Winter Road Trip

            I’m very excited about 2016 and where it will take me!  I’ve got some great road trips planned and places to visit, but first I had to sort through what I photographed this year and what I need to focus on for this coming year.  The first few days of the year were spend just going through everything from 2015 and trying to plan out my winter trip first.  My girlfriend came to visit on the 5th and stayed through the 11th.  It was great having her around before I left for the road, and I got to take her to the Great Smoky Mountains for the first time!  It was hard to watch her leave, but she had to as I was starting my road trip on the 12th.

            While she was visiting I was still planning and trying to organize everything I would need for the next few months.  It is never easy to plan for a three-month period of living out of your car in the winter.  I did get everything done that I wanted to, and finished packing the car the night of the 11th.  When I left on the morning of the 12th it felt good to hit the road again!  I hadn’t been out photographing since before Thanksgiving, and was beginning to get antsy.  I went to Washington D.C. first for a National Geographic photographers conference.  It was interesting this year because Fox recently bought National Geographic, and we got to hear their plan for moving forward.  We didn’t get all the info or hear everything we wanted to hear, but I was glad I was there to hear what they had to say about the merger and moving forward.

            The conference lasted for two days, and on the 15th I drove to Maryland to try and photograph ducks and birds.  I was there last year and looked forward to going back, but there were not nearly as many birds around this year.  I did get a nice shot of two eagles silhouetted one morning at least, but that was it.  So the next day I went with my photographer friend to his family cabin near the outer banks of North Carolina.  It’s like going back in time there, and its just fun being there and soaking in the atmosphere of the place.  There are a bunch of duck hunters there, and I was hoping to be able to go with them a few times to take pictures of them hunting, but I only got to go once.  I did get to relax while there, but I was hoping for more photographic opportunities than I got. 

Two bald eagles sit on a dead tree as the sun rises across the marsh.

Two bald eagles sit on a dead tree as the sun rises across the marsh.

           We were trying to decide when to leave to drive across the country to Yellowstone, but the weather decided for us.  I ended up leaving the afternoon of the 20th, and my friend the next day.  A huge snowstorm was heading to the east coast and I didn’t want to get trapped for days.  I left the afternoon of the 20th because I found a friend from college who lived on my route a few hours away, and got a head start on the trip.  It made the next days drive to Chicago an easier one, still not fun, but easier.  My buddy and I were going to stop and photograph bald eagles along the Iowa, Illinois border, but there were no eagles.  I’m guessing the mild winter in the north is the reason there are so many less birds around this winter.  So we didn’t stay and drove to Sioux Fall, ID that night, and then finished the drive to Yellowstone the next day.  It was a long drive across the country, but I was happy to be in Yellowstone!

           My first day in Yellowstone was the 24th, and what a day it was!  It started off very slow, but mid-morning I found a wolf near the road.  It’s always exciting to be the first to find a wolf, and especially a close one, because it rarely happens.  I didn’t get any shots at first, but I was persistent and ended up getting some good shots of a pretty wolf!  Everyone else saw him and the others in his pack when they got far out in the valley, but I got the close shots!  Wolves are by far my main goal this winter, so getting a good shot on my first day was very exciting!

A black wolf checks me out in the snow.

A black wolf checks me out in the snow.

           The next morning I saw some wolves, but they were a very long way away.  Later I was driving slowly over a bridge and spotted a river otter on the ice.  I parked and walked down to the river.  I looked all winter last year for otters and never found any, so I was excited to have spotted one.  There ended up being two otters, and after waiting a while they put on a good show.  It was 12 degrees out, so I didn’t wait around forever after they left.  The next day I saw one otter and went down there again, but only got a few shots.  A bobcat had been spotted a few days in a row in an area, but I never did see it.  I hiked and snow shoed around on the trail and off trail, but never found any real fresh tracks.  It would’ve been exciting to find it.

River Otters clean themselves on a snowbank on the river.

River Otters clean themselves on a snowbank on the river.

           The next few days were not very exciting at all.  I would get up and leave at 6:30 to get out to Lamar Valley by sunrise and hope that wolves were close.  I managed to see wolves each day, but the closest they were was a mile off.  For spectators that is fine, but it isn’t good for photography at all.  I ended up doing some hikes back near Gardiner for big horn sheep, and managed to find some good size rams.  I was looking for a monster I found there last year, but didn’t find it. 

A full curl ram stands proudly on a ridge with Electric Peak behind him.

A full curl ram stands proudly on a ridge with Electric Peak behind him.

           I was glad to be in Yellowstone for six days already, because on the 30th I picked up my winter photography workshop group.  I was excited for this workshop and it would be my first in Yellowstone.  It was nice to scout some places out on the northern range for my clients, and also get some shots.  I will spend the next week with my photography workshop and hope to have many great wildlife encounters with them!