Rocky Mountain, Grand Teton, and Yellowstone National Parks

We moved!

After more than 20 years living in the Bay Area, Marie and I decided to try somewhere new.  Denver was the obvious choice.  We love Colorado, I have family there, and a one-day drive in any direction takes us to some of our favorite places – north to Yellowstone, west to Zion, south to White Sands, and east to Kansas City, where I grew up.

Specifically we chose the city of Longmont, next to Boulder on the north side of Denver.  Marie visited Longmont a while back and liked the small town feel.  For me the proximity to Rocky Mountain National Park – only an hour away – is a big plus.  The cost of living is reasonable, especially compared to the Bay Area, and the people are friendly.  So far we’re feeling great about our decision.  We’ve been in Longmont for over a month now and like it a lot.

My first excursion to Rocky Mountain National Park as a Colorado resident, however, was a disappointment.

“Sorry, we’re sold out,” said the ranger at the entrance gate.  Seeing the look of confusion on my face she went on to explain, “Due to COVID we’ve implemented a reservation system to limit the number of people entering the park, and we’re all sold out for today.”  Sold out!  I had to turn around and drive back home.

On the park’s Web site I discovered, of course, that all the morning reservations were sold out for more than a week.  Thankfully there was a loophole:  no reservation required for visitors entering the park before 6am.

A few days later I woke up at 4:45am, loaded up on coffee, and cruised into the park well before the 6am deadline.  I wasn’t alone in my use of the early-bird loophole.  An unbroken line of other cars joined me in the pitch black pre-dawn as I wound my way up to the Bear Lake parking lot.  After about a half hour a hint of light finally appeared in the sky and I started hiking up to Emerald Lake.  Dealing with the swarm of other early risers was annoying, but watching the sun light up the bright yellows and oranges of the changing aspen leaves helped compensate.

 

Fall Colors at RMNP

 

Late September Reflection at RMNP

 

RMNP Deer in Early Light

 

In early October I decided to make a relatively quick trip to Yellowstone.  The drive to Jackson, Wyoming is only about seven and a half hours from Longmont, and I arrived early enough to catch the late afternoon light at Mormon Row, just inside Grand Teton National Park.  A cold front had moved in that morning and dramatic clouds whirled over the iconic mountains, only occasionally allowing the sun to break through.

 

Moulton Barn October Afternoon

 

Grand Teton Fall Colors 16×9

 

Roiling clouds continued hiding the mountaintops the next morning.  After a quick stop at the Snake River Overlook I continued my apparently ill-fated search for grizzly bear 399 and her cubs, again without any luck, and then headed north into Yellowstone.

 

Grand Teton in the Clouds

 

Grand Teton Sunrise Clouds

 

At Fishing Bridge I turned right, wondering if the grizzly bear Raspberry might be hanging out in her normal stomping grounds on the east side of Yellowstone Lake.  And sure enough, there she was, foraging in the tall yellow grass and burned-out trees just south of the road.  I joined a line of other photographers and got my first look at her new cub.

 

Raspberry on the Lookout

 

Raspberry Portrait

 

Raspberry in Dead Grass

 

Raspberry’s Cub on a Log

 

Cloudy Afternoon at Mammoth Springs

 

I didn’t know it at the time, but finding Raspberry and her cub was the wildlife highlight of my trip.  I caught glimpses of distant wolves over the next couple of days but otherwise didn’t manage to turn up any particularly exciting sightings.  Some if it was just bad luck, but I was really kicking myself for not doing a better job of digging for leads before the trip.  Apparently some Great Grey Owls were active while I was there, and if I’d asked for help from the Yellowstone photographers I know I might have been able to find them.  Next time!

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