Death of Yellowstone Bison



Yesterday, as I pulled out of my driveway and headed towards the park, a herd of about 25 bison cows, calves and bulls languished on private land across the road.  My heart sank, knowing that all too soon those bison would wander, or be forced, onto national forest and be killed by Native American hunters from Oregon.  The helplessness I felt was deep and sobering and I said a silent prayer that, somehow, they would escape their deaths.


As I drove down the road, the hunters began to arrive, some already pulling trailers piled high with bison carcasses.  Each driver nodded and waved while my mind was in a murderous rage.  These were the same hunters, who, the night before, had been trying to drive two beautiful bulls off of the road and onto national forest so that they could kill them before the sun went down.  I drove straight towards the truck and stopped, holding my phone up to show that I was about to make a call.  The hunters snapped some photos with their phones and drove off, leaving me to sit beside the two bulls until darkness fell.


It is one thing to know that these hunters have a legal right to kill the bison, on national forest lands, and quite another to see them using unfair tactics to lure the animals to their deaths.  Some of the tribes are very respectful while others, such as this one from Oregon, are not.  They killed two bison in an illegal area and loaded them up and took off before the game wardens could arrive.  Blood has spilled across the entire road and gut piles left alongside for everyone to view.  They clog up the roads, with their bison carcasses in full view for park visitors to see.  Last Saturday, during a 3-day holiday weekend, bison were slaughtered next to the highway and visitors were treated to a view of some of the animals that they were coming to the park to see, being skinned in plain sight.




The Eagles and the ravens were swarming the bison carcasses along the highway.


As I continued to the park, the tears began to fall.  I stopped along the highway and looked back, across the river, at the bison still resting in the field and watched as, one by one, the hunters pulled up behind them.  As I drove on the tears fell harder and my grief was inconsolable.  I pulled into the gas station, only to find that the cost of gas had gone up.  I screamed in anger, knowing that the station’s owner lives next to our national park and hates all wildlife.  He hates our wildlife while he gouges us with high prices.  My pump routinely says .50 before an ounce of gasoline has gone into my tanks.  He seeks to rob us of our wildlife and our money.  I despise him and feel trapped that my options are few.  I could purchase gas inside of the park but they charge even more and my bank account has gone dry from the $25 a day it costs to drive into the park.  


I am just plain angry that I came to Yellowstone to see the beauty of the wild animals, to watch and capture their behavior and to be calmed by the wide open, wild landscape.  To listen to the water run, the trees talk and the animals sing.  That was all I wanted – not to watch the nearby community seek to destroy what is beautiful in nature for their own selfish needs.  Not to watch this ugliness take place.


The bison migration out of the park has begun in earnest.  Seems late this year, despite it being a hard winter, but now that snow is melting the bison are leaving.  No one can stop the bison when they decide to leave.  The roads are filled with the pregnant ladies.  I stopped beside one large, red cow and looked into her beautiful eyes and said, “Please don’t go.”  Her belly was so large and her head held so high. She looked proud and strong and I know she would be a fine mama to that young one but she will not get the chance.  I spent the day angry and in tears.


Nothing much was going on in the park and I wanted to go home but didn’t dare because the bison slaughter would be in front of my face.  I try to leave before sunrise and go home after dark, to avoid seeing the death but the slow days have made that difficult.  I have seen too much.  Too much ugliness in Yellowstone, where I came to see beauty.


The park plans to haul off about 600 bison this year, and next year, and the next year, until they have the herd size down to about 3,000 to 3,500 and have satisfied their agreement with the State of Montana.  Yellowstone bison are being slaughtered for the sake of the ranchers who want to claim our public land for their cattle.  The ranchers have managed to get their way all along.  Predators are being killed, for the sake of the ranchers because they don’t have to be responsible for their own hormone, antibiotic filled cattle.  They kill our wildlife and sell us meat that is not fit or safe to eat, and this practice is condoned by the government.


I, for one, am not happy that the ranchers are pandered to by the government and are not held accountable like you and I are for our own possessions.  I am not happy that the government is allowing for us to eat foods that are not good for our health.  I am not happy that the government is not looking out for the interests of you and I but are helping the wealthy line their pockets even more.  As citizens of this country, you should not be happy either.  One by one, we can demand something better, before everything wild and beautiful is gone.  This problem runs much deeper than the bison – it affects the coyotes, foxes, wolves, mountain lions, wild horses, elk and everything else that the ranchers find to be inconvenient.


We must save our wild world before it is gone.



Sign this petition to stop this madness!

Posted on my Facebook page, feel free to share.

The Howls of Yellowstone – the voices of the gray wolf


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Three seasons have passed now, Winter, Spring and Summer, since that cold December evening when I stood beneath a hill and watched as a family of wolves spread out on a ledge. Unsure of what was happening, I watched breathlessly as one by one the wolves took their places. Suddenly one head lifted towards the sky and a mournful song commenced. The others joined in and for several minutes, this family, minus their mother and their father’s mate, howled what sounded like their last goodbyes. Not only to her but the life that they once knew in the valley.

I had never heard the howl of a wolf before and I remember standing there, my knees buckling, my lips quivering and with salty tears on my cheeks. There is nothing more real or honest than a howling wolf and I felt as though the hand and lips of a higher being had surely touched my soul. It was agony and bliss, all rolled into one.

[I used my recording of the wolves howling on that day in a slideshow that I made of their sister/daughter after she was killed by a bullet, just two weeks ago – you are hearing my first wolf howling experience]

I had never really met these wolves before that day, because I was new to wolf world in Yellowstone. And, because this pack of wolves had just returned to the park after they were baited across the boundary so that one man could put a bullet into their mother. This was the one and only time I ever saw what was left of the pack because, soon after, they left to look for the mother and the uncle they had lost to Wyoming hunters, and the pack began to disperse in the following weeks.

This memorable time of seeing wolves and listening to them howl was also my introduction to a hatred for which there are no word to describe.

Both the mother and the uncle (the alpha female had two men in her life and they were brothers) wore collars that were put on them by the wolf project in Yellowstone National Park and they played a very big role in the ongoing research of the gray wolves that had been reintroduced into the park. Not only were these wolves important to research but they were favorites of many of thousands of people who had watched them grow from pups into adults that had pups of their own. The female was considered the most famous wolf in all of the world and her devastating death made international headlines. The one man, who put one bullet into this famous wolf and eradicated her forever, was never man enough to tell us who he is or what his story was. One man, one bullet.

The hatred that I speak of is a venomous rage towards the wolves. Much of that rage is based on lies that are spread around with such vigor that they taint the minds of others. For some, wolves were forced upon them by “The man,” and they are a symbol of government interference in their lives. For others there is fear and the myth of the Big Bad Wolf. And then there are the ranchers who claim that wolves prey on their livestock, but many refuse to take responsibility in keeping their animals safe from the predators that have just as much right to be here as they do. And the hunters. Elk numbers are down, which was one of the goals of Yellowstone when the wolves were reintroduced. Elk had multiplied far beyond what the eco-system could handle and much of it had been destroyed by over-grazing and standing around like cows, instead of wild animals. Hunters blame the wolves, totally and completely, for the decline in the elk they used to be able to shoot without much effort. But, other factors figure in, such as hunters in Gardiner, MT, killing 400 prime bull elk in one season, drought, tough winters and adapting to the presence of predators. The elk no longer stand around, out in the open, because it is no longer safe. There are many lies and some half truths but to hear these people tell it, wolves are to blame for nearly everything.

And so, the most incomprehensible acts of all take place during wolf hunting season in the communities surrounding Yellowstone. Hunters target Yellowstone wolves, that rarely leave the park and have never preyed on their livestock. The most hateful of these hunters salivate when a wolf is killed near the park, hoping that it is a collared Yellowstone wolf because that would be considered a prize. Why anyone would target an animal that meant so much to their communities in economic sustainability due to the thousands of people who come to the park hoping to see a wolf, is beyond me. Why they would want to take an animal that brings so much joy into so many lives is a question I can not answer. I worry that hate is a growing epidemic amongst us and that there will be no end.

The wolf family left the following day and returned to the area where their mom was shot. A couple of weeks later the alpha male and two of his daughters returned to the park, one of which met a couple of guys of her own and formed her own pack outside of the park, complete with puppies, and the other was recently killed, leaving behind two puppies. Except that when hunting season began, an intrepid hunter took his/her bow and arrow and killed one of the wolf’s 40lb pups. I wonder if there was joy in killing that puppy? The threesome stayed in the park for about a week, trying to chew on a frozen bison carcass and trying to learn how to hunt. Their alpha female had been a mighty provider and was able to take prey down by herself – grabbing them in the neck and killing the animal quickly. And then they left.

The alpha male was forced to tell his family goodbye and he returned to the park and found another mate. The two wolves were living the Romeo and Juliette dream of the quiet life, far away from people, and high on the hills. That is until his daughters returned to the park and killed his new mate because she was from a rival pack that had gone on a killing rampage the year before. Breeding season was over and the male was once again left on his own. I watched as his family told him goodbye and continued to watch as he sat on the valley floor and howled and howled for those he loved, while was mate was dying in the forest. Eventually, the male turned tail and headed west for a long time.

The remainder of the family was in turmoil. Three of the daughters, that we know of, had bred, quite possibly to the same unknown male, and they all needed to go their separate ways. Only one daughter had a pack, the remainder of the siblings and the two males she had taken on, while the other two were on their own.

For what seemed like forever, there were no wolves to see. It began to look like all of the females would be denning in other locations and that we would not see many wolves for a long time. But, then, one day, I found one of the females hunting an elk calf. What a tormenting experience that was, as I was rooting for both animals. A pregnant mother who was quite hungry and on her own and a calf that had been orphaned several weeks before. The wolf got her meal and decided to stay and have her pups. Quite soon she was joined by one of her sisters and an unknown gray male. They had a pack of three. Another sister came, along with another unknown, but they were soon chased away by their older sister when she returned one last time before going into her own den.

I watched this family disintegrate into their own survival modes. A young female wolf who so badly wanted to be with her family but was chased away each time she returned. The father loosing his second mate in only a few months, along with his brother and his children. I watched wolves howl for their families but their voices were never heard.

Some days were pure joy while others were completely agonizing. Most days there were no wolves to be seen and other people told me about the times, the year before, when there were wolves everywhere. I had arrived at the wrong time. Or, was it the right time?

The young mother who had hunted the elk calf by herself, went to her den and was not seen for several weeks. Her younger sister sacrificed herself to feed mother and pups. Constantly running food back to the den, either in chunks or in her belly, to be regurgitated later, and she became skin and bones. I saw the workings of the wolf family and how dependent they are on one another. Because of the hunt, many pups were born to mothers who were on their own and many died. Everything is connected but when they experience loss, they move forward. Their whole lives are about survival but wolves have a playful side to them also. To see wolves running together, tails and heads held high, is a sight that one does not soon forget.

We know that the young mother had at least two pups but we do not know their fate as they have not been seen in quite some time. Maybe one was seen recently but it was dark and hard to tell. A young brother joined the pack for awhile, and played the good uncle to the pups – another necessary part of the whole development of the wolf family. Unfortunately he has moved on, and so have the others, but in different directions.

This is a story that is hard to tell because there are so many twists and turns that it is impossible to tell them all here. And we do not yet know the end of this story or if it will end now. The Montana hunt is on and the hunters are allowed to use any means necessary to lure the wolves over the park boundary to kill them. Hunting park wolves is similar to shooting a pet dog because they are used to being around humans and they don’t know that they should be afraid. Some of these wolves will be looking straight into the eyes of the person who shoots them, never flinching until the trigger is pulled. An easy kill and a devastating loss for science and visitors to a national park. Somehow, we need to get a buffer zone around Yellowstone, so that these losses no longer take place. No government has any business pandering to the level of hate that has been displayed by some of the people who target collared wolves that live in a park.

Here are several random images that I have taken of wolves during the past nine months – all wolves reside in Yellowstone

I have one last story to tell, for now. One full-moon afternoon, or late evening, I had been watching the wolves off in the distance when they disappeared. A full moon began to rise over the mountains and I pulled into a place next to a steep, high hill, to shoot the moon with my camera. When I made to leave, I looked up to see a wolf sitting on the ledge directly above me. She looked down at me for awhile and then she lifted her head to the moon. Just her and I and she howled for me and for those she loved. She stayed there for quite some time, looking down at me and all around, and it felt like I had been given the gift of a lifetime. Below are two images from that night.

She came over to howl for me

She came over to howl for me

My one and only serenade

My one and only serenade

Yellowstone Predators – “Slander is the revenge of a coward, and dissimulation his defense”


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“Does wisdom perhaps appear on the earth as a raven which is inspired by the smell of carrion?”
Friedrich Nietzsche


“The worthiest people are the most injured by slander, as is the best fruit which the birds have been pecking at”
Jonathan Swift

In the instant that the idea of my spending the winter in Yellowstone came up I knew in my heart that it was the next part of my traveling journey. The next path to follow.

I learned early on, after leaving home behind and beginning my endless travel journey, that it would do no good to draw up an itinerary and so I settle in to go with the flow. Always, when the next destination is on the horizon, I am filled with wonder and anticipation and my mind sees nothing but excitement and good things. Inevitably, I am eventually reminded that no matter how wondrous a place like a national park is, I get to sort out fantasy and reality.

When I envisioned life in Yellowstone, I saw wild animals struggling to survive in the cold, snowy winter landscape. I knew that watching nature under harsh conditions would not always be pretty but I prepared myself to meet the realities of nature head on. Wolves, of course, played the top role in my mind but I had only seen them in the wild a couple of times and so the learning slate was clean and I couldn’t wait to learn.

Never did it occur to me that there would be a small group of humans who spent their winter in Lamar Valley watching wolves and claiming ownership of them. Negative encounters with people was the last thing on my mind.

Yet, when the rest of the park closed and I began frequenting the highway between Mammoth and Silver Gate, I quickly found what felt like an iron wall around the wolf world. I tried stopping at pullouts where people had scopes set up but the welcoming committee was never out. Folks would glance at me and quickly turn back to their scopes, never looking up, even if I approached.

The truth is, I had forgotten about my first encounter with the wolf watching world out at Hitching Post on the day that ’06 brought her pups, 820, Middle Gray, etc., out into the world the first time. I remember shouts of joy and exclamations that they were not sure that they had survived. I remember talk about two black pups and through my camera lens thought that perhaps I saw them running on a ledge. A shiver of excitement for the unknown found its way through me.

People began to gather on the little hill and voices became hushed and I overheard people telling others not to say anything. All of this confused me. I was the only photographer on that hill when the pups were seen and I asked one man what was going on. He told me that photographers were not welcome in Yellowstone. Huh? I was there, in May, on a solo tent camping trip, filled with wonder, courage and excitement – an empowerment to be embracing nature on my own terms and someone was telling me that I was not welcome in a national park.

The crowd of people with scopes began to move back and away from the crowd, to their own little spot and I definitely felt like I was not welcome to follow.

After awhile I went to leave and met Rick for the first time. He asked me what I was doing there, in Yellowstone, and I told him about being a photographer.

“Oh, you are one of those,” he told me with a smirky smile.

Let me assure you, when you are in a place for only a day or two and people tell you that you are not welcome, you don’t rush back.

Every time I saw people set up with scopes the pull outs would be filled with haphazard parking and cold shoulders. People would see me start to slow down and suddenly scopes that had been set on a specific location began to turn in all different directions. It was impossible to stop and too frustrating to get the cold shoulders. No doubt, if I could have penetrated the wall, there would have been some very kind people who would have been more than willing to tell me about wolves but from the outside looking in, I could not have known that.

And, so, that was my only wolf sighting in Yellowstone until I came to spend the winter. During other visits I stayed away from the scopes and others told me that they did the same thing, which meant that we were all missing out on seeing and learning about the wolves.

Last November, when I began to get the the cold shoulders, my frustration was high. I wanted to see wolves, wanted to learn about them and more than anything, wanted a reason to care about them. I wanted to know if what the wolf haters said was true or false. But, I could not know that for myself, without seeing.

I asked a lot of questions about who was who and quickly found out that the people watching wolves were visitors just like myself and that the park had given them no authority over who could see the wolves, or whether they could tell me what to do. I was told that Rick was the only employee and he had people helping him keep track of wolves and that was it. And, I was told that all of the information regarding the wolves was public, except that which is gotten from GPS collars. And, time and time again, I heard complaints about some of the watchers and the trouble that they had caused for others.

I made a decision to do whatever it took to get along with everyone, otherwise it would be a long winter. And, so I stood out and watched the wolves, asked questions and provided any information on what I had seen. It was cold out there but that was a small price to pay.

And then the holidays came and so did some other folks who had frequently watched the wolves over the years. There were two woman with radios, who seemed to have been doing this thing for a long time, loudly making fun of Rick and that seem super odd to myself and others who witnessed the behavior.

And, then one early morning, one of those two women decided that I had somehow known that the wolves would be crossing the road and had looked right at her before making the decision to intercept the animals.

The wolves did appear on the side of the road and I stopped a long ways back and watched as they took their sweet time going across. During the entire episode, instead of enjoying the view, I was worried about being judged by the watchers. Worried because I had heard plenty of judgement of others and not all of it had been warranted.

Later, on a borrowed Rick radio, I heard two watchers conspiring to keep me from knowing wolf location information that had been gathered from telemetry. Besides, the wolves were miles away, on top of the mountain.

I demanded of one of the women to know what made her think that she owned the wolves. I used language that I had not used in years. You see, I had been trying to play the game – trying to do everything possible to not have problems with these people and one simple mistake made from not having a clue where the wolves were, had turned my life upside down. I was on the outs and I did not want to be there.

For a short time, I had been having the time of my life watching those wolves and having others to hang out with for a couple of hours a day. But all of that came crashing down in an instant and not one person even bothered to talk to me about it. Despite my having tried to talk to someone and let them know that what I had done was not intentional. They prosecuted me on the spot and the rest of winter lay ahead.

Because one woman decided that I had committed an intentional act, I was no longer allowed to know anything about the wolves.

Yes, I was angry but once everything calmed down and we talked about the situation, I apologized for my language and was told that it was alright because she would have reacted the same way.

But it wasn’t alright and I reported the confrontation to law enforcement to let them know the role I had played and why.

The biggest thing that I could not understand was how these people watching the wolves and keeping their information from the general public was helping the animals? The hunt was on and several wolves had been killed, people were telling lies about them and they needed advocates more than ever but, yet, there was this group of people who were whispering location information to their friends, as if the secret wolf world belonged to them only.

Meanwhile, people, like myself, were taking photos and sharing everything Yellowstone with the public. Because of this, my Facebook popularity grew and grew. People loved my updates about everything that was going on in the park, even on the days when the information was not all that pleasant but was real. For me, seeing an image of a wolf and hearing somebody describe what they saw, was the most powerful tool against the wolf haters, while those who stood and tried to keep them from the public did more damage to their reputation. Why love and advocate for something that you don’t have access to?

My unpopularity in Yellowstone wolf world grew but I just continued my winter in Yellowstone. Not much appreciating the tension but it was still a national park and I still knew that a handful of people had no authority over the wolves.

But, was that true? I soon began hearing reports of blackmail directed towards those who supported me. If they didn’t stop supporting me they would not get the secret email about the wolves. Seriously? And so that meant that what we paid for was the watered down, not always truthful version of wolf world? The true version of wolf world went out in secret emails, containing even more information that is obtained from telemetry and a wolf project employee? Not right!

I continued on.

At some point I decided that Yellowstone was too fascinating to leave in the spring and so decided to try and stay by working as a volunteer. I applied to the Yellowstone Association but when the watchers found out they went and pre-empted my interview with their tales. I did not get the volunteer job but did get a job tucked away at the book store in Fishing Bridge. Yay, money! And, living at Fishing Bridge. I was beyond excited about this job.

And when the wolf watchers found out, they once again went to YA to complain about me, telling them that they couldn’t have someone like me working for them. I remember walking into the Gardiner store and seeing the looks on two watcher’s faces, just a couple of days after my hiring.
Still, the contract to work for them was sent and signed. I was hired and life was good.

I was a little troubled by a photographer’s reaction to my job because of thinking that we were friends. But, no word for two weeks after getting the job, until a text came out of the blue and congratulated me. The following day that photographer tracked me down in the park, asked to use my scope and pumped me for even more information about my photography and how I went about selling images. By this time I was selling quite a bit and my Facebook popularity continued to grow.

Later that day I received a phone call from my boss, telling me about an email from the photographer’s wife that described me as a strong woman, a photographer and being aggressive with my photo sales. The wife was concerned that I might try to sell my images in the YA store. My boss was angry about the email and the gossip and felt ridiculous in warning me against selling photos while working. I never even give my business card out unless someone else asks about it first.

I asked the photographer about this email and he claimed to not know about it but would find out. I urged him to just drop it and let me just get to work without any more hassle. He told me then that I needed to be aware that watchers had gone to YA before and after I got the job. I knew that but thanks for the information. I wondered how he knew so much about YA personnel information. He promised to not say anything about the email.

Two days later my boss tells me that he got in trouble for sharing the author of the email. But, he still has no qualms about hiring me.

A week later my boss sent an email to tell me that my contract to work for the Yellowstone Association had been rescinded.

For the past two weeks myself, some friends and an attorney have been on a fact finding mission to discover who, what, why…

The photographer said that every time he went into the park there was some sort of conflict surrounding me and that I had had run ins with law enforcement and rangers. This was news to me. Just because I am doing my thing and not engaging with any of the watchers, does not mean I am creating some sort of conflict. It means that they just aren’t happy with my presence and that they continued to talk about it. And, after talking to law enforcement, I learned that there had not been one single complaint about me since the December incident that I had originally reported. I did learn that Rick had asked to have me investigated because I was retired law enforcement and could possibly be carrying a gun (which is legal in a national park) because they were concerned about their safety after my violent outburst. I also heard that they had reported other cussing confrontations at the same time as the one and only but none of them were true.

And so my mature, dealing with a conflict was misconstrued as violent. Funny thing is, though, that another very well respected couple witnessed the whole event and said that they were applauding me because everything I said was true and needed to be said – their words, not mine.

Yellowstone Association said that they had received numerous complaints about me from watchers and donors. They admitted that the donors had not seen any incident (neither did most of the watchers, including Rick) but had been told about them. They cited that I had had numerous confrontations and they believed I was unstable. And, they were concerned about my run ins with law enforcement but never called them to find out if they were true. Instead, they said that they “verified” everything. From whom? They needed to protect my privacy. They had no idea why I had not been arrested and was still allowed in the park, despite the fact that they had been told that I had bragged about carrying a weapon and had threatened people’s lives. If it were me, I sure would have reported those incidents to law enforcement.

No, I had had a retired cop to cop conversation about the scary feelings of anger that were associated with those who target Yellowstone wolves. She wanted to run them off of the cliff with her car and I was glad that my weapon was not accessible. Both actions, same results if carried out. An innocent conversation between two people with similar backgrounds that was about wolf killers and no one else. And so the lies built.

Obviously, there are some people who want me out of Yellowstone. Whether is is because of the popularity of my daily updates about life in Yellowstone, my photo sales, or the fact that I told the truth about what I have seen. What I have seen, is that there is a small group of people trying to control visitor’s movements and sights in Yellowstone and they have made it very unpleasant for a large number of people.

I honestly can not understand why Yellowstone allows this to continue. Particularly when their employees complain about being treated the same way as I have described. Particularly when their employees say that they also avoid Lamar and that crowd. Particularly when avoiding that crowd means that a whole lot of people don’t get to see the wolves. Some things to think about.

Honestly, I am better off not working for an organization that would indict a person based on gossip and an obvious conflict of interest. And, not having a job frees me up to be out in the park, enjoying everything that it has to offer. So, once again, my path is carved out before me and I am following it to the destination. My plan is never as good as the one I am meant to follow.

Predators abound

Predators abound

Dancing With Wolves


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Yellowstone White Wolf

Yellowstone White Wolf

Me dancing in Yellowstone up on top of No No Hill

Me dancing in Yellowstone up on top of No No Hill

“There is a photographer on top of the hill.”

{Hiker/photographer to you}

“There is a wolf on the hill.”

“Won’t be for long, it will be scared away.”

“That would be DD.”
{Don’t want to know}

Beautiful sunny day in Yellowstone with no wolves running around and so I decided to do some much needed exploring away from the road and exercise my right to hike in Yellowstone! Yep, visitors are allowed to hike off of the road.

Normally I do quite a bit of hiking when out and about in a national park but it has been tough in Yellowstone because there is always this fear that wolves will be out there and someone will think that I hiked out to see them and report me and get me thrown from the park. This fear came about in the beginning of my stay when someone proudly described to me how they catch photographers going too close to the wolves, take photos for documentation and turn them over to law enforcement. When the story was complete I felt sufficiently warned – intimidated and threatened.

As time wore on I felt more and more frustrated about wanting to hike but it often seemed like there were always people watching wolves in many of the hiking areas. And while I couldn’t see the wolves and didn’t know if they were miles away or close – or in which direction, I had come to realize that actions are often misconstrued or second-guessed and so would move on. At one point I finally asked the ranger in charge of the whole thing what was the best way to go about my business and do my hiking without creating unnecessary problems for myself. Must admit that I expected some sort of answer that would assure me that hiking was allowed in Yellowstone and if the area wasn’t closed that there was no problem. Instead I was told about how rude it would be to ruin people’s opportunity to watch the wolves. Not anything like concern for the animals but concern for the people who watch them every single day. And definitely no room for any other type of recreation or visitor enjoyment in the park.

After awhile I began asking if it would be okay if I went hiking – just to make sure and let everyone know that there was no intention to disturb the animals. Well, to tell the truth, none of my efforts were good enough. Law enforcement rangers had told me that it was okay to hike and to not worry about it if the trail was open – and just make sure to back off if I encountered an animal. And they had also told me that it was fine, during the slow days of winter, to stop in the road and take photos if wolves were near by, but unfortunately didn’t cover the part about what if I couldn’t see those that were way up on top of a hill above me. And so it all became a guessing game, a futile effort to have supernatural powers of knowing everything that was going on without being able to see it. That just plain wore me out!

I gave up! Yellowstone is my national park also and I had given everything that I had for the opportunity to spend the winter near the park but my attempts to please those who can not be pleased had netted me nearly zero in off road exploring and enjoyment, as well as photos of the wolves. The winter nearly over with and it was time for Deby to take care of Deby – finally. As long as I was falling within the rules of the park and what law enforcement had told me, then those unwritten, judgmental and exceedingly over protective unwritten rules were no longer my problem. So what if I got to walk the Reports hall of shame! And, it was way too late to worry about being gossiped and lied about and having my reputation destroyed. Time to enjoy my/our park!

Back to today! I had always wanted to hike way out in Lamar Valley but had gotten the impression that it was no man’s land, which is not true at all. There was a new snowshoe trail leading out towards the Cottonwoods near the ranch and so I decided to go for it and get out in that valley.

At the pullout I ran into some visitors from California and got to talking with them. They were telling me about how a guy in Cooke City had told them that the wolves had destroyed everything and that there were only two moose left in the park. “Well, that isn’t true,” I told them. They asked me about the wolves and I got to share some of my favorite stories about the Lamar Canyons, as well as describe how the habitats of other animals were returning because of them. They then asked their son if he wanted to hike out into the valley with me.

Flying over Lamar Valley

Flying over Lamar Valley

Lamar Valley

Lamar Valley

What fun it was to take an enthusiastic young man, who is crazy in love with nature and wildlife, and hike out over the sparkling snow. The best part was introducing him to his first grizzly tracks. Fresh that morning, some big old grizzly had gone through and crossed the river. And then we also found the remains of a deer carcass. His mom told me that getting to hike out there and being introduced to tracks was probably the high light of his trip. Wish that I had known when younger that I am a natural born teacher when it comes to sharing nature.

And we saw our first Snow Geese for the season!

Snow Geese fly over Lamar Valley in March

Snow Geese fly over Lamar Valley in March

They loaded me up with food that they couldn’t take back on the plane and I headed out towards Tower. I pulled in at the Garnett Hill trail and contemplated another hike for just a minute. I so wanted to get to the top of that hill and look down on Yellowstone River. Upon seeing my first colorful moth of the season, I was out of the car and into the warm sunshine.

Nobody else was around, that I could see, and boy did it feel good to get out there! While walking along, looking for a gentle slope up the hill, I found an old elk carcass that looked well-eaten but the hide and a leg was still there. Lots of fur. I wondered when that cow had been taken down. On up the hill, the snow getting deep in some areas, the top was not the top. Had to continue further before being able to see down into the river gorge. Up, up and up and finally there.

All spread out before me - What a view.

All spread out before me – What a view.

I looked west over the river and was suddenly filled with joy and freedom. Screw all of that judgment, I had a right to be there at that moment. I set the camera up to do a couple of self-portraits but did not plan to be jumping for joy and yelling out to the world. I had broken free! I continued on to the east end of the hill and looked down at the bridge and the road below me.

The Yellowstone River runs through it

The Yellowstone River runs through it

After awhile I turned to leave and then spotted my new friends below and one of them was coming up the hill. When he reached me he explained that his son had gone charging up the hill like a Mountain Goat and he wasn’t sure where he went. Ah, there my new young friend was, up on top of the same hill. I gave them the bear spray talk – like don’t go anywhere without it. And, then they told me that they had heard that there was a wolf over there somewhere. Really? Apparently they were able to see it and me through the scope.

My new friend from California

My new friend from California

Not sure how close we were to one another and didn’t stick around to investigate. Once I knew there was a wolf nearby no way was I going to risk disturbing it.

Back at the bottom of the hill I learned of the above conversation. The young man told me that he had watched as I took my self-portrait and threw my arms up. I only blushed a little. Here I thought that I was having a private moment and all of the while had been in the fish bowl eye of the scope. Boy were they going to be assuming and talking now!

I laughed and smiled because, without knowing it, I had been dancing on a hill with a wolf! Wonder what the wolf thought or if it ever saw me?

Wolves return to Lamar Valley and 755M loses his new mate, 759F


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Wolf 759F walks along the top of a high hill overlooking Lamar Valley, while her mate, 755M sleeps below. 759 was as wild and free as they get and she stayed that way by keeping far from the crowds that tried to watch her.

The wolf world in Yellowstone National Park was turned upside down last fall when hunters began killing collared Yellowstone wolves. The famous Lamar Canyon Pack was hit hard when its very popular beta male, 754 was killed by a Wyoming hunter but no one could have imagined what came next and the ongoing tragic story that has continued to unfold.

I had no history with the Lamar Canyons, or any other wolves for that matter when coming to spend the winter in Yellowstone. By the time that I glimpsed the pack, high on a hill above the valley, 754 was already dead. On that day, I saw the alpha female, ’06, sunning on a hill with her back to me, for the first and last time. I will never forget the way that the late afternoon winter sunshine lit her beautiful coat and will never forget wanting to see her face.

Only a couple of days later, on December 6, 2012, a Cody, Wyoming hunter, who some say was out waiting for 20 days in a row, shot and killed Yellowstone’s most famous wolf. They had many nicknames for her and one of those was, “Rock Star.” I have heard many a story about how well she took care of her family and could easily take down an elk by herself, by grabbing it by the throat. Hopefully she taught her family well, because they are on their own now.

The three + months since the death of ’06 has seen a lot of changes for the pack but has had the most profound effect on her mate, the handsome 755M.

755 brought the entire pack back to the park for a short visit and a few snacks about a week after his mate had been killed. Only here a few days, if that, on the morning of December 13, 2012, they were seen disappearing over a mountain and heading east. A lot of wolf watchers/lovers stood watching, helpless to do anything more – their only solace was that there could be no more legal hunting in the area that they were headed back to – where 754 and ’06 were killed.

755, 775 and black

755 and some of his offspring enjoy a light moment on the hill above Lamar, just after a long howling session that shook me to the bones.

755 and some of his offspring enjoy a light moment on the hill above Lamar, just after a long howling session that shook me to the bones.

Hope was renewed one day when 755 showed up with two of his daughters, 776, the presumed new alpha female and yearling, 820. But where were the others? No one knew. Everyday that the three were in the park, people looked and looked for the others to join but they never did. And then, one day, those three left also.

776 and 820 run along the Lamar River last December when they returned to the park with their dad for a short time.

776 and 820 run along the Lamar River last December when they returned to the park with their dad for a short time.

And then nothing for a long time. The Lamar Valley, once the prized real estate of powerful wolf packs that I never knew was empty and it became the Valley of Death.

The Confluence in Lamar

One morning I drove through the valley and its emptiness was disturbing. I stopped at the Foot Bridge pullout and wrote this:
Soon the day will come
when the wind blows,
the snow will fall,
the sun will shine,
and the wolves will howl.
But, for now,
it feels like death in the Valley of Hell.

I had to acknowledge the emptiness of Lamar Valley for the moment, while bravely claiming that nothing ever stays the same and soon it would be empty no more.

And then, one day, 755 returned by himself, which was to be expected because it was time for him to find a new mate. Soon after his return the love story of he and 759, from a rival pack, the Mollies, began. The two wolves began their life together and soon 759 had a new collar put on her because her original one had come off. Afterwards, she stayed far away from people, on the tops of hills or on the other side of the valley. She wanted to remain wild and free and 755 was only too happy to oblige.

The new couple settled into life together, roaming the valley and soon proving themselves to be a mighty hunting team. If 759 had pups and they made it a year, 755 would make Yellowstone history for becoming the first male to be the alpha of two packs.

For a time, 759 was queen of Lamar and she had found her prince charming. Often, when I drove through the valley, I thought of how peaceful and quiet it was and how 759 had found her dream. She must have been so happy and content – at least that is what I imagined – for she had struck gold in the wolf world. Her own valley of greatness with the best catch in the park.

As a pack of two, that liked to stay away from the humans, they were not seen much and were photographed very little. The film clip of her on top of the mountain, a dot walking off, just happened to be done when I had rented a larger lens. She was private and I honored her for that strength and independence that she displayed. I only knew her in my imagination.

Just as suddenly as she disappeared with her dad and sister, 820 returned, this time by herself. Just as suddenly as she disappeared with her dad and sister, 820 returned, this time by herself.[/caption]

And then one morning, sitting under a tree on a hill, was 820 howling her little heart out. 755 and 759 were gone from the valley and never heard her calls. Seeing 820 again was the most exciting thing that had happened in a long time and people were smiling from ear to ear. Many were secretly wishing for her to meet up with 755 and 759 but no one knew if the two females would get along.

But, after only two days, 820 headed east once again, just as 755 was headed back to the den area. So much disappointment.

And then on the following day, the Lamar Canyons with two new males from the Hoodoo pack, descended on the den. Four grays were not amongst the crowd; 820, Middle Grey, “Butterface” and a grey pup.

Chaos erupted and 759 was attacked, and both her and 755 were chased out of the den area with a black pup following far behind. We watched as 755 and 759 made their way across the valley and it soon became obvious that 759 was injured because there was blood on her left rear leg. Did anyone see this coming? I don’t know. Her being a Mollie was not good because her pack had descended on the valley last winter and created mayhem everywhere they went. I have no idea who began the fight but we know that 776 and the two Hoodoo males were injured.

I went up on a hill and found the pair again just as the black pup caught up to them. Watching 755 be reunited with his pup brought tears to my eyes. Even from my long distance, looking through a scope, I could tell that 755 was as happy as he had been in a long time. The pup did great work being submissive to 759 but he was full of energy, which had to have been too much for her and her injuries. I could see more blood on the inside of her leg and could tell that she was hurting. Eventually the pup calmed down and the three of them went off into the forest, where, I believe, she stayed until she died. But, that is ahead of the story. Because words can not describe how it felt to know that 755, his pup and 759 were together. I hoped that it would stay that way.

The hardest day of all

The hardest day of all

But morning came and I was the first to arrive in the valley. Two wolves, 776 and a black, walked on the road beside my car but it was still dark. As the light began the new day, I saw four wolves on the valley floor, standing and facing each other. It was a brief moment before, one by one, the three offspring turned to leave. 755 followed but soon came running back. He stood on the valley floor and barked and howled for his family.

755 howled and howled for his family to return to him but they left him by himself.  Now that his daughter, 776, has a new mate and the pack has a new alpha, 755 is no longer welcome.

755 howled and howled for his family to return to him but they did not. Now that his daughter, 776, has a new mate and the pack has a new alpha, 755 is no longer welcome.

I had never witnessed anything like that morning, particularly in such close proximity, and had no idea what had just happened or what was happening. I did not know that 755’s family had just told him goodbye or that his new mate was dying in the forest.

When his family failed to respond to his calls, 755 left and headed West, leaving behind everything that he knew and loved. Alone in the world once again.

The following day, first thing in the morning, I heard a splash and found a black wolf and a bull elk in the Lamar River.

Wolf and Bull Elk

The excitement of what I had just seen was short-lived when I drove back towards the ranch and saw the Wolf Project team skiing out to recover the remains of 759.

The dream of 755 and 759 living happily ever after with a new family of their own was over and 755 was alone and still heading west.

I stayed and watched as the recovery team made their way across the river and up the valley and into the forest. And watched as they skied back with her body in a sled. As they carried her across the river, and when they uncovered her and let us see and pet her. I petted my first wolf that day. She was beautiful and healthy but had died from her wounds.

[wpvideo IuOTKptA]
759'sfinalrivercrossing001759003759005759006759007759002[caption id="attachment_1258" align="aligncenter" width="529"]The Yellowstone Wolf Project skied or snowshoed across the valley to retrieve the body of 759 and afterwards Doug Smith allowed everyone to see and pet her and to ask him questions. The Yellowstone Wolf Project skied or snowshoed across the valley to retrieve the body of 759 and afterwards Doug Smith allowed everyone to see and pet her and to ask him questions.

And then 755 says goodbye to his family and leaves his new mate to finish dying in the forest.

And, just as they had arrived, the following day 776, her siblings and the two Hoodoo males were gone and the valley was empty.

On the following day 820 showed up with her sister, “Butterface.” A happy ending to this story would be for 820 to find 755 so that he can help her with the pups that we believe she might be carrying. Come home 755!

Obviously, this story has no ending and what is today may not be tomorrow.

More of the story in my National Parks Traveler column:

GPS Collars on Wolves and Mange in Yellowstone National Park


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According to information that I have been given, coyotes have not been collared in Yellowstone for a long time so this particular animal is probably up there in years.  As you can tell, from the lack of fur on its tail, on the body and under the collar, this one has a bad case of mange, which is treatable with antibiotics.  Mange is a parasite, a mite, that causes severe itchiness, discomfort, odor, hair loss and possibly death.

According to information that I have been given, coyotes have not been collared in Yellowstone for a long time so this particular animal is probably up there in years. As you can tell, from the lack of fur on its tail, on the body and under the collar, this one has a bad case of mange, which is treatable with antibiotics. Mange is a parasite, a mite, that causes severe itchiness, discomfort, odor, hair loss and possibly death.

On February 3, 2013, I watched as a plane circled around and around a mangy wolf pup in the Hellroaring area of Yellowstone National Park. Only a short time before this, I had overheard Rick McIntyre, a Biological Technician for the Yellowstone Wolf Project, informing the wolf collaring team that he had spotted a pup, a member of the Junction Butte pack, from the Petrified Tree pullout.

Thinking that the process would be fascinating, I wanted to witness, and possibly photograph, the wolf collaring process. Off I went to the Hellroaring pullout that stands far above the valley below, to view what was going on with the plane and the Junction Butte pack. The reception that day, at the pullout, was non-existent, icy and hateful, as people stared intently into their scopes. No one would speak. And so, after only a few moments, I left and found a more friendly spot all to myself at Twin Turnouts. Yellowstone has a closed wolf society that is extremely secretive about the wolves, even though they are in a national park that belongs to everyone.

The plane circled and circled as I watched through my scope, getting lower and lower to the ground. What kept going through my mind was wondering how this was not interfering with the animals. And I couldn’t help but think what it must be like to be in the vast forest of nothing but the sounds of nature, only to have that sanctuary burst wide open by a noisy plane circling around and around. I actually watched for a while, left, returned and watched some more. After quite some time I discovered that I did not have the stomach for watching this process. To me it felt like a violation to the animals – just like raising elk in a peaceful national wildlife refuge for years and years and then suddenly, one day, letting the men come in with their loud rifles and kill them.

I left and drove home. Boy did I miss a lot of action that day.

When all was said and done and from reports from others who were able to watch the collaring of wolves that day, several had been collared. Mating season was in full force for the wolves and amongst those collared on the Northern Range were two alpha females that were just getting ready to breed.

One of them was the brand new mate to 755M, the alpha male that had lost his mate in December, the famous ’06, Rock Star, or whatever people called her. 755 and his new gal had barely begun hanging out together when the plane and helicopter descended and put a new collar on her (759F had previously been collared). Reports from people who witnessed the collaring said that she lay still for a long time afterwards. No one ever saw the two breed, or tie, but they presume that they did. And I have yet to get an answer about what effects the drugs and the collaring might have upon her, particularly if she had already been pregnant.

The other alpha female (of those that I am aware of) that was collared that day, on February 3, was the leader of the Junction Butte pack – a mighty new force on the northern range that is made up of wolves from different packs. Reports vary as to what happened as a result of this collaring and so I will do my best to reconstruct events based on witness and written reports. The following day, Monday, February 4, I was told that the alpha female had not yet gotten up after being collared and people were semi-worried about her but also said that some wolves react differently to the drugs. How I wish to have witnessed this all myself! The Wolf Project says that she got up and was seen leading the pack, doing fine, during the next three days, until she tied with the alpha male. My notes, reports from witnesses and written reports say that the two tied the day following the collaring and that she did not get up afterwards. I was told that there was a lot of blood. I was also told that the rest of the family got excited when the breeding began and came up to join in and that the tie might have been broken but they ended up going at it again a short time later. The following day, witnesses said that the two bred again, while the female was still down – this would have been on February 5. More than one person reported that the newly collared alpha female did not get up for 48 hours.

In the weeks since the collaring of the Junction Butte alpha female, the wolves were rarely seen but it soon became clear that she was severely injured and unable to lift her head. At about this time, people began to report that she had been injured during the tie. The wolf project says that she probably sustained a neck injury when the family tried to join in. The alpha male, nicknamed, Puff, subsequently tied with other females in the pack that he is not related to and the original alpha female has now lost her status. When I saw her, just yesterday, she appeared to have also lost her pack, while lying on a faraway hill all by herself.

No one involved with watching the wolves in the park, an army of volunteers, or self-appointed wolf followers, who follow the wolves from sun up to sun down, spoke about the collaring, but reports from others soon began to flow in that suggested that many of them were not happy with the process. I do not know if their unhappiness is because of the recent killings of collared wolves, because of the timing at breeding season, because of the alpha female’s injury or because the project collared a miserable mangy pup from the Junction Butte pack that is rarely involved in pack activities and is often seen lagging behind.

The pup that the wolf plane was circling was the mangy pup and he now has a collar, much like the one on the mangy coyote pictured above. If you look carefully, the coyote has no fur under that heavy leather collar and I can only imagine how miserable it must feel. The pup is still rarely seen with the pack.

Because the ex-alpha female and the mangy pup, the only two collared members of the Junction Butte pack, are rarely with the others, the Winter Wolf Project, which began 2/1/2013, are still having difficulties locating them for the study and so plans are in the works for the collaring of two more members. Those plans may have been carried out today, as I saw the plane over the Junction Butte area before leaving the park early this afternoon.

Several members of the Canyon Pack, from the interior of Yellowstone, have mange.  This pup has one of the most severe cases in the pack.

Several members of the Canyon Pack, from the interior of Yellowstone, have mange. This pup has one of the most severe cases in the pack.

The Wolf Project once told me that all of the information that they collect about the wolves, with the exception of that which is derived from the GPS collars, is public and I was invited to stop by and call with any questions. One of the questions that had been on my mind for an entire month was, why did they collar the grey mangy pup.

I was told that they believed that they were following the black pup and that they had no intention of collaring the grey one as it was not an ideal situation. When it came down to it, and they had the mangy pup, they made a decision to go ahead and collar, in part because there is a mange study going on in the park. I wanted so badly to ask if they at least treated the poor thing for the mange because is seems as if it would be unconscionable to not do so. But, I did not ask, partly because all throughout the 2011 annual wolf report, it says that their policy is to leave nature alone. Unfortunately, throughout the same report, it also mentions that several wolves have been lost because of the mange.

Which brings me to a curious point. Most people have told me that the mange won’t kill the animals – and they won’t freeze to death – and that many recover if they are able to get good enough nutrition to fight the mites. Believe me, I have asked this question over and over again. But the report clearly states that this is not the case, lives have been lost due to the mites and other diseases, such as parvo and distemper. Though I do know of wolves that are reported to have completely recovered from mange.

Yellowstone began the winter season with about 90 some wolves (pups are not counted until after the first of the year) and 9 known YNP, and 3 suspected YNP, wolves are known to have been killed legally (we do not know about illegal kills for some reason), one pack, ten wolves, moved out of the park after their leader was killed and I have heard of another two that are missing. With the legal hunting season now over in Montana, the Wolf Projects says that there are between 68 and 70 wolves remaining in the park.

The other thing about the timing for the collaring on Feb. 3, is that there was still nearly a month of legal hunting time in Montana. Why put a target on their backs? I find it interesting to note that there was a string of wolf killings until all GPS collared wolves in Yellowstone were killed by hunters, after which the rate of loss appeared to slow down. Of those affiliated with the park, nine wolves with YNP collars, including four that had moved out of the park, were killed during the hunting season, while 7 uncollared wolves were killed. I honestly would have thought that they would have postponed any more collaring until after hunting season, at least, if not until issues are resolved with the states surrounding Yellowstone.

The Wolf Project has admitted that the collaring issue is a sensitive one and that many people do not agree with them continuing to collar wolves but say that it is still necessary for the continuing of their research. They cited one wolf that they have been following for its entire life, that may need a new collar. I can certainly understand how continued research on this animal would be critical.

I am not against the wolf research and the researchers learning all they can about the wolves because I think that the information is vital if we are to protect them from nearing extinction again. I do believe that this research and all information, except that which is gained from the GPS collars, should be transparent and available to the public. I believe that if they are going to follow wolves in Yellowstone and certain tourists can know where they are, that all of us should know where they are, but that is a discussion for my next post.

I applaud the work that the wolf project has done and does, during their two month long Winter studies, when they collect important information about kills, such as the age and health of the prey. The lineage information about the wolves is fascinating and probably also necessary. As is information about diseases.

Who am I to be making these observations? I came to Yellowstone on October 7, 2012 to spend the Winter learning the truth about the wolves, which has been difficult for many more reasons, besides the wolves being killed. I was not accepted by the citizens who watch the wolves, except for a short time during some of the coldest days of winter when I was allowed to stand out there with the others and observe the wolves. But, I was kicked out of the fold when one woman accused me of somehow knowing that the wolves were going to cross the road in the pre-dawn and that with this telepathic information I made the decision to drive into their path so that I could get photos. Afterwards, I overheard a transmission on the “Rick” radio about it being necessary to keep me from knowing where the wolves were, even though they were a few miles away on top of Norris.

As devastating as this development was, my being shunned from the inner wolf groupie circle, it turned out to be a blessing because I have been given the gift of observation, which has always been one of my strong suits. That separation has allowed me to be impartial on matters pertaining to the wolves, because there is no one else’s feelings, secrets or anything else to consider. I needed to take a step back and begin to ask the question; what is best for the wolves and are we doing what we can to keep them safe? I am not affiliated with any animal groups, though there are some that I admire, and do not derive any financial benefit from the wolves – therefore I have no vested interest in anything other than their safety and continued survival.

I then had to ask myself if I was willing to be shunned even more because of writing about my observations. True answer, not really, I don’t like being disliked and talked poorly about. After much thought, the right answer is yes. For some reason I was placed into the unique position of spending an entire Winter in Yellowstone without affiliation to anyone and without financial gain, all of which makes me a credible witness to events. My only concern here is the safety of the wolves and that should be the same for all who profess concern for their safety. I postponed all writing about this topic until the Montana wolf hunting season was over with, in order to avoid any chance of putting an extra target on the wolves – that hunt ended 2/28//2013.

Ask yourself these same questions. And ask yourself, what do I gain from the wolves? Is it financial and/or emotional, and would I be willing to give that up if it would help the wolves stay safe? These are important questions to consider because I fear that financial gain has become more important than the animal’s safety.

Article on a mange study in YNP:

Here are a couple of photos of more healthy wolves (the one on the right has a patch of mange on her side) and a very healthy coyote.

two wolves001


The story of the coyote and the lamb – a once-in-a-lifetime wildlife photography moment


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When I made the decision to spend the Winter in Yellowstone, it was with dreams of capturing the perfect wildlife moment. In my imagination I saw wolves hunting in perfect light. After all, my main goal for spending the coldest season in the park was to learn about and photograph the wolves.

I have now been at Yellowstone for a little more than three months, since October 7, and have spent a lot of time looking for that moment while photographing whatever else has come my way. Must say that the lack of wildlife sightings, wolves in particular, that are most likely due to a mild winter with little snowfall, have been disappointing. But, still, I am here and have discovered that there is no other place that I would like to be.


About two weeks ago I took my camera to Bozeman Camera and Repair to have the sensor cleaned. While there the most helpful staff put a D600 on a 500mm ƒ4 lens and put the set up on a tripod and told me to play. Big mistake for me to see what life is like with a “real” wildlife lens. Life through that lens definitely looks brighter and closer. Total cost, without the camera body, a little less than $10,000.

To my amazement I took that lens home with me that day, mine to use for a week. My first shooting opportunity was of a golden eagle in flight and afterwards, while driving down the road, I kept saying out loud, “That was fun.” It was the first time that I had felt like a real photographer.

A couple of days later and I have spent about $100 in gas and explored the park from sun up to sundown and not had many opportunities. Over and over I repeated, “Wolf, fox, ermine.” Thought that if I put the vibes out there that the moment would materialize.

I put the snowshoes on, put the heavy camera and lens on the tripod and slung everything over my shoulders and went for a hike. The extra weight made me clumsy and I had to take a crash course on safely (for the camera and myself) hiking in deep snow without any unfortunate circumstances. I hiked and spent over an hour in 4 degree weather, sitting up on a carcass and hoping for birds or anything to shoot. Nothing.

The only thing worse than not having the proper lens for what I do is to have the lens for a defined period of time and not be able to find anything to shoot. I felt like this was my one chance to prove that my photography was worthy of better equipment.

I got into the car and left Baronette, where I had been hiking, and drove West. The frustration mounted and tears threatened to dampen my face. Everything felt wrong and I truly began to feel like this photography journey was not right for me. I was putting in the time, freezing my butt off, but nothing was happening, despite all of the effort that I could manage. Don’t laugh, I am not the only one who has had moments like this – maybe the only one who is foolish to write about them…

I drove out to Little America, the area between Tower and Lamar Canyon, and checked my email and voicemail, getting some news that did not cheer me up in the least. For some reason I turned around and drove back to the east.

It was late afternoon, dark and snowing with low fog obscuring the views. I drove only a short ways when, like right out of a movie, a big horn lamb appeared on the horizon. What the…? Big horns are never seen down in this area. The lamb crossed the road and continued along the ridge of a small hill. Not far behind was a coyote. Honestly, I could not believe the scene.

I stopped in the middle of the road, opened the window, grabbed the bean bag and plopped it onto the window sill and then grabbed the camera that already had the 500mm attached. Boy was I wishing that I had not taken the 1.4 teleconverter off that morning. The angle of the road and the car made it impossible to get the big lens past the rearview mirror and handholding or getting the tripod out was not an option. I rearranged the car slightly, without being in the other lane, flipped the mirror in, turned the camera to single point focus, upped the ISO to compensate for the low light, found my target and began shooting.

It was a miracle, given the low light, distance and pace of the action, that I could get any focus at all.

The lamb only ran a short distance more before it turned to face the coyote.

Lamb facing coyote


The coyote leaped forward and grabbed the lamb by the muzzle.


Honestly, I did not know what to think. When the action is happening I am trained to shoot and that is what I did.

Oh, there were thoughts like, “I can’t believe this is happening,” and “Why am I not freaked out by this scene?”

I came to Yellowstone knowing that I would witness survival and death during the park’s harshest season, and would learn to accept that as the way life was – not only in the wild but in the human world also. Every adventure that I have taken since this full-time travel began has resulted in big learning experiences that have begun to teach me to take the world for what it truly is, good or bad.

Once the coyote bit the lamb’s muzzle, in a last ditch effort to get away, the lamb turned to run once again but this time the coyote was at its side.


The coyote grabbed the lamb’s neck and began to guide it down the hill, closer to me. Honestly, much of what I tell you comes from the series of photos that I took because it was impossible to digest everything that was going on. But, I remember clearly when the coyote lost its grip for just a moment.


I remember because this is when, for just a second, I had the urge to jump out and scream at the coyote. But just as quickly as that thought came in I knew that interfering with nature would be worse than letting it happen naturally. I sensed that the lamb had already suffered enough and it was best for this ordeal to end. And so I kept shooting but will spare you the shots that followed to the death of the lamb.


My photos show that both the coyote and lamb were tired during the chase and after the kill was complete, the coyote chased away a magpie, stared a me for a few minutes and then curled up to take a nap before enjoying its meal. I stayed and watched, utterly fascinated by the course of events.

I am not sure how long the coyote slept or how long that it spent eating. By this time, actually right after the chase ended, I had put the Nikon 1.4 teleconverter on the lens in order to pick up more of the details of the scene.

At some point, after rolling in the snow to clean itself up and to celebrate its victory, the coyote left, looking back over its shoulder several times.


By this time a golden eagle had flown in and was waiting patiently. The golden was soon followed by a few other goldens, a mature bald and an immature bald, along with ravens and magpies. Within seconds of the coyote’s departure the first golden eagle swooped in to eat.


After a short while a bald eagle decided it was its turn. I wondered how this would play out and am happy to say that the bald was the boss because the golden did not waste much time getting out of the way.


The immature bald eagle was the most tenacious of them all – quite a beautiful bird – and the most fun to watch. In this shot it was chasing after a raven with some food in its beak. The raven dropped its treasure and the immature swooped in and ate.


Over the course of time, as it quit snowing and started again, as the light got better and got worse, and then finally as it grew dark, four more coyotes showed up, along with more eagles than I could keep track of and their ever present shadows, the magpies and ravens. No wolves came along while I was watching.


I eventually left, driving home in the dark. The scene played out before me time and time again. The idea that a coyote was powerful enough to take a big horn lamb down by itself was incomprehensible. The fact that I had been the only witness to the entire scene was baffling but reassured me that, for whatever reason, I was in exactly the right place, at the right time, doing the right thing.

Because of the weather with the snow and fog, the photos are not the greatest but they tell the story of the kill and they tell the story that, given the proper equipment, I am a true wildlife photographer.

Afterwards, as I recalled the story, the question was, “What was the lamb doing there?” I won’t ever know the answer to that but suspected at the time that the lamb was not well and that the coyote selected it for that reason. Just as I was beginning to work on my column for National Parks Traveler and to write this blog post, someone forwarded an article about how some of the big horn sheep in this area have pneumonia. Was this the reason the coyote was able to kill the lamb?

Will I ever know?

Several days afterwards, I put on the snowshoes and hiked out to the lamb’s carcass where there were all kinds of animal prints, ones that I did not expect to see. The lamb felt like mine, somehow…

NOTE: Needing better equipment has finally motivated me to get set up to sell my photos. You can order directly through me by contacting me at or by ordering at these two sites:

Spending Christmas in Yellowstone

My Favorite Yellowstone Tree

My Christmas in Yellowstone was not filled with a Christmas Tree, bright lights, Christmas carols, piles of wrapping paper, family and grandchildren but it was the best in all of my many years as a single person without a family.

For nearly three months now I have been living right outside of Yellowstone and have spent much time in the park. I have been greatly disappointed by the lack of wildlife sightings and that has me feeling frustrated at times. But, still, I enter the park with optimism and the sure knowledge that it will be a new day. I don’t much understand the way things are going, what with wolves being killed right and left and the way the park feels so empty, but do know that one day, I will drive in and everything will change.

There is a huge drama unfolding and it might not be the way that I would like for it to go but I am committed to staying and watching what will happen next.


But while I am waiting to see what happens, I am determined to find the best that Yellowstone has to offer. I will watch the sun move over the mountain tops, look in the shadows for wildlife, crane my neck to see what is moving on the rocks, look for the otters swimming in the river, keep my eyes peeled for birds and stand in the cold and look through a scope to find canines off in a distance.

magpie001 copy

Some days I just sit in the car and watch, and on others I take off down a trail. I haven’t gotten the great sunrise or sunset, the perfect wildlife moment or even a landscape that I am especially proud of. But I keep studying and learning what this place and the people who frequent it have to teach me.


While Christmas was filled with beautiful landscapes, friends, good food and a lot of time in the park, it was also filled with the harsh realities of Winter in Yellowstone. There were many reports of bison trying to get around on three legs and each animal seemed to be located in a different part of the park. There was an elk carcass at Little America, a deer carcass at the North Entrance Gate, and a bison bull that fell through the water at Blacktail Lakes and after hours of struggle was unable to get out and so rangers put the animal out of its misery. There were some wolves off in a distance – I saw three – moose eating willows in the park, eagles, a lot of coyotes and reports of the big horns coming down to the Lamar River. Not so bad, not really. The elk are moving to lower elevations and are more visible, including some beautiful bulls. Fewer wolves means more coyotes and they can be pretty entertaining to watch and shoot.


I came here to see life in Yellowstone, which also includes death. These are not pretty sights always but they are fascinating. And, despite how tragic it was for the bison bull, the next day I stayed and watched as other animals filled their bellies. It was good to see the coyotes full and running with joy or rolling in the snow. That bison was doing its final job.

Christmas was simple and without expectation and I wonder if maybe that is the way it was meant to be – celebrating life and death without frivolous trimmings and petty arguments. I have no decorations to take down, just a lot of good leftover food to eat, and turkey soup stock on the stove.

Strength and Freedom

Strength and Freedom

A heavy snow is falling on Yellowstone right now and it feels so silent, like secrets are being told and no one is whispering.

More than once a day I wonder if my choice to be on the road, alone, traveling to places that all hold some element of danger, just as crossing a city street might, is the right one. I wonder about this because of the loneliness, the lack of proper camera equipment with which to adequately capture the scenes and the money struggles that make every day a challenge.

And then a tragedy, such as Newtown, occurs and I read a story about a couple struggling with divorce and when he finally comes to his senses and decides to stay with her, she dies from cancer without ever revealing her illness.

Life is short and as I always say, there is no way to know which day will be the last.

Time and again I go back to the moment when I realized that my life was not supposed to look like that of the average American – the “norm,” with the expectations of what and who we are supposed to be. I had searched for that normalcy my entire life – I craved being like everyone else with a good education, job, house, family and vacations but those things were not coming my way. Life was different for me – I had those things but they always disappeared.

And then the injuries began, each more debilitating than the last. Over the years a loss of everything, despite my constant scraping and focus on once again becoming a “productive member of society.” I couldn’t stand what was happening to me, couldn’t stand who and what I was. I only saw failure.

With each new injury, or re-injury, and surgery I remarked, maybe now is the time to begin following my heart, before I can no longer walk. My remark was more of a quip – snide and sassy – as my stubborn mind still believed it possible to beat this thing and become normal.

And then there was that day back in ’06 when I lay all alone in a hospital bed. There was an infection in my spine, caused by a third laminectomy on the same disc.

Unknown to me the hospital had advised my dog sitter, when he called to find out when I would be coming to get my dog, that if he wanted to see me again, he had better get there quickly. It was an 80 mile drive.

The hospital mistreated me in several ways and it is amazing that by their negligence alone that I did not die.

I lay there alone, too sick to know how bad things were. There were only two phone calls for me to make – I called my mother and asked her to fly down and keep the hospital from killing me. And I called my sons’ step-mother to tell her that I might not make it.

As I waited an entire day for my second surgery, with spinal fluid leaking from my back and my head hurting so bad that I could not lift it, yet too stubborn to push the button on the demerol because the thought of those drugs in my body was too much for me to bear, my body weakened and my mind quit caring.

Out of the blue the phone rang and answering it was such a chore. Any movement sent a raging pain through my head and the sound of the ring vibrated against all of my nerves.

“Mom,” the caller said.

I tried to bring myself out of the fog and respond but it was difficult. My son and I had not talked in years but it was his voice on the other line.

“*****,” I said.

Silence, only silence. I said his name over and over but there was nothing. And then I heard the click.

I have no clue as to how many hours remained before surgery but that call played over and over in my mind. In my dying breaths I wondered had I answered the phone wrong – said something wrong – perhaps he didn’t hear me. My mind was playing tricks on me.

A small spark ignited in my will to survive as I fought back so that he would not have to regret not speaking to me before I died. My concentration kept me going because finally there was a semi-coherent thought to hang onto, something to focus on.

Still, by the time my surgeon spoke to me in the operating room, I asked him to let me go.

“I can’t do this anymore,” I told him.

He nodded. “Anything else?” He asked.

I shook my head, my eyes pleading into his. He nodded but not at me.

My doctor decided to ignore my request and go through with the operation. What he did not know was that the infection had entered my brain and that I had meningitis.

My survival of the infection and the surgery can only be described as a miracle.

Afterwards my anger was palpable and I was out of control. To my credit, that is what narcotics do to me and it is something that I have no control over. But, I felt sorry for myself. I hated the world. And I did not believe that the infection would go away and that I would survive. My fear of dying stayed with me for another month after the surgery.

But, slowly my smile returned and I realized that I had been given a second chance to live and to follow my heart.

It took years to define my heart and it is still a work in progress. There was pain and physical limitations to deal with. And the relearning of simple tasks because, despite no one having told me, I had brain damage. My thinking and abilities were different – something that eventually turned out to be a good thing, for the most part. And there were two more surgeries to remove tumors from my spine.

A lot of changes and a lot of healing.

Eventually I came crashing into my dream, with no way out. No way to say no for to do so would have stopped me cold.

And so I am here, hopefully following the path that was intended for me all along. And praying that others will be saved the pain that I have endured by listening to their hearts and following their dreams.

I will end this long story, which I keep repeating in one form or another because if feels so important, with a quote that a friend sent this morning. She always has good timing!

“A person without special gifts, just an I won’t quit! attitude, will succeed.”

Everyone wants to be a success in life. But, unless you make a commitment to never quit no matter what, it may never happen. The one thing that makes a person successful is persistence. It’s not talent, not ability, nor education. Just plain old persistence! Life will always present you with opportunities to succeed, as well as reasons to quit. Rise above the temptation to quit and find an incentive not to give in. Today, make an I’ll never quit! commitment to yourself. Because you can do anything if you try.

Today’s Affirmation: I have made a commitment to myself to never quit.

Another dead wolf


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This wolf is not any of the wolves written about in this story - it was captive at the Wolf and Discovery Center in West Yellowstone.

This wolf is not any of the wolves written about in this story – it was captive at the Wolf and Grizzly Discovery Center in West Yellowstone.

The news came via a Facebook post – the alpha female of the Lamar Canyon pack, “06,” was shot and killed in the same area as 754, the brother of the pack’s alpha male, 755, was a few weeks back.

I am a lone wolf out here prowling the roads and trails of Yellowstone National Park for the Winter, determined to see the park and its inhabitants with my own eyes and not be influenced by the views of others. I have no desire to be a part of any group because it is my belief that by so doing it would diminish my truth and credibility. And because any group, it seems, has extremists on both sides that have a way of fighting for one thing while creating damage to others. I learned these lessons the hard way.

After last winter in boring, sunny Southern California, I contemplated my choices for this one until a friend mentioned discount rates on housing near Yellowstone. The seed was planted and the thought was never far from my mind. And then I watched a PBS special and the winter season portion captured life and death during the park’s toughest season, with the wolf playing the leading role. I needed to see this for myself.

But another wolf has been killed by a hunter. Eleven wolves in all, so far, and nine of them have been collared. From the death of the very first wolf I have watched my opportunity to learn about these animals disappear. Wolf trapping season is about to begin and Montana will not budge by creating a buffer zone between the park boundaries and where hunters can hunt. And the area above Gardiner is a free-for-all as there are no quotas. The hunters can sit up on the hill above the park and bait the wolves across the Yellowstone River. I would be hard pressed to call this hunting.

The thing is, there is no reason to kill these wolves. They are not eaten and those that have collars have a damaged pelt. Also, they rarely stray from the park and have not been linked to the killing of livestock. Quite to the contrary, the Yellowstone wolves have been a benefit to the local economies, research of the wolves and providing opportunities for visitors to see them in the wild.

Wolves are reported to add 35 million dollars to the economies of the Yellowstone gateway communities, such as Gardiner and Cooke cities Montana, Cody, Wyoming and West Yellowstone. Far more than what hunters bring into those areas.

And then there is the fiscal responsibility of this whole idea of not protecting the Yellowstone wolves because the federal government has spent millions in the reintroduction and study of these wolves, only to have them killed for no reason. Right now, in the park, are teams of young people who are volunteering their time, seven days a week from sunup to sundown, to study the wolves. They spend hours out in the cold trying to spot the animals, often hiking long distances. When all of the predators – wolves, grizzlies – are finished with a carcass these volunteers hike out to collect the remains and perform a necropsy on the animal. Time and time again the data shows that the wolves are taking down old, sick and disabled prey.

Hunting is dangerous to the wolves as many of them are killed by a kick in the head or other injury and so they seldom hunt for more than what they need. And their carcass feeds many other animals along the food chain – the grizzly bears, coyotes, ravens, etc. Nothing goes to waste.

And so, at this point it sounds as though my mind is made up about the wolves, despite the fact that I have rarely been able to observe them. Because they are being killed. My mind is fairly convinced about what is right for the Yellowstone wolf packs. The elk no longer do much standing around like cows in a pasture, they branch out into other areas, which is making for a more balanced eco-system in the park that has the aspen trees coming back and the moose population growing. There are still plenty of elk here, where there have been healthy wolf populations and so that makes me wonder what the truth is outside of the park. But I do not know what that truth is. I am willing to observe and learn.

I only saw “06” one time. She was a long ways off, napping on a ridge above Lamar Valley. Others who were allowing me to look through their scopes to see the wolves, spoke of them with affection and excitement. That is it, I never saw her face.

So, why was it that when I passed through Lamar Valley this morning and drove on out to Silvergate, that I began sobbing uncontrollably? Simple, because she had brought so much pleasure to so many, only to be targeted and shot down by someone whose only motive would be hatred. The hunter was not trying to protect anyone’s property or life, as none of that was in jeopardy, nor ever had been from this wolf. She was a valued, collared, Yellowstone National Park wolf and one man took her away from thousands of people.

Sure wish that I had gotten the opportunity to take a photo of “06.”

Living the moments – before it is too late


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My shadow at Swiftcurrent Lodge – Glacier National Park

Three news alerts covered the screen of my iPad this morning, all saying the same thing – people dead, wounded, movie theatre, Batman, The Dark Knight Rises….Indeed a dark night rose and I’m sure that in his mind, the shooter thought of himself as the dark knight.  Delusions, anger, paranoia, drugs, power, recognition…whatever his case might have been, the man shot innocent people – men, women and children – in a movie theatre.  Their lives ended without even a whisper.

And I am reminded of the factors that played into my decision to give up that other life for this solitary one on the road.  Suddenly I am grateful to be here, alone in a small travel trailer, watching the deer and listening to the rain and thunder.  For I can…

Nearly a year ago I was pacing around my living room, stopping constantly to look outside for something to hold me there but only seeing the stopping points at the trees, fence, road and finances.  Due to circumstances I was held there, like a caged lioness, yearning for a way to fulfill my dreams of travel, photography and writing.  Honestly, I did not know if traveling was the right thing to do because it meant giving up school, my dog, security of home and familiar surroundings.

Most importantly I would be removing myself from the grandchildren I was just finally getting to know.  The timing sucked.  All of those years of agony, wanting and longing, to know my grandchildren and finally I had met them.  Truthfully, besides not being able to figure out the finances on getting a travel trailer, there was only one thing, one phone call, one conversation that could have held me there and that was a healing in the relationship with the grandchildren’s father, my son.  But that didn’t happen and I knew better than to pin my future on the hope that things would change.  Things have gotten better but still have a long ways to go.

“To thine own self be true…”

In the end there were some real in-the-moment truths that I have been reluctant to share and that pushed me to follow this dream – which has turned out to be much less of a dream and instead a rich, raw experience of surviving alone on the road while eking out the golden moments.  A journey to discover the beauty and magic of the national parks is more about a discovery of myself – my hurts, my reactions, my realities, what I am comfortable with, my joys and disappointments and how in the heck do I get over those horrifying experiences that crushed my essence and turned me into this person who reacts in fear and runs from the pain.

Truthfully, if I had known that I was going out into the world to experience more pain and growth opportunities, I would have stayed home where there was internet and Netflix.  But, I am old enough now to know that pain is necessary and that when it goes away my world will be a better place – for myself and for those around me.

That living room that I paced around was small, as was the yard that I kept trying to escape into.  My couch, coffee table and large desk all squeezed before the massive picture window to the outside that was blocked by trees, fence and road.  And so it was a tight circle that I walked, a few feet one way, a few back.  Never going anywhere.  I was afraid to hop into the car for fear that I would just keep going and going and never getting anywhere.

The reasonable me thought that I should wait until everything was perfect, meaning money, trailer, vehicle and having the right equipment.  But another voice took over and reminded me that I had been waiting my entire life for the perfect moment and it had not come.  I remembered the day, nearly 20 years before, that I sold the car and bought a Jeep Cherokee, dog, tent, sleeping bag and camping gear and took off camping by myself in the Blue Ridge Mountains because that man to do those things with might not ever come along.  He hasn’t, not in 20 years.

Make the moments count…”To thine own self be true.”

And so I thought about how my body, my back, could fail me at anytime and I would no longer be able to hike and carry a camera.  I wondered if my eyes would stand the test of more time.  What if I lost my sight and couldn’t see the places I wanted to photograph?  I thought about sitting in the recliner couch, watching those Netflix movies and regretting that I had never taken the chance to live my dream.

As a younger woman I always felt like there would be time later but the second chances to do the things that I put off never came.  Lost opportunities.  I could learn from my mistakes.  And still, I thought about the grandchildren and missing the opportunity to see them grow up, as was the regrettable situation with their father.  And then I wondered what kind of grandmother I would be if always looking out towards the mountains and wishing to be there, never giving my full attention to the kids.  Perhaps I could travel for a few years, get some great material for a book or two, take a few nice photographs, learn more about the world and then return with my rich experiences to settle down and to say, “I did it!”

Photography, writing, travel and experiencing life was to be my job, not just a dream.

Sample images from some of the places I have visited:

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Innocent victims are dead in Colorado and I am reminded why it is important to live each moment as if it might be the last.  I am grateful to be sitting here, inside of my small trailer that is parked in the dense forest of the North Cascades, listening to rain and thunder, smelling the dampness of the air and feeling the twinges of pain in my lower back.  I can feel the pangs of loneliness and revel in the solitude…I can let failures pull me back further or allow them to teach me how to do better and to press forward until my time is up.

I would venture to guess that of those who were killed in last night’s shooting, most would say, “but I didn’t do _____ yet.”  We can honor their lives by living our own to the fullest – maybe happier people would make for a happier world.

Thanks for the boost


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Lunch Tree Hill in Teton National Park

Yesterday afternoon I arrived at North Cascades National Park to begin the new chapter of this travel journey and work as a photography volunteer for the park.

Along the road, in the two weeks since leaving Yosemite, I have slept next to the highways for three nights, camped in the Tetons for seven and in my son’s backyard for five.  For seven awesome days I experienced the Tetons once again.

Bison near Mormon Row running beneath the Tetons in early morning.

And, for the first time ever I spent five miraculous days with my grandchildren, running through the sprinkler, swimming at the beach, Costco with all three, changing diapers and tucking them in at night.  My clothes are cleaner than they have ever been and I was able to get my car into another mechanic to have my brakes checked for the third time, and finally fixed.  City stuff.


Elizabeth and DJ

Without your help and support I would not have made it out of the Tetons to the Cascades.  I would not have been able to get new rotors and brake pads on the front of the car, which were only needed because somehow, between the time I pulled into the Groveland mechanic and left, my right front rotor was ground down too far.  And they weren’t supposed to do anything to the front!  Hence the feeling of no brakes from Yosemite to North Idaho!  They are much better now, which enabled me to easily navigate across the North Cascades from the East – but I will not be going back that way.

Leaving the Tetons once again

The mechanic in Jackson Hole had my car torn apart and the trailer brake ready to be installed when he discovered that there is no connection on my car and that a workaround would be 500 to 600 dollars.  He told me to drive very slow.  I did.

Thank you!

***I am tired from all of the travel and from a strange bout of flu that starts to go away and then comes back whenever I eat anything.  Meanwhile, in my terribly lucid state of mind, I am questioning my abilities as a photographer and wondering if it is time to quit – or get my eyes checked.  The challenge of the Tetons is one of the reasons I need to return so often as I imagine the photos but fall short every time.  Mostly I need better equipment but also more patience and/or energy.

Here are just a few shots from the Tetons – summer of 2012

610 wandering through the sage.

610 taking a stroll at the Oxbow.

Sixten poses for the driver

Sixten poses for the passenger

One of Sixten’s cubs holds traffic.

One of Sixten’s cubs runs to catch up.

Elk in Willow Flats in the morning light

Bull moose

The Oxbow

Wild Flowers near Ocean Lake

Goodnight Tetons! See you in the Fall.