Category Archives: 2013 USA-NorthWest RV Trip

Dave Cox in Itasca St Park, Minnesota, Tue., May 14, 2013

Hello everyone.  I am on the road again.  After 12 years of mostly international travel (a few trips to the 4-corners area of the US), I decided it was time to revisit much of North America.  I last visited most of the states in the 1960s.  I have purchased new, from the manufacturer, a tiny RV trailer called a Scamp.  Barely 10 feet by 6 ½ feet inside (6 foot 3 inch ceiling), I ordered it fully loaded, with bathroom w toilet and shower, gas/electric heat and water heater, full AC, kitchen with sink, gas stove and gas/electric fridge, and booth table for 4 which converts to the double bed; even some storage cabinets.  How they packed all into such a tiny trailer is amazing.  It is actually quite enjoyable working inside at the table, surrounded by windows, which is where I am writing this now.

The trailer was built in Backus, Minnesota.  I left Tucson May 3 and spent a week driving to Minnesota, passing through and spending a couple of days with my brother and his wife in Kansas City.  I traveled mostly small US highways to avoid the Interstates, and lodged and dined in tiny country towns (such as Vaughn, NM and Pine River, MN).  Southern Arizona and all of New Mexico treat the backroad driver to endless vistas, raw mountains and interesting little diners.  The panhandles of Oklahoma and Texas are endless grain silos and cattle feedlots; the aroma of thousands of cattle standing around in damp soil just eating and dumping is pretty much constant.  Kansas, Iowa and southern Minnesota are pretty much endless grain silos and  wheat or corn fields, now barren as it just is ending winter.

Backus, where I picked up the trailer, has a population of 150.  I discovered, upon hooking up the RV, my car had been wired incorrectly for the various connections to the trailer, and so spent 4 extra hours in the only auto mechanic shop in Backus for  rewiring (they were experts, being close to the RV factory).  I had intended to head straight to a state park for my “maiden voyage”, but it was late Friday when I finally hooked up the trailer, so I spent the first night in a motel in Park Rapids.  Well, I got the last room in town (3 motels).  I already had been warned numerous times that the next day was “Opening Day” for fishing season in Minnesota – this turns out to be a HUGE deal here.   All roads were trafficked with pickups hauling boats. Turns out Park Rapids, where I stayed, was where the governor came for opening day; my motel was full with the news corps from Minnesota TV and radio stations,  in town to cover the governor’s opening day fishing.  I chatted with several TV people from a St Paul station, and asked whether they were the  political reporters – “no”, they were not; they covered fishing. The next morning, opening day, as I was stocking up at a Wal-Mart for my trip into the park, I learned the governor had caught his first fish, I believe it was a northern pike, at 12:36; I noted it wasn’t noon yet – they clarified he had caught his fish at 12:36 am, i.e. just after midnight, on opening day.  They take fishing season very very seriously here in Minnesota.

I now have spent 2 days here in Itasca State Park in northern Minnesota.  The entire northern part of the state is covered in thousands of lakes of all sizes.  Most still have ice covering large parts, and there are small piles of snow on the ground; it has been very cold (in the low teens at night).  Itasca is the oldest park in the state, covered in deciduous and evergreen forest, and full of small lakes, plus one large lake named Itasca – this is the headwaters of the Mississippi River.  I now have walked across the Mississippi on a small split log laid across the river, 20 feet from where it originates out of Lake Itasca.  Beautiful place.  Already I have photographed several new bird species for me, as well as a couple of new squirrels.  I have hiked the woods, and particularly the back side of the Lake; there for the first time I was able to photograph trumpeter swans swimming and resting on the ice shelf.  More exciting was my encounter with a very good sized black bear.  I was on a small trail on the edge of the Lake and, coming around a bend, saw the bear foraging in the bushes just 45 meters ahead.  The bear didn’t see me, and after a few moments decided to come ambling straight down the trail toward me.  Although I sorely wanted to wait until he was much closer and in the sunlight for better photos, I decided the better option was to give a loud cough, advising the bear of my presence.  He paused, looked me over, and decided to turn tail (the normal reaction).

I anticipate leaving here in the next day or two and heading over to the Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota for wildlife viewing.  I am heading west rather rapidly only because I want to spend a couple of weeks in Yellowstone before the crowds get bad, and understand May is the best month.

I have included photos of my trailer, rust backed squirrel, white-breasted nuthatch, chipping sparrow, the Mississippi River as a baby, trumpeter swans, my bear encounter and a ruffed grouse.  Later.  Dave

Dave Cox at Custer State Park, SD, Thur. May 23, 2013

Hello everyone.  I have visited the Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota, and currently am visiting Custer State Park and the Badlands National Park in South Dakota.  It has been cold, overcast and/or windy every day since last I wrote from Itasca State Park in MN.   A little over a week ago I drove from Itasca into North Dakota, and on into Medora at the entrance to the Theodore Roosevelt National Park.  The two day drive across western Minnesota and west across all of North Dakota provided the only sunshine I have seen in two weeks; however, I drove into cold headwinds of 40 mph constant speed.  It was miserable, and the poor car drank gas as if it couldn’t quench its thirst.

I stayed in an RV camp in Medora for 3 days and drove into the Park and badlands each day.  Theodore Roosevelt National Park is full of wildlife and the scenic badlands. It was here that a young Teddy Roosevelt came in his late 20’s and set up 2 ranches.  He spent a number of years living the life of an outdoorsman hunter and cowboy.  He credited his life here with permitting him to be President, and it was here that his conservation instincts kicked in as he saw the last of the bison being hunted to extinction.  He created more national parks and wildlife preserves than any other president, and so is honored with this Park.  In the Park I photographed bison, pronghorn, mule deer, wild turkey, wild horses, black-tailed prairie dogs and a remarkable badger (rarely seen) that I found had taken up residence in a prairie dog town.  The badger was well fed and sleek as he simply left his hole and had only to wander a few feet to dig up yummy fat little prairie dogs.

I had a huge adrenalin attack early one dreary overcast wet morning.  Having seen a large male bison grazing around a campsite in the park the previous day, I assumed it was somewhat accustomed to people on foot nearby.  I approached on foot, and for 10 minutes tried pictures from several angles from about 50 to 60 feet.  Suddenly, through the viewfinder, I saw the huge bison (the big ones weigh about 2,000 lbs.) spin around, lower his head, and come charging straight for me.  I took off at high speed, but immediately remembered that bison run 3 times the speed of humans.  I looked back and he was about 30 feet from me, and I clearly remembered thinking of what dogs do when chased by bulls, as well as the picadors in bull fights who plant the barbed flags; they run at an angle, more toward than away from, the beast (I admit to simultaneously wondering what it felt like to be gored).  So I turned and took off at less than a right-angle.  The bison immediately stopped and went back to grazing.  He had done what bison always do when bothersome predators hang around.  I was chagrined at breaking an easy rule – keep a 100 foot distance; many people have been gored by bison, and some killed.  I subsequently got many great close-ups of bison, but though often much closer than 100 feet,  most were from around my car;  bison, as with most wildlife, seem less concerned with cars than with people on foot.  Of the many bison pictures I have taken so far, I decided to include the one that to me seems most iconic; I think it reminds me of the “buffalo” on the old nickel.

From Medora, I drove last Saturday to the southwestern corner of South Dakota, into the famous Black Hills, with enough attractions for 2 states packed into a tiny area.  I have headquartered in the Beaver Lake RV campsite just outside the town of Custer, on the western edge of the Custer State Park, and just south of the Mt Rushmore area.  I spent 3 days cruising the Park, which is filled spectacularly with wildlife and birds.  It has the largest free-roaming number of bison in North America (about 1,500), as well as wild turkey and 3 species of deer,  both mule and white-tailed deer and elk, plus pronghorn.  I  got to see and photograph the uncommon Yellow-bellied Marmot and the Upland Sandpiper in the Park.  Driving the wildlife loop road in the Park one usually encounters the famous (or infamous) free roaming “begging burros”.  These often gather on the road to stop traffic, and will “mob” any car with open windows whose occupants offer food.

With the perpetual overcast and rain, but the marvelous wildlife, I have been considering the classic song “Home on the Range”, written about these northern plains (although made the state song of Kansas).  I have noted issues with the wording of the song, and on driving through Custer State Park for the last several days have revised some obvious errors; below is the rewritten version of the first verse, which original version needed 5 separate corrections.  I need neither accolades nor smarmy remarks concerning the following:

“Oh give me a home where the great bison roam,
and the deer and the pronghorn still graze.
Where sometime is heard a discouraging word,
for the skies can stay cloudy for days.”

On Tuesday I drove Hwy 16A (a little traveled alternate route) north to Mt Rushmore.  This short alternate section of  highway runs from Custer State Park north for about 20 miles, and is a remarkable narrow, twisting, steep road which passes through 3 even more remarkable tunnels carved square through rocky mountain tops.  These tunnels have no supports; they just are chiseled through the solid rock.  The smallest on this road is just 13 foot wide and 12’ 2” high.  The approach has to do a 300 degree very tight uphill loop, which bridges over itself with a wooden bridge, and then plunges into the tiny carved mountain orifice.  See the attached photo to get the idea; the loop is behind the camera.  While there photographing the tunnel, a giant motorhome approached (see picture).  I helped measure the motorhome and the tunnel; even lowering all the air-shocks in the RV, it was 4 inches too tall.  The driver was unwilling to try to turn around where he was, though I offered to help guide him and try to control traffic.  Ultimately he contacted the state police who, when I departed, were on their way to resolve the situation.  Do not try to take large RVs on tiny roads like this!

From the top of a neighboring mountain, on Hwy 16A, one obtains perhaps the most perfect view of Mt Rushmore; although it is from a distance of about 3 miles, it is straight on, and one is not required to look up into the nostrils of the 4 Presidents.  I used a telephoto lens, and suspect many published shots one sees of the presidents is in fact from here, and not from the Monument which sits at the base of the mountain upon which the faces are carved.  Arriving at the Monument, one finds a four lane entrance through toll booths, with flashing electronic signage, collecting $11 for a parking fee to enter a gigantic 4 story concrete parking garage.  This opens onto further concrete walkways and lines of state flags.  It is our National Park Service gone seeming off track at a historic site which receives too many tourists in too small an area.  I remember the Monument from a visit in 1960; it was rustic then.  I chose not to spend time inside and tarnish my memories, and satisfied myself with the more pleasing views from the alternate highway.

The above story about the very large RV prompts me to digress a little, onto RVs.  In the larger private RV camps where I have stayed, almost all the RVs are simply huge; I am guessing almost all are over 35 feet.  Really noticeable are the “small” ones, which are in the mid 20’s.  I chose my tiny trailer (10 foot w/o hitch) as a significant improvement over tenting or sleeping in the car, and an improvement over the pop-up camper van I rented in Australia.  I cannot imagine handling the big ones.  Almost all have at least 3 expansion “roll-out” sides, and are hooked up to not only power, but water and sewer at all sites (my little one can be hooked up to all utilities as well, but I do not intend to use them under usual circumstances).  Out in the “primitive” camp sites, with mostly tents, is where I have seen a couple of tiny RVs like mine.  End of digression.

Yesterday, which was the lone day within the last week forecast to be sunny, I traveled east to the Badlands National Park for the day.  It was not sunny; indeed, it was heavily overcast all day and rained much of the time (see again the revisions to “Home on the Range”).  These badlands bare resemblance to the badlands of North Dakota only in the colorful eroded landscape.  Unlike the rich with plantlife and wildlife northern badlands, these South Dakota badlands host only the hardiest of life on the fringes.  The official bird list for the Park lists 21 species only as common.  The soft colorful bands of the severely eroded hills are quite spectacular and otherworldly.  I did find the burrowing owls which nest in holes at the fringes of prairie dog towns.  Also, as predicted by the rangers at the visitor center, I did find bighorn sheep where the loop road reaches Pinnacles Pass.  The entire park area is famous for the paleontology done there; it apparently produces more “mammalian” fossils (from about 30 million years ago) than any site on earth.

Among the attached photos, which are not otherwise mentioned above, are the spotted towhee, downy woodpecker, western meadowlark, mountain bluebird, blue grosbeak and a rather neat mule deer clearing a railing.   Tomorrow I probably will travel on into the northeastern corner of Wyoming to visit the Devil’s Tower; perhaps I will have an encounter of the 3rd kind.  After that I will be heading towards Yellowstone.  Life still is good (would be great if the sun would shine).  Later.  Dave

Dave Cox in Thermopolis, WY. Fri. May 31, 2013

Hello everyone.  I am about ready to head north into Yellowstone Park, and don’t expect to have email access for some time, so thought I would send this update.  I last wrote from Custer, SD; I drove from Custer across into Wyoming and up to the small town of Sundance.  It was in Sundance in 1887 that Harry Longabaugh, at age 20, spent 18 months in jail and took the name “Sundance Kid,” some 10 years before associating with Butch Cassidy.  Sundance also is the closest convenient stop for visiting the  unearthly Devils Tower, famed for being the site of close encounters of the 3rd kind.  I had no close encounters with anything but red squirrels, but am attaching a photo a Japanese youth kindly took of me, where he got down to an angle which makes me appear about to take off.  Also see the photo of the climbers on the tower (look very close – many going up the right side).  I noted groups of climbers on all four sides of the tower; a Park Service ranger told me they all do free climbs, using ropes only as safety lines, and to rappel down.  Seems crazy to me.  The tower is a monolithic magma plug which stoppered an ancient volcanic vent; the land rose, and the surrounding softer sedimentary rock wore away leaving this towering 1,000 foot vertical tower.  Over the eons, vertical pillars have sloughed away, forming the boulder fields at the base, and leaving the stippled sides of the tower appearing to support the ancient Native American oral tradition which tells of a giant bear which clawed the sides trying to reach a small group of people on top.

From Sundance I drove to Buffalo, WY at the SE foot of the Bighorn Mountains.  In the RV camp I constantly had whitetail deer by my trailer, and a fair amount of birdlife.  I spent a day driving forest service road loops on the eastern slopes of the Bighorns, and saw many moose and mule deer.  The scenery is terrific at the high elevations.  I drove out of the Bighorns on a tiny dirt road that dropped through Crazy Woman Canyon, shedding about 3,000 feet in 5 miles of steep to very steep descent.  Speaking of crazy, I met an extremely interesting and amiable young lady, American now living in Australia, who back for several months for a US visit is riding a bicycle from Indiana to Yellowstone, alone.  I first met her in the Sundance RV park (she uses a tent, often in the RV camps), and then, remarkably, a few days later ran into her again in the Buffalo RV park where I stayed. Passing her once on the freeway I saw she was stopped to photograph the “Crazy Woman” exit sign.  I last saw her preparing for the climb over the 9,700 foot Powder River Pass in the Bighorns. GO EMILY!

From Buffalo, I had my first real power test for my Subaru Outback in hauling the little trailer over that same Powder River Pass.  Highway 16 climbs from Buffalo, at 4,600 feet, to the pass, at 9,700 feet; the first 6 miles is a fairly steady 7% grade.  I stuck at 45mph and, although the little engine roared, it had no problem hauling the Scamp up the grade.   I also was gratified at having no engine power issues at the summit pass at 9,700 feet, even though the regular gas here in Wyoming has just an octane rating of 85.

On the western side of the Bighorns I drove down to the little town of Thermopolis, which is famed for the largest natural hot mineral baths in the world.  Although I do not intend to enjoy the baths (the main bath is free pursuant to a 1897 treaty made between the US and the local Shoshone and Arapaho tribes), I have enjoyed two other attractions.  In town is the Wyoming Dinosaur Center, which contains one of the best collections of dinosaur and other ancient fossils on earth.  The major showroom, inside a huge warehouse, holds the assembled and displayed (in semi-dioramas) skeletons of dozens of species of dinosaurs, including the 106 foot Supersaurus, and a full T-Rex and Triceratops.  The center also has one of only 3 complete specimens of Archaeopteryx (the famed feathered flying dinosaur) in the world.  Just 30 miles NW of Thermopolis I yesterday visited the little known rock art site called Legend Rock.  Along a low stone cliff running beside the Cottonwood Creek, pretty much in the middle of nowhere in the high plains, is the best example of a petroglyph style called Dinwoody.  Both the anthropomorphic and the many zoomorphic figures, to my eye, have detail in common with the early basket-maker and Freemont petroglyph styles in Utah.  The claim by some experts, however, is that many of the Legend Rock petroglyphs are 5,000 years old, with two of the panels claimed to be 8,000-11,000 years old.  I am skeptical, as dating petroglyphs is problematic, and the styles seem to have sufficient similarities to those to the south, which are generally accepted to be about 2,000-2,500 years old.  Nevertheless, the art work is wonderful, with a number of unusual and new features for me.

I am debating whether to travel to another Dinwoody petroglyph site, stay in Thermopolis another day, or travel on into Yellowstone tomorrow.  The weather is improving, having been partially sunny yesterday morning, and only turning to rain in the afternoon.  I have attached photos of a barn swallow, blue-winged teal, song sparrow, grey jay and black-headed grosbeak in addition to subjects discussed above.    Later.  Dave

Dave Cox in Yellowstone NP, WY & Livingston, MT, June 11, 2013

Hello everyone.  I last wrote from Thermopolis where I last had internet access.  Eleven days ago I drove from there through Cody and up into Yellowstone National Park; it is my first visit back in the Park since the 1960s.  Things have changed.  Gone are the days of easy black bear sightings along most roads and in all camp areas.  The Park Service is very serious now about locking up all food and never feeding any animals.  I stayed the first 6 days in the only RV park with electrical hookups, Fishing Bridge.  There they do not allow tents, soft-sided campers or pop-up campers.  In the primitive sites where such camping is allowed, all food must be stored in on-site steel lockers.  For real primitive backpackers, food items must be hung from trees at least 10 foot above ground and 5 foot from the trunk.  Serious “no feeding” the animals.  Also gone are the days of easy fishing for Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout; since the late 1970s they have become endangered mostly due to the accidental (? intentional ?) introduction of Lake Trout and Rainbow Trout into the streams.  Now all fishing must be done with barbless hooks, and all Cutthroat must be released – AND all Lake Trout and Rainbow Trout must be killed.

The thermal areas are just as spectacular as ever, as are the high mountain passes and vistas over the high lakes.  Yellowstone River still runs from the lake of the same name through Hayden Valley which is teeming with wildlife down on the sage-grass river bottoms; the river then plunges down two waterfalls into the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, spectacular as ever.

Yellowstone is the largest thermal area in the world, and the only one with all 5 types of thermal phenomena; it has fumaroles (volcanic steam vents) hot springs, mud pots (boiling, bubbling, colorful mud), travertine terraces (so beloved by the ancient Romans for hot steam bathing) and, finally, the largest collection of geysers in the world.  Most of the Park sits over one of the largest volcanic calderas in the world (an area where an ancient giant volcano collapsed into its own duct system).  It would take days to visit all the thermal basins and features.  Most are otherworldly, steamy, with crystal water and a pallet of brilliant colors from sulphur and mineral deposits and bacterial mats.  Old Faithful Geyser still erupts about every 90 minutes, with accuracy within 10 minutes for each eruption.  I watched it and the Beehive Geyser on two different days.  Because so many of the thermal features involve motion (boiling, bubbling, popping, erupting), still photos do not do justice to the action.  For the first time I am taking a number of videos in full high definition; unfortunately, they create sufficiently large file sizes I cannot reasonably attach them to emails as I can jpeg photos.  I climbed the Observation Hill behind Old Faithful, and was alone on a beautiful day to video the entire eruptions of the Beehive Geyser and Old Faithful Geyser, both erupting within 12 minutes of each other.

I spent almost 2 full days visiting the some 7 different geyser-hot spring basins.  Even after miles of walking (mostly along well constructed boardwalks to stay off the delicate and dangerous ground), I doubt whether I actually saw much more than half of the thermal wonders.  The huge crystal clear thermal springs with the colorful bacterial mat runoffs, are the prettiest sights, but the boiling churning mud pots are the most sensational, after, of course, a major geyser eruption such as Beehive or Old Faithful.  I wish I could attach some of the videos of the thermal holes which would periodically but slowly fill with water, which then would burst up into mini-eruptions with showers of bubbles and great billowing steam.  Very definitely otherworldly.

I have spent a majority of my time seeking wildlife;  Although the bird life is terrific (includes 5 new duck species for me – Bufflehead, Lesser Scaup, Barrow’s Goldeneye, Common Merganser and, rarest, Harlequin), and the squirrels plentiful, the larger mammals are here in enormous numbers, but less often seen and many seldom seen closely.  I have seen 4 Grizzly Bears, generally at probably over 800 meters.  The photos of the crowds which gather are more interesting (see composite of crowd gathered for Grizzly).  I did have good luck one day with a coyote with a beautiful winter coat doing its classic stance over a rodent hole, listening for movement, and then at the right moment pouncing; it was successful, and the photo shows the fat little dinner package (I have been unable to identify the species) which the coyote swallowed whole, with much grimacing (I would too).

The roads and parking lots in the Park are crowded by 9:30 am (they are empty from 6 to 9am).  There are a number of tour buses which cruise the Park, about half of them Japanese tourists.  Most Americans, Europeans and Australians are driving there own cars or rented RVs.  Most surprising to me are the fairly large number of Chinese tourists, who also are driving rented cars;  this is a relatively new phenomena.

On Friday I left the Lake area and drove north to Tower Falls Camp, a more primitive campsite with no facilities except “hole-in-the-ground” latrines.  This is the only campsite close to Lamar Valley, which is most famous for its wolf packs and huge herds of bison.  Again, I would leave at about 6am each day and drive the Lamar Valley road (which is the road in from the NE entrance), where I not only encountered the wolf pack daily, but hundreds of bison, black bear, grizzly, bighorn sheep, pronghorn and moose with newborns, and, first time for me – mountain goats, with newborn.  Most sightings were at long distances; generally the wolves were at around 1200 meters, and the mountain goats were well over a mile on the snowy cliff-sides of Baronette Peak.  I did have one nice opportunity where a grey wolf came down just across the Lamar River, offering relatively close shots (maybe 150 meters).  The wolves were generally easy to locate because there are a group of people, (especially on weekends when I was there), referred to as the “Wolf Patrol”, who follow the daily movements of the wolves for the Park Service.  One simply drives the Lamar Valley and looks for the “wolf jam” where perhaps 35 cars are clustered on the sides of the road, with a couple of dozen huge spotting scopes on tripods; a sure sign the wolves have been spotted (occasionally also for good grizzly encounters) (The Park Service uses the terms “wolf jams,” “bear jams,” and “bison jams” to refer to the traffic snarls caused when these animals offer good viewing opportunities – often where no convenient pull-offs from the road exist).

I was fortunate also to see newborn (same day) pronghorn and moose, although again at a distance.  In both cases the babies are on their feet within an hour and moving (the pronghorn moving fast).  I encountered the same black bear at least 3 times, among others.  Really amazing, my final morning out along the Lamar road photographing wolves one final time, I was tapped on the shoulder, and turned to find Emily (the bicyclist I met in Sundance and then again at Buffalo), now entering Yellowstone from the NE; she was riding by and recognized me on the side of the road.  She made it across the Bighorn Mtn Pass, and up into the 8,000 foot passes of Yellowstone. It is a small world.

From Tower Falls I moved to Mammoth Hot Springs Camp just south of the north entrance.  Mammoth is the original and current Yellowstone headquarters, with 130 years of history and terrific 19th century architecture and period photos.  I admit to being a little disappointed in the travertine pool terraces; over 90% of the Mammoth complex is dry, ancient travertine, dull and grey.  Only small areas are active with fresh water flows which are necessary for the beautiful shiny travertine complexes.  I was spoiled a few years back visiting Pamulkale, Turkey (Hierapolis to the ancient Greco-Romans), where almost certainly the most beautiful travertine pools in the world seem to be sculpted down a mountainside.  I did some hiking to rocky cliffs in hopes of photographing pika, but without luck.  Some of the views are memorable, but little in the way of wildlife to thrill after the sites reported above.

Yesterday I drove down from Mammoth through the north park entrance into Montana, and on to Livingston, the original “gateway” to Yellowstone.  The railroad brought the original visitors to the Park, where they disembarked at Livingston, and traveled by wagon the less than 60 miles to Mammoth.  I intend to stay here a few days to catch up on my photos, emails, laundry and sundry things.  I may visit the Depot Museum which deals with the early years of Yellowstone and the trains into Livingston. My little RV is holding up terrifically, and I am becoming very fond of it.  The bathroom facilities are sufficiently small that I have been using the facilities available in the RV parks, except when in primitive sites (I just don’t shower for a few days – I don’t have company).  I still am eating my main meals in little restaurants, again with the exception of the primitive sites, where I enjoy junk food and tuna sandwiches.  My fridge works 24-7 so I never am short of beer, wine and cheese.  The weather has been sufficiently cold and rainy that outside cooking is not something I want to do just yet.  It is raining now, although I had several great blue-sky days in the Park.

I have checked on Glacier National Park, and the famous “Road to the Sun” will not be plowed and open until sometime after June 21; This will be a major stop for me – hopefully for closer photo opps with grizzlies, and so I will slow down for a while in hopes the roads are cleared.

I have attached a number of pictures, identified below.  I also made a composite of 6 of the pictures I took with a Brownie Camera in 1960 when I was 11 years old, and have attached it first; I believe it shows some of the changes referred to above; notice the bears, begging on the road, in the trash, in a car with picnic basket, and see the ranger standing next to Old Faithful (now never done), and the catch of Yellowstone Cutthroat trout (my first fishing), once common, but now become endangered due to the introduction of Lake Trout and Rainbow Trout into the ecosystem in the 1970s.  Until later.  Dave

Attached Yellowstone Pics, in order
Yellowstone 1960 Composite
Lower Yellowstone Falls
Grand Canyon of Yellowstone
Grizzly Jam
Bald Eagle 3rd yr
bacterial mats Upper Geyser Basin
Ruffed Grouse
Coyote w rodent
Raven close-up
Barrow’s Goldeneye
Lesser Scaup
Mountain Chickadee
Bison, Upper Geyser Basin
Hot Springs bacterial mats, Upper Geyser Basin
Grand Prismatic Spring
Least Chipmunk
American Widgeon
Pronghorn w Newborn
Uinta Ground Squirrel
Grey Wolf
Mountain Goats
Moose w newborn
Black Bear
Mammoth Hot Springs
Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel
Yellow-bellied Marmot
photographer at Mammoth Hot Springs

Dave Cox reporting on Glacier NP from Calgary, Canada, June 30, 2013

Hello everyone.  It has been almost 3 weeks since last I wrote from Livingston, Montana.  I have not had internet access sufficient for email the last 11 days.  I stayed in Livingston 3 days, photographed local birds and recovered from the 10 days of partial isolation in Yellowstone.  From Livingston I traveled just a short distance to Bozeman, Montana, a delightful old town with a neat downtown of original brick buildings and a number of interesting restaurants.  The town also sports the Museum of the Rockies, with  a dinosaur display to compete with the Dinosaur Center I wrote of from Thermopolis, Wyoming.  The Bozeman museum is the home turf of the famed dinosaur expert Jack Horner who advised on the 3 Jurassic Park movies. The Bozeman Museum has more dioramas and fewer complete skeletons than Thermopolis, although it has more Tyrannosaurs than anywhere else in the world; I enjoyed the museum in Thermopolis better, but include a couple of photos from Bozeman including a shot of the world’s only life-size bronze Tyrannosaur, which stands guard out front.

From Bozeman I traveled up to Helena, the capital of Montana, where I stayed several days and visited Hauser Lake just below the headwaters of the Missouri River (the real Mississippi).  From Helena I finally drove up to the east side of Glacier National Park, where I spent 9 days searching for better photo opportunities for grizzly bears and mountain goats, among other animals.  The last couple of days I succeeded on both, as well as enjoying some of the best bighorn sheep encounters ever.

I stayed my first and last several days in St Mary, a tiny town at the east entrance to the park along the St Mary Lake, which sported a couple of RV camps where at least I had restaurants, grocery store and electric power for my computer, although the purported satellite internet connections never were sufficient for more than the occasional ability to open up some email.  I timed my arrival for the day before June 21; the 21st is the earliest day for opening the famous “Going to the Sun” road through the Park; that road is considered one of the engineering marvels of the early 20th century, and, as it travels over Logan Pass through the continental divide it cuts on the edge of sheer rock cliffs, leaving little room for 2-way traffic, and has dozens of little waterfalls cascading right onto the side of the road (helping keep the cars clean).  The road is limited to vehicles under 21 feet in length.  The views are spectacular, and about a third of the Park area is considered alpine – above tree level.  Many of the lakes are filled with glacial water, which takes on the unique deep blue-green coloration.  The Park is home to the highest density of grizzly bears in the lower 48 states, but these and other wildlife are seldom seen from the much traveled road through the Park.

I traveled 4 times to Logan Pass in hopes of getting close to Mountain Goats.  The Pass seemed perpetually foggy and rainy, with howling winds.  I tend to go out for wildlife before 6 am; on average I seldom see other tourists until well after 8 am.  Rather than the goats, on my second early morning at the Pass, when I had the area entirely to myself, I had 5 bighorn sheep rams appear out of the fog and come running at me across the visitor center parking lot.  Scared me quite a bit; I found out later this group of rams was called “the bums” by Park Service, because they were accustomed to approaching tourists in hopes of food, and were apparently addicted to licking up antifreeze from the pavement, not a healthy habit.  Despite, or perhaps because of, their habituation to humans, they had become aggressive and dangerous.  I also lucked into one of those really idyllic wildlife scenes (every wildlife photographer has dream shots), photographing bighorn rams on a snowy crest, perfectly posed, just lighted by early sunrays, with deep fog behind.

In the various high alpine areas I also routinely encountered hoary marmots, delightful creatures constantly climbing the impossible snow slopes searching for food under every open ice hole around boulders.  They have many territorial battles presumably at the contested borders of their protected home turf.  Amusingly I heard a number of tourists referring to them as beavers, although they are scrambling over snow, at tree line, with nary a damable stream in sight – one gentleman insisted one was the very rarely seen wolverine.    Also common at all elevation levels were the beautiful Columbian ground squirrels, considerably larger than most other ground squirrels.

I spent three days at a campsite in Many Glacier, a glacial valley with the highest concentration of, and best chance for, bears.  My first day I hiked a short distance on the Swiftcurrent Pass trail, and encountered  4 more huge bighorn sheep rams (these were completely different sheep from Logan Pass) which aggressively forced me off the trail; it was a little uncomfortable, but another terrific photo opportunity.  I spent years before I succeeded in my first close bighorn sheep encounter, and now, within 3 days, had several very close encounters; I did not expect Glacier to be a prime spot for bighorn.  Although I spotted large grizzlies at a great distance as at Yellowstone, it was not until my 5th day that I found a couple of relative young and small grizzlies, a mated pair, close to the road into Many Glacier, which I then managed to locate 3 days in a row.  They rooted under rocks in the same small meadow every early morning, and were usually almost impossible to see from a car while driving by; this permitted me to, in effect, have them to myself for several hours on two different early mornings (the secret is to never allow any other passing tourists to see you pointing a camera, or staring in a single direction – if they do, they will pull over to see what you are observing, and then you quickly create a “bear jam” – if not, they slow down and assume you are just looking at the mountains).  Although not yet grown to massive size (grizzlies in Glacier never get to the huge size of the bears farther north in Alaska), I at least partially satiated my desire for grizzly photos.  I will keep looking for the “big” ones to be close enough for decent shots.

In the Many Glacier Valley I also got close encounters with mule and whitetail deer, and occasional moose.  Although I could find mountain goats daily by glassing the high ridges, as in Yellowstone they were from 1200 to 1600 meters away (close to a mile).  My 8th morning I returned to Logan Pass, and someone alerted my to a short boardwalk, still under snow, just below and to the west of the pass, at the base of one of the mountain ridges where I had sometimes spotted distant goats.  I spent two hours at the site, and was rewarded with a single goat approaching close enough for some good photos.  As with the bighorns, the goat seemed accustomed to human presence, and I suspect it had occasionally gotten food handouts.

Being at the Canadian border, I got in touch with my childhood friend, Ken Pease, with whom I grew up in India (in the 50s and mid-60s) – he lives just a few hours north near Calgary.  I made arrangements to park my RV at the campsite in St Mary, and drove across the border and now am visiting Ken and his spouse Anna in their lovely home on over 4 acres of grassy property about 20 kilometers west of Calgary.  We are having a great time reminiscing and, as normal, discussing and occasionally solving great world problems.  When I return to Montana in a few days, I probably will spend a few days on the west side of Glacier (have been mostly on the east side until now), before traveling on eventually into Idaho.

I have reverted to loading the photos onto Skydrive, as it seems to be functioning well again, and this way my emails presumably are small files for easy download again; I believe you can download all the photos as a single file from the folder link below the thumbprints if you wish to save them, or can view them as a slideshow or open individually. Let me know if this works ok or if you prefer another method. I have included photos of birds from Livingston to St Mary, including a common crow protesting my approach to its nest, the “early-bird” American robin with breakfast, cedar waxwing, grey catbird, cinnamon teal, yellow-headed blackbird, common merganser and red-naped sapsucker; a couple of photos from the Bozeman Museum of the Rockies, and then the Glacier pics of a Columbian ground squirrel, a hoary marmot, various bighorn rams, a mule deer buck and moose, both with antlers in velvet, the grizzlies and the mountain goat, as well as a scenic of Goose Island and a stitched panorama of the east side of Logan Pass.  Later.  Dave

Dave Cox Reporting on North Cascades & Olympic National Parks from Mt Rainier NP, WA, Fri. July 19, 2013

Hello everyone.  I last wrote from Calgary over 2 weeks ago. I returned to Glacier NP for another couple of days, but could not find again my two young grizzly bears.  I did spot a large grizzly, up on a mountain side, walk over to a long mound of snow and lie with its legs straddled over the snow bank as if enjoying cooling its belly. I drove around the southern edge of Glacier, following the late 19th century railroad line that finally found the low pass through the Rockies.  On the southern tip of the park I visited Goat Lick, a salt lick used by the mountain goats which descend from the tree-line where they normally spend the summers; there were 3 goats at the lick.

I stayed in Kalispell, MT for a few days, driving the river banks and walking the tiny Sowerwine Natural Area for birds, without much luck; I did however photograph some very unusual dragonflies.  From there I drove up to the small town of Libby in the Northwest corner of Montana.  I found a lovely RV park in the pines, and the town sits on the edge of the beautiful Kootenai River.  Upstream was the large hydroelectric Libby Dam; bald eagles and osprey nested and lived at the dam, attracted by not just the fish in the lake and river, but the fact that the dam spillway would occasionally chop up fish for an easy meal.  Above the dam were a number of nesting pine siskin.   Downstream from Libby is the beautiful, low, thundering Kootenai Falls and rapids, where it is possible to hike right to the edge of the falls, and to cross  below the rapids on a long and shaky swinging bridge.  On the way to the falls I was astonished to find a family of Guinea Fowl crossing the road; these large exotic birds are native to southern Africa, and I assume they were a feral group that had been imported and escaped some rancher.

Between Libby, Montana and Washington state lies the panhandle of Idaho, a long vertical spike that sticks up to the border of Canada, but is only about 50 miles across.  I drove through Sandy, a tourist resort on dammed lakes, but it looked overdeveloped for my tastes. I continued on south through the panhandle and then west through Spokane at the Washington eastern border, and on to the Grand Coulee Dam, another hydroelectric dam.  Washington east of the Cascade Mountains is very dry land, parts of it reminiscent of Nevada or western Arizona; this is particularly true of the Grand Coulee dam area, with its huge barren rocky cliffs.  I did finally photograph my first California quail.  At the dam I also again found nesting bald eagles and osprey.

From Grand Coulee I drove west up into the Cascades, through apple orchards, to the North Cascades National Park at the Canadian border of Washington.  Interestingly, the National Park is comprised of only the wet western lowlands of the northern Cascade range, while the glacial mountain peaks and snowy passes are National Forest and Wilderness areas.  But the western lowlands in the Park are the damp very dark deep pine forests, with moss covered fallen trees and ferns covering the ground.  Throughout the western forests of Washington, the lighting under the canopy, even during full sunny days, is as dark as any equatorial rain forests I have visited.  Wandering along the trails is at once exhilarating and a little eerily frightening, the pine needle ground cover muffling all sound, as one expects to encounter a black bear at any turn (sadly, I  did not encounter any).  I stayed in a Park camp near the Newhalem Center for several days, and hiked short deep forest trails, as well as traveling up to overlooks over the Diablo Lake area for spectacular vistas including high country glaciers.  In the forests I found numbers of Stellar Jays and could hear the very unusual and mournful chords of the varied thrushes, but could never see them. The common rodents had changed from the red squirrels and least chipmunks of the Rockies to the Douglas squirrels and Townsend’s chipmunks of the Cascades.  The Douglas squirrels have a much more pleasing bird-like scolding chatter-call than the dry rattle of the red squirrels.

I photographed a mountain goat right outside of Newhalem; it appeared stressed, and actually lost its footing on a 60 degree ledge over a small cliff, and spun and slid about 8 feet before catching itself (I captured part of it in photos).  The Park rangers were astonished; none had ever seen a  goat in the Park (the goats stay at around 6,000 feet, and the Park is all lowland), and one young ranger accompanied me to see the location.  I provided them with copies of my pictures for their biologist.  They told me the original meaning of the name for Newhalem was “goat’s snare”, and so assumed goats historically came to the area.

From the Cascades I drove down through Seattle and Tacoma around and back up to the Olympic Peninsula, most of which now is National Park and Wilderness area.  There I visited for several days in Port Angeles with my gracious cousins Pam and Gene Moore, who live on the ocean with spectacular walks, views and bald eagles sitting right outside.  We spent one day up on the Hurricane Ridge in the Olympic National Park, hiking the Hurricane Ridge Trail.  Above tree line were endemic Olympic chipmunks and numbers of Olympic Marmots which, unlike other marmots which live under boulders, live in holes in the ground.  We also saw snowshoe hares, dark-eyed juncos, grey jays and I finally saw my first varied thrush.  Everywhere were black-tailed deer, the females almost all with the cutest spotted fawns.

I traveled over to Mora on the west coast of the National Park, where I camped for 2 days, walking through the lowland deep Olympic pine forests.  Everywhere in the more open areas are wildflowers.  I walked a short way up the coastline from Rialto Beach to “Hole in the Wall”, where low tide produces fabulous tide pools with various colorful starfish and anemone.  The shore is misty and everywhere are what are called “sea stacks”, huge stone spires sticking up from the beach or as small islands close off-shore.  Bald eagles flew constantly overhead with the seagulls and cormorants.  The old growth forests extend right to the beach here, and as the rivers carry the gigantic dead logs into the sea, it pushes them back up onto the beach to form huge breaks of timber skeletons.  Together it forms a most unusual coast, rugged and unlike any other I have seen.  In the Olympic pine forests I finally saw chestnut-backed chickadees, fan-tailed pigeons and the very tiny but amazing winter wren.  On the deep forest trails black bear scat was everywhere, but again I saw no bears.

I drove on Tuesday back to Seattle to spend an evening with 4 people with whom I grew up and went to boarding school in Kodaikanal in southern India.  Each brought home-made Indian food, and we picked up more from Indian restaurants, and had way too big a feast of mostly south Indian dishes.  What a fantastic delight to spend time with Laura, Margaret, Carol and Joel, all in my classes from grade school through high school.  Our classmates (which include Ken whom I just visited in Calgary), though scattered across the globe, have stayed  in touch for the intervening decades; in the 50s and 60s we spent 9 months of the year  living in a boarding school far from our parents, and so in many ways we are extended family.

Yesterday I drove south from Seattle to Mount Rainier National Park; I currently am ensconced just outside the south-western entrance, trying to catch up on 2 ½ weeks of accumulated photos.  Once I get caught up, I will explore the Park.  I have not yet decided where I go next, but assume it will be down through Oregon and into northern California.  I will again attach photos to the word document; it is not working well but I seem to have no options now.  When I return to Tucson I may try to build a website for easier travelogue communication with photos.  Later.  David

Dave Cox Reporting on Mt Rainier & Crater Lake National Parks, from Weed, CA, Sun. July 28, 2013

Hello everyone.  I last reported from Mt Rainier in Washington, but had not yet visited the Park.   Mt Rainier is simply a stunning sight traveling southeast from Tacoma.  At well over 14,000 feet and at a high latitude, it’s volcanic peak is covered with glaciers.  I spent 5 days, splitting the time at two small camps right at the southwest entrance to the Park.  A number of short hikes on various trails occupied much of my time, but the clear highlight was the climb from Paradise, the main visitor center near tree line, up the Skyline Trail; this is the trail which leads eventually up to Muir Base Camp which dozens of climbers use daily to rest before the ascent to the peak.  I, of course, did not do the multiday ascent, which requires specialized equipment and guides for the glaciers. I did climb to the lower glacier edges for spectacular views of the mountain.  At this level I finally found the Grey-crowned Rosy-Finch and Yellow-Pine Chipmunks, as well as more Hoary Marmots playing in the wildflowers blooming in the snow-melt meadows.  Other awesome sights are the glacier fed river channels, which carry huge mud-flows every other year or so, released by internally dammed water in the glaciers; the flows sweep trees and boulders down slope creating huge scars on the mountain side.

From Mt Rainier I drove to the Yakama Nation RV Park just south of Yakima for one evening.  There, for the first time in my life, I spent a couple of hours in a large casino; I did not gamble, but had an extraordinary dinner buffet for about $11.  I did nicely stuff myself.    Although the casino had tables for all the games I have read of or seen in the movies, almost no one was playing poker, roulette, 21 or rolling dice.  In truth, about 98% of the people (probably about 600 people) were sitting at video slot machines; it seems to me, if one is going to gamble, slot machines must be the most mindless form. You don’t even get to pull big mechanical arms.

The next day I drove on down to Bend, Oregon.  Famed for 12 micro-breweries, many of which distribute bottled beer, I failed to visit any; my excuse was that I knew I couldn’t visit without some serious sampling – and driving in an unknown and twisty town, after brewery fun, seemed unwise.  I did, however, buy a couple of six-packs and have enjoyed the beer come evenings.  Bend is named for the huge bend in the Deschutes River where the town is sited.  The old Lumber Mill on the bend has been converted to parks, walking trails and a large number of popular restaurants and stores.  I did birding along the river for two mornings, getting really lucky when a local showed me where to find Virginia Rails with tiny newborns, looking for all the world like hairy black chicken eggs with eyes, beak and legs.  I also visited over a period of a couple of days the Newberry National Volcanic Monument just south of Bend.  It, along with huge lava flows, a neat cinder cone and lava tubes, had a number of birds in the surround.  I finally got to see the very tiny Pygmy Nuthatches, smaller than an Anna’s Hummingbird, flocking at the top of the volcanic cinder cone; obtaining water in the forest around the visitor center were a small flock of the unusual Red Crossbills.  I hiked 1 mile inside the “Lava River Cave”, an extremely well preserved lava tube which perhaps continues unbroken for miles further, but is blocked by sand at the far end – the entire distance is utterly black, requiring good lights to navigate; the tube stays at a constant remarkably cold 42 degrees.

From Bend I traveled on south to Fort Klamath, just a few miles south of Crater Lake National Park.  Crater Lake is really a “jaw-dropper” – spectacularly blue, filling a volcanic caldera measuring about 6 miles from rim-to-rim.  The lake is the deepest in the United States (close to 2,000 feet), and the claim is it contains the purest water on earth, setting a world record for clarity some years back with over 140 foot visibility.  Finally, after more than a dozen hours of specific searching in 6 different National Parks, I found Pika, the small rabbit like rodents which live in talus slopes at tree line.  Downslope from the volcanic crater are “fossils” of fumaroles, the gas emitting vents around active volcanic mountains.  Here, the super-heated gases had vented terminally through hundreds of feet of spewed volcanic ash, and the heat actually fused the ash into stone tubes around the vents; over millennia the surrounding ash eroded into a river canyon, leaving the most unusual stone spires, hundreds of feet tall, along the cliff edge of the valley (see photo).  Below the park, near where I stayed, I found an Osprey nest with three fully grown juveniles along with a parent, all standing in a perfect photo line; I cried “fish” instead of “cheese” for the obligatory photos.

From Fort Klamath I drove into north-central California to the small ex-lumber town of Weed.  Although many commercial references to the name are amusing (T-shirts & mugs engraved with “I ‘heart’ Weed”), the town, in fact, was named for Abner Weed, who established the lumber mill in the late 19th century.  Located at the base of 14,000 foot, volcanic Mt Shasta, it sports the small Mt Shasta Brewery, which I do intend to visit this evening.

I had thought I would travel until the summer heat breaks in southern Arizona, usually mid September, but I am reconsidering.  I have grown a little weary of the journey as I have traveled south through Washington and Oregon.  It will be 90 days this week since I set out from Tucson, and over the last 12 years I have found 3 months to be the optimum travel time for me; it has little to do with returning “home,” but rather to do with the fatigue of travel itself.  I was looking forward to the prospect of visiting the great National Parks of California (Yosemite, Kings Canyon & Sequoia), but my current research indicates the next 4 weeks to be the absolute height of tourist season, and the worst possible time to try to visit those parks for interests in nature.  Also, the weather has been so unseasonably hot since my last days in Montana, almost 4 weeks ago, coupled with my current location in the mid-latitude deserts, that I see little advantage to avoiding Tucson heat just from a weather perspective.  I am contemplating postponing the California Park’s visit until a better season, and traveling instead across the “Loneliest Road in America,” Hwy 50 through Nevada, into Utah and back south then to Arizona. I will stay here a few days deciding what to do.

I have included photos of Mt Rainier with some Alpine flowers and Nisqualy glacial mud-flow Canyon, Crater Lake and fossil fumaroles, plus hoary marmot, grey-crowned rosy finch, Douglas squirrel, juvenile Townsend’s solitaire, female red crossbill, Virginia rail with chick, 4 ospreys at nest and pika.  Later, Dave


Dave Cox Reporting on Lassen Volcanic, Great Basin & Bryce Canyon National Parks, Aug. 8, 2013

Hello all.  I last wrote from Weed, CA. after visiting Crater Lake NP in Oregon.  Since then I have driven across the Northeast corner of California, across Nevada on Hwy 50, and into Utah to Bryce Canyon.  I first stopped for a few days to visit the little known Lassen Volcanic National Park in California.  Consisting of a set of quite geologically recent volcanoes (Lassen Peak, which is the largest plug volcano in the world, had a fairly massive eruption in 1915), it is the southernmost end of the Cascade Range.  It has a number of geologically active thermal areas; though not, perhaps, comparable to Yellowstone; the names clearly are more interesting – including “Bumpass Hell” thermal vents.  Lassen exhibits all four major classes of volcanoes, surrounded by some pretty lakes.

From Lassen I drove down to Reno, Nevada and spent one night in an RV park at the Grand Sierra Resort Casino.  Although I used the pool and did visit the casino, I find I have little interest in trying my hand at gambling.  I did a little birding along the river walk right beside the casino, and for the first time photographed the brown creeper, along with the ash-throated flycatcher.  Highway 50, officially designated the “Loneliest Road in America”, starts both in Reno and Carson City, the two alternates joining just west of Fallon.  I drove the first day to Fallon, where the “lonely” part of the highway commences.  2007 statistics show sections of the road averaging around 500 vehicles a day, just over 1/10th of 1% of the busiest highways in North America; this still seems busy to me compared to some of the roads I took across the northern outback of Australia, and the state route I later took through south-western Utah where I passed only 8 other vehicles in over an hour.  Hwy 50 across Nevada parallels much of the Pony Express route, and ruins of some of the stations, arranged roughly at 10-mile intervals, are still evident.  It later served as the Butterfield Stage route.  So – it was a famous passageway from Kansas City to the Pacific, but lost much prominence when Interstate 80 was aligned to the north.

Just east of Fallon lies Grimes Point with a large collection of unusual petroglyphs pecked into the very dark smooth boulders strewn across a small hillside.  These petroglyphs range from an estimated 7,000 years ago to much more recent; the oldest are small pecked semi-spherical depressions along with long wide grooves (see photos).  The next day, continuing east I detoured just east of the tiny town of Austin to drive up to the Hickison Petroglyph Recreation Area, with several panels of petroglyphs thousands of years old, but little understood.  These petroglyphs were made by the desert archaic hunter-gatherers which lived in the Great Basin area from 10,000 years ago when it was much wetter.  The panels are located in a low mountain pass, and almost certainly had significance related to hunting animals driven through the pass.  That night I spent in Eureka, NV.  From Eureka I continued on to Baker, just before the border of Utah, where I spent 3 days visiting the Great Basin National Park.  I hiked twice from the end of the road, at about 10,000 feet, up towards Mt Wheeler (over 13,000 ft).  At a wind-blown desolate spot near tree line is a large grove of bristlecone pines, the oldest living things on earth.   Here I found two trees which had been dated by core samples at over 3,200 years old, having sprouted about when the great Ramesses II of Egypt fought the Hittite Empire to a draw in Kadesh in the 13th Century BC; the trees were over 1,200 years old when Julius Caesar ruled Rome and Jesus was walking the Sea of Galilee – and the trees live today.  A few trees (unmarked and off the trail) are dated to 5,000 years old, half way back to the last ice age.  Amazing.  On day two I hiked up to 11,000 feet to a small glacier looking for the very rare black rosy-finch.  I had previously sought and found the grey-crowned rosy-finch at the foot of the glaciers of Mt Rainer, and hoped to score a significant bird-find by getting my second rosy-finch species.  I failed, but enjoyed the effort.  While searching for sage grouse in the lowlands (I failed at that also) I came across a roosting place for common nighthawks.  I had seen them every afternoon flying over my lonely campground with the summer rain storms (they usually are night birds).  They are peculiar birds in that they normally roost on tree branches aligned with the branch; at this roosting site they also sat on some old power cables, looking funny sleeping parallel with the line (see pic).

From the Great Basin Park I drove into Utah and down to Bryce Canyon National Park, from where I wrote this report.  I was there 4 days and must say, leaving aside only the Grand Canyon, the geologic views may be the most stunning I’ve encountered.  No description in words can really describe the view over the “amphitheater” from Bryce Point; I, of course, have attached a couple of photos – but even these, to be fully appreciated, must be blown-up to poster-size with impressive detail.  My digital photos will, of course, meet such standard, but I can only send small jpegs with this report, which do not do justice to reality.  Hopefully they will incite in you some memory of seeing much larger panoramas.

From Bryce I traveled the short distance down to Zion National Park, which I will visit and report on later.  I have embedded in this report photos of, in addition to scenics of the Parks, a juvenile American coot, ash-throated flycatcher,  3,200 yr-old bristlecone, mountain chickadee, common nighthawk, mule deer bucks in velvet, Uinta chipmunk, golden-mantled ground squirrel and a juvenile western bluebird.  Later, Dave

Dave Cox Reporting on Zion & Grand Canyon National Parks, Wed. Aug. 21, 2013, from Tucson, AZ

Hello everyone. I last reported on visiting Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah.  From Bryce I drove just a little over an hour to the little town of Glendale, UT, where I stayed for a few days to catch up on mail, and visited Zion National Park.  Like Bryce Canyon (and Arches, Canyonlands, Grand Canyon and the other southwester parks and monuments), Zion is comprised of the most stunning geologic scenery.

One can talk all one wants of the world’s highest sandstone cliffs, the stunning pallet of colors, the sculpted peaks, rills, hoodoos, escarpments – but nothing paints the picture like a picture (see attached), but the pictures don’t adequately convey the size or immense sense of depth experienced by actually being there.

Zion Canyon, the main touristed part of the Park, now is closed to private cars (except for those staying at the historic lodge).  The excellent shuttle service operates from 6am, and one seldom has to wait more than a few minutes for a shuttle.  As with all other parks in July and August, I generally found myself alone in the Park from sun-up until after 9am – from mid-morning and for the rest of the day, most trails are crowded and all parking lots are overflowing.  Zion Canyon not only has a perennial stream running through it (which, of course, created the canyon), but has numerous cliff faces from which water seeps out of the sandstone forming little water falls and pools.  Among other short hikes, I hiked up to visit the 3 sets of Emerald Pools mid-way up the canyon, and got to see and photograph a canyon tree frog, a seeming rarity outside the moist tropical rain forests.  Most of the features in the canyon were named by early Mormon settlers, so one encounters names such as “Court of the Patriarchs” with its 3 peaks, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the “Great White Throne” and “Angels Landing”.  The eastern part of the park, which differs considerably from Zion Canyon, is reached after  navigating 7 huge switchbacks, and then passing through the edge of one of the sandstone cliffs via a 1.1 mile tunnel, which, at the time it was built in the early 20th C, was the longest tunnel in the US.  In the eastern section of the park on the higher elevations,  I once again encountered bighorn sheep.

From southern Utah I drove  a week ago Sunday down into the strip of Arizona which lies to the north of the Grand Canyon; I never have visited this strip before.  I set up camp in a Kaibab National Forest campsite at Jacob Lake, and the first day drove down from the high plateau to the base of the Vermillion Cliffs National Monument; here one is just below the point on the top of the cliffs where the endangered California condors have been released back into the wild (they have been raised by hand in San Diego since the 1960s, when fewer than a few dozen breeding pair existed).  I was able to spot 7 or 8 condors at a great distance landing in the area of the release cages, and occasionally flying above the cliffs with large groups of ravens.  From Jacob Lake it is just an hour drive to the north rim of the Grand Canyon, where I spent the day on Saturday.  Although I believe the view is less spectacular than that from the south rim (partially due to the sun’s trajectory to the south, and partially due to the fact the south rim lies much more directly over the Colorado River and the deepest part of the Canyon), the views nevertheless are stunning.  The main advantage of the north rim is that it receives considerably fewer tourists; in fact, it is the only national park I have visited where the visitor center parking lot does not fill by mid-day.   I took a number of photos from the Bright Angel Point.  I also enjoyed an immense breakfast buffet at the historic Grand Canyon Lodge, before hiking several short trails.

From the north rim, I traveled east between the Vermillion cliffs and the Colorado River to Lee’s Ferry, where the road crosses the Colorado at Marble Canyon, and from there headed south across the Navajo Reservation to Flagstaff.  I spent the night in Flagstaff and was rewarded to find one of my favorite ex-partners, and fellow bird lover, passing the summer in the cool of the Flagstaff mountains.  Art treated me to a terrific lunch where we passed a couple of hours discussing, among other subjects, birds of course.

From Flagstaff I drove straight through to Tucson last Wednesday – it was just 104 days after my departure, on May 3, to pick up my new RV in Minnesota.  On reflection, this was the longest trip I have undertaken in the last 13 years of travel, measured both by time and by distance traveled on the ground.  The longest previously was 91 days passed in Australia, where I traveled just over 10,000 miles (16,000 km) by camper van.  This trip, I put 11,600 miles (18,560 km) on the Outback’s odometer.  The distance is comparable to traveling from Arizona to India on land, that is, half way around the world.  Considering the direct distance to drive around ½ of the US is less than 6,000 miles, this indicates that I spent fully half my mileage exploring surrounding countryside, which seems about right.

I have included just a hand-full of photos, including a couple of the sandstone formations of Zion, the bighorn sheep of Zion, a canyon wren, a rufus hummingbird, and the grand canyon from Bright Angel Point.  I also have included one final image of Bryce Canyon, for two reasons.  First, as I previously have stated, this Canyon, to me, is one of the most stunning visual scenes on earth.  Second, although the jpeg photo attached gives no indication of its size, the tiff original in fact is the largest and highest resolution photo I ever have produced (though by no means the best image), and I am displaying a little pride.  For those so inclined, I briefly discuss the technical aspects of the original photo below.  For the rest, adios – life continues to be good.  I do not know what my next journey will be.  Dave

[Technical Aspects of Bryce Canyon Original Photo:   The photo is a composite of 55 handheld images made shortly after sunrise, from Sunrise Point in Bryce Canyon. The 55 images were taken through a Canyon 70mm “L” lens mounted on an APS-C sensor body, so the effective focal length (compared to a full-frame sensor) of each of the composite images is about 110mm.  The use of the full frame lens on the APS sensor means the recorded images employed just the “sweet spot” of the lens’ images (the central portion which always comprises the sharpest part of the images); the images were further cropped to the extent of the “overlap”  when combined into the composite, meaning only the very best part of each image was employed, where pixel to neighboring pixel contrast was maximized.  All images were recorded RAW at 14 bit color depth.  The  composite image has the effective coverage of a 21mm lens on a full sensor (35mm) body, meaning a very wide angle perspective.  Due to the composite construction, all usual wide-angle lens distortion was effectively removed, and the image is properly rectilinear (a true perspective, if viewing the image, would require the image to be curved into a partial cylinder around the viewer’s eyes).  The image measures 27,831 by 14,422 original, sweet-spot, pixels, for a total of just over 400 million pixels (megapixels); contrast that with the Canon Professional 1D’s 22 megapixels.  The largest format, professional, digital camera backs today have from 33 to 46 megapixels, barely 1/10 of what I was able to achieve with composite image technology. (There does exist in the world a digital sensor somewhat larger than 400 megapixels, but it is cryogenically cooled, and resides in a phone-booth-sized camera box attached to the world’s largest telescope in Chile).  Anyway, the photo is capable of being printed to a billboard sized print while retaining the close-up detail one would expect in most high quality magazine print reproductions.  In other words, one would be able to “walk into” the billboard sized photo and continue to see minute detail even upon inspection as close as the eye can focus.  I have found a local processing shop I am using for some reasonably large prints (I have gone as large as 32 X 48 inches – hanging in the living room), but this reproduction would require one to reverse the process used to create the original image, that is, the image would have to be broken into sections corresponding to the largest paper size the commercial printer is capable of printing (in my shop that is a 40 inch wide strip).  Each strip would then be separately printed, and the end results re-composited into a single photo.  If I were prepared both to spend the money and hire a professional to engineer a mount, I would have the image printed to cover one of my house’s walls.  But as the printing cost escalates with the area of the photo, this one would set me back in the range of $3 – $4 thousand just to create the printed strips; how to mount the strips would be a real problem.The tiff image file size? – exactly 3 Gigabytes.)

Dave From Yellowstone NP, May 26, 2023

I spent 2 days in Cody, then started my daily trips into Yellowstone mostly to photograph wildlife where-ever encountered. Driving through the East entrance, over the Sylvan Pass well before dawn, I first encountered a young grizzly on the highway through a very narrow canyon.  The grizzly ran down the road in front of me and would not or could not veer to either side.  After it tired I managed to pass giving as much room as possible, and last saw him in my rear-view mirror hoofing it back the way we came.  A few minutes later at the crack of dawn, I encountered a small herd of bighorn sheep rams filling the middle of the highway, practicing their head crashing battles.  All good omens for Yellowstone.

I stayed 6 days in Gardiner, the original entrance to Yellowstone 120 years ago.  This is the town which almost was wiped out 2 years ago with the massive flooding.  The government has built a new entrance road way above the Yellowstone River; it is one of the most tortuous winding 10% grade roads I have been on.

My first days were spent arriving daily at the Lamar River Valley at sunrise – the valley this time of Spring is filled with several thousand Bison spread over the 20-mile length. It also is home to two packs of wolves, pronghorn, mule deer, elk, moose, black bear, numerous grizzlies, coyotes, red foxes and many water birds. I saw many more grizzlies than in the past, but had fewer wolf sightings. The first day 4 wolves visited a day-old elk carcass; one, with a radio collar, sat on the opposite bank of the Lamar River and looked exactly like my childhood German shepherd, Roxy. A coyote also tried the left-over kill, then sauntered within feet past two massive seated Bison bulls.  I think they did not notice it because normally they will drive off any canid.

Three days ago I moved to West Yellowstone, from where I have been driving through Hayden Valley.  In the Valley and once on the road near Gibbon Falls I have been lucky to see sow grizzlies with cubs.  These sightings guarantee cuteness and draw huge crowds when close to a public road, as these were.

The photos below are almost all wildlife pics. Later. Dave


230606 From Dubois, Buffalo & Rock Springs, Wy.

I last wrote from West Yellowstone.  From there I moved on to Dubois, Wy and then to Buffalo. I had poor luck in and around Yellowstone with wolves, only seeing them my first couple of days in Lamar Valley.  Black bears also were rarely seen, unlike prior years. It is possible it had something to do with the heavy haze in the valleys from the Canadian wildfires.

Grizzlies, however, seemed to pop up everywhere, and I had some exceptional luck both in Hayden Valley in Yellowstone, and near the Togwotee Pass between Dubois and the Grand Tetons.  In the Hayden Valley I was able to watch the bear known simply as #864 with her year-old cubs for several hours over 2 days.  The cubs were constantly wrestling each other.    On Hwy 26 West of Dubois the two young grizzlies I photographed on opposite sides of the continental divide may have been the offspring of the bear known as Felicia which I photographed with cubs a few years ago.

From Buffalo I spent hours in the high Bighorn Mountains finding moose and mule deer, both in the process of losing their winter coats, in the long valleys with willow covered creeks.  Finally, common birds can make wonderful pictures when in great settings.

Anyway, the photos below are mostly Grizzlies.  Enjoy.  Dave