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NateKat · Wildlife

Wildlife

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Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area near Reading, PA is only about an hour from our house and attracts thousands of snow geese and other water fowl every winter. We decided to take a early morning visit in March to watch 50,000 geese rise off a frozen lake right at sunrise!  This lake is a regular stop on the snow geese migration route bringing in over 100,000 geese at its peak.  We were about a week late for the peak, but even with only half the geese it was still an amazing sight to see.

 

In March the sun was rising around 7 am, but it is best to arrive in the dark around 5 am.  You want to arrive before the geese have started moving around, and you also want to claim a photography spot.  This is a popular event and people from all over the East Coast come to watch.  Bring a head lamp or flash light to guide your way for the 1/2 mile trail to the peninsula view point, which was a bit icy when we were there.  You can hear the geese waking up honking and stretching out their wings.  Other V’s of geese start arriving in the dim light.

The geese and photographers start getting anxious as the sun rises and the noise of honking geese grows.  There are several roosting groups on the ice and everyone wants to know which one is going to take off first.  At some point the one group leads off rising in the dim morning light.  It is hard to see the thousands of geese until they break the horizon and the crowd of people erupt in oohs and ahhs and then are overwhelmed by camera shutters as if a celebrity had just stepped out on the red carpet.

 

 

The first few groups to rise just circle the lake and return to the ice.  Sometimes a few thousand geese passing overhead trigger another group  to take off creating a chaotic scene of geese flying overhead.  When staring in awe of a thousand geese flying overhead its always a good reminder to keep you mouth closed!

 

 

The local Amish are also in the crowd enjoying one of nature’s phenomenons.  The ironic thing is they are surrounded by photographers, but there is little risk of anyone is taking their photo.

 

At some point, the geese feel the sun has warmed their wings, and the entire flock rises like a rogue wave consuming the blue sky.

 

 

The entire event only lasts 90 minutes, and the majority of the geese are feeding in the surrounding fields by 8 am, but it was well worth the trip.  If you’re a birder, then you’ll also enjoy the many other species that are also flying amongst the snow geese.

 

2/19 Traveling from Argentina to Chile

It was a long travel day from El Calafate, Argentina back to Punta Arenas, Chile (via Puerto Natales).  Not only was the bus ride long, but getting through the border wasn’t very efficient.  It was quite disorganized and confusing, and a group of us got the wrong date stamped on our passports on the Argentina side, which had to be fixed before we went to Chilean officials.  Once we made it to the Chilean side, they did a full inspection of all the luggage looking for any fruits/veggies/meats that could contaminate the Chilean agriculture. Luckily we expected the border hassles and had scheduled a long layover in Puerto Natales. Turns out we would have missed the earlier bus by about 20 minutes. By the time we made it to Punta Arenas we only had time to grab dinner.  We also found this odd street sign that still remains a mystery.

Snow-women are to the right??

 

2/10 Last Day in Patagonia

On our last day we took a boat to Isla Magdalena, which is a small island inhabited by the Magellanic Penguins.  These penguins are pretty small, only standing a couple feet tall, but full of personality!

 

 

The boat ride to and from the island is pretty long without much to see and no entertainment, so we should have brought something to read.  The ferry fit a surprising number of people, but seemed like it was really designed for non-human cargo, so it was often hard to find a seat.

Once we arrived, everyone flooded the island after getting strict instructions not to approach, chase or touch the penguins.  You also are required to stay within a roped walkway that follows the coast from the boat to the light house on a hill. This is to protect the penguins since they have nests all over the hillside.

 

Although the people can’t leave the walkway the penguins continually cross as they return from the ocean to their burrows or nests.

 

This can cause some humorous reactions and photos as people (like Katharine) are focused on the nests and don’t even realize a penguin is sauntering across the path.

 

Pretty much everyone decided to walk up to the lighthouse, but we chose to hang back and spend some time just watching a few different penguin families.  We saw them digging and cleaning their burrow as well as others defending their nest with vicious bitting and squawking.

We saw these two love birds taking a walk on the beach.

There were a variety of different ages, some were too young and didn’t have their stereotypical tuxedos.

The hillside was just covered in penguins, quite a sight.

As we were warned, it was very cold and windy on the island! (kind of a theme in Patagonia…)

This was a great way to end our trip laughing and enjoying ourselves watching the cute birds waddle around their island.

All in all it was an amazing trip with so many memories and photos.  With all the hectic traveling in Patagonia, it took a little while for the entire trip to really sink in.  Now we enjoy reminiscing about backpacking along the mountain and lakes in Torres del Paine, the relentless winds of Fitz Roy, giant ice walls calving into the lake, and last but not least, the awkward waddle of a Magellanic penguin!

Just before New Years we closed out the year with a weekend trip to Assateague Island, Chincoteague Island, and the Outer Banks.  This post is a little rushed since we are also leaving for PATAGONIA this morning!!!

Assateague Island, MD

This part of the island is maintained by the National Park service. Wild ponies live on this island and can be seen grazing on the tall grasses growing in the shallow brackish water. We’d love to come back in the summer and do some camping.

 

 

Assateague Island, VA

The lower VA part of Assateague is also a park, but the the horses are owned and the herd is maintained by the Chincoteague Fire Department.  The fire department herds the ponies from Assateague Island across the inlet to Chincoteague every year in the summer to auction off the new ponies in order to control the population and raise money.

 

We took a boat tour around the island to try to spot the ponies along the shore, but the cold weather and wind kept them along the tree line.

 

We enjoyed our informative tour from Barnacle Bill, a local native tour guide, who told us how the area has expanded geographically and in popularity.

This light house was once on the shoreline to the right, but the island has grown over the years and now it looks more landlocked.

Assateague is also a refuge for many migratory birds.  There was always a helpful birder around to identify the various species. There were hundreds of snow geese, but apparently not as many as in other years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Outer Banks (OBX), NC

The Outer Banks also has about 100 ponies on its island, but their population is struggling with a limited gene pool.  They are also thought to be abandoned Spanish horses from early ship wrecks as explorers came to America and misjudged the shallow shores.

We took a Hummer tour to explore the sand dunes looking for the wild horses, but only saw a few.

 

 

They didn’t look quite as wild when they were running around the few mansions on the island.  One harem of horses belongs to a feral mule who is pretty aggressive and successful in stealing females from other harems.  It is quite a funny story and a shock to see a mule amongst a group of wild horses.

 

 

We also attempted sand boarding at Jockey’s Ridge, which wasn’t as successful as we had hoped.  We’re not sure if it was our technique, equipment, or damp sand conditions, but we can’t recommend it.

 

 

On our way home we visited the Wright Brothers Museum at the site of the first powered flights. It was interesting to see, but we felt it could have been even more informative and the $8/person price was very high compared to other National Park operated services.

 

Nathan tried re-enacting the historic event

Now we’re off to the airport and we’ll share many photos and stories from our next adventure.  Check out some of the other photos from the trip.

We’ve heard many stories about the harsh Alaska winters, abundant wildlife, and many other adventures from Peter, Katharine’s uncle, who lives in Nome, AK.  We had a great time on our honeymoon in Alaska in the summer of 2011, but we always wanted to go back to experience the winter season, so we decided to make a trip of it! We planned for a few days in Nome and a few days in Fairbanks.  Of course if you’re going to Nome in the winter/spring, you have to see the finish of the Last Great Race, the Iditarod!  The 1,000+ mile dog sled race from Anchorage to Nome can take anywhere from 9-15 days because of the harsh and changing weather.  After 3 flights and ~18 hours of traveling we arrived in Nome on Sunday (3/9) greeted by Peter in a small 1 room airport.

 

Peter gave us a great tour of the small Bearing Sea costal town with a population of 3,600.  While driving around the town we kept our eye open for musk ox.  We found a small herd grazing on the outskirts of town. They were grazing and butting heads as we walked from our car.

 

When they feel threatened they gather together and stand their ground to protect their young.  This of course doesn’t work too well against hunters.

 

This winter was unusually warm and they had gotten a lot less snow than normal.  As we listened to the Iditarod reports we continued to hear about injuries due to the icy and rocky conditions on the trail and Nome was no exception.  We were able to drive 25 miles east on the Nome-Council Rd along the shore to the Safety Roadhouse checkpoint, which is normally only accessible by snowcat, snow machine, or helicopter.  With the mushers (dog sled racers) still a couple days away, the place was deserted.

 

 Safety Roadhouse, the last checkpoint of the Iditarod

Looking Across Safety Sound

Looking Across the Bearing Sea Ice

Even though it was clear and sunny, it was nearly zero degrees Fahrenheit, and the brisk wind kept us from venturing outside the car for more than a couple minutes.  As the temperatures dropped and the winds picked up, we decided it was too risky to attempt anymore trips to the Safety Roadhouse. Drifting snow could block the roads in a matter of minutes and the harsh conditions could be deadly without any means of communication.

We decided to spend Monday exploring Nome, souvenir shopping, and watching last minute construction of the snow chute to the burled arch finish line.

This pretty white snow was trucked in that day

We also took in some of the local activities such as the craft fair, snow sculpting contest, and local eateries.  We also noticed as the finishers got closer, the town’s population grew with tourists, mushing support teams, and even a couple (low profile) celebrities including Ariel Tweto from Flying Wild Alaska and Wipeout.

We downloaded the Iditrod GPS app on our iPad to monitor the mushers progress from the checkpoints Elim, White Mountain, and Safety, as well as the final leg on the way to Nome.  There’s a mandatory 8 hour layover in White Mountain and then it’s just 77 miles to Nome.  Since they were traveling at ~7 mph, we figured once they left White Mountain it would be another 11 hours before they reached the finish line in Nome.  So we followed the top three racers over the next 24 hours:

  • Jeff King, 4-time Iditarod winner
  • Aliy Zirkle, Runner-up last two years, our favorite
  • Dallas Seavey, Last years champ

The following is our account of the Iditarod drama leading to the finish…

Monday 3:00 PM

Jeff King leaves White Mountain rested with a 1 hour lead on Aliy.  It seems like another 2nd place finish for Aliy as we watch her GPS marker leave White Mountain and both Jeff and Aliy progress toward Safety with a consistent gap.  They have 77 miles to go and are expected in Nome around 2am. Dallas is still under the mandatory 8 hour layover and can’t leave for another 3 hours. Peter warns us that it’s still anyone’s race, but everyone seems pretty sure Jeff will win it again this year.

9:30 PM

The sun has set and the winds are picking up.  The official race website is reporting 45 mph winds pushing the temperatures around -40F.  Jeff continues to lead Aliy, but his marker has momentarily stopped.  Dallas has also left White Mountain, but is almost 2 hours behind Aliy.

10:00 PM

Something is wrong with Jeff or his GPS is updating because his dot isn’t moving and Aliy is gaining as he sits just a couple miles from Safety.  We continue updating the app hoping he and his dogs are okay, but also excited about Aliy’s possible comeback.

11:00 PM

They announce Aliy has officially passed Jeff and it’s not a GPS error.  Aliy is the first to check into Safety, but is clearly stopping until the winds die down. The officials are clocking winds at 70+ mph at the Safety check point 22 miles outside of Nome.  With Aliy waiting for the winds and Jeff pinned down we decided to go to sleep and wakeup around 2:00 AM.

2:00 AM

Jeff has officially scratched after flagging down a snow machine for help.  His dogs we’re tangled in drift wood and he wasn’t able to get the organized and back on the trail in the strong wind.  In more surprising news, Dallas checked in and out of Safety at 1:16.  Aliy left in pursuit 14 minutes later.  With still 22 miles to Nome we decided to get another hour of sleep.

3:20 AM

Aliy is gaining on Dallas and they are within a mile of each other.  We slowly get out of bed layering clothes for the brutal temperatures.  We wonder if they can even see each other out there? Does Dallas know how close Aliy is?  With the drifting snow, maybe he doesn’t know.  We eventually get out the door and drive 5 minutes and park just off the finish line.

3:55 AM

We can hear the crowd yelling and cheering as we shuffle across the polished icy roads.  Not knowing where the finishers are we run along side the crowds of people lining the chute looking to see if anyone has finished.  Then the announcer yells out Dallas has just come off the ice and onto the street! We fight for place at the rope and look down the street.  The crowd begins to cheer and suddenly we see a team of dogs trotting across the snow and Dallas running along side.

Dallas Seavey

The crowd goes wild and the rope can’t hold the people back as they surround the chute and the 2014 Iditrod champion is named Dallas Seavey!  A couple minutes after the announcer yells and there’s Aliy!  Now the crowd really errupts with cheers.  The officials string out the rope holding the fans back and soon another dog team passes and a smiling Aliy high-fives fans as she glides to the finish line.  It seemed like everyone was rooting for Aliy, ourselves included, hoping she could avoid another 2nd place finish. She was a good sport and spent a lot of time with the fans and taking care of her dogs before she left the chute to get some much needed rest and probably think over her strategy and decision to wait at Safety.

Aliy’s Finish

Kids leading the way for Aliy’s dogs after the finish

We left and went back to Peter’s thinking of the agony she must be in missing 1st place by just minutes because she decided to wait.  She was 12 minutes faster over the last 22 miles, but didn’t have enough distance to overtake Dallas.  Dallas however was exhausted and didn’t even realize he was the first to leave Safety.  He thought Aliy’s light behind him was his father in 4th and his goal was not to lose to his father.  He was shocked to find out he was the winner.  We were still amazed how a 8 day race could finish with just minutes between 1st and 2nd.  Peter was right, it really was anyone’s race.  White Mountain to Nome is 77 miles of unpredictable terrain and weather, and it can often allow last minute lead changes.

We spent the next couple days tracking mushers as they left Safety Checkpoint, headed for Nome, so that we could meet them along the trail. The Nome-Council road follows the trail for several miles, so it was easy to drive a little ways out of town and wait in the warm car to see them racing across the open tundra or sea ice. As they’d pass we’d cheer them on and take photos, then we’d drive a little ways farther, leap frogging past them, to repeat the cheers and photos. This way we were able to see each musher 3 to 4 times as they headed into Nome.

Sonny Linder (5th Place)

Sonny on the Bearing Sea Ice

The conditions changed rapidly from hour to hour and depending on the location of the trail.  Some mushers fought whiteout conditions with drifting snow.

Martin Buser (6th Place)

They all had to cross the wind polished sea ice which we saw many mushers slide, fall, and dogs stuggle to maintain any traction.

After they went through the final check at the finish line the dogs were given treats and the mushers were greeted by family and friends.

In the chaos some clever dogs stole some extra treats

The dogs also go through routine vet checks throughout the race including the end.

The dogs then get to rest on straw beds until they are flown home.

While waiting for other finishers we also walked out on the sea ice.  It was slippery and you can see the buckling effects of the strong winds and moving tides beneath the surface.

We also watched migratory buntings outside of Peter’s house and even caught a glimpse of a fox.

Jessie Royer (7th Place)

Somehow the sea ice seemed particularly slippery as Jessie came across. Nathan had gone down to the ice to get some different perspective shots of the dog team, and as Jessie headed towards Nathan, they both struggled to gain traction on the ice. A couple minutes of hilarity ensued as Nathan slipped on the ice had to crawl out of the way as Jessie’s dog sled team slipped and slid just several feet from Nathan.

Nathan was extremely embarrassed, only moment ago voicing his concern for the possibility of slipping on the ice and getting tangled with a dog sled team.

Hans Gatt (9th Place)

At this time of year there was about 12 hours of daylight from 9:30 am to 9:30 pm.  We could hear the air raid sirens sound throughout the night and morning as the mushers approached Nome, but sadly it was hard to get motivated when you knew it was dark out and they would be hard to photograph.

Robert Sorlie (21st Place)

We also learned there are actually several races that use the Iditarod trail including a bicycle race.  They started a week before the dog sled teams, but they are clearly crazier.

They had signs of frost bite and open cuts on their faces after falling many times. They said the winds and drift conditions were the worst between Safety and Nome and they had fallen over the handle bars into the drifts multiple times. We also heard there were people running the 1,000 mile race, but we didn’t see any runners finish.

The last night we had an incredible king crab feast with Peter. It doesn’t come much fresher than being caught right out of the Bearing Sea.  We cooked 2 huge crabs giving us each almost 1.5 lb of delicious crab meat!

The last morning after we dropped our bags off at the airport we watched one more musher arrive.

Kristy Berington (30th place)

After the first 10 finishers Nome starts getting back to normal and the crowds die down and sometimes you forget there’s even a race happening.  We saw dog sled teams weaving around traffic down Front Street as they made their way to the arch.

Like most finishers their faces were frozen, but they were happy to be done.  Kristy’s eyelashes even had ice coating them.

Musher’s Mascara

We were to be able to borrow a car from Peter and Jean, which allowed us to greet and follow the mushers into Nome.  We also were thankful for the fur hats they lent us which by far out-performed any synthetic hat we had brought.

It was an incredible 4 day experience.  We have a greater respect for people who enjoy living in Nome and it was great fun to watch the Iditarod finishers, but we were out of time and off to Fairbanks!

We couldn’t include all the photos in our post so check out the rest below.

Day 48-49: Yellowstone National Park, WY (9/20-9/21)

We had just two days to explore one of the largest and most diverse national parks.  Because of our short time we decided to take a drive-by blitz approach with little hiking or lingering in one area. (Plus, we needed a break after the Teton Crest Trail.)  We had both been to Yellowstone before, and we intend to visit again, so we decided to focus on the geothermal features and look for wildlife along the way. The park roads create a figure 8 which gives the illusion you can easily visit all the attractions, but the park is so huge (466 miles of roads and the park is about 63×54 miles) that it definitely felt rushed in two days. Still, it was great to see so many different things and a lot of wildlife. And we enjoyed the more relaxing style of a driving tour, which gave us a little break after the Teton Crest Trail

Here are some of the highlights.

Artists’ Paintpot

 Mud Pots- bubbles the size of volleyballs were continually forming and bursting

 

 

Norris Geyser Basin

 Lone Wandering Bison

 

 Porcelain Basin

 

 East Fork Tantalus Creek

 Colloidal Pool

Emerald Spring

 

Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces

Live bacteria mats form on the travertines

 

 

Main Terrace Canary Spring

 

 

Minerva Terrace

Petrified Tree

 

This is one of two petrified trees that used to be in this location. The other was stolen, so now this one is surrounded by a fence.  There are other petrified trees in the park, but they are not easily accessible and the exact locations are not publicized to try to prevent more theft.

Lamar Valley

 

Bison at Sunset

Lots of people pulled over for the chance to see a grizzly. Check out the girl with a huge telephoto on top of the Outback. We’re hoping that’s us in a few years!

 

Bear Sighting! Lots of expensive camera lenses lined up

 

 Grizzly Bear Sow and 3 Cubs

There was a steep ravine and river between us and the bears so we (and the other 100 people) were pretty safe. There was also a male in the shadows near the river eating a rotting bison kill, but it was too dark to really see or photograph him.

Canon 7D with 70-300L (300 mm, ISO 1600, f/5.6, 1/320 sec)

The sun had set and the bears were bedding down for the night. Dim light situations makes us jealous of the fixed $10,000+ telephoto lenses around us.

 

Mud Volcano Area

Dragon’s Breath, which really did sound like a dragon sleeping in a cave…very creepy

 

West Thumb

 Bull elk were in rut trying to herd and compete for their harems.

 

Keep all arms and legs inside the vehicle!

 

Old Faithful

 

 Old Faithful draws a huge crowd every 90 minutes

 

 

Midway Geyser Basin

Certain stops would get very crowded when a big tour bus had just arrived. We figured it’s often better just to wait for the busload of people to leave since getting bumped off the walkway could result in sever burns.

Grand Prismatic Spring is one of the most beautiful thermal features with amazing colors from the bacteria. There was too much steam to get a really good view of it, so we’ll be back on a future visit. We also learned it’s possible to hike up one of the nearby hills from the Fairy Falls trailhead to get a better view looking down.

Check it out on google maps

 Pool nearby Grand Prismatic

 

Near Madison River

 

Scavenging Coyote

Bull Elk

As always, to see more photos, check out the gallery below. There were way too many to fit them all in the post!

Epic Trip Stats:

  • Days: 49
  • Miles driven: 5,532
  • Photos taken: 9,278
  • Grizzly bears seen: 4
  • National Parks: 11

We are currently backpacking in the Havasupai Indian Reservation (near Grand Canyon) which luckily is not affected by the government shutdown. We were fortunate to finish our Grand Canyon Rim to Rim backpack before the shutdown, and we are hoping the parks will be open by Sunday so that we can finish the rest of the trip as planned!

Day 37-39: Grand Teton National Park, WY (9/9-9/11)

We spent over a week in the Tetons since it’s one of our favorite parks and Katharine’s family and close family friends met us there.  This trip report only covers the wildlife we saw during our trip and some fishing on the Snake River.  There will be a couple more posts to come.

Grand Teton is one our favorite parks because it’s where we got engaged just over three years ago, but there’s a lot to like, especially all the wildlife.  In the mornings and evenings we would drive the park roads and keep an eye out for elk, moose, or bears.  This year we saw all three and then some.

 

 

 

 

 

Katharine’s dad and brother are avid fly fishermen and will jump at the idea of spending time in Jackson Hole.  We were lucky to join them on a float trip down the South Fork of the Snake river.  We started early in the morning catching fish in the river mist.

 

 

 

 

We spent so much time focused on the river and our flies drifting downstream that we often would forget to look up at the beautiful surroundings.  Osprey and Bald Eagles stalked the trout below, and every once in a while we’d see a bird flying off with a catch.

 

 

Nathan even got a chance at the oars while our guide started up the motor.

 

 Trout Fishing Pirates

After fishing we stopped at our guide’s house and were impressed by the domestic turkey and all the chickens.

 

There was one feisty rooster that didn’t like the looks of one of the guides hats.  Eventually the hat won and the rooster was caught.

 

 

Wildlife photography and fly fishing in the Grand Tetons… it doesn’t get much better than that!

 

Epic Trip Stats:

  • Days: 39
  • Miles driven: 5189
  • Fish caught: 3
  • Pronghorn Antelope: Numerous
  • Bison: Numerous
  • Elk: Some
  • Moose: 4
  • Bears:1

 

We’ve been busy backpacking, which hasn’t allowed us to edit many photos or write up our trip reports… so we’re about a month behind now! We’re hoping to crank out a couple more trip reports before our last backpacking trip in Havasupai!

 

Day 30-32: Glacier National Park, MT (9/2-9/4)

Glacier National Park was one of the bigger parks that we haven’t been to, and we had high expectations.  Everyone we know that has been there has raved about the beautiful landscapes and abundant wildlife, so we were excited to check it out for ourselves.

We only really had two days to explore the park so we decided to day hike the Highline Trail (11.8 miles) along the Going-to-the-Sun-Road one day and the trail to Grinnell Glacier (11 miles) the other. Without the park shuttle running after 9/2, the Highline trail becomes more difficult to do as a through hike… it requires hitch-hiking!  Encouraged by park rangers that it’s totally legal and common, we gathered our gear, made a sign, and successfully and safely hitchhiked from ‘the Loop’ to the trailhead at Logan Pass.  This was a first for both of us, and we felt a bit silly holding a sign and smiling at empty cars as they passed by without stopping.  But after only 10 or so cars passed by, one pulled over and two nice climbers picked us up.  They said they had never picked up hitch hikers before, but we looked pretty harmless.  I’m sure we did with our well maintained hiking gear and smiling faces.  They also seemed pretty harmless as they moved the two kid’s car seats to the trunk of their SUV.  It was a short ride and before we knew it we were at the trailhead.

Of course as soon as we began hiking it started to rain, but we were prepared with rain jackets and pack covers, so a little rain wasn’t going to stop us.  After the first couple miles the rain turned to a drizzle and pretty much stopped, but the dreary gray clouds remained.

 

 

We were quickly distracted once we spotted a small heard of bighorn sheep grazing on the hillside.  Nathan tried to climb the hill but the steep grade, loose gravel, and the sheep’s ability to quickly climb prevented him from getting any worthwhile photos.  Later we saw a kid (baby mountain goat) and its nanny (mother) also grazing on another hillside.  We stopped and watched the little one gallop across the loose rocks as it tried to keep up with its mom.

 

We were really excited to finally see mountain goats and bighorn sheep (especially rams), but we weren’t close enough to fully capture the moment with our cameras.  We continued hiking though the mountains and enjoyed the trail despite the clouds.

 

Once we reached the Granite Park Chalet and we knew the views of the valleys and open hillsides were over and it was just a matter of hiking back down to the car.

 

After driving the Going-To-The-Sun Road toward the east we started searching for a campground.  Usually Katharine has every campground and hotel booked, but after Labor Day, the campgrounds in Glacier become first-come first-serve.  This style of campsite reservation doesn’t work well for us since we spend the days hiking and we only return to the campground to sleep.  We circled all the major campgrounds and they were completely full.

Luckily there was a primitive campground a bit farther from the main part of the park. Since it required driving a few miles on a dirt road and didn’t have running water, we figured it wouldn’t be too popular. Sure enough, there were several sites available when we arrived. Plus, the drive on the dirt road through a cattle and horse pasture was beautiful in the sunset.

 

The campsite was just our style; small, quiet, and had a great view of the mountains.

 

The next morning we headed to the Many Glacier area to hike to Grinnell Glacier. Finally we had a sunny day, but we quickly found the hike had little to no shade.  The first couple miles of trail traveled along side a few lakes, but then quickly climbed to various rocky shelves as it approached the glacier.

 

Suddenly we came to a small crowd fixed on a ram bighorn sheep only 30 yards away.  Nathan and another photographer climbed up the rocks to get a little closer.

You could see the sheep panting in the hot sun, but it continued to forage for food.

While Nathan was taking pictures Katharine was talking to hikers returning from the glacier who said there were more sheep closer to the trail around the corner.  We quickly ditched the other photographer and headed up the trail.  As the other hikers claimed, these sheep were much closer and more active!

 

 

These sheep weren’t too afraid of people as they jumped from ledge to ledge above the trail.  Some hikers were unaware of the sheep until they looked up at which point they usually gasped as they fumbled for their camera.

 

After we took 50+ photos of the sheep we decided to finish the last mile of the hike and check out the glacier, the real focus of the hike.

Grinnell Glacier

 

It was early afternoon and the sun was beating down on us so we thought we would dip our hot feet in the cold glacier melt water. It felt great for the first second until the freezing water felt like needles in your feet.  It took minutes to warm our feet up after just seconds in the water.  Sadly it took several tries to get this photo.

 

It was getting late in the afternoon and we still had 5.5 miles to hike out, and we had forgotten to eat lunch with all the sheep chaos.  We hiked just a short while until we reached a small rest area along the trail which has some rustic benches to sit and eat lunch.  After 5 minutes we were interrupted by three sheep passing through to reach a creek.

 

This of course led to more photos and less eating.  Amazingly these sheep approached us even closer than the ones before, forcing us to retreat because we felt uncomfortable.  It was a bighorn sheep extravaganza!

 

Finally feeling like we had enough sheep photos and noticing the sun getting lower in the sky, we started hiking quickly back to the trailhead.  Of course with the day cooling off, more sheep appeared and it became more of a herding activity than hiking.

 

Katharine and one ram startled each other as she came around a tree that it was eating.  Both of them jumped back and paused for a Katharine-Sheep showdown stare.  We slowly backed up and the ram did also until we had reached a safe distance.

 

Check out the sheep in the background

We enjoyed the rest of the hike down paying more attention to the flowers, rocks, and incredible glacier carved valleys.

Glacier park lived up to the hype with the incredible landscapes, flowers, and animals.  We couldn’t have been happier after two 10+ mile hikes in two days.

We couldn’t include all the photos in the trip report so check out more in the gallery below.

Epic Trip Stats:

  • Days: 32
  • Nights in a tent: 22
  • Miles driven: 4563
  • Miles hiked: 133
  • Bighorn sheep photographed: 18
  • Photographs of bighorn sheep: 312
  • Mountain goats: 15

We are currently driving from Portland to Seattle. Here’s a look back when we were still in California…

 

Day 9: Lassen Volcanic National Park (8/12)

We took our time leaving Yosemite, making a quick stop at the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir region of the park, so we arrived at Lassen after dark (which is starting to be a trend for us). We spent the morning driving the main road through the park, checking out the impressive views and spending some time in the museum, which was excellent. In 1914 and 1915, Lassen Peak erupted multiple times including one particularly huge eruption that exploded the mountaintop and devastated a mile-wide section of the mountainside. B.F. Loomis captured the eruption in photos and, as the first major and documented volcanic eruption in the US, his photos captivated the public and made way for it to become a National Park in 1916. Today, the effects of the eruption are difficult to see because the area has recovered over time, but Lassen Peak is still considered an active volcano and there are many geothermal areas.

Lassen Peak

 

We really liked this meadow, so we spent a decent amount of time taking photos here, but had quite the experience with Katharine’s brand new camera. Here’s Nathan’s version of the story:

As many photographers know, you sometimes have to risk the camera to position yourself for the perfect shot- whether it’s dangling the camera over a cliff or grabbing a quick shot in the rain, it’s usually worth it. But I often remind Katharine to be careful with her camera, afraid she’ll drop it off a cliff or something. For the photo above there was a nice turnout in the road and many people were taking photos from the left side of the stream. As the other people left the area, Katharine and I wanted to get more of the serpentine creek in the foreground, and to do that, we had to cross the stream (10 feet across and a few feet deep) to a higher view point. We looked and decided the log jam nearby would be the best place to cross.  Katharine enjoys taking landscape photos, so her cameras are outfitted with our widest angle lens, so of course she would be the one risking her dry clothes and dignity by crossing the precarious log jam.  Since she needed her hands free to climb across, we decided it would be better for her to cross, then I throw the camera case with camera over the creek to her.

After a few well placed steps Katharine made it across, then came the first camera toss.  I erred on the side of overshooting Katharine and the creek and landing in the tall meadow grass behind her, which it did and the camera survived no problem.  Katharine took a few photos (including the one above), and then successfully tossed the camera back. She underhanded it to me like a softball, but harder than I thought so I sort of juggled it after it hit my stomach with some force. So the camera survived safe and dry and now it was Katharine’s turn to cross back. I set her camera down to watch, but then I got a photo idea in my head of Katharine crossing the sun bleached wood log jam with the water mirroring her and the meadow and volcano in the background… this was going to be great.

I quickly ran down the side of the creek and crouched down to get the best angle… I adjusted my shutter speed and ISO and sat waiting for her to hit the middle of the natural balance beam. Just as she started to cross I noticed a black bag in my frame –  her camera bag was ruining my shot!  I quickly got up and ran to the bag, and like runner tagging up at first, I grabbed the camera bag while changing directions to run back to my photo spot before Katharine passed the halfway point.  As I turned and shifted my momentum in the other direction my hand with the camera bag whipped around.  The weight of the camera in the bag and my long arms surprised my fingers, and I launched the camera bag into the creek! “Noooo”, I yelled as I slid to the water’s edge watching the bag semi-float in the water.  Katharine looked up from her balancing to see me lunging and grabbing the small camera bag, but with enough speed and force to submerge the bag for a half second. I quickly un zipped the bag pulled out the soaked camera, removed the battery, and began feverishly drying off any water I could see.  Katharine was still standing on the log and was yelling and laughing “what is going on?!”  I tried to explain while I was knelt down on my wet knees with her camera in my hands “I wanted to get a photo of you crossing…and the bag…I threw it…I don’t know!”  Of course trying to explain why I sacrificed her new camera to get a photo of her crossing a log seemed silly now.  My adrenaline was pumping and Katharine was laughing at me “you threw my camera into the water…hahhaha.”  Luckily she could find humor in the situation, but I couldn’t bare to smile about it until I knew it worked again.  After letting it dry for a couple hours, we turned it on and thankfully everything worked!  Now all that is lost is my dignity (as well as the chance to get that picture of Katharine crossing the stream!), and Katharine is able rightfully to remind me every time we are near water “be careful you don’t want to throw your camera in the water!”

 

After the camera excitement, we did a short hike (3 mi) to Bumpass Hell, one of the most impressive geothermal areas in the park. It was named after Bumpass, a guy who discovered it and hoped to make his fortune from the minerals and tourism, but instead just lost his leg when he broke through the ground crust into boiling water while exploring it.

Looking down on the Bumpass Hell geothermal area

 

The fumaroles were constantly hissing and spewing hot air.

The yellow sulfur crystals made the area very colorful.

As usual, the thermal areas smelled like rotten eggs from the sulfur.

Since the boardwalk limited your path, there was no escaping when certain fumaroles put out an especially bad burst of hot smelly air. This made for some unpleasant moments.

On the hike to and from the geothermal area, we passed through some nicely wooded areas and a couple meadows with some birds (likely grouse) foraging in the lupine.

 

After the hike we took it easy, set up our hammock (a gift from Nathan’s parents) and stayed up to watch the Perseids. The meteor shower wasn’t quite as impressive as we hoped (or we just didn’t have enough patience), but we always appreciate the dark skies of the national parks and the opportunity to see the Milky Way.

 

Epic Trip Stats:

  • Days: 9
  • Nights in a tent: 8
  • Miles driven: 1054
  • Miles hiked: 47
  • Cameras thrown in the water: 1

 

We are currently driving to Lassen Volcanic NP after several days in Yosemite, but our first stop was Pinnacles National Park earlier in the week. (Updated Map)

Day 2 – Pinnacles NP (8/5/13)

On Sunday night we arrived to our campsite in Pinnacles National Park after dark, so in the morning we woke up and got to see it for the first time. We could see some of the reddish pinnacles (rock formations) from our campsite, so we quickly had breakfast and got ready for a hike to beat the heat. On our way to the trailhead, we came across a huge covey of quail and a fawn that surprisingly weren’t too shy, so Nathan got some nice shots.

 

 

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Then we started the hike towards Bear Gulch Cave and Reservoir.

 

Rock tunnel on the hike

 

The hike was a short 2 mile loop, just enough to get our legs warmed up. The cave is seasonally closed to protect the bats that live there, but it was open most of the way when we were there, which was great. It’s pretty impressive, and has some quite dark areas so headlamps/flashlights are required.

 

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We had fun climbing through the caves and around the rocks. It’s definitely a highlight of hiking in the park.

 

 

 

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After emerging from the cave, we continued on to the Reservoir. It made for a picturesque snack break, and it’s a great place to photograph some threatened Red-legged frogs (that now seem to be recovering after being re-introduced to the reservoir area).

 

 

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The final portion of the loop goes along the Rim Trail, with wider views of the landscape and the Pinnacles themselves. Overall, it was a great warm up hike for our trip and we really enjoyed the solitude. We didn’t see a single person on the hike.

 

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Afterwards, we packed up our tent and car to start the drive to Yosemite. On our way out, we stopped at the visitor center where a gang of turkeys was gathered, again not bothered by the people checking them out. Then some deer came to join the party. Eventually the camp host shooed them away from the visitor center and swimming pool area, so the deer and turkeys headed up the hill together.

Although we had a very short visit to Pinnacles, we were really glad we were able to add it to our itinerary. It’s definitely worth a visit, but since it’s a pretty small park, it seems like a day or two would be enough to get the experience. Next time we’d like to see some of the California Condors that live there!

 

Here’s a map of the short hike we did through Bear Gulch Cave.

View Hiking Tracks – Natekat Epic Trip in a larger map

 

Trip Stats:

  • Days: 2
  • Nights in a tent: 1
  • Miles driven: 384
  • Miles hiked: 2
  • Wildlife: Quail, deer, frogs, turkeys
  • Caves explored: 1

 

By Katharine

In early July, I was lucky enough to get to go to Australia for a business trip. Even better, I got to spend several extra days exploring Melbourne, Sydney, and the surrounding countryside with my coworker. We had an amazing time touring Melbourne, seeing the Sydney Opera House, feeding kangaroos, seeing wild koalas and wallabies, watching the Little Penguins of Phillip Island, and doing a tour along the magnificent Great Ocean Road. Check out the photos below for a quick look at it all we did. Click an individual photo for full screen/slide show mode and the captions/descriptions will show up. (Don’t click ‘show as slideshow’.)

 

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