W is for Wildlife – #atozchallenge

There are not many better things on a back road trip than running into unexpected wildlife. There is an abundance of birds and animals to be discovered on the road.  For me, my camera is always at the ready for the chance meeting of some interesting animal or bird.

Sandhill Cranes fly over high plains near Dell, MT

One such incident happened on a gravel road near Dell, Montana.  I was on the lookout for bison as I drive along Ted Turner’s massive bison ranch.  While stopped to look I heard a strange bird call that I had never heard and shortly thereafter a pair of large birds came zipping by.  I got some shots, but wasn’t sure what I had until I got to the hotel later that night and discovered they were a pair of Sandhill Cranes, my first ever sighting of these glorious birds.

Sandhill Cranes near Cecilia, KY
A pair of Sandhill Cranes at sunset near Cecilia, KY

Just a few years later in my own state of Kentucky I was able to track down a migration of 1000s of these magnificent birds.  I actually came close to walking among their huge flock and they were flying all around me.  Words can’t explain the awe I had.

These birds migrate north back to their homes in Michigan and Wisconsin and fly through Kentucky in late January.  They stop in the bounteous cornfields to eat the leftovers that remained after harvest.

1000s of sandhill cranes converse on a field near Cecilia, KY
Sandhill Cranes take flight
Sandhill Cranes fly over Cecilia, KY

Chance encounters are always a thrill.  On a morning drive in Grand Teton National Park on a snowy morning in March 2013, I caught a fox leaping in the snow out of the corner of my eye.  The lovely animal stopped and stared at me as I sought to nab a shot.

Fox on Snow in Grand Teton National Park
Migrating Snow Geese by the hundreds in Arkansas in February 2017

On another trip earlier this year, we were driving on a backroad in Arkansas when we saw a “field of white” ahead of us.  Turned out to be a massive flock of migrating snow geese.

There could have been 1000s of them here, much the same as the Sandhill Cranes I noted above.  But it was such an unplanned surprise.

Once again, camera was always at the ready, so I was able to get a few shots while still sitting in the van (though we had to go about a mile down the road to turn around and accommodate the photo shoot.

Snow Geese everywhere
A flock of Snow Geese darkens the sky
1000s of snow geese in a small field in central Arkansas

Just like the snow geese, I happened upon a large flock of white pelicans at Andes Lake in South Dakota.  I could see them from a distance and thought they were ducks.

Pelicans in Lake Andes, SD
Pelicans taking flight at Andes Lake
Antelope in open range along the side of Wyoming 120

Of course, its not always about birds.  There are plenty of opportunities in the high plains to come across America’s fastest animal, the pronghorn antelope.

On trips through Montana and Wyoming I always saw these lovely sleek animals.  Sometimes I got them right on the side of the road.

I did have one lucky trip in 2013 when I was driving through Colorado and saw a mother and her two calves go jaunting through the tall grass.  I was able to get a nice shot with my telephoto lens.

Antelope Doe and Calves as seen from CO Hwy 13 north of Craig, CO
Antelope just stared back at me…didn’t run
A small family of pronghorn Antelope scamper across a field near Pulis Lane in Wilsall, Montana.
Antelope on the Run in Wyoming
A big bison poses for me in Yellowstone

The National Parks are always a great place to get some nice wildlife shots.  I have been to Yellowstone three times in the past 5 years and have seen a nice variety of wildlife, but mainly its the bison that roam free that are a thrill.  I was amazed at how huge some of these guys get.  One that walked by my car was at least 7 feet tall.

Bison and calves relax by a lake in Yellowstone
Bison roam freely along the Grand Loop road
Bison relax along Lava Creek in Yellowstone while pronghorned antelope look on from the background
Buffalo in southern Montana on Ted Turner’s sprawling ranch near Dell, MT
Another Bison in Yellowstone Park
A solitary elk bull relaxes in the meadow at Yellowstone

Elk are another great large mammal to look for.  I have seen them in Yellowstone and Grand Teton, as well as some of the mountain drives I made.

These are lovely animals.  And, like the bison, are huge.

 

Elk Bull in Sugar City, Idaho
An Elk Bull near Elkton, Oregon
One antlered elk bull on a breeding farm near Archer, ID
An elk was seen roaming the area around Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone
Deer at sunrise in Shenandoah National Park

The great culprit of car accidents and frequent recipient of roadkill awards are deer.  These can be seen along highways everywhere both day and night.

I recently made a trip to Shenandoah National Park and got some very nice shots of deer. I have many more from other places, but these are my best.

Deer jumping away in Shenandoah National Park
Deer looking on
Deer on the road from Paradise in Mt. Rainier National Park
Deer grazing in the snow in Lewistown, Montana
Bald Eagle shot taken in mid April 2017 near Cave Run Lake, KY

Sometimes I make trips to find the wildlife myself.  Such was the case recently on a visit to the fish hatchery near Cave Run Lake in Eastern Kentucky.  I was in search of some of the bald eagles that hang around there.  Found one!

There have been more sightings recently of these lovely and regal birds.  I have seen one or two almost every week at Jacobson Park locally and also have been able to see a nest with three adults and two offspring near Taylorsville Lake west of Lexington.

Love these eagles.

Eagle at Jacobson Lake in Lexington
Eagle at Taylorsville Lake, KY
Great Blue Heron

My most favorite wildlife subject is the Great Blue Heron.  These huge birds hang around lakes and rivers in Kentucky and many other places.  I literally have 1000s of photos of them.  Here are a few recent ones from Lexington.

I have photos of these birds in Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee, Ohio and other places as well.

Blue herons in Taylorsville Lake
Blue Heron in Flight over Jacobson Lake in Kentucky
Breakfast time

I could post dozens and dozens of other photos, but I will only add a few other wildlife shots to this post from my travels.

Cormorants in flight over Kentucky
Turkey vulture gathering on a road in central Kentucky
Prairie Dog – Cactus Flats, SD
Prairie Dog — standing watch in Cactus Flats
A prairie dog scampers near the Camp Disappointment Monument
Mama Doggie – Cactus Flats, SD
Pelicans in formation over the Gulf of Mexico in Galveston, TX
A pelican starts its dive for a meal into the gulf
Pelicans fly in formation over the beach in Galveston
Christmas morning sunrise in Ocean City , MD and greeted by a dolphin in the foreground.
A closeup shot of a seagull taken on Bremerton Ferry while crossing the Puget Sound in Washington
Seagull in flight with the Gulf of Mexico behind it
A couple of seagulls “converse” as they enjoy the view over Lake Superior in Wisconsin
A pair of seagulls glide by in Galveston
Caught some nice seagull shots in Egg Harbor, WI
An osprey in flight
Mountain Goat in the Badlands of South Dakota
A Great Egret relaxes in the swamp near Uncertain, Texas
A red squirrel with a mouthful in Nebraska City, NE
Cattle Egret seen in Angleton, Texas
I found a gator in Brazos Bend State Park in Texas
Another Gator in Brazos Bend State Park

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G is for Grandeur – #atozchallenge

The United States is a vast and diverse country. From sea to shining sea there are sweeping vistas and spectacular scenes of nature.

The grandeur of this country is not seen on the interstate highways, but on the back roads and the gravel roads that have woven the fiber of this country.

Grandeur as seen on a back road in North Dakota – The Enchanted Highway
Mt. Moran in the Grand Tetons as seen from Colter Bay Lodge

I am always awestruck by the superb landscapes that one can witness on the back roads. Some of these landscapes, such as the Grand Canyon and the Rocky Mountains, are known by everybody. But there are so many more spectacles to feast your eyes upon.

When speaking of grandeur, perhaps one of my most favorite locations is Monument Valley in the northwest corner of Arizona and the southwest corner of Utah. Located within the Navajo Indian reservation, this amazing natural wonder has been the backdrop for many movies and television commercials. And one can only stand in a location or another and must turn their head from left to right to catch the full glory of this spectacular wonder of nature.

Visiting Monument Valley with my family in 1993
Coal Mine Canyon in Arizona
Sumoflam at Coal Mine Canyon in Arizona in 1990
Coal Mine Canyon in Arizona, ca. 1983

Not too far from there and also on the Navajo Reservation is a much lesser known, but in another way very spectacular sight. Called Coal Mine Canyon, it is a hidden gem off of a two lane highway east of Tuba City, AZ.

Coal Mine Canyon is filled with a variety of HooDoos…ghost like rock formations that can form eerie shadows and spooky formations at night.  The view goes on for miles into Blue Canyon.  In any other state, this might be a National Park or Monument.  It is just one more canyon in Arizona.

Sitting high up on Mt. Evans in Colorado in 1990 looking down at a crystal lake,

Head north into Colorado and take a ride up to Mount Evans north of Denver. Nearly 13,000 feet up, it offers up an amazing view of the mountains and lakes below.

The Beartooth Range in northern Wyoming.
At Beartooth Level — looking at the mountains from the top of the world

Not to be outdone in the words of grandeur, is the scenic highway that traverses the Bear Tooth Range along the Montana and Wyoming border. I have only been there once and it was in the very early spring on the first day the road was open. There were still piles of snow on both sides of the road. But the expanse of the mountains left me in awe.

 

An antelope and her calves run through the grasslands near Craig, CO
SD 63, a gravel road, runs through northern South Dakota’s grasslands and badlands

But grandeur is not just mountains or spectacular geologic formations. I can drive through the plains of North Dakota or South Dakota and experience miles and miles of grasslands.

I have driven through these great plains in North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming and Nebraska. To some, the drive through these vast grasslands might be considered boring. To me, the vast expanse of grasslands is stunning.

The Oyate Trail highway in southern South Dakota
Wide Open Spaces near Scottsbluff, Nebraska
Mountains and grasslands near Glacier National Park and Bynum, Montana
Expansive views across Wyoming
Sandhill Cranes fly over high plains near Dell, MT
Expansive corn fields in central Missouri
Atlantic Sunrise in Maine

Then there is the grandeur of the oceans. I have been blessed to have been able to see the Pacific Ocean from the northern parts of Washington and Oregon all the way to the coast in Southern California. I have also seen the Atlantic Ocean from points in Maine all the way south to Florida. The amazing sunrises and sunsets over the water provide unspeakable grandeur and a glorious feeling.

Like the oceans, the Gulf of Mexico offers similar sights. Nothing like witnessing the spectacle flocks of pelicans flying in sync overhead.

Christmas sunrise near Ocean City, Maryland with a dolphin swimming by
Waves crash on the Pacific Ocean in the northwestern-most point in the continental US near Neah Bay, WA
Brown pelicans fly in synchronized formation over the Gulf of Mexico near Galveston, TX
A hoodoo at Hell’s Half Acre in Wyoming

The most gratifying part of experiencing grandeur for me is that every back road and numbered highway offers a peek at splendid views. One needs only crest to the top of a hill and laid out before your eyes are wonderful scenes like that of Hells Canyon in Oregon, or in Hell’s Half Acre in the middle of Wyoming. Drive along a two Lane highway in the eastern United States in the fall and you get to the top of the hill and see nothing but spectacular fall colors as far as the eye can see.

 

Hell’s Half Acre in Wyoming
Hells Canyon in northeast Oregon is actually wider and deeper than the Grand Canyon
View of Cincinnati, OH

But the grandeur is not just in nature. From a different perspective, the views of the skyline of a big city offers its own brand you were. Whether enjoying the skyline of Manhattan from across the river in Hoboken, NJ to witnessing the scene of riverine cities such as Pittsburgh or Cincinnati from the top of a hill, one gets a sense of how small they really are.

Three of my grandchildren look out at the lights of New York City from Sinatra Park in Hoboken, NJ
A panoramic shot of Pittsburgh from Mt. Washington
Seattle as seen from a boat in the Puget Sound
Massive bald cypress forests in Caddo Lake in NE Texas

I am grateful to live in these United States and my heart is filled with joy that I have been able to travel many a back road and experience the grandeur of this country.

With each new road comes a new experience. I still have yet to personally experience the special nature of Yosemite National Park or the giant sequoia trees of Northern California. But I have seen the vast expanses filled with volcanoes in Hawaii or the old volcano cones in New Mexico and Arizona.

Grand Tetons as seen from Driggs, Idaho
Humongous field of sunflowers in Central Kentucky. This too offers a feeling of grandeur

I have driven the long highway over Lake Ponchatrain in Louisiana and over the amazing Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel. These man-made spectacles still offer a sense of grandeur.

The river into Juneau, Alaska as seen from a mountain top near Juneau
Fall colors as seen from a highway near Damascus, VA in 2016
Fall colors in horse farm country on a small road near Lexington, KY
Grand scene of the Badlands National Park
Visiting White Sands, NM in 2013
Bison relax in a wide field with antelope grazing in the background. Taken form the road in Yellowstone National Park
Sawtooth Mountains as seen from Stanley, ID
Two Medicine River canyon in Montana
Rock City in Central Montana
Fall colors from the Virginia Creeper Trail in Virginia
The grandeur of nature with sunbeams shining over a lake in Kentucky

So, get out on the road and experience this country for yourself.

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Dream Highway: US Highway 212 and the Beartooth Highway

IMG_6519Like so many other people, I have a bucket list of places I want to visit in my lifetime. On my trip in May 2014 I was able to scratch off TWO of them!  The first was a trip across US Route 2 from Michigan to Montana, with a stop in Bemidji, MN to see the giant Paul Bunyan and Ox statues (so it was kind of a three for the price of two really).  You can read about that portion of the trip HERE.

Beartooth Highway
Sumoflam on the Beartooth Highway (All-American Road)
US 212 East on Beartooth Highway
US 212 East on Beartooth Highway

The second, and perhaps more thrilling and fulfilling to me, was being able to travel US Highway 212 across Yellowstone and then over the Beartooth Highway, one of America’s greatest Scenic Byways.  This 68 mile trip makes its way through Yellowstone and then from the Northeast Entrance across northwest Wyoming and winds its way into southwest Montana ending at Red Lodge. I have dreamed of taking this highway for almost a long time.

US212Map
US 212 Map from NE corner of Yellowstone to Red Lodge, MT

I actually started the day in way up north  in Shelby, Montana and drove down US Highway 89 and the King’s Hill Scenic Byway into Yellowstone (see post here). I continued with a drive to Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park. The hot springs are most certainly one  of the spectacular sites in Yellowstone.

Looking north to Roosevelt Arch and Montana from Yellowstone entrance
Looking north to Roosevelt Arch and Montana from Yellowstone entrance
At the north entrance to Yellowstone National Park, still on US 89 in Montana
At the north entrance to Yellowstone National Park, still on US 89 in Montana
Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park
Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park
Road into Mammoth Hot Springs
Road into Mammoth Hot Springs
A shot of Mammoth Hot Springs
A shot of Mammoth Hot Springs
Another view of the Mammoth Hot Springs
Another view of the Mammoth Hot Springs
Liberty Cap (the big cone) and the hot springs in the background
Liberty Cap (the big cone) and the hot springs in the background

While entering the Hot Springs area, I came across a beautiful elk.

An elk was seen roaming the area around Mammoth Hot Springs
An elk was seen roaming the area around Mammoth Hot Springs

Just south of Mammoth Hot Springs I finally left US Highway 89 and got on to the Grand Loop Road, which goes across the northern section of Yellowstone to the beginning of US Highway 212. at the Northeast section of the park. The Grand Loop is a very scenic drive and features mountain vistas, lakes and plenty of wildlife viewing opportunities.

Grand Loop Road as seen from Mammoth Hot Springs
Grand Loop Road as seen from Mammoth Hot Springs
The Blacktail Lakes in Yellowstone
The Blacktail Lakes in Yellowstone

In May 2013 I visited Yellowstone and saw a few bison, but on this northern part of the loop, there were hundreds of them.

Bison roam freely along the Grand Loop road
Bison roam freely along the Grand Loop road
A big bison poses for me
A big bison poses for me
Bison and calves relax by a lake
Bison and calves relax by a lake

A good part of the Grand Loop Road runs alongside Lava Creek, which was full to overflowing due to snow runoff.  There were plenty of scenic views with mountains, meadows, lakes and the creek.

Lava Creek with snow capped mountains in the background
Lava Creek with snow capped mountains in the background
Eastern potion of Grand Loop Road
Eastern potion of Grand Loop Road
Bison relax along Lava Creek while pronghorned antelope look on from the background
Bison relax along Lava Creek while pronghorned antelope look on from the background
Another splendid mountain scene from Grand Loop Road in Yellowstone
Another splendid mountain scene from Grand Loop Road in Yellowstone
Mountains near the Northeast Entrance of Yellowstone
Mountains near the Northeast Entrance of Yellowstone

Once I arrived at the Northeast Entrance of Yellowstone National Park, I began my journey on US Highway 212.  I felt very fortunate that the Beartooth Highway was open for travel.  They had opened it only five days prior to my visit so my timing was perfect!

Northeast Entrance to Yellowstone
Northeast Entrance to Yellowstone
A welcome sign for me. I had a smile at this point
A welcome sign for me. I had a smile at this point
Goodbye Yellowstone
Goodbye Yellowstone
Hello Beartooth Highway
Hello Beartooth Highway

The first stop along the way, after leaving Wyoming, was Silver Gate, Montana. Silver Gate is located just one mile from the Northeast entrance of Yellowstone National Park and is only three miles from Cooke City. The small town is located on land homesteaded by Horace S. Double, for which he was granted a patent on May 2, 1897.

Welcome to Silver Gate, Montana
Welcome to Silver Gate, Montana

And just past there was Cooke City, Montana. The town of about 100 people was at one time a mining camp for gold and had The population consisted of 227 voters who that supported two smelters, two sawmills, three general stores, two hotels, two livery stables and the local meat market.

Cooke City, Montana
Cooke City, Montana
Cooke City, Coolest Small Town in America
Cooke City, Coolest Small Town in America

And Cooke City is also the real gateway to the Beartooth Highway.  Just three minutes form downtown I was already high up in snow country and heading higher in altitude.

The Beartooth highway just east of Cooke City, Montana
The Beartooth highway just east of Cooke City, Montana

The road then veers southward again and back into Wyoming for the fun stuff!

Welcome "back" to Wyoming
Welcome “back” to Wyoming
Heading into the mountains.  Snow depth on the side of the road was about two feet at this point
Heading into the mountains. Snow depth on the side of the road was about two feet at this point
View of the Beartooths from the highway was awesome
First view of the Beartooths from the highway was awesome

As the highway climbed the grand views were amazing

Amazing view of the Beartooths
Amazing view of the Beartooths

The road continued to climb and the snow grew ever deeper. The snow on the side of the road, as seen below, was the actual depth…it was not scooped there….

First view of really deep snow
First view of really deep snow
Snow walls
Snow walls

The road from Cooke City dropped for a while so I was in some prairie with mountains.  I took this panorama photo with my iPhone.

Panorama of the Beartooths from east of Cooke City
Panorama of the Beartooths from east of Cooke City

After about 25 miles of driving and continuing the climb, I got to the Top of the World Store which sits at 9,400 feet altitude. I had to stop for some photos and a snack and a restroom break before the great ascent to Beartooth Pass.

Welcome to Top of the World Store
Welcome to Top of the World Store
Top of the World Store - technically has a Cody, Wyoming address, but it is a long way from Cody
Top of the World Store – technically has a Cody, Wyoming address, but it is a long way from Cody
Sumoflam at Top of the World
Sumoflam at Top of the World Store
Found the sign "Follow Your Bliss" in the store and I was already with my bliss!
Found the sign “Follow Your Bliss” in the store and I was already with my bliss!
I parked next to this stop sign which was covered by the snow...it was this deep all around
I parked next to this stop sign which was covered by the snow…it was this deep all around

From Top of the World the winter wonderland became more amazing as walls of snow grew higher. I was loving it!

Walls of snow continue along the Beartooth Highway
Walls of snow continue along the Beartooth Highway

From this point the road was switchbacks all the way up to the pass.  I actually took a video of some of the drive through this winding wall of snow.

As I got to the top of the pass, at nearly 11,000 feet, I truly felt like I was on top of the world.  Following are more photos of the spectacular scenes from the highway.

At Beartooth Pass
At Beartooth Pass
Mountains as seen from the top
Mountains as seen from the top
The Bear's Tooth (Middle left)
The Bear’s Tooth (Middle left)
Glorious Mountain Vista from 11,000 feet
Glorious Mountain Vista from 11,000 feet
Another panorama from Beartooth Pass
Another panorama from Beartooth Pass

And how about a Panorama 360 view?

[panoembed pano=”LLapRC” width=”500″ height=”250″]

The view from the Driver's Seat
The view from the Driver’s Seat
At Beartooth Level
At Beartooth Level

From the pass, the road still wound its way slowly down hill as I went north back into Montana.  The views and scenery just kept coming.

Welcome back to Montana
Welcome back to Montana
Mountains and valleys in southern Montana
Mountains and valleys in southern Montana

I finally made my way through the switchbacks and then down the hills for the 30 mile drive to Red Lodge, Montana, which is the northern gateway to the Beartooths.

US 212 drops considerably as it continues north of the Beartooths
US 212 drops considerably as it continues north of the Beartooths
Welcome to Red Lodge, Montana
Welcome to Red Lodge, Montana

Basically, from the Northeast entrance of Yellowstone to Red Lodge, Montana, via US 212, took me about two hours and 15 minutes, including stops along the way.  One of the most amazing and beautiful 2 hours of my life (not counting marriage and children being born of course!!).

Downtown Red Lodge, Montana
Downtown Red Lodge, Montana

Red Lodge, Montana is a nice little town booming with personality.  There are old neon signs, unique eateries, a Peter Toth “Whispering Giant” (see my writeup from Idaho Falls’ “Whispering Giant”), and I even came across a unique art shop that makes animals out of juniper.

The Red Lodge Cafe sports an old classic neon sign.
The Red Lodge Cafe sports an old classic neon sign.
Took this photo for all of my cycle friends (you know who you are) - Bone Daddy's Custom Cycle in Red Lodge
Took this photo for all of my cycle friends (you know who you are) – Bone Daddy’s Custom Cycle in Red Lodge

Hungarian-born and American immigrant sculptor Peter Toth has made a name for himself fomr his awe-inspiring giant wood-carved “Whispering Giants.”  Over the years Toth has created at least one of these huge statues (all different) for each state in the United States.  All of them collectively (at least 74 are documented) are known as the “Whispering Giants”.  This was the third one I have seen on my trips in the past three years.  Many of the Whispering Giants can been here.

Peter Toth's "Whispering Giant" of Red Lodge, Montana
Peter Toth’s “Whispering Giant” of Red Lodge, Montana
Detail of the "Whispering Giant" of Red Lodge.
Detail of the “Whispering Giant” of Red Lodge.

Then there are those juniper animals. I love the creativity of artists around this country.  Rocky Fork Juniper is owned by Lee Kern and Pete Imbs and they have other artists as well. Here are a couple of their unique works (they were closed when I got there).

Rocky Fork Juniper, Red Lodge, Montana
Rocky Fork Juniper, Red Lodge, Montana
Rocky Fork Moose
Rocky Fork Moose
Rocky Fork Grizzly
Rocky Fork Grizzly
Whimsical Lamp made of juniper at Rock Fork
Whimsical Lamp made of juniper at Rocky Fork

As the day wound down I made my way east from Red Lodge on Montana 308 to Belfry, then south on Montana 72 towards Wyoming, which turns into Wyoming 120, to end up overnight in Cody, after a wonderful day of driving through some of the most beautiful country in America.

Belfry, Montana with sign to Cody, Wyoming in background
Belfry, Montana with sign to Cody, Wyoming in background
Welcome to Wyoming (again!)
Welcome to Wyoming (again!)
Highway to Cody, Wyoming
Highway to Cody, Wyoming

The next post will cover my return trip leg from Cody through Douglas, WY (the Jackalope capital of the World) and then on to Alliance, NE, the home of the famed Carhenge.

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