Monday, June 25, 2012

Road Trips for Dummies (continued)

Greg Gaskin

Greg and Jack Gaskin are brothers. Both are talented photographers, and both are the type of men you'd want as your friends. They are smart, witty, a little ribald, and the warmest, stand-up guys you can imagine. They live far apart--one on the East Coast and one in the Mid-West but manage to get together a few times a year to go "shooting" together.

The tale below is Chapter Two of the chronicle of the brothers' most recent trip together, last Winter, to photograph the scenery and wildlife in Yellowstone National Park.  If you haven't seen Chapter One, please click on this link before you read Chapter Two. The photos in both chapters are phenomenal!

Note: Click on a photo to enlarge it in a different window. Then click your browser's BACK button to return to the story.


Thanks for stopping here to see the latest post. I'd love to know what you think of the "Relentless Pursuit" series. Please leave a comment below for the author and email me with your suggestions on what you'd like to see on this blog.

If you have a story to post on this theme, contact me. And be sure to take a look at my Photography site. I'd love to hear from you! Also, consider forwarding the link to "Relentless" to your friends and family. Thanks again!
Michelle Alton

Chapter 2


"Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you."
--Frank Lloyd Wright

At this point in the story everything becomes a blur so let me break this down by the areas we visited in Yellowstone. The first few days we stayed in Cooke City and spent most of our time in the Lamar Valley with the occasional jaunt over to the Hayden Valley and one trip over to Mammoth. I saw wolves in the wild for the first time in my life and there were more buffalo than you can imagine.

There were several other things that do stick out in my mind though. The young late season calves were a pretty cool sight but you have to wonder will they even make it through their first winter.

One thing that did kind of disappoint me was the small number of Pronghorn Antelope we saw in Lamar. On our first trip in 2007 they were quite numerous but on this trip we saw very few in the park, which is strange considering how many we saw on the trip there. One morning we followed a dirt road looking to find some Pronghorn to photograph and stumbled upon this fellow.

Mammoth is interesting and has a unique beauty all of its own. The wife often reminds me not to go on ad infinitum, so rather than bore you with all the details, just have a look for yourself.

Now if you think about the number of people you know and would categorize as having above average intelligence, don't you ever wonder where all the other people are that are on the other half of the intelligence curve?

To put it in photographic terms they have photographic memories but no film. Well at Mammoth I had the displeasure of meeting some folks that ...well; let's just say that if ignorance is bliss they are downright euphoric. There are warning signs not to walk on the hot springs, even if they are dried up because of the damage you do to the dried mineral features and you might break through and get badly burned or killed. (See the story of Bumpass Hell at Lassen Volcanic National Park--Michelle.) So naturally when I saw some people walking on the dried hot spring I had to say something. I politely reminded them (seriously) that what they were doing wrong and dangerous.

When they replied  that they weren't going that far” and would leave in a little while I said "Hey, dummies, get the @#%& off right now!" I got on the radio and asked Jack if he was near a ranger.  When they heard me ask for a ranger they quickly left. 

Something that always stands out in my mind about Mammoth is just how high you end up while walking the boardwalks to get to the top of the thermal features. Of course you can drive up there but for some unexplainable reason I forgot you could drive up (probably lack of oxygen to the brain). My next visit to Yellowstone will be in the spring or winter as these must be even more awe inspiring during those seasons with all the extra runoff.

One constant in Mammoth is that there always seems to be elk hanging around the park offices. This is not because they like people. It is because they like the grass (the type you mow, not smoke). The problem is that people think because the elk are hanging around an area with buildings and people that they are tame. They are not! These are two of what we referred to as the “town elk.” Two rangers spent a considerable amount of time telling people to back away from them.

Our trips over to the Hayden Valley were interesting but the one thing I will never forget is the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone which is just north of Hayden Valley. The canyon and its waterfalls inspire artists and leave most people speechless.

We did walk down into the canyon in order to get pictures right next to one of the waterfalls. It seemed like a really good idea on the way down, not such a great idea on the way up, but these pictures made it all worthwhile.

[Michelle’s note: While setting out to climb down into a canyon in Petite Jean Arkansas, a Park Ranger stopped us and almost begged me to borrow one of his walking sticks.  I did, and it was WONDERFUL!  Definitiely take a sturdy stick along,]]

We also saw this deer while walking along the path at the rim of the canyon.

I took some quick pictures and proceeded to try to get closer. She just looked up at me with an expression of indifference and continued eating her lunch. I eventually got within about 12 feet of her without any change in behavior on her part.  This is Soda Butte.

These are the remains of an extinct geyser dome. There is a sign warning people that it is illegal to climb on or deface this ancient unique geothermal feature. So of course as we stopped to see it our last night in Cooke City some idiot was climbing it. Jack very politely (seriously) mentioned to him that what he was doing was wrong, to which the idiot replied that he was looking for his cell phone.
For perhaps the only time in my life I saw Jack at a loss for words due to the stupidity of a statement, but the look on his face said "You're only alive because it is illegal to kill you!" I am sure this is the reason why people are not allowed to carry guns in National Parks. The more people like this I meet the more I like my dog.

Our next stop was what the place I was looking forward to the most on this trip, the Madison Valley. We booked a place in the town of West Yellowstone for 4 nights in anticipation of great opportunities to photograph bull elk in the rut. We were not disappointed.

Every morning and late afternoon we spent in Madison Valley and then during the mid day we would either head down to the thermal areas south of the Madison or  back to town. On one trip south enroute to the “paint pots,” we were just cruising along enjoying the drive when a moose ran out in front of the car. While we were lucky and did not hit him, we immediately checked our
shorts for accidents and then went off to find the jaywalking bull. Though we were able to locate him we were never presented an opportunity to get a good picture.

The “paint pots,” “mud pots,” and geysers do leave you in awe of nature's beauty and are alone worth the trip to Yellowstone.

Into every life (or trip) a little rain must fall.  In our case it seems to fall into two categories: stupid people and unexpected animal behavior.

First the stupid people. As always folks just want to walk up to wild animals and take their picture from about 10 feet away. If you don't know why this is a bad idea please don't reproduce. While taking
pictures of a Bull Elk and his harem we noticed that the females were working their way towards the spot where we were standing. We decided to move out of their way just as people traffic was starting to get a little heavy.
Some people who had just arrived immediately walked right up to where the female elk were starting to feed. All of the photographers (smart people) started to yell at them that  they were way too close and to get out of there. Most ignored us and a few shot us dirty looks.
At this point Jack became frustrated (it doesn't take much) and started searching the ground for the proper throwing rock. Just as he reared his arm back to launch it I said "Don't", which of course fell on deaf
ears. Right after he threw it I said "You can't do that!" to which he replied, "You’re right, I missed"

At this point the ranger came by and started instructing people to get away from the elk, to which one lady replied "
F#@% off.!" The ranger ignored her and kept ordering people to get back. Afterwards the ranger came over to us and thanked the photographers for trying to warn people and spent some time talking to us and swapping stories.
Now onto unexpected animal behavior, or stupid assumptions on our part--, you be the judge.  While driving west we saw a crowd of people stopped for a single large bull elk. He was moving at a steady pace down a path towards his harem, up the road where we just saw them in a clearing about 100 yards off the road. Since he was heading straight for them Jack suggested that we backtrack to where we saw the females.
I drove back, parked and went around the back of the car to get my cameras and followed Jack down the path toward the clearing. We assumed the elk would follow along his previous trajectory and, if so, he should enter the field about 300 feet from where we would be standing.
Unfortunately elk seldom do what you think they are going to do. Suddenly Jack stopped and exclaimed "Holy s%@#, he is right here!" It's nice to know my brother is not a liar, as coming out from the woods just about 15 feet in front of him was Mr. Elk. We both just froze as he turned back towards his harem, ignoring us. Afterwards we both admitted that trying to anticipate an elk's line of travel iswas really stupid.
Overall our stay in the Madison Valley turned out to be quite rewarding as we saw many elk, saw lots of interesting animal behavior and got to meet tons of great people.

Grand Teton, Our Final Stop.

"Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better."
--Albert Einstein

The final four days of our stay were spent in Grand Teton National Park. The ride down to Teton is quite spectacular and as if that wasn't enough to keep us happy, we came across another bull elk. We missed taking decent pictures of him as he walked off and learned from others there that he had just been in a fight with another elk. During this conversation he came back out of the woods  for round two.

This time we were able to photograph him and as he disappeared into the woods again Jack suggested that we follow him  to see if we could witness a fight. But after considering what had happened in the Madison Valley, common sense kicked in and we decided against it. [Hard to believe that Jack would even suggest such a thing!-Michelle]

Teton was about two things:, landscapes and moose. But since this story is getting a little long and you're probably nodding off by now, let's skip the gory details and show you some landscapes.

Of all the places in Teton that we visited I looked forward to Mormon Row the most. The morning of our visit we were up and on the road long before sunrise and since it was late September and the tourist season was over I was confident that there would not be many people there. Imagine my surprise when we arrived, still about 40 minutes prior to sunrise, and there were about 50 people already there.!  I guess I wasn't the only one looking forward to Mormon row.

Moose--, now that's another story. The only moose we encountered actually in Teton was this gal.

She was badly back lit and there were tons of flies around her head which ruined the picture. I adjusted for the backlighting in Lightroom (ed: Lightroom is a photo editing program) and removed the flies using Photoshop. Yeah, I know you really shouldn't do that to nature photos but otherwise the shots just were not usable.

On our next-to-last day we went exploring the John D. Rockefeller Highway between Yellowstone and Teton. While just aimlessly driving around we headed down the Ashton-Flagg ranch road and started exploring. This area had everything a moose could want, the right kind of plants, clear water with the ideal sort of aquatic vegetation, low traffic...just perfect. We decided we would get up early the next day, our last before starting home, and park nearby the bridge at Pole Cat Creek to spend our day photographing moose.

When our final day arrived we did just what we set out to do. Got there early and waited, and waited and waited. Jack decided to take a walk and I stayed on the bridge admiring the creek and surrounding countryside. I was thinking to myself that it had been a great trip and the disappointment of not seeing a moose that last day didn't really matter in the long run, as come September 2012 I woud be on my wayback to Maine to photograph lighthouses and moose anyway. I decided that it was time to pack up the camera equipment, wait for Jack's return, and start heading back to our cabin.

So I turned around and took one step towards the car when I saw this standing behind me.

I am quite sure he was thinking "What the hell is this butt-head doing, just standing on a bridge looking the wrong way?" Out loud I asked "Just how freaking long have you been standing there!"
With that he turned around and high-tailed off into the woods.  Recalling our previous experience with the elk and my near miss with another elk in 2007, I wasn't too anxious to press my luck. I walked along the road keeping an eye on him when I could, but not getting too close. The lighting was bad, I was concerned because I kept losing sight of him, but I was having a good time.

The older I get the more it takes to get me excited (no tasteless jokes now) but this really had me worked up. Suddenly I realized that I had lost track of him, bummer! Rather than just turning around and going back to the car I just kept walking up the road hoping to get lucky, and that's when I noticed him in an
opening-- running STRAIGHT at me. It was not time to panic as he was probably about 300 feet away and moose can't see that far but common sense did kick in and I found a very nice group of trees to get behind. When he was within about 100 feet of me he suddenly veered off to his right. "Okay, that was a little weird" I thought to myself and started going down the road very slowly until I came across what made him veer off, a female moose.

My first thought was "This sucks, we're about to get some first class animal porn and Jack is nowhere to be found." With that Jack came into sight and I waved him down to where I was. We spent quite a bit of time watching her try to entice him but to no avail. He was like a teenage boy trying to unsnap his first bra, lots of effort with some twisted results.

When he finally walked off frustrated we lost sight of him and headed back to the car. When we arrived at the car we looked down the creek and there he was, about 100 yards down. Jack took off into the woods to get closer but I just hung there hoping he would run toward me, which he did for about 50 feet and then he was gone. Overall a pretty good last day!

The last picture I took on this trip, part of the Oregon Trail is in eastern Wyoming.

The ride home is not a lot of fun. You have been on the road for three weeks and I-80 is basically a flat straight shot across the Midwest with not a whole lot to make the trip interesting.
It is times like this when you just pack up the photo gear and concentrate on getting home safely. One thing I wished that I had photographed was the sign for Buford, Wyoming, population 1. We stopped there to get gas and I
thought to myself that the guy working the gas station must be the "1", and if so Buford is probably the only town in America with 100% of its residents employed. As it turns out a man from Vietnam recently purchased the town.

All in all it was a great trip. In the interest of brevity I did leave a great deal of stuff out as I thought 9000 words just might be a little excessive. I retired March 3rd and immediately drove straight to Florida where Jack and I did some nice short photo trips. We had originally planned a trip to Maine in late September to look for that ever-elusive moose with the big rack.

Turns out that life is funny and three weeks after I retired I was offered another job and it was just something I couldn't say no to, so Maine had to be cancelled.  I don't know how much longer I will work but I will still manage to squeeze in three photo trips a year.
Meanwhile this summer I will be adding at least six new lighthouses to my portfolio. I hope you enjoyed this tale. Feel free to drop me a
line at my website and we are always open to suggestions for future road trips.

"Life is a succession of lessons which must be lived to be understood."
--Helen Keller

  All photography by Greg Gaskin


Greg Gaskin's Short (VERY Short) Biography:

I was born (1957) in Brooklyn New York and lived there until the age of eight when the family moved to the Hamlet of Islip on Long Island's south shore. For the past 30 years I have lived in southeast Michigan and presently reside in Wyandotte, Michigan with my wife Rita and our dog Sparky.
Photography is my "drug" of choice (although coffee is a close second). I will photograph anything that I find interesting but my main interests in photography are lighthouses and wildlife. I retired March 1st but was unexpectedly offered a job and will be returning to the work force for 3 years starting June 25th. I am also part owner of a small photography business, Pixel Magik.
[Note from Michelle: Greg's photography may be viewed at ]

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Michelle Alton



Monnie Ryan said...

Very interesting commentary (it provided me with more than one chuckle, but then the Gaskin humor always tickles me). The photos, though, are nothing short of awesome! Good job all around! --Monnie

Bob Cammarata said...

Terrific photos and travelogue!

...makes me homesick for the West!

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