When we encountered a few ice crusted Bison on the edge of the road in Yellowstone National Park the other day, we weren’t expecting a stampede. We got out of the snow coach to photograph them because several were caked with ice and hoar frost. As we stood near the coach, hand holding our cameras, a few of them lumbered onto the roadway and I took this shot, a mini Bison jam of sorts as they were blocking road. After a few minutes, Moose shouted for us to “get in the van now!” After my experience in Anchorage with a bull moose fast approaching and I ignored Moose’s warning, I didn’t even look up but turned and walked quickly back to the snow coach. As we watched from inside, we saw a dozen or more Bison running toward us down the road past other stopped coaches. Another smaller group of Bison was running toward the road from across the street. They stopped before they got to our coach and we never did determine what spooked them. Whatever, it made for a great morning of shooting.
The cold temperatures combined with the fumaroles at the Paint Pots in Yellowstone National Park created a dense vapor that obscured the trees including the barren trunks that have, over time because of the caustic minerals, become just huge sticks jutting from the meadow along the Fountain Paint Pot Trail. The view waxed and waned as the fumaroles expelled their vapors. It was eerie to say the least, especially when the visibility was almost completely obscured like in this scene.
At first, we heard the wolves howling. We’d heard reports of wolf sightings all week but they were always the day before, or hours earlier in the day. When we made our final stop of the day Friday at Madison Junction, one of the volunteers asked if we’d seen the wolves. “What wolves?” I asked. “Eight sighted right here,” the volunteer said. And, the chase was on. Word gets out fast in Yellowstone when there is a wildlife sighting and especially when it’s a wolf, everyone knows. Moose and Dan, our driver, were on the hunt. We got away from the crowds that were still hoping to see the wolves at Madison Junction that were now long gone. We stopped near another snow coach down the road and heard at least three wolves howling. How exhilarating to hear that sound echo across the meadow. The adrenaline was high. We were chasing both the wolves that had been so elusive all week and the deadline to be out of the park by 5 PM. Our hearts were pumping. We drove in the direction Moose expected the rest of the pack to be along the Madison River and found fresh tracks on the side of the road and heard more howling. Finally, we made our way further down the road and there was the wolf jam. Every snow coach and sled within 15 miles had converged on the sight and the occupants had disgorged to crowd the edge of the road with gawking viewers. Amazingly, the wolves were spread out in a large meadow near the Madison River. What a thrill to see them. At least five were in easy view and the one closest to the road, pictured here, howled and howled. It is a sight I won’t soon forget. We were told this is the Wapiti Pack. How exciting to end our winter trip to Yellowstone National Park with wolf sightings. It was the icing on the cake of an already remarkable and special winter adventure in Yellowstone.
Artist’s Point is one of the most famous overlooks on the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River. It was so-named by mistake in 1883 because it was thought that artist Thomas Moran, for whom Mount Moran in the Grand Tetons is named, sketched his 1872 depiction of the falls there. I have photographed the tree there for each of the seven years I have visited Yellowstone National Park in winter but I first photographed this tree in 1966 when I spent the summer working at Jackson Lake Lodge in the Grand Tetons and my friends and I hitchhiked through Yellowstone National Park on our day off. Yesterday, with the mists from the hot springs enveloping it, this nondescript tree punctuated the scene and despite its scrawny appearance, it continues to survive fifty-six years plus years later.
Martes Americana is the scientific name for the Pine Marten, a member of the weasel family that is found in Yellowstone National Park. We were alerted by another snow coach driver that there were some Pine Martens at the park service station near the Canyon Visitor Center. We walked back to find a half dozen scurrying up and down the pines and onto the snow topped dumpster. There were already a half dozen photographers there and, once again, their respect for the park’s wildlife was lacking. Their behavior was threatening, not benign. They raced back and forth eventually driving all but one of the Martens further back into the forest. When, thankfully for us, they returned to their coach, beckoned by their driver, the sole remaining marten kept an eye on them and their vehicle until they drove off. After there was some peace, the cute little marten posed for us.
On our second day in Yellowstone National Park, we drove to Hayden Valley. Until that afternoon, we hadn’t been close enough to any Coyotes to get decent photographs. When we saw this Coyote with its gorgeous coat exploring the edges of the Yellowstone River in the Hayden Valley, we got out of the snow coach to photograph it. In the end, we spent about thirty minutes with this canine in single digit temperatures. We watched as it nibbled the ice at the edge of the water. Then, when it found something it really liked, it rolled and wallowed on the edge of the bank. We didn’t see what it was rolling on, probably something dead, luxuriating in its decay. I captured this shot as it got nearer to us and we hoped it would come up the bank and cross the road nearby. Unfortunately for us, two other snow coaches saw us and the Coyote, parked near us, and disgorged groups of photographers that plunged through the snow in the meadow racing toward the Coyote. That, of course, ruined any chances that the Coyote would continue to approach us now that it was threatened by a group of people running to it as fast as they could lumber through the snow. But we had our thirty minutes. They had but a few.
We had a fabulous first day in Yellowstone National Park. It started early when at about sunrise, we came across a herd of Bison just beginning to stir from their night’s resting place. One by one as they rose, covered with hoar frost that had accumulated on their coats during the cold night. They lumbered toward us, so close that we had to move to give way and keep the mandated National Park Service distance. About half the herd crossed the road right where we had been standing. I can’t wait to see what the rest of the week brings.
The Grand Haven Lighthouses were almost unrecognizable in bright morning light. Less than 15 hours after we photographed the stormy waves surrounding the lighthouse at sunset, the water had calmed and the icicle encrusted roof line of the foghouse outer light was now ice free (click here to see the scene 15 hours prior). What a difference a day makes, indeed! The bright red of the outer and inner lighthouses was barely visible in the stormy light the prior evening. It was quite a shock to see that brilliant red against the clear blue sky in the morning sun.
The second day of our visit to St.Joseph’s Lighthouse on Lake Michigan was calmer than the first day. The sun was setting as we stood on the beach. It is simply amazing to see the amount of ice that forms on the posts and railings and on the lighthouses themselves. It is equally amazing to see the changes in the ice formations from day to day.
The Michigan City, Indiana Lighthouse was built in 1904 and it is the only public operating lighthouse in Indiana. Lighthouse keepers used the elevated catwalk for 29 years to access the light tower. In 1933, the light was electrified. This lighthouse is very similar to the St. Joseph’s Lighthouse in St. Joseph, Michigan. The main difference in appearance between the two is that the St. Joseph’s Lighthouse has a smoke stack which was restored to the lighthouse in 2016, amid some local controversy but they both have the same red roof. On this gray day, the red roof stands out. I slowed the shutter speed to blur the waves.
The thick layers of ice that dripped in whimsical patterns off the railings leading to St. Joseph’s Lighthouse lit up as the setting sun turned the sky a fiery orange and infused the icicles with its glow. It looked like fire and ice. Despite the subfreezing temperatures, the warmth of the sun began to melt the ice just a bit and a few drops fell from the icy formations. The patterns of ice on the railings and the lighthouses on Lake Michigan changed constantly so on one day the ice completely encrusted the railings while the next day, it was mostly gone.
At dusk, a blinking red light came on in the Grand Haven South Pier Entrance Light. The light from the setting sun had almost completely disappeared and it is hard to tell that both of these lighthouses, the entrance light and the cylindrical inner light, are red. The Entrance Light takes the brunt when storm waves engulf it as evidenced by its roof and railings encrusted with icicles.
My bird feeders are called the Squirrel Buster and are squirrel proof with a mechanism that closes the feeder ports should a squirrel happen to get on one of them. That does not deter the squirrels from constantly trying to get to them. Sunday morning I looked out and one of the squirrels was poised on top of the pergola keeping an eye on the feeder beneath it. I was able to open the patio door and take photographs without scaring it away because it was so focused on trying to get to the feeder that it didn’t seem to notice me in the doorway just a few feet away. Taken with the Nikon Z9, Nikkor Z100-400mm and ZTC 2.0.
Big Red, as the Holland Harbor Lighthouse is affectionately known, juts into Holland Harbor protected by a breakwater. Ice floes, like those in this photograph, surround it in the winter. As we watched for a couple of hours one morning last week, the direction of the floes changed a couple of times and the amount of ice surrounding the lighthouse changed constantly. At one point, the entire foreground was filled with ice, and later, there was almost no ice. Big Red was built in 1907 as a fog signal building with no light. The light was on an adjacent structure until 1936 when the Coast Guard added a light to Big Red on top of the fog signal.
On the way to the airport in Grand Rapids, MI Saturday morning, we stopped at the Air Zoo, an aerospace museum that describes itself as “a highly charged, multi-sensory atmosphere that goes beyond anything you’ve ever seen” and I’d have to agree. The exhibits are informative, well displayed, and interesting. When I turned away from one of the exhibits and saw it reflected as ribbons of color on a polished stainless column, I couldn’t resist photographing it. Only after did I realize that I’d also taken a self portrait.
Lake Michigan fascinates me because it is so vast that in many ways it seems like the oceans I am used to seeing. Since the sun sets in the west, the sun setting over a vast expanse of water to me looks like the sun setting over the Pacific Ocean. Lake Michigan is approximately 118 miles wide and 307 miles long, so the opposite shores are not visible from one side to the other, further imitating the ocean’s expanse. Although I’m here to photograph lighthouses in winter amidst crashing waves and encrusted with ice, the setting sun turning the sky an intense orange diverted my attention.
The sight of wind-driven waves crashing into an icicle encrusted lighthouse highlighted by the setting sun manifests nature’s fury on the coastline. But, this coastline is neither on the Pacific nor the Atlantic coast. It is on Lake Michigan. The five Great Lakes have more than 4500 miles of shoreline compared to just under 3500 miles of combined shoreline of the Pacific and Atlantic Coasts. There are more lighthouses in the state of Michigan than any other state in the US. Forty-four of its 129 lighthouses are on Lake Michigan. This lighthouse is called the Grand Haven Lighthouse, one of two on the pier at Grand Haven, Michigan on the stormy shores of Lake Michigan. The winds can be fierce here and the afternoon we visited, the winds buffeted us with gusts to 30 MPH in below freezing temperatures as we braced ourselves on the ice encrusted sand hand-holding our Nikon Z9s and Z24-70mm lenses with 2X teleconverters. When the wind whips the waves into a frenzy, the lighthouses and their walkways, like this one, become encrusted with ice and icicles from the fresh water lake. The ice formations change constantly with the wind, the sun, and the waves and each day offers a completely different photographic experience.
It was windy, 18 degrees before factoring in the wind chill, and very icy on the beach at Tiscornia Park on Lake Michigan. We were there to photograph the St. Joseph’s North Pier Lighthouses and were surprised to find the beach covered in a thick layer of ice mixed with sand and lots of huge chunks of ice strewn across the beach. The lighthouses were behind Moose when he took this photograph of me conquering the ice with my ice traction cleats on my boots.
The Lamar Valley in Yellowstone National Park is vast and beautiful. Driving through, you might see Pronghorn, Bison, Red Fox, Elk, Coyotes, River Otters, and even Wolves. I took this shot one chilly afternoon this past November when the critters were scarce but the stunning landscape engulfed us.
Bobo, my Red-lored Amazon parrot, is brilliantly colored. And, before I had cataract surgery a couple of weeks ago on my right eye, I could still see those brilliant colors. At least I thought I could. But, as I look at the colors of Bobo’s feathers, I’m amazed by the difference that the cataract surgery has made in my color vision. I have had surgery in only one eye and comparing the colors I see in each eye is quite fascinating. Looking at the feathers with my right, “new” eye, all of the colors are vivid, vibrant, and bright. Looking with the left eye, they are muted, muddy, and dull. The irony is that before surgery, my left eye was my “good” eye and I thought I was seeing correct color in it because the right eye was much more muted with a pronounced yellow cast caused by the cataract. Now, the red, yellow, and green colors I see with the right eye are considerably brighter and more saturated than the left. But it is the difference in the color of the blue feathers on the top of her head that is most astounding to me. Looking with the left eye, the feathers look so dull I see only the palest blue. But looking at them with my right eye, the blue is bright and brilliant and a completely different color of blue from what I see with the left eye. I’m looking forward to getting surgery in the other eye so I’ll have a matched set.