3 Hours of Digging, Freezing and Admitting Defeat

It has been a week and a half since anyone has seen grizzly 610 or her mom 399. Temperatures have been cold for a while, well below freezing, but the bears have been taking full advantage of elk and bison gut pules left by hunters in Grand Teton National Park. They must have had their fill and decided den up for winter. It was a shame I was not able to see the bears since getting back to the area. I arrived on a Friday afternoon and searched for them till dark before even finding out where I was going to be living. I had to work the next five days straight sun up to sun down. Many people were saying the bears were still out which was torture since I could do nothing about it. As soon as I got a day off I unsuccessfully searched for them. I had off Monday of this week so I went in search of them despite hearing they had not been seen for six days. I figured the best spot to find them is near where the denned.

My friend Suzy took this photo. I wish I would have taken some but instead I was worried about getting unstuck.

As I understand it, no one knows exactly where they den up for winter but 399 is back off Pilgrim Creek Road so thats where I went. The road was just groomed with no barriers on the groomed section and the snow only looked a few inches deep, nothing the Subaru couldn’t handle. I drove up on the snow and got out to check and make sure I was not sinking in. Nope, good to go. I drove about a mile down on the road when I thought, this is stupid, I am going to get stuck. I stopped, backed up and began to turn around when it happened. My two front tires and passenger rear broke through at noon and I wasn’t going anywhere. I was worried a ranger would see me and write me a ticket so I worked as fast as I could to get out. I dug out the snow with my hands, I didn’t have a shove, and tried to get traction. Big fail. Then I got the idea to lay down my Carhartt bibs to drive on and get traction. It worked a little bit but not good enough. I eventually jacked up my car, put my bibs, a vest I had, all four of my floor mats and whatever else I could find under all four tires to back out. Success… Well that was short lived. I had a mile to back out and I got stuck about twenty feet back. The snow softened with the afternoon sun and there was no way out without help. My phone was beeping at me because my battery was almost dead so I called Teton National Park dispatch.

Dispatch told me they were sending out a ranger so I asked who it was. She said Chris. I was relieved because there are some rangers with huge ego’s and Chris is not one of them. I met him at the road and hopped into his truck to go back and pull my car out. His truck nearly got stuck right away so he decided it would be best get some snowmobiles. I took his shovel and dug out my car while he got the sleds. He came back with another ranger I didn’t know and we pulled my car out with ease. My neck got sore looking back while driving the mile in reverse but I made it out… three hours later.

I wanted to buy them a case of beer but they said buy them a drink at the bar if I run into them. I couldn’t believe I didn’t get a ticket. Chris said that it was 50% my fault and 50% theirs for not having the road blocked off. The signs they use to block the road were just to the left of where I entered. I probably shouldn’t have gone back but I am glad I did. It was worth the story.


An Uneventful Journey

Two days before my planned departure I got a call from my buddy Mike who was homeless and living in Jackson, Wy. He said that he found a place for us to live and asked if I was alright with it. Since we really had no other options we snatched it up. Just as I thought, things always work out. Unlike when I moved to Vail I had a place to live this time. I headed out the first of December and had to make it from Appleton, Wi to Jackson, Wy by the third to start work. I got word that 399 and 610 (the bears and their cubs I have been following) were still active and I wanted to find them which meant few stops and racking up as many miles as possible. I started the drive at 8:24am on the first and didn’t stop until I could hardly keep my eyes open at 12:30am on the second. With the time change it was only 11:30pm because I gained an hour. I pulled off on a pullout somewhere on top of a mountain in a snowstorm only 300 or so miles from Jackson. I covered about 1,000 miles with only about an hours worth of stops which included a half hour Cabelas stop in Mitchell, SD. I woke up many times because I had to sleep in the front seats and could not recline because of how packed my car was. I eventually started driving again at 5am mountain time so that I could get about 3 hours of daylight once I got to Grand Teton National Park.

I finally made it to the park at about 1:30pm and the wind was blowing hard and snow was coming down. I started looking for my friends which they are not hard to find because they are ALWAYS looking for wildlife. I took a left onto Antelope Flats Road and didn’t find anyone there. Then I took a right towards Shadow Mountain, surely I would find them there… Nope. I got a little too confident in my tires and managed to fly into a ditch while going around a sharp corner. A guy driving a propane truck had a shovel and helped me get out. Once out I headed toward Kelly thinking they were back that way but I only saw some moose, bison, eagles, elk, and a whole lot of elk hunters hunting in the National Park. My phone was dead so I decided to head into town to try to find out where I lived. I didn’t have an address and didn’t know where the place was. As I crossed a bridge heading into town I saw two cars parked on the side of the road looking at something. It was a big heard of elk and I decided I wanted pictures because it was pretty. I swung around and parked on the side of the road. I didn’t even have time to get my binoculars out when I saw Bernie in his old spray painted blue van with tire strapped on top of a plywood platform on top of it. He camped out in the park almost every day this summer too, sleeping in his van. Anyway I honked and chased him down. He stopped and we talked a bit but it was a short conversation because he got word that 610 was out so we were off after here.

I was not able to find 610 that snowy friday but I did find Susie and Bob, two other friends of mine from the summer. We all talked a bit and passed each other many times while driving and looking for the bear.


Last few Weeks

The last few weeks have been pretty busy and just plain boring when I was sick. I had to go up north three times. Two times to make frames and one time because someone drove a car through the entry way of my folks cabin. I had to make some frames because I was selling some of my photos at an arts and raft show. I only sold three but it was a good experience and I think I will be selling more in the future because of it. Last week I was sick, for the whole week. I had temperatures of 102.5 for a few days and then 103.5 degrees for a few. It was not fun but a high temp was my only symptoms. I would say I made up for not watching TV all summer. Probably should have written some posts but I was not up for doing anything while I was sick.

Before the show I was busy getting photos sorted and printed and I was able to pick them up from Lab Apollo a day before the show. I had them printed on metallic paper which turned out pretty well. They really liked my photos and even asked if they could use one of my photos as their profile picture on their Facebook promotional page. They are using the photo I used for the last post of Mount Moran at sunset. I have been telling people that I will be doing a writeup on some of my favorite photos detailing where I was and how I got the images. That is my plan over the next month or two.


A Busy Week in Wisconsin: Sorting, Editing, and Studying

Now that I am home and not our photographing as much I have been able to take care of many things I have been neglecting. Like cleaning out my car, editing photos, ordering photos, and working towards becoming an expert on the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. It took me about a week of sitting at my computer for as long as I could stand each dad sorting through the thousands and thousands of photos I took over the last four months. Well it was just shy of four months, 114 nights, I spent in my car on this adventure, about 100 of those were in the Tetons. After I had the photos sorted they were narrowed down to 252 unedited RAW files. From there I went through and roughly edited each one so I could have a few people go through and pick out their favorites. After the favorites were picked out I went through and picked out the ones I thought would sell. From there I resized them to print and more finely edited the images. My buddy Mike who has www.FreeRoamingPhotography.com told me about a print company that is recommended by PhotoShelter who he is contracted with called Apollo-Imaging. I haven’t got the photos back yet but they are ordered and I feel confident that they will turn out great. My experience with Apollo-Imaging has been great so far. The people are really helpful and have gone out of their way to get the pictures printed for me before Friday. I need them done by Friday because I am going to try and sell some in an art show on Saturday. From now until I have to go pick up the photos on Friday I will be making log frames and studying up on the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem from the many books and DVD’s I picked up at the library. I am trying to get a job as a snowmobile guide in Yellowstone for the winter and need to become an expert on the area. Also next summer I will be a guide for Jackson Hole Wildlife Safaris so I need to study up for them too. I want to lock in summer and winter gigs, for the long term, both guiding in the parks. I really like being in the parks as much as possible and teaching people what I know about them. I have done a little guiding in the Grand Teton National Park already. I took two couples that I met on top of the tram while I was working around the park one afternoon to find so wildlife. I also showed around a photographer from Iowa. A week or so before leaving the Tetons I guided a trip for Jackson Hole Wildlife Safaris which was a four hour tour and it went really well. I found them all kinds of animals and told them some stories about the history of the park. They had a good time and so did I. I cannot wait to start guiding more trips. I really hope this snowmobile guiding job works out this winter. I have plenty of experience both riding and teaching so I hope with a little studying I will get the job.


Nights of Solitude

Driving down route 121 in Grand Teton National Park a bull moose walked into my headlights as it crossed the wet road. I hit the brakes and thought it was bedding down right next to the road. This wasn’t the case but it did get me thinking about what he was thinking. What is going through a moose’ head when it is wandering at night trying to find a place to sleep or stay out of harms way. He is out alone, in the middle of the night with no one watching his back unlike the elk herds and wolf packs. It has to be a tough life for the moose, bears and other animals that run solo. Then I got to thinking and it’s not a whole lot different from what I do.

I would say a little less than half the 100+ days I have been on the road I have camped alone. Since being in the Tetons most of the times I camped alone I was way back in the middle of nowhere and initially I was insecure about it. I would get out of my car quickly and get my bed ready as fast as I could so I could lock myself in. I was worried about something getting me in the dark. This was a typical routine for a while because when I got out here I knew little about bears and saw them all over. I also woke up to a big grizzly shaking my car not too long after I got out here. I was alone way back off wilderness road off Pacific Creek. Even when I was locked up in my car sometimes my mind would play tricks on me where I would think I heard something outside and I would shine my light out to see if anything was there. There was usually nothing and I would discover that it was something inside my car that made the noise, usually from me moving. I imagine this is how the moose are for a while after their mom wants nothing to do with them anymore but eventually they become more knowledgeable and confident in their skills of the world just as I have.

I am not saying that I am totally at peace when out of my car alone in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night but I am more comfortable with it now. This is probably how the moose are. You want to be on alert enough to sense a predator but relaxed to enjoy life. I do not rush to get my bed set up even though I could do it in probably 10 seconds. I also do not rush to close myself in my car like before, and I usually leave the door open for a while to get some fresh air. I typically leave the windows down a little to get some fresh air but unfortunately this fall its been raining a lot. I woke up to water in my face a couple times and had to put the windows up. What to do the moose do at night when it rains?


New Business Cards

So after many months without business cards I finally got some ordered. Here is the design of the back.


Wisconsin Bound

So I finally made it back to Wisconsin about 3 months later than planned. I broke the trip up a little leaving the Grand Tetons on the 12th of october and getting back to Wisconsin on the 18th. I stopped at Roosevelt National Park in ND on my way to central North Dakota where I met my dad and some of his buddies for a bird hunting trip they do every year. For five nights I knew where I was going to be sleeping and even had a bed. The first night I woke up from a dream involving a run in with a cougar in the woods. Wish I remembered the whole dream because my dad told me I told him there was a cat in my bed. I wasn’t even drunk, who wouldda figured? Anyway, it was a good time.

The morning we left our alarms were set for 3:45am but for some reason the old guys all woke up earlier and we were out the door by 3:45am. My dad rode with one of the guys and headed straight home and I had to go to Iowa to pick up a bunch of stuff I left at the place I was working this summer for a falcon breeder. I drove for a few hours and then took a nap at 8:30am or so. It only lasted a hour and then I went straight through to Iowa. I loaded up my stuff, talked to Lance and Lori and then started booking it home. Was only about a hour into the last stretch, cruise set at 68 tailing a white Monte Carlo with a young woman driver figuring she would get busted by the cops and not me. Well she turned off and I didn’t slow as I came into a little farm town. I passed a cop car going in the opposite direction and saw in my mirror that he slowed hit the gravel and whipped around. It was delayed though which gave me enough time to plan my get away.

On the left 200 yards up was a Dollar General and on the right 500 yards up was a gas station. I figured there was not enough time to get to the gas station so quickly pulled into the Dollar General, got out of my car immediately and started walking into the store. As soon as I got out of my car I saw the cop flying down the road in my direction, which I just ignored and nonchalantly walked to the door. I was almost to the door when I heard “Excuse me sir.” I turned around and said, “Yeah, whats going on?!” completely unconcerned. He said, “Can I talk to you for a second?” I said he could and walked to the other side of his car to talk to him through the driver side window. He was a younger guy, kinda chunky cheeks which I am sure his grandma loved to grab and weak goatee. He said, “Whats going on?” Which I responded, “Not a whole lot. I have been driving since four this morning.” He asked why I was at the store and I told him I was just stopping for some snacks. He asked how fast I was going and I was kind of out of it and told him I was doing somewhere between 52 and 55. He goes, “52 or 55 try 72 to75!” I said, “75? No I wasn’t going that fast I meant 62 to 65” and he asked to run my license. I told him I had to get it our of my car and he got out of his and followed me. He got to the drivers side, where I was, and backed up about five feet with his had at his side and said, “What do you have that pepper spray for?” It was a big bottle of bear spray and I told him that I was living in the Tetons photographing bears for the last three months and figured I should have it. He then wanted to see some pictures of bears so I tool him the the other side of the car and showed him. He was doing a ride along with a kid and told the kid he could come out of the car and check out my shots. After I showed them to the guy he ran my car and grilled me about my lifestyle. He was pretty interested. The kid said, “Man, you are living the dream.” I said, “Yes I am.” The cop gave me my card, said have a good day and took off. He didn’t even tell me to slow down, drive safe or anything. I went in and bought something even though I didn’t really want to but I had to make it look like that was the plan. The whole ordeal cost me only about three bucks. It was great. The rest of the trip was pretty uneventful.

I got home a little after 10pm. I talked to my mom for a bit and then went out to the bar with some friends I hadn’t seen in a long time. I really should have just went to bed after 17 hours on the road but hey, you only live once.


The Last Day

These photos were taken on my last day in the Grand Tetons… For about 2 months. I am moving back in December. It was the best sunrise I have experienced in the three months I lived in the Tetons.


Night One-Hundred!

My heart just stopped thumping at a million beats per minute and my mind stopped racing. Here is why. Just after dark Jim and I arrived at our campsite in the Teton National Forest. It is a site I have not stayed at before and it is one I will probably return to. It is a much larger site than where we usually stay and the dark silhouette of the Grand Tetons can be clearly seen. The night sky is how the night sky usually is, not a cloud up there and shooting stars can be seen in all directions. Jim and I did what we usually do, sit around and suck some beers BS until it is late enough to call it a night. The sun goes down at about eight now which is really early compared to the eleven o’clock when I got here in early July. It is great because I do not have to get up at 5:30am but bad because I have a few hours to kill every night before an acceptable bedtime and with living in my car its not like I can just turn on the tube. Tonight was actually the first night Jim and I made a fire with just the two of us. We made them every night when my buddy John was here over the last week but usually Jim and I just sit in the dark leaning up against our vehicles sucking a beers looking up at the night sky. As we gathered firewood tonight Jim walked back to the fire ring as I was still gathering wood. I heard a grunting in the woods and hurried back toward the vehicles, arms full. I told Jim and he said he thought he heard something. We got the fire going and I had some beef that was almost expired so we cooked it up over the fire in a pot. I threw in some chili and Jim hopped some onion and avocado which we threw in as well. Of course being from Wisconsin I had cheese to toss in. As we were waiting for the chili to cook I said cheers to me being on the road for 100 days. Or at least mostly on the road. There were two days spent on a pullout couch couchsurfing, two nights on a couch at the Teton Mountain Lodge and one night in my own two bedroom, 3 bath, 2 fireplace suite at the lodge as well. Along with one night on a pullout at the Four Seasons (ritziest place in Teton Village) and one night in my buddies spare bedroom. But other than those eight nights I have been in my car and loving every second of it.My car is actually more comfortable than most of those places I stayed. Anyway, we cheersed ate chili and BS’ed all night. As the fire turned to coals, Jim and I heard something that sounded like a bear in the woods. In seconds I stashed the chilli leftovers, the pot, and garbage in my car. The noise was not too loud at first and only lasted a split second. Then the sound started to run towards us. After hearing the first noise I got ready to jump in my car because it sure sounded like a bear. Then the noise ran along the hillside and crashed out of sight. Jim saw three elk run across the hillside. They were running like a predator was chasing them. Unfortunately we did not see the predator. That was enough for us, we were out of wood and it was cold so we decided to call it a night. Winter is setting in fast and fall colors are in full swing. I am going to wake up tomorrow and have another great day and not just any day, my 100th, day.


Northern Lights

Fancy new phones make star gazing more fun and the northern lights more likely to be seen. I learned this over the last few days I spent with my buddy John who I lived with in Vail. He came up for a week and we were out chasing wildlife and had a good time. A few days ago he downloaded a app for his phone that tells what constellations you are looking at and it even had planets. Pretty awesome app. Then my buddy Mike told him about the app to track the northern lights and he downloaded it. The rating goes up to 9 which is when you are pretty much guaranteed to see the northern lights. Earlier in the day at about 4pm it was at an 8 which was the highest Mike has seen. as the evening progressed the level kept dropping and dropping all the way down to a 3 but then it raised up to a 6. We could not see the Aurora Borealis with our bare eyes but with a longer exposure or some camera tricks we could get some pinks and greens to show. The shot above was a 15 minute exposure. I really want to get a smartphone now after seeing those two apps.