The Life in My Years

An anthology of life

When nature drew up her blueprint for Yellowstone she included a wealth of wonders. Would you like waterfalls? We have hundreds. Rivers? Aplenty.  Wildlife? A magnificent lake? You’ve got ’em. Canyons, geysers, hot springs, forests and sprawling valleys tucked beautifully into majestic peaks? Yeah, we got those too. About the only missing ingredient is an ocean.

Cora and I entered the vast park from the south, the west and the north and still only scratched the surface. From the parkside town of West Yellowstone we explored the Gibbon River.

Gibbon River and Gibbon Falls

The Gibbon River was named after Colonel John Gibbon, who took part in the 1872 Hayden Geological Survey.  Known as a prime fly fishing river its one of the major tributaries of the Madison River. We drove along its path and stopped to view beautiful Gibbon Falls. Two views of the falls are shown below.

Gibbon Falls 1

Gibbon Falls.  Canon EOS60D, 1/5 sec. f/18 57mm, ISO 100

Gibbon Falls 2

Gibbon Falls.  Canon EOS60D, 1/10 sec. f/18 100mm, ISO 100

Gibbon River Elk

As we drove along the route of the Gibbon River, we ran into yet another of the many Yellowstone traffic jams, this one complete with people leaving their cars in the middle of the road. When I first saw the jam in front of us I knew from the experiences of previous days that a bottleneck of this size was being caused by something pretty special.  I found a place to park on the side of the road well up from all the activity, grabbed my camera and a 300mm lens and walked toward the commotion.

I hadn’t gone far when I caught a glimpse of a grand bull elk drinking from the river that was shimmering in the afternoon sun and knew that this would require the heavy artillery, so I sprinted back to the car and attached the 600mm lens, grabbed the monopod and joined the crowd of onlookers. A little further downstream were more elk, grazing on the banks and refreshing themselves with the cool river water.

Bull Elk Water

A bull elk drinks from the shimmering river  Canon EOS 60D, 1/800 sec. f/11 552mm, ISO 2500

Female elk 1

A female elk enjoys the cool water.  Canon EOS 60D, 1/250 sec. f/5.6 165mm, ISO 640

Baby elk madison river blog

This baby elk looked tentatively at the big crowd on the bank.  Canon EOS60D,  1/500 sec. f/8 350mm, ISO 800

A short while later a ranger appeared to bring some order to the traffic snarl. I wonder if when he’d applied to be a park ranger he had any inkling that he was also applying to be a traffic cop.

Yellowstone River and Hayden Valley

One afternoon Cora and I headed out for a picnic along the Yellowstone River. Maybe a reminiscence of a picnic that I’d had with my parents when I was a kid? That one was disturbed by a bear.

We found a place on the northern edge of the Hayden Valley.

Yellowstone river hayden valley

The view a few steps from our picnic table.  Canon EOS60D, 1/640 sec. f/5.6 24mm, ISO 125

Yellowstone river2

Canon EOS60D, 1/640 sec. f/5.6 22mm, ISO 125

Above and below, views of the Yellowstone River

Yellowstone river3

Canon EOS60D, 1/640 sec. f/5.6 38mm, ISO 125

Buffalo grazing Hayden valley

Bison graze and laze in the Hayden Valley. Canon EOS60D, 1/50 sec. f/6.3 600mm, ISO 125

Going into the trip I looked forward to seeing three of Yellowstone’s most elusive wild inhabitants wolves, moose and bighorn sheep. As our trip wore on I wondered if we would see any of the three until one day just as we entered the park we saw bighorn sheep.

Bighorn Sheep

We spent our last days in Yellowstone using Gardiner, Montana as our base, entering the park through the northwest gate. As we drove into the park one morning we ran into another Yellowstone traffic jam with people out of their cars, craning necks and looking up at some roadside cliffs. There high above, negotiating the rocky crags like hooved acrobats were Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep.

The photography was going to be a challenge. The sky was giving off a blinding background, the sheep were waaaay up there and it wasn’t easy aiming my still new, unwieldy 600mm lens skyward. Luckily I’d invested in a little gadget called a beanbag which I set on the edge of our car’s roof.  The beanbag provided me a little nest in which to nest the long lens for more stability.

I’m only moderately pleased with the shot below. There were actually four of the animals that we could see. The other two were clambering a little lower down on the cliffs but were too well camouflaged by the rocky background for a good shot so I focused on the two that were silhouetted against the sky.

Big Horn Sheep

Bighorn sheep.  Canon 60D, 1/800 sec. f/11 600mm, ISO 3200

Later that same day after leaving the park and heading towards our cabin outside of Gardiner I spotted some bighorn sheep conveniently at ground level.

Big Horn Sheep 2

Canon EOS 60D, 1/1000 sec. f/11 600mm, ISO 1600

Big Horn Sheep 3

Canon EOS 60D, 1/400 sec. f/7.1 273mm, ISO 200

Big Horn Sheep 4

Canon EOS 60D, 1/1000 sec. f/11 600mm, ISO 2000

Unfortunately we never did see a moose or the one animal I wanted most to see – the wolf. We’d headed out to the Lamar Valley early one chill morning and found a group of wolf watchers with lenses and scopes that made my 600mm look puny in comparison. These wolf watchers are the ones that you want to sidle up to. They know the packs, their usual whereabouts and even individual wolves, either by their designated names or numbers.


14 thoughts on “Nature’s Majesty – Yellowstone Part II

  1. Amy says:

    They are beautifully captured and very sharp. The Bighorn sheep photo is awesome!
    We saw only one moose when we visited RMNP and lots of Elks. I notice you use 600mm, how cool!

    1. Paulie says:

      Thank you Amy, With my wife’s blessing I got the 600mm zoom specifically for this trip. It’s a Tamron which was much more reasonably priced than the Canon (I believe that one was 6000 dollars). It weighs a little more than 5 pounds so getting a sharp photo is a hit or miss proposition. I’m relying more and more on a monopod and when its convenient the beanbag that I mentioned in my post. That said I”m planning on getting an extender which will make it more unwieldy.
      I noticed that you are involved in the photo challenges a lot. I’m trying to figure out how those work. Is there a link that explains them?

      1. Amy says:

        I bought a 400 mm lens for my RMNP photo workshop trip. It was to heavy for me to carry and hike at the same time, so I had to return it. I have a monopod, I just need to learn to use it appropriately. I read somewhere you use the monpod and your two legs as tripod. Sound right?
        Will get the photo challenge for you in a minute.

      2. Amy says:

        Here is link for the Lens Artists Photo Challenge. Four of us take turns to host a weekly theme. Here is the link that explains:
        Cee hosts a Fun Foto Challenge and B&W, both are very popular:


        For the above two, Cee provides a theme list weeks ahead of time. Bloggers participate when she has her up on Tuesday/Thursday.

        Lens Artists does not provide a list ahead of time, but one of us hosts and announcement a theme on Saturday at 12 p (ECT)

        You also can find more from the list that created by:

        Hope this helps, Paulie. If you have questions, let me know.

        1. Paulie says:

          Thank you very much Amy. Very much appreciated. Now I guess I just have to take the plunge and try one.

  2. Paulie says:

    A mono and two legs is about right. Mine has 3 short fold out legs about 6 inches long each that flex, allowing me to move the camera side to side and up and down. I ALWAYS make sure that I have the camera strap around my neck when the camera is on the monopod. I’ve heard of people who space out and think its a tripod – crash.
    I haven’t taken real long hikes with that lens yet. I have a nice backpack that will carry my camera, all of my lenses and various gadgets. It has a very sturdy waist belt so that I can shift the load to my hip. I’ve evolved to the point of considering what things I need for a shoot and then leaving the non essentials behind. Link for the pack is below

  3. M.B. Henry says:

    Absolutely beautiful photographs! LOVE the waterfalls – perfection!

    1. Paulie says:

      Thank you so much for the kind comment

    2. Paulie says:

      If you haven’t visited it’s well worth the trip. And there is plenty of history to be found; about a day’s drive is the site of the Little Big Horn, there’s the Buffalo Bill museum in Cody and north of Yellowstone there are a number of historic mining towns in Montana.

  4. Good to see that there are so many keen photographers shooting wildlife, instead of hunters with guns. (Of course you wouldn’t have those in a national park!) I don’t know why some people think it’s great to kill an animal and haul parts of it home. It probably takes as much or more skill to get a good photo, which you can display at home or on social media, AND the animal lives to be photographed by other “hunters.” I’ve enjoyed your pictures of Yellowstone. Thank you!

    1. Paulie says:

      Thank you Audrey. I think that photography is more of a challenge. You might be surprised at how many exposures of the same scene I take and then discard; too light or too dark, not quite in focus, composition not to my liking. I thank technology for digital images. I wouldn’t be able to afford it with film.
      I tried hunting about 40 years ago and it didn’t take long to find that I was neither skilled at it not did I like the notion of shooting an animal.

  5. johnlmalone says:

    gorgeous photographs. they made my night 🙂

    1. Paulie says:

      Thank you John. I’m honored that my post made someone’s Friday night, or Saturday night. I can’t keep up with time zones.

  6. beetleypete says:

    Some great photos, of a magnificent place. Nothing like that where I live, so it is always good to see something different.
    Many thanks for the much-appreciated follow of my blog.
    Best wishes, Pete.

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