and booked our entire trip, this year to Yellowstone National Park. Hubby had never been there before, and I was dying to go back. My family and I went there in 2001, so I wanted to see it again from a Conservationist’s point of view, instead of a teenager point of view.

This time I put all of the photos into a slideshow at the bottom. I thought that might be better than making this post 8 miles long. Enjoy!

The flights were free because of my frequent flyer miles I get from flying for work, and the hotels/cabins we stayed in were cheap because we booked them on Hotels.com, (which is an awesome website, BTW). By the time May came around, all of our lodging, except for one B&B that I didn’t book through Hotels.com, was paid for months ahead of time, so all we had to do was pay for our food and gas on the trip. And of course all of the little cheesy souvenirs that are required.

We flew into Denver and the plan was to drive up to Cody, Wyoming for the first day.  Hubby had booked a cheap rental car through some no-name rental company and when she asked us where we were heading and we said Cody, she said the cars can’t leave the state of Colorado. I’m sorry, what?! How many people do what we were planning on doing? I thought this was a common method of getting to Yellowstone?!

Clearly this woman had had issues like this in the past, because she basically said, “sorry I’m not sorry,” so we went next door to Thrifty to rent from them instead. It was a bit more expensive, but I guess we saved money in the long run since we could actually leave Colorado in this car…

We headed north and started seeing mesas, mountains, and snow. It was a big change from the 85 degrees in Houston. Our first stop was Cheyenne, Wyoming. This is the capital of the state, so we found the beautiful courthouse and then walked around town for a bit. We even found a cool farmers market on the square and I got to play with some puppies that needed homes, that were with Black Dog Animal Rescue. We continued north and stopped at Hell’s Half Acre. This was an interesting place that apparently I used to scatter my toys all over when I was a child. Which is interesting, because until this day I didn’t know it was a real place…hmm… The geology of this area was really cool, but I’m not a geologist so I have no idea what caused it other than erosion.

When we got to Cody, several people suggested we eat dinner at The Silver Dollar Bar. I think there must have been better places to eat, but this place was pretty good – it just wasn’t what we were expecting. I guess since people were suggesting it for dinner I thought it was more of a restaurant/bar. It was really a bar that also served food. It was good food though!

We walked around town a bit and had drinks at The Irma, the historic hotel and restaurant owned by Buffalo Bill Cody. We also had breakfast there the next morning. It was really neat to sit in there and see all of the old 1900s décor. I don’t think they have changed anything in that place since Bill Cody owned it, except they turned the saloon into a restaurant and the famous Cherry Wood bar was now purely decoration and no longer held liquor, glasses, or the shotgun to keep the cowboys from getting rowdy on their trip into “the big city.”

That morning we headed into Yellowstone. We drove through areas that still had so much snow on the mountains, and the areas were so steep, that you weren’t allowed to stop your car for fear of being lost in an avalanche. Scary stuff for Texans! There were also areas where they keep dynamite charges in the mountainsides just in case they need to blow a bunch of snow all the way back to Hell’s Half Acre.

Pretty soon after entering the park we saw our very first Grizzlies! It was impossible to miss them, because there was a line of cars and people with GIANT spotting scopes and cameras pulled over other the side of the road. It was a large male and a smaller female laying down in the shade up on the hill. Apparently before we showed up, the male had been putting the moves on the female, but she was having none of it.  After watching them for a while and talking to the other photographers, we started driving along again, just to see another grizzly up on the same ridge, grazing by himself. It was the start to a very successful wildlife trip!

Of course we did the geysers and thermal pools, we saw the frozen Yellowstone Lake, and then putzed around in the Old Faithful area of the park for a little longer to see Old Faithful, the lodge, and the geysers before heading down to Jackson Hole for our first real night of the trip.  While we were walking along the boardwalks of the thermal area we spotted a female grizzly and her young cub! We were so excited to see them. Earlier that morning, Hubby had said if he could see a bear with her cubs, that would make the trip perfect, and sure enough, here she comes wandering out of the woods.  It was amazing! Seeing them wander around, grazing here and there, and just being bears without being harassed was wonderful. It was almost like I was the only person there.

On our way down we kept our eyes peeled for wildlife along the road and got a chance to see a bull moose standing in the water right by the road, along with the range where the deer and antelope played (along with bison and elk as well). Our first view of the Grand Tetons was not great – they were covered in low-lying clouds and we weren’t even sure what we were looking at. That night we saw the night life of Jackson Hole and I made my first-ever attempt at astrophotography. I tried it right outside of our cabin and it went so well that we drove down the road a couple miles and found a pull-over to try it again in an area without light pollution. It was fantastic! I definitely found a new hobby! The only bad part is that it makes for some late nights, and our cabin had a window that wasn’t covered so it got bright QUICK. There wasn’t much in the way of sleeping in on this trip.

We spent the next day checking out Jackson Hole which is an awesome little tourist town. Everyone is so nice, and there are sculptures everywhere! We went into the most amazing store too – It was a fossil shop and to get your attention there was a huge Triceratops skull for sale in the window. The sign said “Yes, I’m real! $450,000.00” Holy craps! But it was SO COOL! The shop also contained things like a woolly rhino skull, cave bear skulls, fossilized sting rays, and of course, trilobites! All of these items were real, so of course out of my price range. I would have killed for a cave bear skull though…

The shop also had reproduction items that were still pretty pricy, like this guy! (this is actually a picture of the REAL crab, taken at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, but the fossil shop had a reproduction of this).

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After checking out the town, we headed into Grand Tetons National Park, just north of Jackson Hole.

I think this is actually a good stopping point for the first part of our trip. We were really busy, and I want you to be able to appreciate the adventures without getting bogged down in the literature!

Enjoy the pictures in the slideshow!

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The Human Garbage Epidemic

[Warning, this post is not as Light-Tight-And Bright as I normally keep my posts.]

While I was teaching biology labs in Grad School, I had the opportunity to get on my soap box from time to time, and say the things that matter most to me, and hopefully pass on some knowledge other than what was in the textbooks.

It’s been a while since I was on my soap box.

I have missed my soap box. [Steps up, and clears throat]

I posted this on my Facebook page here, but I felt that it was not quite enough to get my words out. It didn’t cover enough ground. I needed a bigger outlet. So I’m re-posting it here, with a little more oomph.

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I saw this video posted on Facebook about Midway Island. It’s a tiny island 2,000 miles from the nearest continent, that is frequented by seabirds like the Albatross, a huge seabird that flies for miles on end searching for food to feed their chicks which are hatching all over Midway Island.  The thing is, that the video was not so much about the island, but it was about how we are killing the next generation of Albatross because the island is covered in garbage.
Not only do the chicks find interesting things to eat while they are waiting for their parents to return, but the parents are bringing back interesting items that are floating on the surface of the water. They are easy to collect because they don’t fight back, and they fill up the stomach, so they must be tasty morsels of food, right?
Except that those interesting items that they are eating are pieces of plastic that have washed ashore or are floating in the ocean.  True, they fill up the stomach, but they also don’t break down and take up space that true tiny fish morsels could be taking up. No nutrients are getting to the birds, so they die with a full stomach. Full of plastic cigarette lighters and bottle tops and whatever else will float on the water long enough to be picked up by the birds.
Bird body, full of plastic
Bird body, full of plastic
After fighting it’s way back from extinction (also caused by humans), the California Condor has started to fill their babies tummies with plastic bottle tops as well, killing the recovering population with what is termed Anthropogenic Junk.  Vultures, gulls, and crows are known for frequenting dumps to find food scraps let behind by people. The best place in the US that you can see the Tamualipas Crow is at a dump in South Texas.
It’s not just birds, either. I have found a dead calf in a pasture once, that had a stomach full of plastic grocery bags, baling twine, and all sorts of other garbage. I have seen cows in pastures chewing on plastic bags as I drove by, helpless. Bears are known for frequenting dumps as well, and I found picture after picture of camels, goats, turtles, seals, and dolphins dead or dying from eating or getting tangled in anthropogenic junk.

Turtle_eating_bag

Photo courtesy of The Center for Biological Diversity. Photo taken by Ewan Edwards / The Clipperton Project
Photo courtesy of The Center for Biological Diversity. Photo taken by Ewan Edwards / The Clipperton Project
Have you ever heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch? This post is getting pretty long, so that will have to wait for another day.
Below is what I posted on Facebook regarding the video. It’s a little emotional, but for good reason. Please feel free to repost this. Either the video or my blog post as well. I don’t care. I just want to get the message out there. Maybe it will reach enough people. Maybe it will change some minds. Maybe it will help…
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It’s amazing to me that people think that it’s ok to throw plastic on the ground and leave it there, as if someone else is coming up behind them and cleaning up the mess they leave behind.  It’s also amazing to me that those same people do …not seem to understand how massive an impact they are making on wildlife populations. It doesn’t matter where you live – your litter will find its way to a place where it shouldn’t be.
Doesn’t it disgust them to walk on the beach and see garbage everywhere? Doesn’t it worry them that they will cut their foot on the broken bottle that someone else left there? Doesn’t it bother them that there are dirty diapers and household waste where their children are trying to play?
How is it any different for animals? Why should they live amongst the garbage that humans produce? Why should their needs be ignored?
Because we are human? Because we are smarter? If we were so much smarter, than why are we letting this happen, year after year? Why have we not been able to stop being selfish? Why are we killing off the only place we can possibly live?
Doesn’t sound very smart to me.

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I always like to end my posts with a positive note, so below are some links to how you can help. You can also find similar efforts in your local area.

http://www.keepaustinbeautiful.org/

http://www.txdot.gov/inside-txdot/get-involved/volunteer/adopt-a-highway.html

http://www.supcleanup.com/whoweare.htm

http://www.pickupamerica.org/about/press/picking-trash-organization-trying-heighten-awareness-reducing-roadside-litter

http://www.oceanconservancy.org/our-work/marine-debris/

http://www.cleanuptheworld.org/en/

If you made it this far, thanks for reading. I (obviously) feel very passionately about this and other conservation topics, and would love to discuss such things in the future if you would like!

What have you done, or what will you do to help clean up our planet? Let me know!