Heading West for the Winter

            Being home for December was great!  I had so many things I needed badly to catch up on, and I finally did.  I didn’t realize how far behind I was on some important issues.  After spending the Christmas Holidays with my extended family in Florida, I began to prepare for my year on the road.  I don’t have much planned for the year, but am just going to take it as it comes and be open to whatever happens and where it leads me.

            I left home on January 13th and drove to Washington D.C.  Packing was very difficult because I am not planning to be back home until October, so I basically had to pack for every season and not completely fill my 4 Runner.  I actually had some left over space, which I don’t know how happened.  From January 14th -16th I was at a National Geographic photography conference.  Being there is a humbling experience, but amazing!  The photo friends I reconnect with and the new friends I make are well worth going, on top of learning more about the society and things being worked on.  My plan was to drive from D.C. to Jackson, but a photographer friend invited me to his family farm in the outer banks of North Carolina, so I took him up on it.

            We photographed some snow geese in Maryland first on the 17th, then went to his place on the 18th.  I got a flat tire in a pouring rain, but managed to limp to a gas station to put the spare on.  My tires are not very good, and I wonder how they will make it across the country.  His family farm cabin was old, but very neat.  I knew I would enjoy it there in the quiet place, and hopefully get some duck pictures.  Their farm is now a duck hunting club, so every morning duck hunters would come in at 5:45 a.m. to hunt, as we were going elsewhere to try and take photos.

           My initial plan was to be there 3 or 4 days and then drive across the country.  However, the more I was there the more I liked it and ended up staying a full week.  All the guys were so nice and the food they cooked was really good!  My friend Robbie and I would spend the mornings doing landscape photography, and then the afternoon we sat still in a blind hoping for wood ducks to swim by.  It was frustrating, as we saw lots of wood ducks, but rarely did they swim close enough to get a good picture of them.  I even got to hunt a couple of times, which was really fun.  Robbie invited me to stay with him in Yellowstone, so I took him up on it too.  On the morning of the 26th I left North Carolina and began my drive across the country to Yellowstone, instead of Jackson.

           I wasn’t really looking forward to the drive because it would be 38 hours of driving.  And with a tire from North Carolina, Idaho, and 2 from Alaska, I didn’t know if I would make it without some trouble.  The first day I drove all the way to Chicago, 17 hours, and stayed with some photographer friends.  That was such a long day, and I was wiped when I got to their place.  We had some Chicago style pizza, though, and it was my first.  I ended up just relaxing the next day before continuing my drive.  I wasn’t sure how far I would drive on the 28th, but I knew it would be somewhere in west South Dakota.  I made it past Rapid City, and then slept in the front seat of my truck in a rest area.  I managed to sleep fairly well, and then only had 7 hours left the next day.  It felt so good to get to Gardiner, MT and be done with the drive!

           It felt good to be out in Yellowstone the morning of the 30th, and it was -4 degrees.  I’d finally made it to winter, my favorite season.  I ended up riding with my friends to West Yellowstone for the weekend, because most of my good friends from Yellowstone would be there.  It was a really fun weekend, but I was ready to photograph.  It also felt really good when we got back to Gardiner to unpack my truck and know I would be somewhere for a couple weeks.  Of course, that plan didn’t happen either.  Unfortunately, north Yellowstone was not active at all.  Any wolves or fox I saw were very far off, and I hardly got my camera out.  It also was very warm in the day, sometimes 50, and everything felt off.  I did manage to track down a large big horn ram and hike out to him a few days, but other than that nothing was going on.

         It was so slow, I began trying to make other plans and think of going elsewhere much sooner than I thought.  On February 7th it actually rained, not snowed, throughout the park, and I was over it.  I packed up that afternoon and left to go back to West Yellowstone.  A bobcat had been seen on a regular basis, so I thought I would try my luck with that.  So much for being in one spot for more than a few days.

           The problem with getting to the bobcat, is that you have to be on a snow coach or snowmobile to get to the area its at in the winter.  Fortunately, I have a few friends who drive tours out of west, and they were very nice to sneak me on their tours and then drop me off in the morning in the area where the bobcat hangs out.  Since it wasn’t going to be that cold, it also made it much easier to be outside all day searching for the bobcat.  On my first morning, the 8th, I actually found it at 9 a.m.  I was so excited and began tracking it as it moved along the river.  It was great, and I managed to hide from other buses and got to be with the cat all day by myself until 3 pm.  Then, a photo friend I hadn’t seen in a couple years pulled up on a snow coach, and I hung out with him and his friends the rest of the day with the bobcat.

         My first day was great, and I was looking forward to spending more time looking for it.  For the next 2 days I actually rode in with my friend on his snow coach, which was awesome.  We didn’t find it until almost 4 on the 9th, but on the 10th we found it at 1:30.  We all got some great shots of it jumping around and prowling along the river.  I shot more pictures that day than I have in a long time.  They left on the 11th, so I caught a ride in with one friend, and out with a different friend the next 2 days.  The cat didn’t show up either day, and that made for very long days.  I tried again the next day and it didn’t show up, so I rested on Valentines Day, and it was a much-needed rest.

         I can’t believe the twists and turns my trip has already taken.  I’ve managed to get some good photographs, but not a lot yet.  I will now head to Jackson and likely spend a couple months there.  I’m looking forward to what I can photograph in the winter there, and just being in Jackson Hole during the winter.