Travel journal USA, Canada & Alaska 2005

by Claudia and PJ Potgieser

 

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We are going to South America!!!!

We have found a shipping agent in Baltimore, Maryland, who can ship our camper to Chile. We have only heard this a couple of weeks ago and July 19th we have delivered our truck and camper in the port and flew home for 4 weeks.
August 23rd the vessel is supposed to arrive in Chile and than our new adventure in a totally different continent will start. But fist our adventures in Yellowstone National Park. I was in a writing mood, so it is a long one again. 

Journal Yellowstone (May 19 – June 23, 2005) 

We arrive in Yellowstone National Park on May 19th. We go straight to the Fishing Bridge area were we have seen at least 12 different grizzly bears last year. We see deer, elk, bison and coyote, but no bears. And some familiar faces from last year. Like Lyn, a 41 year old very talented painter, who gets her inspiration from Yellowstone. Together looking for bears is always more fun than alone, but also with the help of Lyn, we can’t find bears. Lake Yellowstone is thawing slowly and the drifting ice makes good picture taking.
The next day Bob and SueAnn, our good ol’ friends from Colorado show up. The coming week we are almost inseparable. We give up on the bears in this area and start looking for other animals in the other parts of the park.
From other photographers we hear about a couple of animals dens.
Hours we spent in front of a den of two coyotes. The 5 puppies only show themselves when daddy comes home from the hunt and regurgitate its meal. After that he takes them out walking and when he lies down, the puppies are allowed to play on his back. After an hour mum comes home and nurses her babies. With a full tummy the puppies disappear into the den, mum goes back hunting and dad plays nanny.
Another den is from a badger. She moves comical but is surprisingly fast. The first day we only see her leaving her den rapidly. The next day we have more luck. We see her bringing back a ground squirrel for her puppies. She probably leaves it in a pantry, because only minutes later she brings her four pups out. They don’t pose for us, so it is hard to take a pictures with them all facing us! 

As always we spent the nights outside the park. Mostly in the morning we are so early that there is no ranger at the gate. After a morning of sleeping in, we pass the gate at 7 without stopping and without seeing that there is a ranger at this time. Only minutes later we hear on the scanner:
“A red truck with camper and Utah license plates just past the East gate without paying the entrance fee. All rangers watch for it”
We decide to turn around and show the ranger our Eagle pass. We don’t want to drive around the park as fugitives... 

Our next project are river otters. According to others the otters are hanging around Trout Lake, a lake that can be reached by climbing a steep trail of only a mile. But with the warm winter clothes we are wearing and the heavy camera gear, this is a strenuous hike. Three mornings we are waiting in vain for the cute animals to show up. Surrounded by snow capped mountains, green hills, enormous fir trees, this beautiful lake and good company (Bob and SueAnn) it is a nice place to hang out. But no otters.
That only time that we are not with the four of us, Bob and SueAnn have more luck. We were e-mailing outside the park. We just give up on the river otters. 

We just focus on two beavers, who are nibbling at the base of a tree, right next to the road. When they cross the road, we can see their funny tail too. 

And than the bears. The black bears in the Tower area are less hard to find than the grizzlies. We see a black bear with two cinnamon second year cubs. We recognize them from last year and we are glad that the whole family has survived winter.
Also the big cinnamon boar is back. Try to convince the tourists that this is really a black bear, I gave up. He is getting prettier every year.
We are happy to see Rosie again. Because of her red ear tags she is called “Rosie with the red rubies”. Unfortunately she has lost one cub and the other is not so playful without its sibling. The two mothers often nurse their cubs in public. Mostly in the shade of a tree, so not so good for picture taking. I am surprised that they are still nursing their cubs, they will kick them out any day now. 

The weather is changing constantly. At night it freezes a couple degrees and during daytime hail and rain storms interchanges sunny temperatures. We keep getting in and out of our summer and winter clothes. 

May is the period of the new born animals. Elk, bison, moose and deer calves are being born and look so cute. But the adults are loosing their winter coats and don’t look nice at all. Especially the bison is loosing whole patches of fur on trees and poles.
We watch a baby elk being sucked on his ears by its mum. And an baby elk ten minutes after its being born. We even see the afterbirth being dropped and eaten by the mother elk. The bull elk antlers grow 2 inches a day and we have the feeling that we literally see them grow from 3 pointers to 5 pointers. At the end of August their antlers will have 7 pointers.  

With Bob and SueAnn we drive the 180 km (110 miles) back to Fishing Bridge to look for grizzly bears again, but we just can’t find them. On the scanner we hear that at Gibbon Falls there is a grizzly bear on a carcass, only ten yards from the road. But that is 70 km (43 miles) from here! We are in doubt if it is worth the drive. With the speed limit it will take us at least an hour to get there. After two hours the bear is still there and we decide to go for it. Arriving at the spot we see about ten parked cars, nobody is allowed to walk around and the ranger is trying to let everybody drive on. Fortunately a car leaves and we can just squeeze in. From our view point we can just see the head of the bear between the trees. No wonder nobody stops; if you are not parked in front, you don’t see a thing. According to a tourist next to us the grizzly is sleeping on a bison carcass. A day later we will find out that this exaggerated.
I heat up some sausages and we eat a hot-dog in the camper. We are the only ones in a camper and this eating gives us some jealous looks from the drivers who are waiting here already for hours. After 45 minutes the bear get up and starts walking along the river. We follow him by car and that gives us a change to make a couple of nice shots. Lyn joins us and gets a verbal warning when she drives recklessly according to the ranger. We can hear everything on the scanner and tease her with it.
The next day we check the carcass and it tuns out to be a winter kill. Only the head and some ribs are left.  

A bald eagle is swooping low over the water. He tries to grasp an adult duck out of the pond! The duck ducks under the water just in time every time the eagle flies over. On the shore a dozen Canada geese are screaming over the top of their lungs. Are they cheering the eagle or trying to warn their own species? After half a dozen tries the eagle gives up. 

One early morning I make pictures of a baby elk. It has just been born and wobbles behind her mum on unstable legs. Every time when the cow stops, it tries to drink. Half an hour later I find out that I had forgotten to put a card in the camera -the modern version of forgetting to put a roll in your camera-. Of course I am thinking that these pictures were the best ever... 

We run some errands in West-Yellowstone town, but when we return into the park we got stuck in a traffic jam. On the scanner we hear that a herd of bison are using the road to ‘migrate’. One and a half hour later we can see the bison butts and another half hour before we can pass them. We have driven only 2 miles. That is something else than being in a traffic jam for going to work... 

Have you seen the movie ‘Twister’? There you can see a bunch of different people in different vehicles chasing hurricanes. This is how we feel sometimes. Only we are not chasing twisters but bears. We do this with four other people. Lyn, the talented painter, you already know. Diana does volunteer work at an animal shelter and adopts animals at a regular base. This is why she travels around with 4 cats and a dog in her van and is nicknamed cat lady by us. John is trying to make a living as a film operator and Joe is a fire fighter in Las Vegas and comes here every spare moment.
What do we have in common? Our passion for wildlife and bears in particular. And that we only take a shower ones a week.
Where do we differ? They all sleep in their car, we sleep in a real bed. They live from candy bars and crackers, we eat a healthy meal every night. With walkie-talkies we keep contact and with 5 vehicles we go slowly through the park. Six pairs of eyes see more than two.
Early morning Lyn sees a grizzly bear on the beach of Lake Yellowstone, which is trotting towards the hills. When she search the beach for tracks, she discovers a carcass of a baby elk. She tells us and we decide to stay put at that carcass and wait until the bear will come back. It has started to snow and the temperature is around 0 C (32 F). And it is already June 12th! For hours we are sitting in our vehicles in this snowstorm. The bear keeps us waiting, but in the meantime a coyote comes along to take a bite out of the carcass. Another coyote takes the head of the calf and brings it to her den, where 6 puppies are waiting for her. After 5 hours the grizzly bear finally shows up. It is Monkeyface, a bear we gave this name last year, because he had no hear around his face and looked like a monkey. Later this bear is Circus Bear. Now he has become a pretty boar and he is always entertaining. This time he drags part of the carcass into the ice cold Yellowstone Lake and starts waving it through the water! Does the sand bothers him? We can take close-up pictures from the animals and they turn out very good.
We decide to all spent the night at the campground and have some beers together. We have a good laugh about each others travel adventures. The temperature is around freezing and of course nobody has thought of buying firewood. At midnight we are cold till the bone and I have a hard time falling asleep. The next morning we all rise early, although with a light hangover. 

Back in the black bear area we see ´Rosie with the red rubies´ again. She has now chased her cub away, but is not on her own. A good looking black boar is following her around. He is itchy and keeps rubbing his back on every tree he sees. When Rosie decides to take a nap in the shade of a tree he joins her. They are a good looking couple. Only a week ago she was still nursing her baby and now she already has a boyfriend.
Two days later Rosie has a new stalker. It is the pretty cinnamon black bear. But was has happened to him? One eye is red and infected and he is missing a lot of hair on his shoulders. He must have been in a big fight. Stalker follows Rosie for miles and miles. Rosie doesn't like that and gnarls at him all the time, which are nice fighting pictures for us. After a couple of hours, Stalker may finally mate with her, but this takes more than half an hour. As real voyeurs we are watching this. A little boy asks his grandma why this brown bear is sitting on top of the black bear. We cannot hear grandma's answer but it isn´t satisfying for the boy, because he walks up to the ranger and asks his question again. Also this answer we cannot hear, but knowing the prudish mentality of the Americans it must be something like: “That black bear is tired and the brown colored one is trying to push her home...” 

A couple of days later we see Rosie again, alone this time. But we are shocked when we take a closer look; her thighs are bare of hair! Stalker must have worn her out totally! The same day we also see Rosie’s cub again. He is grazing and is unaware that his mum is so close by. He seems to have adapt to the new situation. 

Don’t get the impression that we recognize every bear in Yellowstone. For example PJ and I cannot agree if there are two or three cinnamon adult black bears in this area. We wonder what has happened to the cinnamon twin cubs, but unfortunately we never see them again. 

When we drive through the Hayden Valley, I see a lot of ravens at one spot. An investigation shows the thigh of an adult elk, still with some fresh meat on it. We decide to park next to it (on the road of course), it is close to road and the bear or wolf who did this will probably come back for it. It is 3 in the afternoon, 20 degrees Celsius (68 F) and the sun is shining merciless. We probably won’t see much wildlife the first couple of hours.
PJ starts reading a book with his back to the window and I do some drawing. Frequently I scan the hills for wildlife. I can hear the ravens screaming, but draw a couple of more lines. When I look up I can’t believe my eyes. A wolf with this huge leg in his mouth is walking away from us!!!
Cursing and raging I jump up, grasp the camera and start shooting. I am furious! Angry with myself for not looking up earlier. Mad at PJ because he was reading and did not scan the hills. Can you imagine what kind of pictures we could have made with that wolf walking towards us, picking up the leg, only ten yards away?
Fortunately the action is not over. Two more wolves show up and one of them – a nice looking almost white wolf - walks into the river to pick up a floating elk stomach (gross!). They play with it and than disappear. Wow! And it all happened so close by.

John the cineast arrives a couple of hours late and together with PJ he walks the hills searching for the rest of the carcass. They can’t find it. Isn’t that weird, a leg and a stomach, both close to the road, but no carcass? 

After more than a month we decide to leave the park. We have seen a lot of new animals and situations and have made great pictures. We have seen 17 different grizzly bears and 12 different black bears (hard to tell the difference with black bears). We have missed a mountain lion sitting on a cliff for literally hours watching the tourists and the eruption of Steamboat geyser (we were in the park for both occasions, but at the wrong place), but we are very happy with what we have seen this season. Knowing that we will probably won’t come back here, made it difficult to leave. But we will start a new adventure in South America and that is also very exciting.

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