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Yathin
10 September 2012 @ 10:00 am
It's been a long time since this blog has seen a new post. This may be the last post on here, but the account will remain active as I will be reading friends pages occasionally. I've been traveling a lot these last two years and have a huge backlog of things to share. However, I decided to move to a simpler blogging platform on my website. I'll be writing more whenever I get time as my new job will keep me very busy.

The new blog (which I call Punctuated Equilibrium) will be on my website: http://yathin.com/wordpress/

If you'd like to, you can subscribe to the blog right here on LJ: http://yathin-rss.livejournal.com/

Cheers from cold, rainy Oslo.
 
 
Yathin
21 November 2010 @ 09:41 pm
There was light drizzle when the 43 foot Mary Beth dropped anchor. The rocky shore was still a mile away but the waters were too shallow for the boat to go any further. The eight of us then hopped into a smaller motorized boat that had been tethered to Mary Beth and slowly approached the shore. We were briefed on how to carry out this mission successfully - "Keep your voices down and walk in a single file and no sudden movements."



The Kodiak Bear


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Yathin
01 August 2010 @ 07:33 pm


Mt. McKinley / Denali as seen near Wonder Lake (photographed by Wendy Turner)


A piece of prehistory and history

Tall, ice-free mountains towered over a grasslands home to herds of mammoths and sabre-tooths. Armies of humans were moving in from the north via the Bering land bridge. After them came ice to the mountains and the grasslands would die giving birth to the tundra and taiga. The mammoths and sabre-tooths would go extinct and descendants of the the migrants from the east would continue to live in the unforgiving land. A tall mountain dominated the landscape and true to the nature of men it was given a name. Today, the descendants of the ancient migrants, the Athabaskans, call it 'Denali' meaning 'high one' and it is the oldest formal name on record. That was when the earth was flat and throughout prehistory and much of history it remained that way.

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Yathin
23 May 2010 @ 12:01 pm
I've been reading a new book this week that has real life stories of peoples' encounters with bears.

One of the stories that really touched me is this one. I couldn't find a link to it anywhere on the web and I don't have the power to verify its authenticity, but since the author of the book claims these are real I have no reason to believe otherwise.

Here is this incredible story from Alaska:

--

When four-year-old little Ella May Lindberg left her Sitka house alone in July 1921, it was with one thought -- blueberry pie. She told her mother if she would bake a pie, Ella would get the berries. Ella wanted a surprise blueberry pie for her papa. She knew about a prize patch of berries where she could fill her pail. Ella had not given any thought to the large bears that roamed the woods near her Baranof Island home. She was really too young to understand anything about bears.

Almost two hours after Ella had left the house, her father Hans, superintendent of the U.S Horticultural station at Sitka arrived and queried about "Baby." He was shocked to learn that she had last been seen walking with pail in hand toward the woods. He immediately sprang into action meeting at the blacksmith shop with all available men, distributing his two 12-gauge shotguns and .22 rifle. He carried his .30-40 rifle himself. The men spread out in a half-circle and slowly began coming the woods. They were to fire three shots if anyone found Ella May.

A half-hour later Ella's father heard three shots and rushed toward the sound. One of his companions confessed that they hadn't found Ella, but they'd discovered some large, fresh bear tracks. In a frenzy Ella's father plunged ahead of the others ingot the dense brush, hoping against the inevitable. He tried to force all negative thoughts from his mind -- she could be mangled by a savage bear, she could be partially consumed, she may never be found. He was overcome by a father's grief for his little one.

He called frantically to Ella, reassuring her that he was near, coming to her aid. Shortly he stumbled from the brush tangle almost bypassing the still, small form lying on the ground.

It was Ella May. She lay in a patch of blueberries, chubby little body peacefully sleeping, with her empty berry pail nearby.

He fired three signal shots and turned to his daughter who was awakened by the commotion. Her first words were, "Where are my berries, Papa? I had a whole pail full of berries." Completely surrounding the berry patch were large bear tracks evidencing where Ella's berries had gone.


 
 
Yathin
19 April 2010 @ 11:39 pm
The day started brightly with clear blue skies and an on-time delivery of the lens I had ordered not too long ago. All through the day whenever I looked outside I could see beautiful sunlight and it only got more exciting as the day went by. After finishing up the day's work I packed up my bags and ran out to play with the new camera gear with childlike excitement and enthusiasm. I looked out at the still bright sky and was a little worried almost immediately: gray clouds lurked in the distance and the wind seemed seemed to be bringing them towards me. It got darker every mile I drove and by the time I had reached the place where I was supposed to test my new gear the clouds had consumed the sun and threatened to throw down some cold water too. Suspecting that I had to shoot now or wait till the weekend to have a chance of shooting something I decided to go ahead and shoot something... not the ideal time or place to be working with new equipment but anyway here goes the first images from the my new camera setup.




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Yathin
16 April 2010 @ 08:26 pm
After years of shooting in Nikon and accumulating lots of Nikon branded gear along the road the decision to switch to Canon turned out to be a simple one in the end. A Simple One. The SO.

There was no drama. There was no crying out loud about nonexistent nonsense like how bad Nikon was or how the key to world peace was all about using Canon. The only reason I chose Nikon to begin with was because many of my friends were shooting in Nikon and we thought we could go about sharing our lenses. The DSLR world begins with a small investment in a basic camera body and a basic lens (or lenses). The brittle bond to a brand grows stronger by the year with each passing one bringing in new members of the brand into the family. Overflowing camera backpacks signal arrival at the point of no return and an unsaid oath of fierce allegiance.

Lenses are key ingredients for a camera setup and almost all the lenses you'd ever want to shoot in are horribly expensive when you're not a professional (or even a semi-professional) and don't sell or intend to sell photographs. We wait for the piggybank to fill up before we can take the spoils of a piggybank that did a Humpty Dumpty to our favorite camera store to get that glittery piece of glass we had been lusting for.

I loved every minute of shooting with Nikon. The only times that I thought about a move to Canon were during the times of planning a piggybank accident or when I could not photograph something that I would have liked to because it was beyond the reach of my lens. The reason those thoughts would come up was because Canon has more choice and their lenses are much cheaper but then the investment in Nikon was so much that I'd rather not be thinking about switching.

And then came the special one. She shot in Canon and I shot in Nikon. She had all the gear I had in Nikon but under the Canon tattoo. And both of us carry all our gear on trips to the wilderness. That translated to carrying twice the amount of gear that was necessary. I wanted a big telephoto and she didn't. Aha! Now which brand has a cheaper telephoto? A plan was made and Nikon made way to Canon in the backpack. It was that simple.



My new Canon 1Ds

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Yathin
05 April 2010 @ 11:21 pm
The jungle goes mad. There's cacophony in the form of alarm calls! There's a predator around they cry. Rattly vehicles beeline towards the calls. With engines switched off curious eyes watch all around hoping to catch a glimpse of the striped cats or the spotted cats of the Panthera kind. I've been in that situation a hundred times but not once have I seen a big cat by that method of spotting. It works a lot of times I've heard and you know for sure there's one of those felines hiding in the bushes and that itself is great satisfaction.

It had been three days in the jungle. We had seen lots of wildlife but there was no hint of a big cat. Time was quickly running out and we were resigned to the fact that there would be no spectacular sighting of a big cat. The morning safari was coming to an end. We were on a boat chasing kingfishers and cattle egrets out of boredom. It was hazy and the glorious morning light that everyone loves so much was now a thing of the past. Back to camp then? Yes! The motor-powered boat moved slowly over the Kabini currents. The photographers were reviewing their day's catch on their digital screens. The boatman was probably thinking of lunch. The scientists were thinking of the papers they had to review. We were a bunch of living things not paying attention to our environment. Ideal prey candidates. And when there's prey around, they say, predators come out... TIGER! TIGER! TIGER! I wasn't sure at first. It was just sitting under the shade of a tree along the bank. It was looking at us with curiosity and disdain. We had gone very close to this beast without even noticing it was there! No alarm calls. No rattly old jeeps. Nothing. It was just the most powerful animal of the forest with the sounds of its backyard.

Every time I've seen a tiger it's been this way and each time I hear an alarm call all I can only come up with is a wry smile. The tiger spent a good twenty minutes with us before going off into the bushes. And just minutes later Spotted deer called from inside the jungle from the direction in which the tiger had moved. "There's a tiger around" they cried. We know.




Snarl!

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Yathin
14 February 2010 @ 11:35 pm
I thought I'd waste away this weekend at home, but I did manage to pull off a trip in the last minute. I just got back from the beautiful Death Valley.

I was reading that there was water (more than the usual little pools) at Badwater in Death Valley National Park and that I had to see. I also decided that I had to get to the Martian landscape near Trona which I had been putting off for the last half a dozen or so trips to the area. I had never seen Death Valley like this before - several paths closed because of snow and washouts and floods! Even the main highways had signs of washouts and floods. Badwater had a nice large pool of shallow water which had wonderful reflections of the Panamint range and the Black mountains.

Death Valley comes dead at moonrise when the crowds have left for their camps. Walking miles around in the dark starlit Badwater basin with the world on mute is an experience that can only be comprehended when experienced firsthand. Enough words, here are the pictures.




Sunset campground at Furnace Creek. Millions of stars and the pricey Furnace Creek resort in the hills.



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Yathin
06 January 2010 @ 03:25 pm
2009  
I traveled more in 2009 than any other year; a neat fifty thousand miles or so on land, air and sea. Looking back at the year I can only wish that all years would be that good. Here's my journey.



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Yathin
01 December 2009 @ 10:14 pm
It seems like I have been away forever from the world of blogging. There is still so much to show from the trip to Africa in September but I never got around to processing those photographs or even looking at them. Life-changing events (in a good sense!) have kept me busy in the past month and I hope I can get around to processing the remaining photographs from the Africa trip at least. What subject would be better to restart this near defunct blog? Elephants!

Loxodonta africana, the African Bush Elephant. I've waited forever to see the largest land-based animal in the wild and they really look tiny in the massive Serengeti. At least, that's the case until you get close to one of those things and realize how huge they are. When you're used to seeing elephants in the Indian subcontinent you feel that their African relatives would be similar in behavior. Elephants in India need a cautious approach. It is perhaps frequent conflict with men that makes some herds in India aggressive. Charges, mock-charges and tail-twisted flight are all common with wild elephant encounters back at home, but the Serengeti (and Northern Tanzania in general) turned out to be a much different experience. Elephants are calm and at peace with men here and they don't run or charge that frequently. In fact, it is probably safe to say that some of the elephants are rather tame. We had a bull elephant drinking water at our campsite near the Ngorongoro crater and even with people just a few small footsteps away, the bull went about his business and calmly walked out into the wild. It is such a nice experience to watch animals when they aren't feeling scared or feeling the need to attack/defend.





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Yathin
23 October 2009 @ 01:43 pm
The cheetah. We've all seen and/or heard about the sprinting skills of a cheetah. We've seen spectacular footage in nature documentaries of cheetahs sprinting and bringing down antelopes. Ever imagined what it would be like to see it live and in perfect angle and distance? If there's one thing I could point at to say that it was the highlight of the Africa trip then this has got to be it - a successful cheetah hunt of a young Thomson's Gazelle.

The driver was all eager to get to camp by nightfall and he was driving as fast as the unpaved road allowed him to drive. I noticed a cheetah stalking and shouted out to stop but we could only stop well ahead of the cheetah. The cheetah wasn't bothered by the car and we noticed that we were exactly midway between the cheetah and a small herd of Thomson's Gazelles. The gazelles had no idea a cheetah was on to them. The cat stalked and tried to get closer to the gazelles. With the camera locked in on the cheetah, all we wanted was for it to start its hunt. It did. Running parallel to the road, the cat had moved to top speed in seconds. The acceleration and the stretch of the body and the giant leaps it took with each stride was just unbelievable. These things move fast. Very fast.

The crowd was divided inside the car. Some were cheering for the cheetah to make the kill and some wanted the gazelle to escape. I've heard most hunts aren't too successful and there was every chance the gazelle would escape. Not this time. With a cloud of dust the cheetah did the successful trip-and-bite and the gazelle was down. Unbelievable moment. And to think that this was one of the first things I saw in the Serengeti was even more unbelievable! I doubt I'll see another cheetah hunt this close and this perfect, but that is what cameras are for - to capture magical moments so that it can be remembered forever. :-)




Stalking...




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Yathin
30 September 2009 @ 12:35 am
It is the littlest of Africa's big five - lion, elephant, buffalo, rhinoceros and leopard. The big five may have its origins in game hunting, but I'm pretty sure it was the most difficult one to get to even then as it is now to get to photograph or see. Anyway, I expected exactly zero leopard sightings on the trip. Besides being elusive and all that, the plains is probably just not the ideal place for a leopard. Trees and plants for protection and camouflage is what a leopard probably needs and the plains of the Serengeti doesn't not have too much of it. And that was perhaps the reason we saw two leopards - on the same day and in different places!




A sleepy leopard on a tree...




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Yathin
29 September 2009 @ 06:01 pm
I guess lions need no introduction. Everyone who goes to Africa for wildlife viewing has them on their list of must-see animals I guess. The guide almost laughed when I first asked him if we'd see lions on the safari. Only after a few days in the Serengeti did I realize why he laughed because lions seemed to be everywhere. We saw lions sitting, standing, eating, drinking, sleeping, stalking, hunting (a failed hunt), and even mating. I never had luck with the light for photography on the whole trip, but I feel fortunate enough to have seen lions and other magnificent creatures in the Serengeti.








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Yathin
23 September 2009 @ 10:11 pm
The Serengeti is so full of animals that you almost begin to feel you're in a gigantic zoo. The herbivores are everywhere and the carnivores are all neatly spaced out. It is only a matter of time before you've seen all the heavyweights of the park then. It is only the smaller of the mammals that are less sought after but even they seem to be abundant nonetheless. There is still so much to see, but for now here are few of the smaller mammals from the plains of the Serengeti.




A Baboon.




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Yathin
23 September 2009 @ 07:34 pm
I know I've not posted many photographs of the big game - the reason most people go to East Africa in the first place, but I had fun shooting birds after a really long time and it was fun processing them. Here are a few more birds from the plains of the Serengeti.




Yellow-throated Sandgrouse




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Yathin
23 September 2009 @ 08:53 am
A stop at the Olduvai gorge on the way to the Serengeti meant that I could take some time away from the bumpy roads and chase around some birds instead. Oh, did I mention we actually went there to see the gorge (aka cradle of humanity!) itself? After a visit to the museum and staring down the gorge we actually had time to have a picnic lunch with tourist-friendly birds. The lunch included countless breaks to run behind every interesting species that caught the eye.

I downloaded some of the photographs yesterday but then I realized I had forgotten the names of the birds! We had decided to donate the mammals and birds guides to our guide/driver on the trip when we left Africa and I guess it has been long enough to forget the names of the birds that we identified. So, I had to run to some local bookstores in the night to find a field guide. Turns out no one stocks field guides for African wildlife in these parts and I thought I should give that used bookstore in Mountain View a shot. I had almost given up my search there when I found that they had a old old copy of a field guide (from early 1970s). The bad part about having such an old guide is that many species of birds are actually not even listed - and many of the missing species seem to be the ones that I have photographs off! Anyway, a combination of likely last names (like sparrow, weaver and so on) and the latest technology in web search, I think I've got all the birds identified. I know I could be way off with their IDs still though.




A Secretary Bird on the way to the Serengeti




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Yathin
19 September 2009 @ 06:35 pm
Tarangire national park was the last stop before we headed back to Arusha. The circuits we did inside the park was mostly wooded. We mostly kept to the regular routes and only once did we venture into a road that isn't often used and we realized why it wasn't used that often - crazy numbers of Tsetse flies! We noticed something interesting and stopping for a second resulted in hordes of Tsetses taking over the car and we didn't even get a chance to see what that animal as we had to quickly move on and take over tsetse killing duties.

I should write more when I have more time, but for now here are some of the photographs from Tarangire.



The view of the Tarangire river from the Safari Lodge

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Yathin
16 September 2009 @ 11:45 am
Lake Manyara was a short stopover on the way to the Serengeti from the town of Arusha. We had just enough time there to used to time, weather and the cameras before we headed out to the mighty Serengeti. Here are a few photographs from the place




A White Egret

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Yathin
15 September 2009 @ 04:36 am
Endless lands of grass
Dotted with trees and ancient kopjes
Countless herds, flocks, packs, prides and all
In a gathering unlike any other

The Serengeti was everything I had imagined it to be. A fascinating place unlike no other I have been to. Tanzania was amazing - beautiful land, beautiful people and beautiful wildlife. Many stories will be told and photographs shared.






 
 
Yathin
13 September 2009 @ 03:16 pm
Time for a quick update. I have a few more hours here in Africa and it has been a fascinating ten days in the Tanzanian national parks and I can't wait to come back here some day. More about the trip will be coming up when I get back home!

Here are regularly used Swahili words on the safari:
Karibu = Welcome
Asante = Thank You
Tembo = Elephant
Simba = Lion
Duma = Cheetah
 
 
Yathin
29 August 2009 @ 11:26 pm
Since I go off to my next vacation this Thursday, I thought I should complete uploading the bits of video I shot during my last trip. Here's a collection of those videos with places and wildlife.



Vimeo: http://vimeo.com/6338418
YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MtN3EwUlISA

Thanks to kejn for a whole lot of clips used in this video


 
 
Yathin
16 August 2009 @ 11:15 am
Marmots in the Alpine Tundra zone of the Rocky Mountain National Park were a crazy bunch and I think they deserved a separate post of their own for the show they put on.



Marmots - The Kiss!


That photograph alone will not tell the story and is open to interpretation by the viewer. It does look like the marmots are kissing but they're not. Marmots are the largest true hibernators and all marmots except the woodchuck are social animals, so this group was perhaps a family. But even in social groups there are frequent fights for food and dominance and I think this was one such case. Here's the full story (according to me anyway and which may be corrected if a marmot expert says otherwise!):



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Yathin
16 August 2009 @ 09:51 am
A visit the Boulder meant that there just had to be a trip to the Rocky Mountain National Park. Now, just how different could the Colorado rockies be from all the other Rocky ranges we had seen in Montana and Wyoming? The trail-ridge road through the park, also known as U.S. Route 34, is the highest paved through highway in the country and it passes through some spectacular Alpine Tundra biome at over 12,000 feet. It was nothing like what we had seen before and the thin air at that altitude meant that it required a lot of effort to hike.

The trip was a short one, but we saw beautiful elk, moose, marmot, pika, coyote, chipmunks and squirrels and the hike in the tundra zone was particularly rewarding. The high-altitude road could get nasty during late afternoon thunderstorms because there isn't any tree cover and one such thunderstorm was building up when we left the park to have a late lunch in the beautiful city of Estes Park.




A male Elk in Alpine Tundra

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Yathin
15 August 2009 @ 08:55 pm
The trip had almost ended and I still hadn't seen my top two targets for the trip - the Grizzly bear and the Wolf. What are the odds that you can see something on the last two days when you've had no such luck for ten days? The pessimistic me had given up on seeing them. The drive up from Grand Teton was tiring and it was a real hot day in Yellowstone. It was so hot that if you closed your eyes you'd think you are in the Mojave. I was feeling drowsy, so I pulled out parked next to the Yellowstone lake. I noticed that my CF cards were full and I hadn't backed up any of them. So, I began going through photographs and deleting ones which I did not like. And then I put the battery to charge and dozed off for a little time.

A trip is remembered by what was seen and not by what all others saw or what all had could have been seen. I woke up from the nap and then headed up towards the North-East corner of Yellowstone. Just a few miles from the place I was napping, there was a super-large crowd along the road. Now, if it is a traffic jam caused by bison, not many park their cars and get out. Almost everyone had stopped their cars and almost everyone were out of their cars. I knew it had to be a bear. A Grizzly? Or a Black Bear? I saw something moving along the grass not too far from the road and knew immediately that it was a Grizzly. The hump on the bear's shoulder is so distinct even in its silhouette. I moved in quickly and as luck would have it, I found a prime parking spot - a spot where the bear came within ten feet. Imagine me parked on the side of the road and the bear on the shoulder on the other side! The light was really harsh and I was just shooting for documentation now and I even gave up at one point just so that I could enjoy looking at this beautiful bear. The rangers were on foot and right beside my car and they had a tough time chasing away tourists who had the misfortune of being on the bear's side of the road. This one was a young grizzly and there was nothing horrible about her. In fact, it was more cow-like because it was grazing on young grass!

After the fantastic grizzly sighting, we moved along and setup camp in a slightly remote and not-so-developed campsite. The tent was right next to a small stream and it was one of the most beautiful camping sites I've been in. After pitching the tent, we moved towards the Druid Peak where Yellowstone's most famous wolf pack lives. The pull-out already had tons of people with spotting scopes and super telephoto lenses and everyone looked out at the Lamar valley in excitement hoping to be the first to see a wolf. We saw a beaver and some pronghorn, but no wolf. That was when someone came by and told us there was a grizzly feeding on a bison carcass about a couple of miles down the road. We decided to go see that spectacle and as expected there were hundreds of people crowded in a small area looking at the grizzly. The bear was hundreds of meters away from the road and it looked like a tiny spec to the naked eye. It looked only like an ant on the eye-piece even through a 600mm telephoto lens! Two more grizzlies were seen not too far from the feeding grizzly. All of a sudden the grizzly stopped feeding and looked around and then started running uphill towards the two grizzlies and the three of them vanished into a cluster of trees up a hill. Someone in the group said it could be because the wolves were approaching. There was more excitement and soon someone spotted a lone dark-colored wolf moving quickly towards the kill. It was apparently a wolf without a pack and it went straight to the bison carcass! And so, the second last day ended with four grizzlies and a wolf after having started the day at zero. Amazing.

The following morning we were up early and were one of the first cars to get to a pull-out where wolves are seen. Soon, a yellow Nissan X-terra pulled in and it was the local wolf expert Rick McIntyre. They say where he goes the wolves go. And rightly so, not long after he had arrived, we saw three wolves running towards the same bison carcass we had seen the previous day. The three of them were followed by four more! Soon, there were tourists, rangers and researchers in the parking lot observing the wolves with keen interest. The wolves fed on the carcass for a while before deciding to head off into the Druid peak.

The day ended with a pleasant walk to see the grand canyon of Yellowstone and then see the beautiful Yellowstone falls. It was at the canyon where we also saw the "yellow stone" of the canyon which gave its name to the falls, the river, the lake and the national park.



The Yellowstone falls

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Yathin
09 August 2009 @ 10:24 pm
The roads in Yellowstone are notoriously busy. Even if a small fraction of those on the road made it to any of the trails without boardwalks, then there would be some of the most crowded trails in any national park in the country. However, there are as many people on the trails in Yellowstone as there are plants in the harshest of deserts. It is not difficult to imagine what could be keeping the people away from the trails. My guess is the park's superstar: the Grizzly bear. Besides the grizzly, Yellowstone boasts of an amazing cast in wolves, bison, black bears, mountain lions, moose and elk. All of those and more can get very dangerous in the wrong situation, but park authorities make sure that people get that the park is home to the horribilis edition of the great brown bear (Ursus arctos). That means anyone and everyone on the trail is armed with... pepper spray. At forty dollars a can - which empties in seven seconds flat - they are not cheap and here's the best part: the disclaimer proudly says it may not work on all bears or all the time. How reassuring is that? Anyway, not wanting to make headlines like "Hikers without pepper spray eaten by grizzlies" and not wanting to look out of fashion on the trails, we picked up a can of pepper spray from a friendly neighborhood store and started planning on a hike.

The plan was to walk up to specimen ridge and see the ancient petrified forest in Yellowstone. Besides having the most number of petrified tree stumps that are actually standing, the place is home to some 27 (no typo that!) layers of ancient forests - a time capsule which tells a story of Yellowstone through the ages when it was a much different place than it is today. The books said this was no easy trail and we realized that when we tried to find the trailhead. Since we only saw places that could be potential trailheads and we were not sure which one we should take, we headed a down the road to the Yellowstone river picnic site to take an alternate trail to specimen ridge. The trail from the picnic site took us on a quick ascent of a several hundred feet and then flattened out to gentle ups and downs along the yellowstone river canyon.

Ravens and other birds were seen and heard for much of the early part of the hike. When on a trail, I generally have the camera with the telephoto lens on. It makes sense because I use the telephoto lens to shoot animals or birds and the wide angle of scenery and such things. The stationary objects always have time for a change of lens right? The first big animal we saw on the trail was a surprise. It came out of nowhere and fearlessly jogged past us without stopping or even looking. I thought it was a coyote first but then it turned out to be a red fox losing its winter coat and on its way to get its summer coat. When the fox was moving towards me, I didn't have time to even focus at the animal and as it passed just a few feet away, it was just a little too close for my lens! After moving away, the fox decided to pause for a moment and look at me, the camera fired and the fox moved on. The fox was out of sight in no time and I nervously looked at the photographs I had and it turned out that the one photograph that I hadn't shaken was the one when the fox looked at me. Thrilled about the fox, we moved on and came across a marmot sunbathing on the edge of the canyon. The marmot was a not too happy with intruders but still held ground and we left him in the exact same place we saw him.

At about the same time, an old couple came by on the trail and they told us that not too long ago that the exact same place we were walking was home to a mountain lion and a lot of people used to see it regularly from the opposite side. That sure made it more exciting. A little scary, but still exciting. As we continued along the trail, we noticed something moving in the shadows and out came three little lambs, followed by a bunch of mama big horn sheep. They were walking towards us and the little lambs showed no fear of humans as they walked up the trail and stopped to look at strange creatures standing on two legs. The female big horns took a more cautious path, but they were still very calm. The light was terrible for photography, but who cares about light and photographs when you can watch such beauty up close?

The fox and the sheep had pretty much made the hike. It couldn't get any better, can it? Probably not because something happened not too long after the sheep had moved on. We were walking along the trail and noticed a bison several hundred feet away. It was running from the open grassland towards the canyon rim. Remember the trail was along the rim and that meant the bison would either have to move along the trail or go along the trail. And then I realized it wasn't just one bison. The lead bison was part of a small herd with three young calves. Expecting the bison to move away, we continued to walk along the trail. Now the trail was not just flat, but had gentle hills which meant parts of the trails were not visible when in a trough. As we moved along and got to the top of another small hill, we noticed that the bison herd had moved quickly in our direction and were standing on the hill on the other side less than a couple of hundred feet away. They were moving towards us and moving quickly. They had no idea we were on the trail but I could only imagine bad things if they got too close to us and spooked because they had calves to protect. Moving out of their path was the only option then, but we didn't want to go to the open grassland, so running to the trees was the only option. The trees were on the very edge of the cliff and the nearest one was some distance away. We quickly moved to the trees expecting the bison to come charging down the trail. Since the trees were a little off the trail and into the canyon, we didn't actually see the bison go past us, but when we finally went back up the trail we could see the herd running along the trail to the place where we had seen the big horn sheep. The herd was moving fast. Just amazing to think that such ponderous animals are so quick. Glad that we were not a part of the great stampede on Specimen Ridge trail, we moved along.

When the last drop of water from the last water bottle was empty and specimen ridge still a few miles away, we decided we had to turn back. No use exhausting ourselves on a hot summer day high in the mountains when we could see a storm building up in the distance. Besides, I realized that walking on ridges and steep slopes with a heavy backpack makes hiking very cumbersome and one bad step on loose gravel will see man and camera go rolling downhill (Rolling hills like they say!). The downhill route was way more easy like it should be. It was more open grassland though and if we came across more bison, we'd have to come up with another strategy because there were no trees in sight. Grizzly scat and bison dung told us it was probably a well used path. However, the most dangerous things we saw were two American badgers. Now badgers are small and look cute an all that but let their cuteness not deceive you. They are some of the most feared animals in the wild world. They are known to be extremely fearless and huge animals like lions and bears stay clear of a badgers path. Some reputation then? Well, the badgers showed that the part of being fearless was true because they saw us and continued going about their business digging burrows. We were not sure if it was their burrow or if they were raiding a burrow for lunch, but we sure didn't want them to come and investigate us. For several minutes, the badgers hung around and finally decided to move uphill and we started moving back along the trail to the point where we had started.




A lamb on the trail...

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Yathin
04 August 2009 @ 08:58 pm
I have no words it seems. I have been thinking for the last several minutes on how best to start writing about the short trip to the Grand Teton National Park and I just can't begin. Grand, wonderful, amazing, awesome, fantastic, beautiful and everything else seems to fit very well. It probably isn't as popular as the national park just north - Yellowstone - but it is just as pretty and in a different way. It has been claimed that the Teton range is so beautiful that the southern state of Colorado once used photographs of this range for advertising tourism in their state! Yeah, the words Colorado and Rockies seem to go hand in hand, but the Rockies are so beautiful everywhere that the political boundaries are just lines on some map.

The northern end of the park seems to support a healthy population of the Grizzly bear and seeing one on the trip was top priority. The Colter Bay campsite had fliers with a photograph of a young grizzly that had been shot dead in the campsite because bad humans taught the bear how to steal food and he had become an aggressive raider. "Save a bear" the flier screamed with the dead bear's photograph doing some advertising to save his friends and family who still roam and live in these parts. It seems that most of the tourists driving thorough the national park are on their way to Yellowstone and only a few decide to explore the place. The crowds that Yellowstone is famous far seem to avoid Grand Teton - which is probably the reason why the place seems so much wilder. The dirt roads off of the highways are empty and there is wildlife to be seen. We didn't have any luck with the grizzlies though, but the trip to the Grand Teton was a beautiful one indeed because all the other animals and the scenic Rockies more than made up for missing out on the big brown bear.




The Teton range just before dawn at the Oxbow bend

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Yathin
20 July 2009 @ 08:22 pm
Yellowstone was done in two phases. The first phase was all about the touristy things like must-see places and stopping to look at bison herds, elk and such. The second phase would begin after a trip south to the Grand Tetons. Wildlife sighting during the first phase was very exciting and interesting - the first views of the great bison herds set against a fiery backdrop and the giant elk in all their grace next to the roads. And since it was pretty much my first time seeing wild herds, every opportunity to make photographs was welcomed. It was a rainy couple of days in Yellowstone though and photographs were mostly of the here-is-proof-i-saw-wildlife kind. Anyway, here are some of the common creatures seen in Yellowstone during the first phase.





A lone American Bison walks across a meadow with geysers in the background




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Yathin
20 July 2009 @ 07:44 pm
Old Faithful is Yellowstone's most famous geyser. It was also the first geyser to be named in the park and it is most famous because its eruptions can be predicted. Eruptions occur at intervals between sixty to ninety minutes and can go hundred or more feet into the air and last a couple of minutes. Because it is so grand and so predictable, people flock to the place to witness an eruption. Watching an Old Faithful eruption is a must-do for a first time visitor to Yellowstone National Park and I was looking forward to seeing this beautiful geyser erupt.

It was freezing summer morning with ice all along the trail leading up to Old Faithful. The Old Faithful astrologers had said an eruption was due at seven in the morning. A small, eager and anxious crowd had gathered on the boardwalks to witness the eruption. Give or take ten minutes they say when predictions for eruptions are published. The ten minutes were taken and the ten minutes were given but there were no signs of an eruption. Old Faithful was turning out to be not so faithful after all. I really began to doubt the claims of predictable eruptions when the clock hit half past seven. There was serious danger of my fingers turning into miniature glaciers, but the other Old Faithful, our good friend the Sun, decided to peek out from the dark side and shower us with its benevolent, life-saving light and warmth. With the waiting now a little more bearable, waiting for the geyser to fire would be tolerated for a little more time. The crowds were getting bigger and everyone seemed to have the same question in mind. And then someone shouted - "There it is." - and we all saw in amazement a massive eruption that measured three feet and lasted two seconds.


"That's it? That was the eruption?" someone wisecracked

"Bigger ones are always preceded by smaller eruptions." someone responded.


Most first time geyser watchers probably thought that the wisecrack was right for once. And just when the doubts were gaining foothold Old Faithful comes alive with a roar. It is more or less like a broken water pipe in the city streets really. And it lasts just for a few minutes unlike the several hours in the cities. Whatever. Pictures fail to describe the magnificence. Words fail too. And High-definition videos will fall short too. You just have to be there to see a geyser erupt. You may appreciate it then.





Old Faithful - just after an eruption

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Yathin
20 July 2009 @ 07:00 pm
Time to kickoff some photographs from Yellowstone then? It has been a busy couple of weeks and the process of looking through photographs to pick out ones to process and upload has been a little challenging. So, I think I should begin by posting pictures of geysers and hot springs for which Yellowstone is most famous for, besides being the world's first national park and the most visited national park in the United States.

There is a shortage of words and phrases used to describe Yellowstone. Anything and everything I want to say has been said before and in words more beautiful than I can ever imagine putting together. There are few words better than what Terry Tempest Williams writes in "The erotics of place: Yellowstone" to describe Yellowstone:


"Steam rising. Water boiling. Geysers surging. Mud pots gurgling. Herds breathing. Hooves stampeding. Wings flocking. Sky darkening. Clouds gathering. Rain falling. Rivers raging. Lakes rising. Lightning striking. Trees burning. Thunder dapping. Smoke clearing. Eyes staring.

We call its name -- and the land calls back.

Yellowstone.

Echo System.

Echo."



That is Yellowstone. You'll understand when you go there.


The gigantic Yellowstone caldera is almost incomprehensible and definitely not viewable in its entirety standing anywhere on earth - a crazy 30 miles by 40 miles (or around 50 by 70 kilometers). It's a strange feeling driving into a caldera that big. It is a caldera masked by beauty in innumerable forms from geothermal features to trees to landscape to wildlife. Yellowstone breathes. Yellowstone lives.





Near the Grand Prismatic geyser

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Yathin
09 July 2009 @ 09:44 pm
Like I said in my last post, West Glacier was all about grand scenery and little wildlife. So, hoping that the law of averages does its thing I was looking forward to East Glacier. Bears, Moose and Mountain Goats were the top of my wish list for the day.


My vacation days usually start well before the hint of sunlight. That means I need to haul myself out of my cramped tent, pack up and leave the campsite in nearly frigid conditions. It was such a beginning to the day at Fishing Bridge in West Glacier. After a quick pit stop at a gas station, I was on my way towards East Glacier. First destination was the strangely named 'Goat Lick' point along the main highway that connects West Glacier to East Glacier. Knowing about the grand naming schemes in and around the park, I wasn't hoping to see the mysterious mountain goats.


And as expected, the parking lot at the Goat Lick pullout was empty. The tropical ape that I am, I didn't want to get away from the heated car into ice age temperatures outside. I was very, very positive that this was just another tourist trap and there would be no goats, gorillas or goblins around. My more adventurous fellow-traveler from the cold north wanted to go scan the area and did just that while I sat in the car. Seconds later there was a frenetic waving of hands and I forgot the meaning of cold as I rushed out with my (ever-ready) camera and tripod. Mountain Goats! With little ones too. There were a whole lot of them sitting, standing and sleeping in precarious places on dangerous looking cliffs. I had seen the famous mountain goats of Glacier National Park at last! Photographing them would be a letdown though because the sun was still not up. I would have waited for the sun to drop by, but then the goats were too far for my telephoto lens to make any decent photographs, so I made a few documentation photographs and headed onwards to a place called Two Medicine.


Moose are giants. You don't realize how huge they are until you see one of those things for real. They are as tall as camels and with antlers that can span seven feet across they look more intimidating than camels. American bison look dwarf-like next to a bull moose. Since I couldn't imagine that they could really be so big, I just had to see one. Now, my fellow traveler knew a thing or two about Moose. Besides being their national animal, there was a great experiment done in their country to build a mighty moose cavalry. A cavalry so strong that enemies on mere horses would be trampled and crushed. Victories in wars would have been a moose-walk for the Swedish army. But it wasn't to be for moose are creatures not built for war. The Swedes would be wiser in their know-hows when it came to moose talk since that day. So, according to Swedish knowledge moose are to be found in places where there are trees, old and young, with water close by - old trees to hide, young trees to eat and water to play around in. I was also told that Moose are usually seen running by the roadside looking for the best place to escape into the forest by the roadside. And the Swede was right. By Thor, the Swede was right! On a deserted road through a conifer forest, I saw a giant animal running along the road. Moose! I couldn't believe the I could be so excited with my first moose sighting, but it was that exciting. It was a young male moose running along the road looking for a gap in the forest to run away into. Just as the Swede had predicted. Moose really are giants!


So, in the first hour of sunlight I had two lifers - Mountain Goats and Moose. It couldn't get any better than that right? Well, what else could happen to make an already fantastic day better? It just did get better. Driving on the edge of the park, I noticed a animal in the shadows by the roadside. I first thought it was cattle from one of the surrounding ranches until I realized I was looking at a bear! Grizzly? My heart wanted it to be a grizzly, but I just knew it had to be a Black bear. And it was. It was another young black bear, but unlike the black bears I had seen on previous occasion, this one was really black. He was walking straight towards my car, on my side of the road, when I stopped at a distance and put on the emergency lights so that passing cars would slow down. Unfortunately, a bunch of cars came by from the other side and scared away the bear into the forest. I had gotten a couple of photographs, but I wished I had seen more of him. Slightly disappointed, I went ahead and pulled into a turnout to review my photographs. Now bears are inquisitive little buggers and I should have known that. While I sat there wondering when I would see my next bear, I casually looked at my rear view mirror and imagine what I see!? That young bugger had come out of the forest and was looking very curiously at my car! I got out of the car with excitement and that spooked him and he ran away into the jungle once again. I turned the car around and waited on the turnout on the other side and I just knew the bear would come out. And come out he did. This time I didn't get out of the car since I had parked it in a way that I could shoot from the window. He first stood behind a bush and looked at me for a few seconds. He then took a few baby steps out of the bush towards the car and then decided that he wanted to cross. He moved towards the other side of the road rather slowly and I was hoping no car would come by because that would surely kill him. He went to the middle of the road and then stopped. He raised one paw and looked at the me plotting his next move. At that point I wanted to get out to force him to cross the road quicker, but thankfully he decided to continue moving. He then got into the bush and disappeared into the forest. What a beautiful animal and what a magical moment!

Later on during a day a beaver was seen in one of the lakes at a place called Many Glacier. A moose was seen running (as usual) along the forest's edge. And after the sun had gone down we came across a stopped car. The driver said he had seen two grizzlies in the meadow next to the road. The wait was exciting but we didn't see any grizzlies that night. And so ended the stay at Glacier national park. It was a beautiful stay and I was impressed by the Rockies. However, Yellowstone and Grand Tetons were coming up next.








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Yathin
06 July 2009 @ 09:06 pm
I didn't know much about Glacier National park except for the fact that it is the only other national park in the lower 48 states that has Grizzly bears. Yahooing (but of course!) for more information revealed that it was the world's first international park and is contiguous with Waterton Lakes national park in Canada. And since I was planning on visiting the world's first national park - Yellowstone - during the trip, the prospect of going to the world's first international park seemed exciting. However, it was the park mascot that sold me Glacier - the Mountain Goat!

Now what does American Football, the Loch Ness monster and Glacier National Park have in common? They were all created for the consumer - spectators, audience or tourists. According to a well known source here's a history lesson: "In 1891, the Great Northern Railway crossed the Continental Divide at Marias Pass (5,213 ft/1,589 m), which is along the southern boundary of the park. In an effort to stimulate use of the railroad, the Great Northern soon advertised the splendors of the region to the public. The company lobbied the United States Congress, and in 1897, the park was designated as a forest preserve"

And so, Glacier National Park came into existence with catchy names for glaciers, roads, lakes and all. Thankfully the birds and animals were left untouched by the naming frenzy. The most famous of all roads in Glacier National Park is the Going-to-the-sun Road. It doesn't really go up to the sun (I didn't have to confirm that right?) and it is not all that high up in the mountains at around 6600 feet (2200 meters) on its highest point, but it is a civil engineering landmark nonetheless. You'll have to see and drive on the road to believe what an achievement it is. Really. Winter can dump eighty to hundred feet of snow on the road and it takes forever to clear out the snow when spring arrives. It wasn't even open in late June when I made the trip there!

With the Going-to-the-sun road closed on the west side at its highest point, Logan Pass, traveling to the east side would have to wait for another day. Glacier National park on the west side starts off pretty flat. With beautiful conifer forests, the magnificent Lake McDonald and Grand views of the high Rockies. Every turnout overflows with scenic beauty (and with cars of course!). There are countless trails leading to a lake shore or into the forest. Trailheads and turnouts have notes posted everywhere in bright yellow, orange or red warning tourists that they are now in Grizzly country. The poor animal even carries a scientific name as horrible as Ursus arctos horribilis (meaning Bear bear horrible. Ursus means bear in Latin. Arctos means bear in Greek. horribilis means... OK, you figure this one out). Anyway, the bear bear bear is known to be notorious in these parts and every conversation for hikers and campers revolves around how to stay safe from them... if you can that is. Hikers are seen carrying bells, whistles and pepper-spray when in Grizzly country. The park also has the smaller and more common Black Bears (which are quite large by the way). So, how does one know if the bear is a Grizzly or a black bear? Well, it is really simple. Just look for their scat. Black bear scat will have leaves, berries and such. Grizzly bear scat will have bells, whistles and pepper-spray cans.

It looked like I had taken the Crater lake weather with me as Glacier National park looked all cloudy and dull. The drive up to Logan pass was an uneventful one except for brief stops at a lake placid and a river wild. The Logan pass parking lot was an excited one. On one of the mountains near the pass, a gang of young male Big-horned sheep were honing their ramming skills on a patch of snow. A steady stream of tourists walked up a very, very, very slippery and steep trail to see the sheep from up-close. Blessed with a giant telephoto lens (compared to those pocket cameras anyway) that the tourists did not possess, I first took a shot of the sheep from down below. And then the greed for better shots took over my mind and I began going up the steep slope ignoring my awful mountaineering skills. I was doing OK uphill until I turned around and saw the near vertical trail (at least for my eyes and ability anyway). And the first slip happened and I had to stop almost immediately. I heard from tourists coming down that the sheep had gone away and now there was no motivation to do the last ten percent of the trail. Getting down was the priority now but not in the rolling down manner. After some circus and some nervous moments on slippery snow, I was finally down on the road with mud and ice on my back side. Did I mention that grass and small shrubs have strong root systems? :-)

The day ended with a long and bumpy drive through deep wilderness to Lake Kintla on the Canadian border. The road was rough with spectacular scenery and wide open meadows. It took several hours to cover the fifteen or so miles because of frequent stops and slow driving in the hope of catching a grizzly on the meadows or a moose among the willows, but it wasn't to be. At one point I wondered if I had crossed off into Canada by mistake. Now that would be illegal and a lot of trouble for me. Anyway, I was more slow than I thought I was and Lake Kintla itself wasn't a letdown. Besides being amazingly beautiful (and I'm running out of words to describe the parks other features) it had one of the most remote camping grounds I've been to. Unfortunately, I had already pitched my tent at another place called Fishing Bridge and I had to turn around for the night.

West Glacier was all about grand scenery and little wildlife. East Glacier was different and that story shall be told in the coming days. For now, here are the images from West Glacier.




Glacier National Park




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Yathin
05 July 2009 @ 01:10 pm
I love blue and Crater lake is all about that color. It had been on my list of places to see for a long time and I finally got a chance to travel to the place this summer - on the longest day of the year in the Northern hemisphere. I headed out from San Jose several hours before dawn to beat the weekend traffic as I don't particularly enjoy driving in bumper-kissing traffic. I'm sure there are people out there who enjoy traffic and crowds and noise and such, but that's not me. Anyway, I had put in some good miles - bless cruise control - by the time I reached Redding in California when the first rays of the sun hit this part of the world. After a quick stop for fuel and coffee, the central valley of California had ended and the mountains had begun. Mountain roads are beautiful to drive on but they do need a lot of concentration as they are filled with distractions in the form of scenic places and wildlife. As the cloud cover cleared up a bit, a giant white peak was seen among the shorter pine-covered hills. It was the great white mountain of the Cascades - Mount Shasta. Traveling further north revealed that that mountain just rises out of flat ground and forms an incredible backdrop for the highways that run around it. I thought about going to the forests around the peak, but I had to decide between that and losing out on a camping site at Crater lake, so I decided to head on towards the lake.

I had imagined Oregon to be all rugged mountains but it started off pretty flat - with Mount Shasta looking over the land. By that time, distractions had taken control and I was on an Oregon birding trail near Klamath Falls. Nesting Sandhill cranes, courting Wrens and blackbirds and mud-collecting swallows were seen and though I could have spent hours and hours there, I had to move on. When I arrived at Crater lake, the first thing I needed to do was to get a campsite. Most campgrounds get filled up by noon on summer days. However, most campgrounds at Crater lake weren't even open and the few that were open still had some snow in them! And there I was for my summer vacation in shorts and sandals. After registering at the campsite, I pitched my tent and headed seven miles north to the rim of the crater lake. It was all foggy when I reached the rim and through holes in the cloud I could see the deep, dark blue waters of the mighty crater lake. It is one of the deepest lakes in the world and was formed when a volcanic peak collapsed and trapped all the water from the snowfall on the surrounding peaks, so it has a bit of interesting history.

The overcast conditions made me feel that I wouldn't be able to see the blue that the lake is so famous for, so I headed out to the trails nearby to catch some wildlife. I had to turn around soon though because it was obviously not a 'shorts n sandals' type weather and I had to head back to the campsite to change into something more appropriate - a layer of thermals and sweaters. :-)

The fog cleared up for a few minutes during the day and the breathtaking blue was seen at last, but I think the lake deserves to be seen on a clear day when three-fourths of the rim drive isn't closed.

The morning came early for me. I could hear rainfall on my tent and I dreaded the thought of having to get outside and pull apart the wet tent and dump it into the car. The sleeping bag had saved me from the bitter cold of the night and I only realized how cold it was outside after getting out of it. I quickly pulled apart the tent and started driving towards the lake from the campsite. It was still very dark outside and it was still raining. The car said that that outside air temperature was about 27F (or -3 Celsius) but since it was windy it felt a lot colder. When I got to the rim, there was absolutely no one there. And then I saw a shadow moving in the snow - a red fox in his gray winter coat was patrolling the village one last time before the sun makes an appearance. I put on my woolens and headed out to the rim to see what was happening on the lake. The lake was calm with clouds all around the rim and fog was moving in. I spent a couple of hours walking around the place till the sun broke through the clouds to show Crater lake one last time before I continued traveling north towards Seattle.





Crater Lake Blue




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Yathin
04 July 2009 @ 01:53 pm
The drive from Denver to back home in California was going to be a long one. I wanted to get back home before the holiday crowd takes over the national parks across the country. It is amazing how popular remote places and outdoor activities are in this country and for someone like me who prefers to be in places where there are no crowds, weekends and holiday weekends are time to stay away from national parks and such.

I left Denver early on the morning of the 2nd of July. Interstate 70 through the Rocky Mountains is an amazing road. Besides being very scenic there is a lot of wildlife next to the roads all through the mountains. I saw lots of deer and big-horned sheep. They could be traffic hazards, but it is always nice to see that they are around even if they are next to a winding freeway at 11,000 feet where vehicles speed in excess of 75 mph. I picked Monument Valley on the Utah-Arizona border as the place to stop by for the night. It wasn't exactly midway between Denver and San Jose, but I couldn't have picked a better approximate midway point.

When I got to the Navajo reservation, it was all cloudy and dark. The day was still young but I didn't have much hope to see the sun that evening. I went into the park and went for a drive on the valley floor. The overcast and low light conditions was interesting to make some photographs but when I saw horses for trail rides, I decided to go for it. Riding a mustang in the iconic western landscape can be wonderful experience but with the Navajo tour guide telling me things about Navajo culture, beliefs and tradition, it was just awesome. The weather played its part with an occasional drizzle as the Navajo horseman sung his rain song. Almost as soon as I had finished with the horse ride, the clouds opened up a bit to show the magnificent landscape of the Colorado plateau.

Here are some photographs from the Monument Valley.




Route 163




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Yathin
03 July 2009 @ 10:25 pm
The two weeks in the American west went very well. Some of you reading my (infrequent) updates on twitter may know what animals were seen, but here's a list anyway: 7 wolves, 4 grizzlies, 4 (wild) black bears (and 4 black bears in captivity), moose, coyotes, fox, badgers, beaver, muskrat, and countless elk, chipmunks, squirrels, pronghorn and bison. While Glacier National Park and Grand Tetons are very wild and perhaps untamed, Yellowstone is incredible. From geothermal features to meadows and mountains teeming with wildlife, Yellowstone has to be seen to be believed. Really. It is going to take a long time to put together the images and words from the trip, I guess. :-)

Meanwhile, Happy Independence day to all the Americans! This photograph is for you folks.



American Mustang. Monument Valley, Utah.




 
 
Yathin
14 June 2009 @ 11:51 pm
I did a short and hurried trip to Point Reyes this afternoon. The high tide came in early and I missed out on the tide pool shootout. And then I almost ran out of gasoline searching for a place to refuel. Couldn't have gotten worse right? It did. Near the light house, I saw a feral cat by the roadside with a kill. I first thought that the cat had gotten itself a ground squirrel, but it was later identified as a young Long-tailed Weasel! I saw an adult weasel later in the day, but it quickly ran away before I could pull over and take a shot.




An abandoned boat at Inverness

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Yathin
14 June 2009 @ 12:42 am
Every once in a while you come across something unexpected on the trails. Dark clouds loomed in the east, and the Sierra in the west was behind a veil of fog and rain. Mono Lake was not blue, or green or turquoise like it is on an ordinary day. There was an ominous calm. The storm had arrived.





South Beach, Mono Lake.

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Yathin
11 June 2009 @ 09:37 pm
The day before I was supposed to fly to San Diego I heard that my dear old friend, Spike, had died back in Bangalore. I knew him since he was just a little, fragile, helpless pup, and I can never get over the fact that he won't be there to greet me when I make that visit home. This post is dedicated to his memory.

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Captive animals and performing animals are not the kind of animals I'd like to see. I'd rather see them in the wild, when they are free and own their worlds. Once in a while a visit to a zoo comes up. I've been to zoos only a handful of times in the last decade and each time I've come away with mixed feelings. The answer to the question "Whether animals should be trained to perform or be held captive?" remains as hazy as ever. Zoos and performing animals are probably important for the people to look and take interest in the wonderful lifeforms that share this space with us...





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Yathin
10 June 2009 @ 10:19 pm


Photographed in San Diego zoo



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Yathin
02 June 2009 @ 01:29 pm
Last spring we met at their home in the mountains, and it's hard for me to believe that I was supposed to meet him a few weeks ago but now will never be able to meet him again. RTM, you will be missed. This post is dedicated to his memory.

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I was in Yosemite during the weekend. This was the first time in several trips that I missed out on meeting a Coyote, but we did get to see other interesting critters in the mammal department - a bear, lots of marmots, lots of deer, squirrels and an awesome pika! The bird department had their usual suspects in attendance but the quails and grouse were absconding. With the skies constantly switching between blue, white and gray it was as beautiful as the place can get. Yosemite during thunderstorms is just spectacular.





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Yathin
24 May 2009 @ 10:05 pm
It's been a crazy weekend. Traveling to Tahoe and Lassen National Park meant new places added to my list of travel destinations in the US, but spending so much time on the road meant that both places weren't satisfactorily experienced. There's always next time. However, this was my very first trip to an active volcanic area and I'm intrigued by Lassen National Park. The park still has a lot of snow and the main road through the park is closed, so maybe a trip in the summer is a must-do. Anyway, enough words, time for the pictures.




View from Emerald Bay in Lake Tahoe



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Yathin
16 May 2009 @ 12:30 pm
I was telling someone this morning to try HDR on one of their photographs and I realized I had never tried that myself since I bought my new Mac. Never too late to try, right? So, I downloaded Qtpfsgui and picked out one of the images I hadn't processed before just to try this out. I had never gotten around to processing pictures from the Yosemite trip in February, so I picked a photograph and began experimenting with the new software. I think I like the desaturated version of this coyote.





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Yathin
02 May 2009 @ 02:05 pm
There's life all around and all you have to do is look. That's true even for a place named Death Valley which in the middle of a desert! One of the most amazing creatures that lives in this desert, popular because of its extreme temperatures, is a species of fish. There are a few species of pupfish that live within the boundaries of the Death Valley National Park. The Salt Creek pupfish or the Death Valley pupfish is the most popular of the lot because of easy accessibility to see the fish. The creek, no more than a few inches deep, seems to be full of them during spring. With males fighting over territory and the camouflaged females witnessing the battles. Here's some of the wildlife that I was able to see in the desert during last weekend's trip.




A male Salt Creek Pupfish




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Yathin
01 May 2009 @ 09:11 pm
Since I had nothing better to do on a Friday evening, I began looking at more pictures from last week's trip. Death Valley is truly an amazing place. The place has seen so much action in terms of geography it is almost unbelievable. From a gigantic glacial age lake and being a feeding ground for mastodons and giant sloths, this place turned into a desert in the blink of an eye in terms of geologic timescale. It's got scars from the last time Yellowstone erupted. It's got mountains formed because of faults. Alluvial fans, fault lines, flash floods, Precambrian rocks, canyons, mountains, hot springs, sailing stones, playas, sand dunes and endemic plant and animal life - it's just got it all! What a place!




Racetrack Playa



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Yathin
30 April 2009 @ 08:59 pm
I first thought it was a roadkill and I drove right by it. I then thought that such a beautiful creature shouldn't be left on the road - to be driven over by other travelers in a way that's unfit for the alpha reptile of the desert. I stopped my car and backed up and then got out to pick up a stick and as I walked towards the seemingly lifeless body, it moved! It was alive!! I wasn't sure if another car had gone over it before and disabled it, but I quickly ran back to the car and pulled out my camera. I saw another car approaching and I put on the emergency lights and signaled the car to stop to allow safe passage for this beautiful snake! I clicked a few quick shots and then pulled out my video camera. By that time, another car of tourists had stopped and they were all looking at it eagerly. While I videotaped the snake moving to safety, a couple of them got excited and wanted to hear the snake "rattle" and threw a stick at it. I told them that that wasn't the right way to treat wildlife and it was amazing how quickly they understood what they had done was wrong and were feeling bad for it! And soon the snake was out of our sights and had coiled up inside a bush! It is amazing how such a big snake had made itself so small! And after the other tourists had left, I moved on. Happy that I might have helped the snake in whatever little way I could. However, in less than 24 hours, I was to see another rattlesnake in a different part of the desert with a different outcome. A roadkill. It wasn't a baby Mojave or a Panamint like I thought it was, but it was a Sidewinder. I picked that one up from the road and let it rest for eternity beside the empty road...


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Yathin
28 April 2009 @ 05:47 pm
Among the many interesting things that make a harsh desert their home, the Desert Horned Lizard is the only one that looks like a mythological beast - a dragon! Without wings of course.

They aren't as fast moving as some of the other desert specialist lizards. And they also aren't too shy because they think, and rightly so, that their camouflage works. And they look menacing too - with horns, spines and everything. This was the first time that I've seen a horned lizard and it turns out they are a common resident in the Desert Tortoise Natural Area and along with their superstar neighbors - the Desert Tortoise - these lizards make a trip to the DTNA an extremely interesting one.






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Yathin
27 April 2009 @ 07:50 pm
Yes, there is such a thing as California's state reptile. It is the amazing Desert Tortoise. I was hoping to see one on my previous trips to and through the Mojave, but it turned out I had to wait for the right time of the year to make the trip to see this wonderful creature. Desert Tortoise Natural Area is probably the best place to see them. There are a few short trails - trails beside burrows, and trails beside washes and flowers - which are good bets to find one. And I did find one there, just after I had given up on seeing one after more than a couple of hours of hiking in the desert sun!




Hello?

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Yathin
18 April 2009 @ 06:30 pm
I went on my first real hike in a really, really long time. I better put in more of these before a longer trip, now that summer is lurking just around the horseshoe bend. It wasn't a long hike, but with an altitude gain of about 900 feet, it showed that I had slacked away from real hikes for a while. But I did reach the summit of the Flag Hill in the Ohlone Regional Park (in the East SF bay hills) and after that it was all downhill! Spring flower bloom, verdant hills, a gentle breeze and just the right temperature made it a rather pleasant outing. And it all took just a few hours of the morning which is a good thing because as soon as I got a cell phone signal I noticed a voice mail from office...

Anyway, here are the pictures for the day:




California Poppy in the California Sun!

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Yathin
28 March 2009 @ 03:47 pm
It's been a while since I actually went out to photograph birds and wildlife. I just realized how long I have been away from the bird books when I came across regulars and I was struggling to get their name right. I also realized how much I had been missing it. I spent the whole morning walking around and shooting anything I could spot and get close enough. I would probably still be lurking on those trails if I hadn't run out of camera batteries.

It all started because of news of Eared Grebes in breeding plumage. These birds breed up near the Arctics and winter around these parts. During winter, they have a comparatively dull black-and-white plumage. Turns out that some birds have assumed their breeding plumage before they start their long migration and I just had to go check them out. The other option is to go to Alaska or some place far north during late spring and summer. Driving 10 minutes is perhaps a simpler option for now?




Plumage comparison! Guess which one's in breeding plumage...

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Yathin
08 March 2009 @ 11:06 pm
So, it's been a while since I posted any photographs. I was looking through the pictures I had taken in the first two months of this year and I was surprised I had forgotten to post about the mysterious cloud that we saw at Yosemite in January. Well, it wasn't all that mysterious, but it did look like it was changes into shapes that looked recognizable.



El Capitan reflection






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Yathin
28 January 2009 @ 07:10 pm
Time to post more pictures from Yosemite. On what was mostly a skiing and snowshoeing trip, the camera somehow managed to make a few photographs of the beautiful place in the rain and snow. Just dramatic the place is.





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