Westward Ho(ly Cow)! Episode 6: Sax-Zim Bog-Golly We’re Back!

In 2022 we spent a month at the Sax-Zim Bog in Northern Minnesota. This 300+ sq mile area is home to a wide variety of winter birds and animals including great gray owls. We were incredibly fortunate with our sightings that month with 25 great grays, 8 barred owls, 4 snowy owls, one northern hawk owl, 8 bald eagles, two pine martens, multiple porcupines, a bobcat, a red fox, and many of the regular winter birds. 

pine marten (February 2022)

We knew we could never top our 2022 trip and debated whether to include a stop on our way home this year. But since we were practically driving right by, we booked a week at an Airbnb in Hibbing. Kalen’s place was perfect:  roomy and comfortable with everything we needed, plus conveniently located to both downtown Hibbing and the Sax-Zim Bog.

our Home Sweet Home for the week

You can find Kalen’s Airbnb listing here: Lovely 2 bedroom ground level rental unit – Apartments for Rent in Hibbing, Minnesota, United States – Airbnb

According to everyone we spoke to, great gray owl sightings were down this year. The resident owls were all seasoned hunters, snow totals less than half of what they should be in January, and temperatures warmer than normal.

much less snow and warmer temps than normal for January

This combination allowed the owls to catch their voles at the night, with no need to hunt alongside the road in the daytime. Owls were seen sporadically pre-dawn or at dusk, in extremely low light conditions. Of course, I was optimistic that we would see at least one before our week was over.

cars waiting for a GGO along Hwy 7 at sunset

On our first day, we did see a northern hawk owl, so far away it was only an owl-shaped outline even with my fully zoomed Nikon P900. Some people had blazed a trail through the snow to get closer and in doing so flushed her even further from view.

nothing more than an owl-shaped outline!

As fortunate as we were in 2022, we kept coming up owl-less on this visit. Not to be discouraged, we focused on some of the smaller bird species that had eluded us last year or that we wanted to improve upon.

snow buntings

There was a lovely flock of snow buntings at the gravel pits on Admiral Road and we caught them one morning in the bright sunshine.

snow buntings

TG was able to capture some beautiful images of a boreal chickadee at the Arkola Road feeders – another species that eluded him last year.

boreal chickadee

He also managed to catch a Canada Jay stretching a glob of peanut butter like saltwater taffy.

Canada jay with peanut butter!

I was able to spy both male and female evening grosbeaks together at the feeders on Admiral Road.

male and female evening grosbeaks

That was three new bird species for TG and two for me:  not bad for a week with “not much happening!”

freight train on Hwy 7

It snowed all day on Monday, January 16, and we woke up to six inches of new snow on Tuesday morning. We followed the snowplows through the bog,

following behind a snowplow

And accidentally flushed a barred owl in the pre-dawn light.

barred owl in flight

The fresh snow seemed to have picked up sightings and we caught several of the winter birds at the feeders around the Bog:

Black-capped chickadees,

black-capped chickadee

Evening and pine grosbeaks,

female pine grosbeak & male evening grosbeak

Multiple species of woodpeckers,

hairy woodpecker

And much to our delight the return of the northern hawk owl!

northern hawk owl

After spending some time with the hawk owl, we decided to head home but first detoured past the spot where we saw the barred owl earlier that morning. Imagine our surprise when she returned while we were chatting with two other men who happened to stop by at that same time.

barred owl

It was just the four of us, and she stayed long enough for us to snap a few photos before once again disappearing into the woods.

she patiently sat while we snapped a few pics and then disappeared into the woods

We decided to leave Hibbing a day early to shave a few hours off our drive on Friday. Wednesday the 18th was our last full day in the Bog. We were headed towards the Admiral Road snow buntings when something big caught our eye:  no sooner had we grabbed our cameras when she nose-dived into the snow and disappeared. It was a great gray owl. No photos but a thrill nonetheless!

With that encouraging spy we agreed that, if we could get packed and ready, we would make one last run out to the Bog early Thursday morning. We left the house at 7 am, feeling drawn towards Overton Road where GGOs had recently been spotted. Overton Road is in the western section of the Bog, not heavily trafficked, and a long drive from most of the areas we had frequented over the week.

white-tailed deer on Overton Road

No sooner had we turned down the road when we got a message: “GGO on Overton. Look for the blue SUV.”  We were at the spot within ten minutes, the first car behind the ladies who had spied her.

great gray owl on Overton Road, January 19, 2023

We spent almost an hour with this magnificent creature, and I left crying tears of joy. A huge, heartfelt Thank You to Beth and Debbie who so kindly shared this sighting with us and the handful of folks who happened to be out that early — and close by!

January 19, 2023

Great grays, also called Phantoms of the North, are the largest owls in the US, and one of the most elusive. They tend to avoid areas with people and even in places like the Sax-Zim Bog it is a treat to see one. We feel fortunate that on this short trip we were able to spy two.

January 19, 2023

Final tally for the week: two sightings of a barred owl, two sightings of the northern hawk owl, a quick look at a great gray on Admiral Road, an hour-long visit with a great gray on Overton, and multiple winter birds around the Bog.

pine grosbeaks (male & female)

“There are few guarantees in the world of birds, but if you keep an open mind and an open heart, a winter day in the Sax-Zim Bog may be frozen, but like ice cream, it’s guaranteed to be sweet.” (Laura Erickson)

January 19, 2023

You can view all of our photos from this visit at our Flickr links below:

TG:

snow buntings-DeNoiseAI-low-light-gigapixel-standard-scale-2_00x
hover on photo to arrow through the set or click on any to open a new tab in Flickr

JET:

Sax-Zim Bog
hover on photo to arrow through the set or click on any to open a new tab in Flickr

Coming Soon:  Westward Ho(ly Cow)! Episode 7:  Eastward Home!

heading home to sunny, warm Florida!

Westward Ho(ly cow)! Episode 7: Eastward Home!

On September 18, 2022, we left Florida for a 5 1/2 -month road trip, visiting Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, New Mexico, Saskatchewan, North Dakota, and Minnesota. It was an ambitious itinerary and we were excited about checking many “must-sees” off our bucket list.

And … we’re off! (September 18, 2022)

Sometime in December, we decided that spending two more months in the cold, northern winter would be too much.  So, we cut our month in the Sax-Zim Bog down to just a week and pointed ourselves towards home at the end of January.

by mid-December we were done with the cold and snow!

By the time we pulled into our driveway in Okeechobee, we had traveled 22,614.6 miles for 130 days, visited 19 states and two Canadian provinces. 

22,614.6 miles later we were back home (trip odometer rolled over three times) January 25, 2023

In all those miles, we sat in traffic due to an accident just once:  ironically, it was outside of Orlando on our way home, less than 100 miles from Okeechobee.

Oscar and Maddie were amazingly good road trip pups!

We stayed at seven different Airbnbs and spent 15 nights in hotels while moving from one place to the next. TG fully packed and unpacked the car sixteen times, and partially unpacked/repacked it 30 times.  

TG had the packing & unpacking puzzle down to a science!

After we returned home, someone asked, “what was your favorite sighting?”  In 4 1/2 months of favorites, that’s an impossible question. 

Instead, we’ve compiled a list of the “Best/Worst” along with a few photos.  We’ve also put together a highlights video you will find at the end of this blog.

Best Drive: The roads from Canora, Saskatchewan to Fargo, North Dakota for the beautiful landscapes and all the wildlife we saw along the way.

What is left of Arena, ND, a ghost town between Minot and Fargo, January 6, 2023

Worst Drive: Teton Pass had TG white-knuckling it while I breathed into a paper bag. (Seriously!)

Teton Pass

Best AirBnB: Our cozy home in Canora, Saskatchewan. It had everything we needed and was laid out perfectly, with a fenced-in yard for Oscar and Maddie.

our cozy home in Canora, Saskatchewan

Worst AirBnB: None! They were all great!

Best Hotel: Hyatt House, Minot, North Dakota. Full size kitchens and complimentary washers & dryers!

Worst Hotel: Days Inn, Topeka, KS. Don’t even ask.

Best Meal: Huevos rancheros at the El Corral Café in Corona, New Mexico

Huevos Rancheros at the El Corral Cafe in Corona, New Mexico

Worst Meal: Thanksgiving, 2022. We wanted fancy cheeses but all we could find in Socorro were Kaukauna cheese balls.

Thanksgiving dinner, 2022

Funniest Moment: See Worst Meal. I asked the salesperson if they had any brie and she replied, “is that a type of alcohol?”

Scariest Moment: Driving the Norris-Canyon Road in Yellowstone National Park on a sheet of solid ice.

the icy, snowy roads through Yellowstone National Park

Favorite Sighting: Huck, the huge grizzly bear we spotted crossing the Snake River while driving the Rockefeller Parkway between Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park. “It’s a bear!!!! In the water!!!”

Huck, named by the locals for the nearby Huckleberry Mountain

Favorite Landscape: Mormon Row, Grand Teton National Park

Mormon Row, Grand Teton National Park

Favorite Night Sky: The Northern Lights in the wee hours of January 4, 2023

Around 2:00 am, January 4, 2023

Most Memorable: Our week at the McReynolds Blacktail Cabins in Grand Teton

a view of the Grand Tetons from our shower!

Our Bucket List:

Grizzly and black bears √

black bear, Grand Teton National Park

Moose √

moose bull and cow, Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone’s hydrothermal features √

Old Faithful timelapse, Yellowstone National Park

Bear and bison jams in Yellowstone √

bison jam, Yellowstone National Park

You can read all about our visit to Yellowstone in Episode 1: Walk on the Wild Side

https://ontheroadwithtallguyandjet.blog/2022/10/23/westward-holy-cow-episode-1-walk-on-the-wild-side/

Mormon Row √

Mormon Row, Grand Teton National Park

Milky Way over the T.A. Moulton Barn at Mormon Row √

the Milky Way over the T.A. Moulton Barn, Grand Teton National Park

Grand Teton landscapes √

Oxbow Bend, Grand Teton National Park

You can read all about our visit to Grand Teton in Episode 2: The Grand Splurge

https://ontheroadwithtallguyandjet.blog/2022/11/03/westward-holy-cow-episode-2-the-grand-splurge/

Bighorn sheep √

bighorn rams, Badlands National Park

You can read all about our visit to the Badlands in Episode 3.5: The Big Surprise

https://ontheroadwithtallguyandjet.blog/2022/12/09/westward-holy-cow-mini-episode-3-the-big-surprise/

Northern lights √

Canora, Saskatchewan January 4, 2023

You can read all about our trip to Saskatchewan in Episode 4: Christmas Lights, Northern Style

https://ontheroadwithtallguyandjet.blog/2023/01/05/westward-holy-cow-episode-4-christmas-lights-northern-style/

Saw-whet owls √

Northern saw-whet owl, Fargo, North Dakota

You can read all about our trip to Fargo in Episode 5: Saw-Whet, Say What?!?

https://ontheroadwithtallguyandjet.blog/2023/01/13/westward-holy-cow-episode-5-saw-whet-say-what/

Great gray owls √

great gray owl, Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota

You can read all about our trip to the Sax-Zim Bog in Episode 6: Sax-Zim Bog-Golly, We’re Back!

https://ontheroadwithtallguyandjet.blog/2023/01/21/westward-holy-cow-episode-6-sax-zim-bog-golly-were-back/

We also had some delightfully unexpected surprises. The first was when I had taken a turn driving and said, “I’ll just go to the next rest area.” Little did we know that rest area was home to the beautiful sculpture, “Dignity.”

the 50ft high Dignity (a.k.a. Dignity of Earth & Sky) sculpture on a bluff overlooking the Missouri River near Chamberlain, South Dakota

Both TG and I had the opportunity to meet up with several schoolmates along the way.

Welcome sign for TG at his grade school friend’s pub in Lawrence, KA

And many surprises in New Mexico where we spent a lot of time driving around the state during our month-long stay:

Gallup and the El Rancho Hotel

El Rancho Hotel, Gallup, New Mexico

Valley of Fires

Valley of Fires, Carrizozo, New Mexico

Gila National Forest

Gila National Forest, New Mexico

Rio Grande Gorge

Rio Grande Gorge, Taos, New Mexico

The Rattlesnake Museum in Albuquerque

Rattlesnake Museum, Albuquerque, New Mexico

You can read all about our trip to New Mexico in Episode 3: Back to the Bosque

https://ontheroadwithtallguyandjet.blog/2022/12/05/westward-holy-cow-episode-3-back-to-the-bosque/

We were also smitten with the rolling hills in both South and North Dakota and the beauty of Saskatchewan including the hoarfrost, all of the wildlife we saw while driving around, the “prairie sentinels” that dot the landscape, and the delicious Ukrainian food!

Ukrainian skuffles (a type of tiny cinnamon roll) O.M.G.

And a few final stats:

Windshields replaced: 1

nice chip in the windshield driving through Albuquerque, New Mexico

Times stuck in snow: 0

waiting for the roads to open after someone else went off the road, Yellowstone National Park

Times car would not start: 0

Oil Changes and tire rotations: 2 (Bozeman, MT & Albuquerque, NM)

Stickers on car from places visited: several dozen

we were planning to take them off when we got home but have grown to like them!

Refrigerator magnets: several dozen

quite the collection!

New T-shirts: a dozen or so

Westward Ho(lights)! video from our trip (click to open a new tab in Vimeo):

https://vimeo.com/manage/videos/793809503

When we left Okeechobee back in September, we said to each other “at the end of this trip, we’re either going to arrive back home saying NEVER again or let’s GO again!”

Stayed tuned … we’re already planning our next trip!

22,000-mile punchiness: “Take a little trip, take a little trip with me-ee”

Westward Ho(ly Cow)! Episode 5: “Saw Whet – Say What?!?”

If you know me, you know I am a bit owl crazy. I never get tired of seeing them, whether it is a tiny screech owl in our backyard, a barn owl in flight over the cane fields south of Lake Okeechobee, or a barred owl hooting above my tent while camping.

Whoo’s ready for a nap? blanket I made using my owl photos

We have traveled to Michigan in the middle of January to photograph snowy owls and spent a month at the Sax-Zim Bog one February to see the great grays. So, it should come as no surprise that we included a stop on our 5 1/2-month road trip in hopes of spying a northern saw-whet owl, Aegolius acadicus.

northern saw-whet owl, January 2023

These pint-sized little owls are found from Alaska and Canada into the north and western US. They can be spied further south on occasion, but the odds of seeing one in South Florida are zero.

Northern saw-whet owl range map — zero chance of seeing one in Okeechobee! (All About Birds.org)

With adorable, catlike faces and large, expressive eyes they captured my heart and I longed to see one for myself.

northern saw-whet owl, January 2023

We scouted the listings on e-bird and determined that the area around Fargo, North Dakota was a “hotspot” with multiple sightings over the years. We booked a week at an Airbnb in Dilworth, a short 20-minute drive from several of the most popular locations.

the blue pins are multiple sightings around Fargo every January (ebird.org)

In the happiest of coincidences, we were able to connect with Fargo’s northern saw-whet owl whisperer, Dan Mason.

Dan and me

Before we arrived, Dan did his best to set my expectations: “Be aware they seem to be getting harder to find than usual, possibly due to the heavier-than-normal snow pushing them to new hunting areas, and severely sagging their favorite roost trees/bushes.”

He also sent me a link to his photo set along with this caveat: While many of these are the standard, out-in-the-open “glamour shots” others are more realistic in showing how well these birds can be mostly hidden or only partially visible when on the roost. Seeing these is helpful in training your mind’s eye in what to look for when you are out in the field.”

hiding in plain sight, January 2023

He even offered to scout various locations before our arrival and seemed genuinely excited about helping me find one. On Jan 1, 2023, I received another email with an attached photo: “Found my first Saw-whet of the new year today in Fargo’s Orchard Glen Park, so there is at least one of the birds still hanging around, waiting for you!”

January 1, 2023 northern saw-whet owl (photo courtesy of Dan Mason)

Dan and I agreed to meet on the morning of January 7. But first, TG and I went to breakfast at the Fryn’ Pan Family Restaurant. They were so impressed with the fact that we were on a 24,000-mile road trip that they comped our meal! “We want to make your visit to Fargo just a little bit more special,” our server said. Thank you, Bailey and the Fryn’ Pan!

me, Bailey, and TG at the Fryn’ Pan Family Restaurant

With that auspicious start, we met Dan at our rendezvous spot. We scouted five different areas …

Orchard Glen Nature Park – one of five places we scouted

… With nothing but a beautiful merlin to show for it.

merlin

Recent snowfall had the tree branches weighed down. That, combined with the morning fog, made it difficult to spot much of anything.

too much snow weighing down the trees

But I learned so much from Dan about where and how to look. I left him feeling confident that at some point during the coming week, our quest would be successful!

Dan and me at Orchard Glen Nature Park

The next day we stopped by the Fargo-Moorhead Visitor’s Center, built in the now-familiar style of an old grain elevator.

Fargo-Moorhead Visitor’s Center with woodchipper
the actual woodchipper prop from the movie “Fargo”

We were chatting with the nice young ladies when my phone chimed. A text from Dan with some exciting news:  he had found a saw-whet owl at one of the parks we visited yesterday and was waiting for us there. “On our way!” I texted back.

“On our way!!!!”

Dan was in the parking lot when we arrived, and together we hurried to the spot. She was still there, a little ball of puff about three-quarters of the way up an evergreen tree.

a little ball of puff but a saw-whet owl nonetheless! (January 8, 2023)

Our first-ever northern saw-whet owl and TG and I got to share this wonderful moment!

TG and I sharing the moment (photo by Dan Mason)

Although she never lifted her head, she was still a thrill to see.

the top of her head is just peeking over her tail feathers (January 8, 2023)

The next day Dan texted again.  He had found another owl: “glamour shot possibility, unobstructed, and only 8 feet off the ground.”  Twenty minutes later we were at the spot, and it was everything I dreamed of.

everything I could have hoped for! (January 9, 2023)

She was roosting quietly on a branch, not at all perturbed by us or our clicking cameras.

roosting quietly on a branch (January 9, 2023)

She even lifted a foot and did a little face scratch.

lifting her foot (January 9, 2023)

The next day we found her again – in an even better spot than the day before!

an even better spot! (January 10, 2023)

TG said, “ if yesterday we got Monopoly money shots, today we got US Benjamins.” 

be still my beating heart! (January 10, 2023)

This time it was me texting Dan and he responded, “be sure to get some video!”

saaw-weet little saw-whet owl!

I had just finished shooting a little clip when she puffed up and turned her back to us. We took that as a clear sign she was done, and quickly left the area. We were the only ones in the park and were certain that once we left, she would settle back into her nap.

she puffed up and turned her back to us (January 10, 2023)

We left the park and headed into Fargo to capture a bit of the downtown.

downtown Fargo
TG doing his magic

Dominating downtown’s Broadway Street is the art deco Fargo Theatre. Built in 1926 as a cinema and vaudeville theatre, the beautifully restored Fargo Theatre now serves as an art house featuring independent and foreign films. It is also a venue for concerts and other live events.

the historic Fargo Theatre

That evening we returned for dinner and to take photos of the marquee at night.

Fargo Theatre at night

Later that night I received another email from Dan: “I went back out this afternoon and Lady Saw-whet was still in the same spot, snoozing.” 

Dan added that as he was leaving, he met a photographer who driven all the way to Fargo specifically to find a saw-whet owl. “Another kindly soul whose eyes and smile lit up at the sight of the bird … And the wheel keeps on turning.”

Dan Mason and me (January 8, 2023)

We are grateful for Dan’s time, expertise, and generosity. We could not have accomplished this goal without him and cannot thank him enough!  Also, it was nice meeting and spending time with another owl-lover.  Hopefully, he didn’t think I was *too* crazy for singing songs and talking to the owls.  🦉

You can view all of our saw-whet owl photos here:

northern saw whet owl-04446-DeNoiseAI-low-light-gigapixel-standard-scale-2_00x
hover on photo to arrow through the set or click on any photo to open a new tab in Flickr

Coming soon: Westward Ho(ly Cow)! Episode 6: “Sax-Zim Bog-Golly We’re Back!”

great gray owl, Sax-Zim Bog March 1, 2022

Westward Ho(ly Cow)! Mini Episode 3.5: “The Big Surprise”

For anyone following along on our epic 5 1/2-month road trip, you know I’ve been chasing a dream photo of a bighorn ram … a male with a magnificent head of “curls.”

bighorn ram with “curls”

We saw ewes on our first drive through the Badlands back in September.  And a juvenile ran across the road in front of us in Big Sky.  But even with a trip up to the Rio Grande Gorge, all we managed to spy were some fresh tracks in the mud.

bighorn sheep tracks at the Rio Grande Gorge

So, we decided to cut short our time in New Mexico and spend three nights in Rapid City, S.D. on our way to Canada.  A ranger at the El Morro Visitor’s Center had assured us that bighorn sheep sightings were almost guaranteed in the Badlands.

a ranger at El Morro assured us we would see bighorns in the Badlands

We’ve gotten into the habit of shorter drive days to build in time for sightseeing or weather delays.

Oscar and Maddie safely secured in the back seat

The wind gusts through northern New Mexico were 65+ mph, and we took our time carefully driving past blown-over semis.

we saw lots of blown-over semis in the 65+ mph winds!

Checking the map, we realized that a slight detour would take us directly through the Black Hills National Forest,

the Black Hills National Forest

And past the Crazy Horse monument. The on-going work is 100% privately funded and the expected completion date is 2050.

the Crazy Horse monument

The road heading into Rapid City is lined with attractions – most of them cheesy tourist traps. 

tourist traps line the road into Rapid City

And I had forgotten that fossils were such a big thing in this area.  The famous T-Rex “Sue” at the Field Museum in our hometown of Chicago was discovered right here in the Black Hills of South Dakota!

T-Rex “Sue” at the Field Museum in Chicago (photo courtesy of Chicago friend Mimi DeCastro)

Sunday morning was clear with a bright blue sky and brilliant sunshine.  We arrived at the Badlands’ west entrance at 8:45 and headed straight to Roberts Prairie Dog Town.  On our way, we passed several bison standing close to the road.

bison close to the road

Just as we reached them, the prairie dogs were waking up and we got some fun shots as they popped out of their burrows into the early morning sun.

Good morning!

As we turned back onto the main park road, I spied something up ahead and quickly grabbed my binocs:  two bighorn sheep!

two bighorn sheep!

While we were photographing them, a third ram came over the hill.  Three bighorn sheep, complete with curls! And off in the distance, I spotted another pair – a ram and a ewe.  Make that five bighorn sheep within the first hour of our visit!

a ram came over the hill!

I could not have been more thrilled as we continued our drive. We stopped to photograph more of the prairie dogs that dot this section of the park. 

prairie dog burrows dot this section of the park

On the other side of the road, across a deep ravine, were three more rams.  Eight bighorn sheep! 

three rams were on this ridge!

As you drive east, the landscape changes from open prairie to iconic Badlands: high pinnacles and buttes, otherworldly rock formations with beautifully colored sediment layers. 

high pinnacles with beautifully colored sediment layers

We spied several groups of mule deer as we drove along.

mule deer

We stopped at the Ben Reifel Visitors Center to chat with the rangers.  They told us that a year ago the park’s bighorn population had been decimated by pneumonia.  They lost 86% of their herd, which currently numbers around 50.  50?!? 

approximately 50 bighorn sheep are currently in the Badlands

I was grateful we learned this after we had spied our eight.  If I had known beforehand how truly rare they have become, I fear I would have given up before we even started.

We drove to the east entrance and then turned around to retrace our drive back west.  It was a beautiful day, and the park was almost empty.

we turned around and retraced our drive back to the west entrance

We stopped along the way to capture a little of the Badlands’ magic.

the park was almost empty, and we stopped to capture some of its magic

Just as we reached the Pinnacles Overlook, we spied our three big rams again – this time close to the road.  They were making their way across a ravine to the ridge on the other side. 

crossing a ravine

They seemed to be enjoying themselves, head-butting a little before standing side-by-side.

they seemed to be enjoying themselves

I turned around to see a group of six females and one male coming down the hill behind us!

six ewes!

What?!?  Without double counting the eight we had spied earlier that was five new females!  Thirteen total including six ewes and seven rams with full heads of curls.  What a BIG surprise!

As we watched, there appeared to be some drama between the two groups.  The rams across the ridge were on high alert, eyeing the female group. 

the rams were on high alert

A ewe left her group, crossed the road, and stood watching the three bachelors.

she crossed the road and stood eyeing the three bachelors

Her mate followed after her and gradually persuaded her to join the rest of his herd.

her mate gradually persuaded her to join the rest of his herd

The three bachelors made their move, crossing the road and approaching the herd from different angles. 

the bachelors made their move, approaching the herd from different angles

The valley reverberated with the sound of their magnificent horns clashing as they competed against each other.

head butting

We shared this special sighting with two women who were hoping for this type of action. 

we shared this special sighting with only two other women

Passing cars occasionally stopped to capture a quick photo but only the four of us were privileged to watch the whole story.

passing cars stopped to snap a photo or two and were on their way

Then, as quickly as the drama started, it ended. 

the drama was over as quickly as it began

Monday morning we awoke to snow, so we decided to leave any exploring for the afternoon when the forecast called for clearing skies.

view from our hotel room on Monday morning

Rapid City’s most well-known attraction is Mount Rushmore.  Here’s what TG had to say about our visit:

I find it ironic that when we visited The Badlands and all its natural magnificence, we were blessed with a stellar day of clear and sunny weather, especially for December. The next day, when we planned to visit the man made “wonder” that is Mount Rushmore, we get gloomy, overcast skies and snow, with fog surrounding the sculpture…”

Mount Rushmore on a foggy day

But Mount Rushmore isn’t the only place to see presidents in Rapid City.  Life-size bronze statues of every past American president stand along the downtown streets and sidewalks, and we stopped to photograph my hero, Teddy Roosevelt.  We found him wearing a knit cap and looking for all the world like Robin Williams in “Night at the Museum.”

Teddy Roosevelt with knit cap

I wanted a bighorn ram with full head of curls but never in my wildest dreams did I expect to see thirteen so close and with so much drama!  Our three nights in Rapid City exceeded all expectations and were indeed a BIG(horn) surprise!

so many curls and so much drama!

You can view all of the photos from our unforgettable day in the Badlands here:

badlands prairie dog-9472-SharpenAI-Focus-DeNoiseAI-standard
hover on photo to arrow through the set or click on any photo to open a new tab in Flickr

Coming next:  Westward Ho(ly Cow)! Episode 4: “Christmas Lights, Northern Style”

Main Street Canora, Saskatchewan

Westward Ho(ly Cow)! Episode 3:  Back to the Bosque

In November of 2021, we spent a wonderful month at a little Airbnb in Lemitar, New Mexico.

Casita del Cranes, Lemitar, NM (2021)

It was located about 30 minutes from the Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge, where over 100,000 sandhill cranes, snow geese, and other migrating birds winter each year. So, when we returned to Casita del Cranes this year it was like coming home. We arrived late afternoon on Wednesday, November 2, and were settled in long before bedtime.

back to Casita del Cranes and the Bosque del Apache!

When we left Grand Teton, winter was right around the corner. A week later they had a foot of snow and temperatures had dropped to below zero. It was nice to return to autumn in New Mexico where the aspens and cottonwoods had just started to peak,

November 4, 2022

And we tracked the color changes over our month’s stay.

by the end of November, the leaves were nearly gone, and ice formed on the wetlands in the early morning

On this visit, we spent a lot of time just relaxing at Casita del Cranes.

such a relaxing place!

It is the last house on a quiet road and the only sounds are the birds

lots of kestrels on the power lines around Casita

And occasional freight trains that rumble by day and night – something we found charming.

picturesque freight trains rumble by day and night

Oscar and Maddie loved going for sunset walks along the ditch road,

sunset on the ditch road in front of Casita del Cranes

And checking on Pam’s chickens!

Oscar checking on Pam’s chickens

And we loved all the photo ops right outside our door.

a few of the animals around Casita (clockwise from lower left): Say’s phoebe, yellow warbler, roadrunner, Mexican ground squirrel, mourning dove

We heard the calls of the sandhill cranes every time we stepped outside.

sandhill cranes in the field next to Casita

And often found them in the nearby fields or flying overhead.

sandhill cranes at sunset

The Bosque del Apache is a combination of wetlands and agricultural fields, and the planted/flooded areas are rotated each year. Last year the birds were close to the roads and easy to photograph from the various observation decks.

sandhill cranes at the Flight Deck, November 2021

This year the Wetland Roost, an area alongside the road heading towards the main entrance, was flooded and we got some wonderfully close shots of the snow geese

snow geese flying out at sunrise

And sandhill cranes,

sandhill cranes at sunrise

Along with the coyotes that regularly scouted the shoreline in the early mornings.

coyotes on the shoreline in the early morning

We also managed to capture several of the Bosque regulars: an adorable least bittern doing her best to shoo away an American coot,

least bittern and American coot

the many duck species,

Northern pintail

White pelicans,

white pelicans

Northern harriers,

female northern harrier

Roadrunners,

roadrunner

And dozens of TTB’s (tiny twitchy birds).

dark-eyed junco

In addition to a 14-mile scenic driving loop, the Bosque maintains twelve hiking trails of various lengths and difficulty. Instead of spending all of our time looking for birds, we hiked several trails.

Some, like the Desert Arboretum, are short and easy.

Gambel’s quail (male) on the Desert Arboretum trail

It shares a parking lot with the Visitor’s Center and Gift Shop, making for a convenient stop on your way to or from the Bosque.

Others, like the Canyon National Recreational Trail, require a bit more planning.

the Canyon National Recreational Trail

It is a 2.5-mile trail through a canyon where we found animal tracks in the sand

snake, bobcat, and mice tracks in the soft sand along the trail

And nests tucked into crevices high up on the cliffs,

peregrine falcon nest high up on the cliff

While winding our way up to the top of a ridge with a glorious bird’s-eye view of the refuge.

couple’s selfie from the top of the ridge

The Bosque is not just about birds. Many other animals call this area home including javelinas,

javelina

Mule deer,

mule deer

Ground squirrels,

ground squirrel

And multiple species of reptiles.

Eastern side-blotched lizard

You can view all of our bird and wildlife photos here:

says phoebe-03447
hover on photo to arrow through the set or click on any photo to open a new tab in Flickr

We had such an incredible time in 2021 that we did not feel under any pressure to get “the shot” on this trip. We visited other wildlife refuges and explored the beautiful state of New Mexico.

Bernardo Waterfowl Area snow geese at sunset

One day we drove east to Tularosa and on our way, happened upon the Valley of Fires.

Valley of Fires campground pano

According to the BLM website, 5,000 years ago Little Black Peak erupted and flowed 44 miles into the Tularosa Basin, filling the basin with molten rock.

from a distance the lava looks black and dead

The resulting lava flow is four to six miles wide, 160 feet thick, and covers 125 square miles.

the lava is 160 feet thick! (vertical pano)

The lava appears black and dead but take a closer look and it is full of life

white-crowned sparrow (juvi)

And color!

the Valley of Fires is full color!

On another day we drove south and west to Silver City, stopping at the VLA.

the VLA

The VLA (Very Large Array) is comprised of twenty-eight enormous radio telescopes and is part of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory.

28 enormous radio telescopes

It also makes for some excellent photo ops!

taking photos at the VLA!

Catron County in western New Mexico has a population of over 12,000 elk. We did not see any elk on our drive, but we did see mule deer, a roadrunner running across the road (where else?), a coyote, and a beautiful golden eagle.

golden eagle in flight

We passed the Chino (aka Santa Rita) Open-Pit Copper Mine, the third largest in the world

the Chino Copper Mine

And something you must see to believe!

something you must see to believe!

We drove through the Gila National Forest with its astounding beauty

the road through the Gila National Forest

And exhilarating hairpin curves,

the road!

Stopping at the Emory Pass Overlook for a panoramic view of the mountains and forest.

Emory Pass Overlook

Ride along with us for 30 seconds as we head down the mountain. Unless you get dizzy easily – then skip the video!

fasten your seatbelt as we drive through the Gila National Forest!

On yet another day we drove north to the Rio Grande Gorge

Rio Grande Gorge from the High Bridge

And the High Bridge, located about ten miles west of Taos.

the High Bridge

At six hundred feet above the Rio Grande, it is the tenth highest bridge in the United States, and a bit unnerving for even the most intrepid!

TG walked out into the middle of the High Bridge

I wanted to photograph the bighorn sheep that are common in this area, but all we managed to find were some fresh tracks.

bighorn sheep tracks

We detoured home via Ramah, with prehistoric cliff dwellings dating back to 1200-1300 A.D.

prehistoric cliff dwellings in Ramah, 1200-1300 A.D.

And stopped at the El Morro National Monument where a waterhole hidden at the base of a sandstone bluff made it a popular campsite for hundreds of years.

El Morro Visitor’s Center

We did not take the time to hike to the ancient campsite to see the over 2,000 signatures, dates, messages, and petroglyphs carved into the sandstone walls.  Instead, we enjoyed a quiet picnic lunch in the Cibola National Forest before pointing ourselves back towards Lemitar and Casita del Cranes.

a picnic lunch in the Cibola National Forest

You can view all of our landscape photos from both the Bosque and our day trips here:

bernardo sunset-9233
hover on photo to arrow through the set or click on any photo to open a new tab in Flickr

One day we drove to Gallup to visit the historic El Rancho Hotel. Opened in 1937, it was the base for many Hollywood movies filmed in the surrounding area and is full of movie star photographs and memorabilia.

such a fun day!

We had so much fun and took so many photos that this visit deserves its own Flickr album!

El Rancho Hotel
hover on photo and then arrow through the set or click on any photo to open a new tab in Flickr

Although we celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary back in October by splurging on a week at the McReynolds Blacktail Cabins in Grand Teton, the day we officially said “I do” was in November. We celebrated this special day with a long walk along the dirt road in front of Casita, dinner at the only restaurant in town open that day, and a night out shooting stars while being serenaded by howling coyotes. It was, indeed, a Happy Anniversary!

1982 /2022, my star stack, northern harrier in flight, and freight train wheels close up

During our month-long visit we sampled some of the local cuisine: huevos rancheros in Tularosa,

huevos rancheros at Loredo’s Bakery in Tularosa

Frito pie – which is shredded lettuce, tomatoes, beans, and cheese on top of Fritos mixed with red or green chile sauce – and considered a specialty in these parts.

My oh my, Frito Pie!

Piñon coffee – a “must” for coffee lovers in our opiñon!

piñon coffee and red chile veggie burrito

We also drove east and north to the tiny town of Corona for a delicious lunch at the El Corral Cafe, where real cowboys (complete with Old West hats) strolled in for their pick-up orders.

lunch at El Corral – where everyone feels like family

When ordering any dish with chiles, you are always asked “green” or “red.” We overheard a guest at El Corral say, “make mine Christmas-style.” And with December right around the corner, that is the perfect ending to our month in New Mexico!

Christmas – New Mexico style!

Coming Next: Westward Ho(ly Cow)! Mini Episode 3.5: “The BIG Surprise”

Badlands National Park

Westward Ho(ly Cow) Episode 2:  The Grand Splurge

When we were planning the Grand Teton leg of our 5 ½ month road trip, TG happened upon a most unique accommodation:  two cabins located inside the national park boundary and only 1.5 miles from the famous Mormon Row and Moulton Barns.

Welcome to McReynolds Blacktail Cabins!

McReynolds Blacktail Cabins looked like the perfect place, but TG said, “it’s a little out of our budget.”   “Wait a minute,” I replied, “isn’t this 2022???  It’s our 40th wedding anniversary this year!

1982 / 2022

Forty years of marriage is certainly worthy of a Grand Splurge celebration, don’t you think?!? TG inquired and the West Cabin was available the last week of October.

If you haven’t already read Episode 1: Walk on the Wild Side, you can click here to open a new tab and read all about our 32 nights in Big Sky, MT and Yellowstone National Park.

https://ontheroadwithtallguyandjet.blog/2022/10/23/westward-holy-cow-episode-1-walk-on-the-wild-side/

We left our Airbnb in Big Sky on Monday, October 24. It had snowed non-stop since early Saturday, and there was somewhere between 18-24 inches on the ground. It was a bit edgy going the nine miles down the mountain, but thanks to TG’s great driving we made it safe & sound.

Maddie checking out all the snow!

Any drive through Yellowstone or Grand Teton National Park is a potential photo safari so we always keep our cameras within easy reach. On the Rockefeller Parkway we saw two cars stopped on a bridge up ahead. Did they spot a moose? No! OMG!!! A huge grizzly bear was crossing the river!

a beautiful male grizzly bear

We quickly parked the car, and we got some wonderfully close shots of this magnificent animal as he lumbered by. We found out later that the locals have nicknamed this grizzly “Huck,” for the nearby Huckleberry Mountain. He is extremely elusive, so this was a rare and very fortunate spy.

“bear” feet!

Watch “Huck the Magic Grizzly” slowly walk by!

Thus began our animal count for Grand Teton NP. In addition to Huck, we also saw a coyote in the beautiful afternoon light,

coyote in the afternoon sun

A skunk, a badger, and a lovely herd of pronghorns.

pronghorn herd

We pulled into the driveway at McReynold’s West Cabin a little after 4 pm.

the West Cabin

The cabin was perfect, with everything we could need, and an incredible view of the Teton mountains.

both bedrooms face west towards the mountains
a beautiful kitchen with everything we needed
Oscar and Maddie loved looking at the mountains through the big picture windows

We woke up early Tuesday morning, excited to begin our week inside the park. As predicted, the sky threatened snow, so we headed to the Snake River Overlook to channel our inner Ansel Adams – aka concentrate on black and whites on this cloudy, gray day.

TG channeling his inner Ansel Adams

This is approximately where the famous photographer Ansel Adams took his iconic image of the Snake River and the Tetons rising above it – and helped convince Congress to designate this area a national park.

in this spot Ansel Adams helped convince Congress to make this a national park

After a picnic with a view,

a nice place to stop for a picnic lunch!

We drove to the Chapel of the Transfiguration, another iconic park image. This tiny rustic chapel was built in 1925 and provided local ranchers as well as tourists a place to worship close to home.

the Chapel of the Transfiguration

It is a spiritual place, with beautiful stained-glass windows in the foyer

the two stained-glass windows in the tiny foyer

And a view of the mountains behind the altar.

a view of the Teton range behind the altar

At the back of the chapel is a book for prayer requests. I am not a particularly religious person, but I wrote a special prayer in the book. It seemed the right thing to do in such a sacred space.

the prayer list

Within walking distance of the chapel is the old Menor’s Ferry. This was the only way across the Snake River before they built the steel truss bridge in 1927, making the ferry obsolete.

the old Menor’s ferry (replica)

Wednesday morning started out cold. From the coziness inside our cabin, we could see that the clouds over the mountains were dramatic.

sunrise from our deck

After a quick breakfast, we buddled ourselves up and spent some time photographing the Mormon Row barns.

three image pano

While TG concentrated on his long-exposure panoramas,

TG working on his panos

I entertained myself with the adorable little chipmunks that scurried about the old, wooden buildings.

TG’s pano of me with a chipmunk
little chipmunks scurry about the old buildings and fences

You can see all of TG’s beautiful Mormon Row Historic District photos here: (click on link to open in new tab)

https://www.flickr.com/photos/werdnanilmot/albums/72177720303195831/with/52457179495/

Thursday morning started clear, and we drove the loop road, stopping to admire the beautiful sunrise along 191,

sunrise on 191

Oxbow Bend,

Oxbow Bend

And the Willow Flats Overlook.

Willow Flats Overlook

Along the way, we spied the largest herd of elk we had seen yet.  There were at least 200 cows, all herded along by three or four large bulls.  We could hear the bulls bugling, which sounds like something between a painful scream and a horse neighing and is part of their mating ritual.

some bulls will bugle so long and loud that they will lose their voices!

We stopped at the Jenny Lake Overlook,

Jenny Lake
couple’s selfie at Jenny Lake Overlook

And checked out the Taggart Lake trailhead.  The clouds had started to move in, obscuring our view of the mountains, so we decided to leave the hike for another day.

Teton Park Road

By nightfall the clouds were gone, and millions of stars lit up the sky.

Milky Way from our cabin

The Big Dipper was perfectly positioned above the Teton mountain range, so I set up my tripod for a star stack.

88 30-second images shot over 90 minutes and then run through the Star Stax program


As I broke down my tripod 90 minutes later, I heard a loud rustling in the tall grass and the distinctive sounds of something (big?) crossing the small stream that runs through the property. A moose? A pronghorn? A coyote??? Whatever it was, it wanted nothing to do with me and given the number of mule deer we saw around the cabin, I’m guessing that’s what I most likely heard.

mule deer by entrance to McReynolds property

Friday was another cold but clear day.  We found a nice set of black bear prints and TG may or may not have taken off his shoes and socks for a bear feet/bare feet photo op.

black bear print next to my hand
bear foot next to TG-I-mean-somebody’s size 14 bare foot!

We took advantage of the beautiful weather for another photo shoot at the Moulton Barns,

T.A. Moulton Barn

Went for a drive around the park,

Jackson Lake Dam

And captured the last vestiges of autumn before heading home for an afternoon nap.

orange-gold aspen leaves against the bright blue sky

That night the stars once again filled the sky. Around 9 pm, we drove the five minutes back to Mormon Row to capture the Milky Way rising above the famous T.A. Moulton Barn.

T.A. Moulton Barn with Milky Way

Before we arrived in the Greater Yellowstone/Grand Teton area, it was my dream to see a moose and we had already spied 35. After all of our great animal sightings over the past month, we started Saturday with no expectations.

we were incredibly fortunate with all of our animal sightings!

We decided on an early morning drive on the Moose-Wilson Road and no sooner had we turned the corner when we came upon two beautiful bull moose grazing in the meadow very close to the road. 

no sooner had we turned the corner and we came upon two bull moose very close to the road!

On our way back, a cow had joined them!  Make that 38 moose — so far!

moose cow

The beautiful Teton mountain range lined the west side of our drive as we made our way north. 

Teton sunrise

A large group was pulled over at Oxbow Bend and as we hopped out of the car, we spied a bald eagle on the ice. TG managed to capture the eagle in flight along with a little beaver sitting nearby, hoping no one would notice him!

bald eagle in flight with beaver

The afternoon warmed into the balmy mid-40s with plenty of sunshine.  We decided to hike to Taggart Lake – something we had been looking forward to all week.  This beautiful glacier lake is a 3.2-mile round trip hike and is rated “easy” on the park website.

The trail crossed through flat, rolling sagebrush and past a little waterfall,

little waterfall on the trail

Before beginning a slow, gentle climb through aspen-covered moraine and pine forests.

the trail slowly rises through aspen-covered moraine and a pine forest

The lake is stunning, and we could not have picked a more perfect day.  The water was like glass, reflecting the Teton mountains rising above it.

Taggart Lake

Despite it being so late in the season, there were plenty of hikers on the trail, meaning we did not see much wildlife besides chipmunks, squirrels, and a few snowshoe hare tracks.

the lake was like glass

It was simply a beautiful day for a lovely hike!

a beautiful day for a lovely hike!

You can see all of TG’s beautiful landscape panoramas here, including Taggart Lake:

john moulton pano 14
hover on photo and then arrow through the set (to view in full, click to open a new tab in Flickr)

After a fun morning with the muskrats and beavers at Oxbow Bend, we relaxed on Sunday afternoon. We had been going pretty much continuously for the past six weeks and needed to ready ourselves for stop #3 on our road trip: New Mexico.

beaver on the Snake River at Oxbow Bend

We did enjoy a lovely last supper at Dornan’s Pizza & Pasta Company.

Dornan’s Pizza & Pasta in Moose, Wyoming

It’s nothing fancy, but it has a million-dollar view and was a relaxing place to enjoy the sunset.

dinner with a million-dollar view!

Our road trip thus far had been extraordinary.  Between the two parks we had enjoyed 29 photo safari days and already a lifetime of memories! 

Grand Teton National Park animal count: 10/24-11/1/2022

You can view all of our wildlife photos from Grand Teton on the Flickr link below:

Grand Teton National Park
hover on photo and then arrow through the set or click on the link to open a new tab in Flickr

Most locals say that fall is a perfect time to visit the Yellowstone-Grand Teton area. There are far fewer people and a 50/50 chance of decent weather year in and out. In our six weeks we only had two days of what we would consider “bad” weather. 

almost six weeks of sunshine!

And McReynolds Blacktail Cabins was the perfect “Grand Splurge” for our 40th anniversary! It is a charming cabin and its location inside the park is priceless.

we loved watching the mule deer running through the tall grass from our deck!
the view from the Master Bedroom shower!

You can view all of our Grand Teton landscape photos on the Flickr link below:

Grand Teton National Park
hover on photo and then arrow through the set or click on the link to open a new tab in Flickr

As we left the Grand Tetons in our review mirror, our feelings were bittersweet. We were sad to leave this place, with its astounding beauty, but also excited to continue our journey.

a bittersweet farewell!

Coming next: Westward Ho(ly Cow) Episode 3 “Back to the Bosque”

sandhill cranes and snow geese at the Bosque del Apache, New Mexico

Westward Ho(ly Cow)! Episode 1: Walk on the Wild Side

After months of tweaking the itinerary, we were finally ready to head west on our epic, 5 ½ month road trip. We pulled out of our driveway in Okeechobee, FL early Sunday morning with the plan to arrive at our Airbnb in Big Sky, MT on Thursday.

And we’re off!

We built in a little extra time for sightseeing, including stops in Tupelo, MS at Elvis’s birthplace, a Graceland drive-by,

the gates to Graceland, Memphis, TN

And the 27-mile scenic tour of South Dakota’s Badlands.

Oscar and Maddie tour the Badlands!

You can view photos of our quickie trip though the Badlands here:

South Dakota Badlands
hover on the photo and then arrow through the set

It was a long time to be in the car, but there was no traffic and 2,800 miles later we arrived in Big Sky as scheduled.

a long time to be in the car!

Domenick’s condo could not have been more perfect for us AND Oscar & Maddie.  We had plenty of room to spread out and since it was a corner unit, plenty of privacy.

our home for the next 32 nights

It was located at the base of Lone Mountain, which offered us gorgeous views every time we stepped outdoors.

view of Lone Mountain from our back door

You can find Domenick’s condo on the Airbnb website here:

https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/30390273?source_impression_id=p3_1664575694_v44XN83Fv8RFy9N6

Yellowstone is as beautiful as they say – awe-inspiring around every curve of the road and unlike anywhere else on the planet.

coyote on Hayden Valley Road

But at 2.2 million acres, it is also massive. We spent our first week simply driving around, getting an idea of where everything was located and identifying the places we wanted to explore in depth.

Lewis Canyon

The weather was perfect:  the mornings started chilly, but it warmed up nicely with blue skies and plenty of sunshine each afternoon. The fall colors had started to turn,

fall colors on the Gallatin River

And the rivers were full of fly-fishermen. They made for such good subjects it was impossible to not snap a photo or two as we drove along.

fly fishing on the Firehole River

There is an affordable audio tour app called GyPSy Guide, which I had purchased for Yellowstone & Grand Teton.

https://gypsyguide.com/home/

It proved to be an excellent way to navigate around the park and also hear enriching facts and stories as we drove along.

According to our Gypsy guide, the Madison River sees over 200,000 angler days per year –that’s an average of almost six hundred anglers Every. Single. Day! p.s. We named the narrator “Edward” after our wonderful guide in South Africa.

“200,000 angler days per year on the Madison River”

We also spent one day driving around the west side of the Tetons, over the pass, through Grand Teton NP, and then home via Yellowstone.

Teton Mountains looking east near Driggs, Idaho
top of Teton Pass, elevation 8,431 ft!

Given my absolute terror of heights, it was all I could do to snap the few pics I did while on Teton Pass. I was too busy breathing into a paper bag and eating crybaby pie.

oh my lordy lord!

It made for a long, nine-hour day (O & M are SUCH troopers!!)

our little road buddies

But we were rewarded with gorgeous views of the mountains from both the west and east sides.

view from Grand Tetons National Park

And at the end of the day, we spied a group of male moose grazing in a meadow alongside the road. Just that quick, my life count for moose jumped from zero to three!

two moose bulls
Thank You to the kind (and very talented) gentleman who offered to snap this pic!

The first thing most people think about when they hear “Yellowstone” is Old Faithful.  But the park is made up of over 10,000 hydrothermal features including geysers, beautifully colored hot springs, steaming fumaroles, and boiling mud pots.  The land is truly wild!  Instead of racing through the park, trying to see as many features as we possibly could, we chose to visit places we had targeted to thoroughly explore:

Upper Geyser Basin, which has the most concentrated grouping of hydrothermal features in the world, including Old Faithful.

Old Faithful erupting around noon

We stayed long enough to see Old Faithful erupt three different times, from three different vantage points.

Old Faithful two-minute time lapse

On our 6-mile hike around the Upper Basin, we also saw Anemone, Spasmodic, and Beehive Geysers erupt.

Beehive Geyser

We walked as far as Morning Glory Pool, which is sadly fading due to all the coins and other items people keep throwing into the center.

Morning Glory Pool
warning signs everywhere and yet …

Midway Geyser Basin, home to the Grand Prismatic Spring, third largest hot spring in the world, and Excelsior Geyser.

Grand Prismatic Spring
Excelsior Geyser

We even managed the one-mile hike up to the Grand Prismatic Overlook.

Grand Prismatic Spring
obligatory couple’s selfie

A beautiful afternoon at the Fountain Paint Pots in the Lower Geyser Basin, with views of all four of Yellowstone’s hydrothermal features: geysers, hot springs, mud pots, and fumaroles.

a fumarole at Fountain Paint Pots – turn up the volume to hear the steam hissing out of the ground!
Clepsydra Geyser at Fountain Paint Pots

And a full day at Mammoth Hot Springs, with its amazing travertine terraces.

the terraces at Mammoth Hot Springs
Mammoth Hot Springs from the upper boardwalk

You can view all of our hydrothermal photos here:

Yellowstone National Park
hover on photo and then arrow through the set

Of course, Yellowstone is also all about the wildlife!  I kept a count of all the animals and birds we spied and for “too many to count” I put an “X.” 

our animal count 9/24-10/22/2022

By noon on our first day, bison were already an “X.”  They are everywhere!

bison herd
bison on the road

One afternoon we received intel that Yellowstone’s celebrity grizzly bears, “Raspberry” and her cub, “Jam” had been spotted in the eastern section of the park. Raspberry is a 15-year-old sow with a history of keeping her cubs longer than usual. Typically, around two years bear cubs are on their own so that the mother can mate again, but in the spring of 2022, Raspberry and 2 1/2-year-old Jam were still seen together.

Raspberry and Jam

After a bit of detective work, we determined the general area. As we rounded a curve, we knew we were in the right place: a crowd of 150+ armed with big-lens cameras and binocs were all pointed in the same direction.

we knew we were in the right place!

Sure enough, Raspberry and Jam were there – a good 200 yards away and in harsh mid-day light but a thrill, nonetheless.

Raspberry and Jam!

And as if that were not enough, on our drive home we spotted a mountain goat, grazing high up on the side of a hill. What a magical, mystical end to our day!

mountain goat

TG had been battling a cough and a friend suggested it might be allergies.  So, one Sunday afternoon we drove down the mountain for some local honey – a good home remedy.  And on the way, we came upon a moose family grazing right by the side of the road!

Wow!

Besides beautifully terraced hot springs, Mammoth is also home to dozens of elk who like to hang out around the buildings and nicely manicured lawns. But that doesn’t mean they are in any way tame. Rangers are posted everywhere, reminding you to keep your distance.

the elk at Mammoth like to hang around the buildings

On our way home that day we spied three more moose: a bull who was doing his best to hit on two cows, neither of which wanted anything to do with him. But Oscar and Maddie had been in the kennel since early morning, so we had to hurry home before the grand finale — if there even was one.

she wanted nothing to do with him!

You can view all of our wildlife photos here:

Yellowstone National Park
hover over photo and then arrow through the set

Between all the rivers, waterfalls, lakes, and deep canyons that make up Yellowstone National Park, there are wildly beautiful landscapes everywhere you turn.

Golden Gate on the way to Mammoth Hot Springs
LeHardy Rapids – a hidden gem!

Artist’s Point is an iconic “must-photograph” image. It is a glorious waterfall that drops 308ft into the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.

Artist’s Point

Hayden and Lamar Valleys have sweeping open plains with huge herds of bison and other animals,

Lamar Valley pano

Firehole River was named by early trappers for the rising steam which makes it look like it’s on fire.

Firehole Falls

And is one of only two places inside the park where you can actually swim!

you bet I dipped my toes in the river!

And Yellowstone Lake, the largest lake above 7,000 feet in North America. Research has found that if one could empty all the water out of Yellowstone Lake, the bottom is similar to what is found on the land: geysers, hot springs, and deep canyons.

panoramic view of Yellowstone Lake from Lake Butte Overlook
Indian Pond with Yellowstone Lake in the background

We also spent a day driving to Upper Mesa Falls, located about an hour west of Yellowstone.  A wooden boardwalk lets you get so close you can feel the mist from the spray!

Upper Mesa Falls

And another delightful afternoon hiking to Ousel Falls, located in Big Sky.

Ousel Falls, Big Sky MT

You can view all of our landscape photos here:

Yellowstone National Park
hover on photo and then arrow through the set

“Animal Jams” are a quintessential part of Yellowstone. The animals in the park roam free, and that means they sometimes use the same roads we drive on.

a bit intimidating coming right at you!

On any given day, at any given time, in any given place you are likely to encounter stopped traffic. But it’s all part of the park’s experience so you just enjoy it — and try not to get frustrated!

we waited in this line for 90 minutes while a herd of bison lumbered along at 2mph

We had been in the Yellowstone area for a month and thus far blessed with unseasonably mild weather: warm days with plenty of blue skies and bright sunshine. But the forecast for the weekend of Oct 22 and into the following week did not look good. We decided to take advantage of what might be our last warm, sunny day and drive down to Grand Teton for some landscape shots.

Grand Teton National Park family portrait
T.A. Moulton’s famous barn
Oscar and Maddie enjoying the view from Schwabacher Landing

It’s a long 4-hour drive in good weather so we also booked an overnight at the Cowboy Village in Jackson.

our adorable little cabin at Cowboy Village, Jackson

We spent all day Friday in the park, shooting landscapes

Oxbow Bend, Grand Teton National Park
outhouse with the best view ever!

And all the wildlife we happened upon. In that one day of driving around, we saw a big male grizzly bear, a very dark gray wolf, a bald eagle, nine different moose (yes!!), a coyote, a ruffed grouse, and a little black bear.

a black bear enjoying some huckleberries

Old Man Winter showed up with a vengeance on Saturday morning.

Just like that we went from Indian Summer to Winter!

It took us 7 1/2 hours to get home. Part of that was driving below the speed limit on snowy, mountain roads. But we also sat for an hour in a “snow jam.” Someone had slid off the road and the rangers stopped traffic in both directions while we all waited for the tow truck. When the guilty car finally came by (his “drive of shame”) we saw it was a Range Rover of all things! I guess the guy got overly confident.

sitting in a “snow jam”

In spite of the wild drive home, it was well worth the trip!

“Home Sweet Home” looking a lot different than 32 hours ago!

Before we left Florida, I had already penciled this episode as “Walk on the Wild Side” for the “Wild West” and “wildlife” connotations.  But between the wildly fantastic hydrothermal features of the park,

Grand Prismatic Spring colors close-up

All the wildly beautiful landscapes,

Yellowstone River

All the wildlife we saw, and the wild weather our last time driving through the park, our 32 nights in Yellowstone were indeed a Walk on the Wild Side!

little cinnamon bear

If you haven’t gotten enough photos, you can also check out our entire Flickr albums, which include pics not in any of the above categories as well as all of TG’s beautiful panoramas.

TG: https://www.flickr.com/photos/werdnanilmot/albums/72177720302405041

JET: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jetomlin/albums/72177720302490368

Coming next: Westward Ho(ly Cow) Episode 2 “The Grand Splurge”

1982: our wedding eve

Westward Ho (ly Cow)!

Prologue

In June of 2022, we found ourselves in a bit of a predicament. We had a confirmed reservation at an Air BNB outside of Gardiner, MT for a month-long visit to Yellowstone National Park in September. As wildlife photographers, visiting the park was high on both our bucket lists:  TG had never been and I was too young to remember much of my family’s visit in the early 1960s.

I’m wearing the sweatshirt but I don’t remember the trip!

But unprecedented flooding caused the park to close, with not a lot of hope that the north (Gardiner) entrance would be open any time this season.

Facebook photo: June, 2022

To salvage the Yellowstone portion of our trip we had a lot of boxes to check:  the dates had to work as we were due at our next stop the third week of October. It had to be within an hour’s drive of one of the park’s entrances, it had to be dog friendly, and the price needed to be within our budget.

As luck would have it, we found a condominium in Big Sky, MT that fit the bill. It was located about 50 miles from the west entrance and was dog friendly.

we found a condo in Big Sky, MT

Something about the host’s Air BNB profile rang a bell. Could it be the same Domenick that owned and operated the Quito Inn & Suites in Tababela?!?

Is this the same Domenick?!?

Sure enough, it was! After the new international airport opened outside of Quito in 2013, it was the only place to stay those first few years and we met him on several of our trips to Ecuador.

Quito Inn & Suites, Tababela Ecuador (2013)

After catching up on old times, Domenick offered us the Big Sky condo at a considerable discount. Yellowstone, followed by eight nights in Grand Teton, was back on track.

Our original plan was to head to New Mexico the first week of November for the sandhill crane migration at the Bosque del Apache before heading home in early December. But we thought as long as we’re this far, why not just keep going??  So we added … and added … and added …

our epic road trip!

After the Bosque we drive north to Yellowknife, Northwest Territories to spend the holidays photographing the aurora borealis, then back south to Fargo, North Dakota for a chance to spy saw-whet owls, and finish with another month in the Sax-Zim Bog with the great gray owls.

a brand new set of Michelin Crossclimate 2 tires for the road!

By the time we’re back home in Okeechobee, Oscar and Maddie will have added six more states to their already impressive count (23 total), plus 3 Canadian provinces.

our little road buddies!

Blogging a trip this long must be broken up into several parts (“Episodes”) which I will post as we go. Travel along with us – or wait until we’re back home and binge-read them all at once. Either way, it should be quite the ride! So fasten your seatbelts and hang on as we hit the road – again.

So fasten your seatbelts and hang on as we hit the road – again!

Coming next: Westward Ho Episode 1 “Walk on the Wild Side”