the photo blog for creative doers
First, let me be clear that Magic Mike was not his real name. I have changed it to protect him from my description. He was a congenial guy but, as you will see, there was no magic in his wildlife guiding skill set.
To give him his due, he did arrive on time after driving up from Jackson to the Old Faithful Snow Lodge to pick us up at 8:00 a.m. It was snowing when he started so it wasn't an easy trip. And, his web site had great photos of animals seen on his tours. He was cheerful and talkative and knew his way around Yellowstone, which was important because it was snowing much of the time and half of the roads were still closed.
His Suburban was a mess, which was our first clue that maybe this would not be a magical tour. Just a few miles out from the lodge near the Black Sand Basin came our second clue. Driving along at a fair speed, Mike spotted an otter running across the snow. He quickly rolled down the windows and started shouting "take your pictures, take your pictures!"
Apparently, otter sightings are rare in Yellowstone. And, from our experience they were quick. Before you knew it he was gone as were we. In his excitement, Mike had forgotten to stop the car. We just kept cruising down the road. What wildlife guide does not stop when there is wildlife to view?
Mike was especially keen on spotting a wolf and determined to make it happen no matter how far we had to drive. He was also full of chit chat about his childhood - he read a 330 page book when he was in the fourth grade - but a bit lacking on wildlife and habitat information we were hoping to hear.
Off we sped for miles until our monotony was spoiled by a crowd alongside the road. You quickly learn that much wildlife spotting, particularly during the main part of the day, happens by finding cars parked alongside the road and people pointing their binoculars and cameras at a field. Here the the subject was a lone coyote crossing a snow covered field.
We pulled over and I took this photo with a very long lens. It was nice to get out of the car and see something. We had stopped a couple of times before but without luck. And, this coyote, nice as he was, did not satisfy Mike's longing for a wolf. Next stop lunch.
Now let me say this about guides and lunch. Usually they are clear. You bring your own or they bring a lunch or, in the Parks, they have a spot in mind where you stop for lunch. Nothing fancy usually but palatable.
Mike was not clear and had something else in mind - a chili dog from a place near Mammoth Hot Springs that served only chili dogs. The rest of us pulled something together from a nearby snack rack. Not much of a lunch for the guests but there was entertainment value in the stop. Mike wore the residue of his treasured chili dog - his first of the season - proudly on his face for the rest of the day.
After lunch, we made a beeline for the Lamar Valley region of the Park still in search of the elusive wolf. At this point, we were as far as we could be from our lodge and still be in the park and I was feeling a bit like I do when I fish with by brother-in-law Bert. He likes to speed off in his bass boat across the lake to a favorite spot, put his lure in for two minutes and when he gets no hit, speed off to another spot at the other end of the lake. And over and over. Mostly boating. Very little fishing.
Still, it was nice to get out and the weather was interesting. Snow on and off in bunches. Sometimes good visibility and sometimes not. The image above will give you a feel for how things were in the Lamar Valley. The last image in this blog is from this area and one of my favorites.
And we did "spot" a black bear with her cub. At least that's what Mike claims. And, again it was because of a crowd on the side of the road. It was snowing pretty hard at the time and I could make out a black dot near a tree at some distance but I cannot say with any certainty whether I saw a black bear or participated in a mass hallucination. Judge for yourself below.
The weather cleared as we headed back from the Lamar Valley, sighting mostly bison. On our way back we made a major stop and got out of the Suburban to hike through a valley to a vantage point that would let us point our binoculars on a hole in a far away hill that serves as a wolf den.
To get to the vantage point we had to walk near a small herd of bison with their young and not far from a small herd of antelope. More than solitary wildlife at last. Bison are impressively large and wild looking when you get up close, which is what we ended up doing when we headed back to the car. While we were searching unsuccessfully for wolves, the bison herd moved behind us, blocking our path to the car.
We made it back to the car using a circuitous avoid-the-patty route as the bison continued to move in our direction. If you look closely at the photo below and check out the injuries on the bison you will see why we kept a safe distance. The presence of the young bison make the females particularly unpredictable if they feel threatened.
So, by now you are probably thinking this trip was a bust. Too much driving and not enough wildlife. But, no, I would call it a resounding success. Just to be in Yellowstone is a treat. And, the unpredictable weather and guide added an element of excitement to the trip.
For all his shortcomings, Mike was pleasant and much better than our last guide at Yellowstone. That involved a trip years ago with our son when an emergency back home left us with just one day to visit the park. The last-minute guide I found was a Jim Carey/Ace Ventura clone who did not smell very pleasant.
When he jumped out of our van to get closer to a grizzly that was crossing the road all I could think of then was the old adage that to survive a bear attack you just have to be faster than at least one person in your party. He survived and there was no attack and, yes, that was a great trip too. Perhaps we will return talk about Ace at a future date.
Travel is an adventure. Sometimes you just have to go with the flow.
All photos and text copyright Clinton Richardson. These and other images from Yellowstone and Grand Teton are posted on our sister site at www.Trekpic.com in our Wild Wyoming Gallery.
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Clinton Richardson, has been writing and photographing for decades. His acclaimed venture strategy series is now in its 5th edition. His Ancient Selfies is an International award winner. Check out TrekPic.com for more of his images.