Photo: Mailing a letter AND relieving yourself all at once.

A mailbox

A mailbox that is beside an outhouse

Your welcome.

No explanation needed, right? It’s so convenient. Out here in Lamar Valley in Yellowstone National Park. Why wouldn’t I think to mail my hydro bill on this lonely road in the middle of a national park while about to head into a stinky ol outhouse?

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#2 Hike of the Summer: Avalanche Peak, Yellowstone

I actually lost sleep last night deciding on what hike I would place in the #2 spot, and which one would be the ultimate #1 hike that I completed this summer. It was a very tight competition,  both with spectacular views and a great challenge.

BUT alas, one had to receive the silver medal, and after much flip flopping, Avalanche Peak by the East Gate won the second prize.

With a 2,100 foot elevation gain, the view of Yellowstone park at 10, 568 feet was SPECTACULAR! It took my breath away, as did most of the haul uphill. The recommended 4 – 6 hour experience lasted my boyfriend and I a shade under an hour and a half. This was partly due to the approaching dark clouds. With this being one of the tallest peaks in the region, we didn’t want to get caught in the lightning storm, obviously! So I must say, it was a quick jog down – straight down. I mean, I actually slid down the side of the mountain where the snow hadn’t melted yet.

Yes – it was steep. The steepest hike I have ever done, actually.

There wasn’t a dull moment on the hike up – filled with large aspens, and bright green ferns at ground level. A few springs popped out around the trail, and a hop or two over them were an adventure. I really DID mean to wash my hiking boots on this trip…

Once we arrived at the first opening, we were greeted with a snowy ground, a pretty little lake, and huge STORM CLOUDS quickly heading our way. We decided it was possible to beat the incoming rain if we quickened our pace. Phew – easier said than done. The elevation was getting to me, and the commencing shale trail was a bit tricky to cross.

The opening! If you could look to the left – pitch black skies!

We saw a few groups turning back due to the tricky ground and one couple in a bit of a tizzy – they had just seen a BEAR on the trail! Gasp – so we proceed with caution with our bear spray in hand, with the couple, as they pointed out the bear they were so worried about – a tiny deer about a mile away grazing on a grassy knoll. I actually had to get my binoculars out to see it. Oops.

Onward and upward, leaving that couple in the dust to coo over the deer.

After a careful,  yet quick march to the summit, we were greeted by a solo hiker sitting cross legged staring off into the distance. It felt appropriate when I greeted him and asked, “so, the meaning of life is…..?”. He also found that quite hilarious and admitted that he was trying to catch his breath.

The summit was actually not at this first peak, you actually have to go across a short ridge, and there you will find the official summit. And what you see when you look around this 360 degree view is amazingness all around. From this vantage point, you could see everything! We could point out Yellowstone Lake, Mount Washburn, even the Tetons which were 50 miles to the south!

If you are looking for the best view in the park – stop here and I dare you to find a better one.

Stormy!

Hiking with 10,000 lbs of camera gear.

 

 

PS – watch out for the wind 🙂

Photo: Wish this was me…

Wait a minute – that IS me!

This is where I wish I was right now, though. It’s cold and rainy here in Toronto, and the school year is in full gear. Soon the leaves will change colour, the snow will begin, and the dreary winter months will drag on and on and on.

Me thinks it’s too early to be daydreaming about my summer 2013 plans, but I know that it will involve this position – on a rock, with a good book, beside a gorgeous lake, in a park, waiting for wildlife to appear in front of my camera.

Sparrow vs Grizzly Bear…who wins?

I don’t know about this fight. I think I will give it to the sparrow. I saw this griz in Yellowstone N.P. on the road between Norris and Mammoth this summer.

Absolutely hilarious action broke out, while trying to learn my new camera. This lil sparrow  (not totally sure the type of bird) came out of nowhere and started attacking this griz, while he was peacefully grazing along the river.

The sparrow successfully moved him away from – a possible nest?…as the griz moved back and over the hills in a sort of defeatist gait.

(I have many more, totally blurry photographs, but they were so terrible because my manual focus was in play, and it was dusk – turning into a pitch black evening). But what a show!

awww no, go away!

What a tree hugger!

The first black bear I saw this summer decided to give a nice welcome show by shimmying up a tree and picking off a few bugs to snack on. Great way to enter Yellowstone National Park!

Absolutely idiodic

Watch this video.

It’s a “what not to do when encountering wildlife” video.

Something that I have witnessed, but not to such a degree.

And, what? The father laughs at the end? Don’t worry, Yellowstone is just a circus. You won’t ACTUALLY feel it when the bison gores you and seriously injures or kills your child. THAT IS SARCASTIC by the way.

It’s unbelievable. A few years ago, a child was killed by a bison when the father thought it was an a-ok idea to place his kid on the bison’s back for a good point-and-shoot picture.

Listen to the rangers, the pamphlets, and the signs: STAY 25 YARDS AWAY FROM BISON.

I just talked (rationally) about this a few days ago. Sorry, but this was absolutely IDIOTIC!

A background: my wildlife photography practice.

One of my readers pointed out something very important in my last post.

I should have made this preamble before I began posting photos that I took of ‘cute little teddy bears’ from my summer adventures of camping in various Canadian and US national parks.

It is very dangerous to approach ANY wildlife. As you will see on many signs around the park you are in, it is illegal to feed the wildlife and highly recommended (and the law in a few parks) to stay at least 100 yards away from a bear, wolf, cougar (and other large predators) and 25 yards from all other wildlife when outside of your car.

This summer, and the two previous summers, I enjoyed months of wildlife photography, but enjoyed it in a safe and responsible manner (aka zoom lens, inside my car)

If you were planning on hittin’ the road and exploring a national park near (or far) from you – make friends with park rangers as they often know how to handle situations when an animal is near. Listen to them – they know (usually). Visitor Centers are also key if you are new to a park. It’s wise to find out what the rules and regulations are and how you stay safe and responsible in a territory where bears, bison, elk, etc. frequent.

If you leave any food or beverage around your campsite unsupervised and a bear is exposed to this food, this bear will be eradicated and the blood of this bear will be on your hands. This actually happened in our camp area this summer (don’t worry: we had the human culprits fined before the bear was able to grab any food).

Given the concern of habituating bears and the omni-present reality that there will be that one person who crosses the line, many have argued that if you see a bear in a national park, you should not stop to watch it or take a photograph, knowing that it will lead to a bear jam. And while I understand this argument, there is an important counterpoint.

Bears – and other indicator species – need large, roadless wilderness in order to survive. While many of these spaces exist in the world, places like Yellowstone and Banff are not and never will be a roadless wilderness. In fact, though the perception is that these wild spaces exist to conserve wildlife, the reality is they were created almost always for the benefit of the people. It’s a fact we have to work with. Many national parks are trying to re-wild their front and back country and put a heightened focus on animal conservation. This is admirable. But roadways and trails (and, frustratingly, towns and golf courses and ski resorts) are here to stay. As a result, this imperfect version of protected wilderness needs to strike a fine balance between animal needs and the bigger picture of helping people foster a love for nature and conservation.

Seeing bears in the wild is a remarkable experience and positive bear (and wildlife) encounters are critical to creating a culture that appreciates and supports conservation. It’s a proven fact that people who have first-hand experience with a region or a specific animal are more likely to believe in its protection. So while most of us can appreciate why many parks discourage bear watching, in my opinion, it’s a futile fight and a misguided one to boot.

Parks like Banff and Yellowstone will never be the kind of wilderness required to maintain functioning populations of large carnivores; however, in order to create the political will to establish such spaces, these parks can assist conservation through land protection, yes, but also can play a more critical role in sparking a love in people for wilderness.

I am very lucky myself that my boyfriend studies bear behaviour, has been trained by world renowned bear biologists and bear guides and has had experience of over 20 years photographing and researching not only bears, but many other types of wildlife all across North America. We should all be so lucky to have a guide such as him. But for many people, their ‘guide’ will be rangers and the difference between a good ranger and a bad ranger is stark.

We need parks and rangers to champion policies and people that use wildlife jams as a manageable tool to provide people with first-hand education and positive experiences (and photos) to take home and share with their social networks. Yes, there will be times when a wildlife jam is inappropriate (impact on the animal, impact on traffic, people safety, etc.) and a good ranger knows the difference between a bad jam that can’t happen and a good jam that is safe. And by educating people at jams – and, in a sense, deputizing them to help look-out for animals and people at jams without rangers – creates the conditions for positive experiences and, critically, an environmentally conscious populous.

Yellowstone’s wolf project is a great example of how a park’s policy has led to this difficult balance being achieved and rangers like Yellowstone’s John Kerr are the gold standard in conservation law enforcement.

At the other end of the spectrum (and this is a blog for another day) Kananaskis Country – and their front line conservation officers – are the sad example of what not to do. Anger, intimidation and policy making on the fly is no way to handle people, bears or achieve the balancing act of necessary co-existence.

So I thank my reader for reminding me to write this important back-story that I failed to provide the first time round and I hope it helps provide food-for-thought for others who are planning on watching wildlife in national parks. Guidelines exist for a reason and all animals should be respected and given their space. But we also need parks to help people find inspiration from nature and watching/photographing wildlife is a necessary evil to help create real parks that place animals first. It’s a balance, but Yellowstone and Jasper proves it is possible, whereas Kananaskis and Grand Teton remind us work remains to find a better way.

Please read my previous post on how to deal when encountering an aggressive bear. It’s very rare, and if you do read about a bear attack, it’s more than likely the human did not follow the appropriate protocol in an area with bears.

A few links to help you be safe and a responsible guest:

Yellowstone National Park – Your Safety in Bear Country

Jasper National Park – Bear Management