random thought, wildlife

Delisting Grizzlies | Ensuring A Species’ Survival

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) is intended to lead to recovery and delisting, so long as adequate plans exist to assure recovery continues.

The ESA requires that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service prepare a recovery plan for species that are listed as threatened or endangered. For many years now, all of the recovery criteria established for Yellowstone grizzlies have been met or exceeded.”

— The National Wildlife Federation

Let me first state a fact: I am not a hunter. Nor do I have any desire to ever hunt bears, for any reason. I love bears more than any other creature on this planet… second only to dogs and (possibly) humans. I deeply care about their survival. And as a consequence, I have thought much about and researched extensively the best paths to ensuring their survival in the lower 48.

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But let me be clear; I am not an environmentalist. I am a conservationist. The former, I believe, is responsible for gross mismanagement of our wild places for far too long and leads to a mentality of “playing God” in places like Yellowstone.

Even though I personally do not hunt, I respect those that do. Especially and specifically when they responsibly use the whole animal for meat, clothing, etc. But there are a few other purposes that hunting serves, that many of us city-folk and academic types forget; non-human species are safer when they maintain a healthy fear of humans, and we humans, as the apex of all apex predators, are tasked with managing and keeping animal populations healthy. And sometimes that includes hunting for culling purposes.

According to Nick Gevock, an opinion columnist for High Country News, “It is true that such management might well include hunting… look at the remarkable track record of species that are currently hunted: Nearly every species of wildlife that hunters value has thrived in our country, and with sound scientific management, grizzlies can do the same, and even grow in both numbers and range. It’s difficult for many non-hunters to understand, but it’s a solution that works in Alaska with brown bears and can work in the Lower 48 as well.” He goes on to cite a study conducted by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, “In fact, a study of four brown bear populations in Alaska — two populations in national parks that were not hunted and two adjoining populations that are — found that the hunted bears had larger litter sizes and better cub survival.”

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I find trophy hunting wasteful. On a personal level, I do not understand the appeal. But let’s look at the facts:

1. Hunters are typically some of the best conservationists on the planet.The US Fish & Wildlife Services states “The sale of hunting licenses, tags, and stamps is the primary source of funding for most state wildlife conservation efforts.” It goes on to say, “By respecting seasons and limits, purchasing all required licenses, and paying federal excise taxes on hunting equipment and ammunition, individual hunters make a big contribution towards ensuring the future of many species of wildlife and habitat for the future. By paying the Federal excise tax on hunting equipment, hunters are contributing hundreds of millions of dollars for conservation programs that benefit many wildlife species, both hunted and non- hunted. Each year, nearly $200 million in hunters’ federal excise taxes are distributed to State agencies to support wildlife management programs, the purchase of lands open to hunters, and hunter education and safety classes.” But more than just their tax dollars speaking loudly, hunters are also members of “local hunting clubs and national conservation organizations work to protect the future of wildlife by setting aside thousands of acres of habitat and speaking up for conservation in our national and state capitals.”

2. Hunting is very big business. According to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife “Hunting is much more than a traditional American pastime. It creates more than 700,000 jobs nationwide. New studies now show that annual spending by America’s 14 million hunters amounts to $22.1 billion. By comparison, and if hypothetically ranked as a ‘corporation,’ that revenue figure would put hunting in thirty-fifth place on the Fortune 500 list of America’s largest businesses, right between J.C. Penney and United Parcel Service.” This pumps much needed resources directly into local economies and important conservation/ research efforts. So whether you agree with hunting or not, it is a vitally important part of the conservation economy.

3. Humans are an important species within the world ecosystems. Environmentalism paints the picture that humans are the main problem with the environment, which in some respects may hold some truth. However, the movement is largely based on the mediocracy principle, essentially stating that humans are mediocre and no more special, exceptional, or superior to any other species. The movement has many well-meaning individuals who truly care about the natural world, but unfortunately this whole premise is flawed. Clearly humans are the dominant species, and I could argue are quite exceptional, special, and superior. This does not mean we are the “center of the universe” or the only species that matters, or that we should destroy the planet or leave other species decimated. It is not an either/ or. Therein lies the biggest fallacy. To many environmentalists, the choice is either to be on the side that is hell bent on destruction, or to consider ourselves no different from a dung beetle and therefore refuse logic and common sense policies. There is middle ground. It is called stewardship and conservation.

4. The Greater Yellowstone ecosystem includes a massive swath of land (nearly 6 million acres) that is much more than just Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. Ranchers and others’ livelihoods depend on the bear’s fear of human conflict. They no longer fear people. A study in the 1990’s by Jon Swenson, Department of Biology and Nature Conservation at The Agricultural University of Norway (to read the full study, click here) observes in general that bears are more likely to avoid humans in areas where they are hunted than where they are fully protected. What makes things complicated is the availability of food when humans are present. Food storage and proper disposal is still a major issue in bear areas, regardless of hunting. A major rebuttal to the argument that hunting creates more fear in bears of humans is that there is no scientific evidence to support this claim. However, there is quite a lot of observational evidence dating all the way back to the 16th century in Eurasia to support the assertion, and so far, none to suggest that bears would somehow fear humans less or the same from if hunted. The responsibility is on us to be realistic, finding a way to coexist with less human-bear conflict which in the long run will help protect the species.

5. After delisting, grizzly bears will remain protected in the 3 National Parks they call home, and under special regulations in the surrounding states’ National Forests and designated Wilderness Areas. Hunting seasons and quotas will be limited and determined by biologists and conservationists projections, updated yearly to reflect proper wildlife management, just as they do with elk, deer, moose, black bear, big horn sheep, etc.

Anyone who spends much time in grizzly country, especially hunters, know that an unfortunately large segment of these bears have grown to associate humans with easy food. When an elk hunter fires his rifle in grizzly country, he/ she knows that it is only a matter of time before a bear will show up. This is potentially the exact opposite of what we might have after a few generations of bears that experience being the prey of (now) predator humans. They will try to get as far away from gunshots as possible. See the aforementioned Swenson Study.

This very simple fact could save dozens of bears lives every year that otherwise would get into conflicts with humans because they lack any fear of us. And we all know that the bear loses when it gets into human conflict. Protocol is usually to relocate the “problem” bear first, or to dispatch (kill) it. The fact is, the government killed 31 grizzly bears in 2015, for various reasons, mostly due to human-bear conflict. Could these numbers be lower (or at least the same) with the introduction of a very limited-tag trophy hunt scenario?

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According to Chris Servheen, Grizzly Bear Recovery Coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), “the bears have met every criteria set in a recovery plan to have them removed from the Endangered Species List, or ‘delisted.'” If delisted, grizzlies would no longer be protected under the stricter Endangered Species Act (ESA) regulations, and would be managed by the six surrounding National Forests and to the states of Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. The populations inside Grand Teton, Yellowstone, and Glacier National Parks would still be highly protected and managed by the National Park Service. If you would like to read the entire ESA, it is available as a pdf here.

Defenders of Wildlife, an organization who “is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities,” states, “Today, there are an estimated 1,800 grizzly bears remaining in five populations in the lower 48 states. Most of these bears are located in the Northern Continental Divide Population (including Glacier National Park) and the Yellowstone Population.” That includes the conservative estimate of 700+ in the Greater Yellowstone area.

Many conservation biologists argue against delisting, stating that it isn’t enough to protect grizzly bears if their habitat isn’t protected as well. Servheen counters that “the Service looks at more than raw numbers for delisting, including the present or threatened destruction or curtailment of bear habitat or range; overuse of habitat for commercial, recreational, scientific or educational purposes; disease or predation; the lack or inadequacy of regulations; and other natural or manmade factors affecting the population’s continued existence.”

“The key to success is adaptive management,” said Servheen. “As conditions and the needs of the bears change over time, management can change to address those needs,” he said. “I’m optimistic that the bears will be around for hundreds of years. All three state plans are good,” Servheen said, “and don’t have the political problems that have afflicted the ESA delisting plan for wolves.”

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So what does all of this mean for these magnificent bears? Well, it means great news; grizzly bears in the lower 48 have made a remarkable recovery, thanks to the Endangered Species Act. It is a “huge conservation success story“, But it doesn’t mean they are out of the proverbial “woods.”

The states of Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming have already stepped up to create comprehensive plans to manage the grizzly bear populations and to protect them from a return to the ‘threatened’ status. What this all comes down to is ensuring that bears have adequate and sufficient habitat within which to roam and avoid dangerous human contact.

I simply want to start a dialogue here that is somewhere in between the two extremes. Anyone can say what they want about me, but my main concern is the great bear’s long term survival, and to me, that means less human-bear conflict.

From where I stand, I see two main groups that are on polar opposite sides, unwilling to meet somewhere in the middle to find a balance between what is right and good for bears, and what is reasonable and fair for humans. It doesn’t have to be that way. It is possible to ensure the survival (and thriving) of this magnificent creature, all the while, managing it’s territory and population to ensure the safety and livelihood of the people who live within the massive boundaries of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

I readily admit that I do not have all the answers. Neither do you or anyone else, but I invite you to share your thoughts and feelings here, in hopes that we can come to understand each other and work toward a common goal: protecting a true symbol of the wild, and maintaining a healthy grizzly bear population, for generations to come.

— Andrew


Ellen and I have hit the road full-time! Help us on our mission to inspire and educate everyone on the importance of getting outside by checking out my workshops and my prints, made #ontheroad in my mobile print studio. The revenue will help propel us further and further on this great adventure. Enrich yourself and others… and feel great about it too as you’re helping to ensure our wild lands are cherished and to keep the wild spirit of the American Dream alive. Our goal is to visit all 59 National Parks in 2-4 years. LEARN MORE ABOUT WHAT WE’RE DOING HERE



Want to learn photography and enjoy a guided experience? Check out my exciting, NEW workshop dates:
 
TELLURIDE // LANDSCAPE + MOUNTAIN LIGHT // 2016 – SOLD OUT
TELLURIDE // LANDSCAPE + MOUNTAIN LIGHT (Trip 2) // 2016 – ONLY 2 SPOTS AVAILABLE
LOCAL + PRIVATE WORKSHOP // 2016 – AFFORDABLE RATES FOR ME TO COME TO YOU
BIG BEND // LANDSCAPE + NIGHT SKY // 2017 – MOST POPULAR! 6 SPOTS AVAILABLE
LEARN PHOTO + CAMERA BASICS // DALLAS // 2016 – 20 SPOTS!
 
I’m excited to announce my “The Photographic Guide to Our National Parks” series of eBooks:
 
See what’s NEW
 
If you are interested in purchasing a “print from the road”, please check my prints for sale, or email me directly for a custom request:
 
Andrew R. Slaton | photographer // prints
 
If you are interested in licensing any of the images/ video from this post, please visit my stock agency:
 
Tandem Stills + Motion // Andrew R. Slaton
Image Brief // Andrew R. Slaton
  
For assignment work requests, please email me: andrew@andrewslatonphoto.com
 
Thanks for visiting AndrewSlatonBlog.com!
 
all images and content © ARS Media, LLC 2016
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photography, travel

#findyourpark | A QUICK INTRO TO GLACIER

One of America’s most spectacular parks is without a doubt, Glacier. Now, you may have heard me say that I have been making plans to visit this park every year for nearly 10 years, and every year the plans fall through. Well… it finally happened. And it was worth the wait.

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This post will not be my typical #FindYourPark post, full of info, locations, tips, etc. Since it was my first visit, I had to stumble around a bit, explore, and figure things out for myself. When I have the chance to return, I will be on a mission: to gather all of the most relevant information for all of you to have an epic experience in Glacier National Park!

So for now, please enjoy my thoughts, reflections, and images from my long awaited first visit to Glacier….

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I always do a decent bit of research before I head out to any new park, so Glacier was no exception. So there were a few “must sees” and “must dos” that I knew about, and of course at the top of the list was Going-To-The-Sun-Road.

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It was the first thing we did when we got to the park. Spectacular.

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The next morning, I decided to try my luck at Lake McDonald, another very famous area for landscape shooters.

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After a beautiful sunrise, we decided to check out one of the park’s most popular short hikes, Hidden Lake. It is the shortest hike to get up into the high country and experience the vibrant blue mountain lakes. It’s also a great place to see the park’s most quirky residents up close and personal… mountain goats.

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Unfortunately it was the wrong time of day to get the shot I wanted, but I’m sure it won’t be the last time I hike to Hidden Lake.

On a particularly cloudy day, I decided to take advantage of the soft, even light, and do some creek and waterfall shots. McDonald Creek was the perfect candidate.

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Rolling steadily through hemlock forests, eventually cascading over water-worn rocks, McDonald was never visually disappointing.

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And of course it was back to Lake McDonald to see how afternoon/ evening light would paint this landscape.

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I took a few mornings to explore the far West and Northwest of the park. Definitely needed more time up at Bowman and Kintla.

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Up and over Going-to-the-sun-road a few more times…

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Then, but not soon enough, it was on to the East side of the park.

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St. Mary’s Lake, Two Medicine, and of course, Many Glacier.

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Many Glacier provided the much desired cloud/ peak drama I was really wanting to capture. All of Glacier has this potential, but on my short visit, Many Glacier was the sweet spot.

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So after an inaugural trip like this, I certainly have favorite spots, locations that I know I want to revisit… now with the much needed knowledge that comes from experience. But there were also so many places that I just did’t have time to see/ check out.

It is a vast wilderness. With so many hidden visual treasures lurking around every bend in the road, trail, river.

It’s now a forgone conclusion that I will be back… I hope sooner rather than later.

— Andrew


Ellen and I have hit the road full-time! Help us on our mission to inspire and educate everyone on the importance of getting outside by checking out my workshops and my prints, made #ontheroad in my mobile print studio. The revenue will help propel us further and further on this great adventure. Enrich yourself and others… and feel great about it too as you’re helping to ensure our wild lands are cherished and to keep the wild spirit of the American Dream alive. Our goal is to visit all 59 National Parks in 2-4 years. LEARN MORE ABOUT WHAT WE’RE DOING HERE



Want to learn photography and enjoy a guided experience? Check out my exciting, NEW workshop dates:
 
TELLURIDE // LANDSCAPE + MOUNTAIN LIGHT // 2016 – SOLD OUT
TELLURIDE // LANDSCAPE + MOUNTAIN LIGHT (Trip 2) // 2016 – ONLY 2 SPOTS AVAILABLE
LOCAL + PRIVATE WORKSHOP // 2016 – AFFORDABLE RATES FOR ME TO COME TO YOU
BIG BEND // LANDSCAPE + NIGHT SKY // 2017 – MOST POPULAR! 6 SPOTS AVAILABLE
LEARN PHOTO + CAMERA BASICS // DALLAS // 2016 – 20 SPOTS!
 
I’m excited to announce my “The Photographic Guide to Our National Parks” series of eBooks:
 
See what’s NEW
 
If you are interested in purchasing a “print from the road”, please check my prints for sale, or email me directly for a custom request:
 
Andrew R. Slaton | photographer // prints
 
If you are interested in licensing any of the images/ video from this post, please visit my stock agency:
 
Tandem Stills + Motion // Andrew R. Slaton
Image Brief // Andrew R. Slaton
  
For assignment work requests, please email me: andrew@andrewslatonphoto.com
 
Thanks for visiting AndrewSlatonBlog.com!
 
all images and content © ARS Media, LLC 2016
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landscape, travel

MT Obsession // Pilot Peak

Okay, so I have another mountain portrait obsession*.  Pilot Peak.  Well, technically, it started four years ago on my usual Fall trip to Wyoming and Montana.  But it really hit me this year.

*Note: See Squaretop & Long’s Peak

I didn’t spend more than a few mid-afternoon hours exploring a few different vantage points this year, but be watching in the future, because I will no doubt return.

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Pilot is a very Matterhorn-esque peak with a really dramatic and jagged summit.

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For the most part, this visit was a scouting trip.  I know, I know… I’ve been to this area 10,000 times.  But I’ve had a lot of new vision swirling around my brain lately, so I’m beginning to see things a little differently.

I’m excited to see growth this year.  And new mountain obsessions…

— andrew


 
Take your photography to the next level… check out my NEW workshop dates:
 
Grand Teton Photographic Tour/ Workshops 2015
More Destination Photo Tours/ Workshops 2015
 
If you are interested in licensing any of the images/ video from this post, please visit my stock agency:
 
Tandem Stills + Motion // andrew r. slaton
 
If you are interested in purchasing prints from this post, please check my prints for sale, or email me directly for a custom request:
 
andrew r. slaton // photographer // prints
 
For assignment work requests, please email me: andrew@andrewslatonphoto.com
 
Thanks for visiting AndrewSlatonBlog.com!
 
all images and content © ARS Media, LLC 2014
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art, music, photography, random thought, travel

somewhere in the middle of montana… err… wyoming

i’m tired of this dirty old city.
entirely too much work and never enough play.
and i’m tired of these dirty old sidewalks.
think i’ll walk off my steady job today.

turn me loose, set me free, somewhere in the middle of montana.
and gimme all i got comin’ to me,
and keep your retirement and your so called social security.
big city turn me loose and set me free.

been working everyday since i was twenty.
haven’t got a thing to show for anything i’ve done.
there’s folks who never work and they’ve got plenty.
think it’s time some guys like me had some fun.

turn me loose, set me free, somewhere in the middle of montana.
and gimme all i got comin’ to me,
and keep your retirement and your so called social security.
big city turn me loose and set me free.

music © merle haggard

on special occasions, when my ipod decides to look kindly on me and bring me a gift by way of shuffle, this abrupt chorus of fiddle will perk my ears and lift my spirit.  merle haggard’s “big city” always brings vivid images to mind.  images with which i am quite familiar.

like i’ve said before, i go to wyoming at least twice every year.  and this year’s no different.  well, okay, so it’s a little different this time; to accompany me, i have a friend (who also happens to be a girl, and more, my sweetheart).

last fall i shared wyoming for the first time… with my brother (see “like brothers on a hotel bed”).

and this past winter, elle started traveling with me (see “january fan, july flame”).

and so it was… a perfect storm of relationship and forward progress.  it was time for elle and me to see wyoming together…

elle works a regular job, so time is of the essence.  as a consequence, she had to fly, whereas i drove.  no matter.  it may be too early to ride 24 straight hours in the car together.  maybe not, but i was okay with not finding that out just yet.

i love my time alone in the car on the open road.  lots of time to think.  time to allow shuffle on my ipod to make me laugh, cry, contemplate, remember.

i arrived at the jackson hole airport on time, unlike for my brother only a year ago.  i came up from the south, and avoided the painful crawl of yellowstone.

elle couldn’t believe she was finally here.

poor girl.

she’s had to listen to me “sell” the mystical land of wyoming to her for the past four years, with no way of judging for herself.

“so what’d’ya think!?” i asked when i first saw her.

“ohhh aaaannnndddrrruuuuu!!” she exclaimed, as she so often does.

“it’s wuuuunnderfullll!”

so we left the “bustle” of jackson and the parks, and headed straight for green river lakes.

the upper green is one of the most beautiful places in the world, by my calculations, so i figured it was worth a quick look.

it did not disappoint.  elle was floored.  but we were heading into the heart of the wind river mountains the next day from a different point of entry, so we had move on.

we awoke at soda lake, near pinedale, like i’ve done so many times before… alone.

for breakfast, we watched a bald eagle soar across the surface of soda lake.

we quickly made our way up skyline drive to elkhart park, where we were to meet mike and ellen.

ellen brought her horses, jazz, comanche, and pistol pete.  this was to be a genuine pack trip, though elle and i would be on foot.

quick backstory on my friend mike… although a very compelling novel could be written on this guy.

when i first moved to pinedale, wyoming, my publisher, rob, was giving me a run down of the newspaper, the town, and it’s people.  he made a very specific command for me not, under any circumstances, to take any info or quotes from a guy in town named mike ramsey.  he said it was because mike was always full of, you know what.  but i knew there had to be more to it.

big mistake, rob.

not more than a week later, i was enjoying a cold beer at the brew pub, and who do i get introduced to?  none other than the “infamous” mike ramsey.

if you haven’t gathered yet, i’m the type that immediately becomes intrigued when someone makes a point to tell me not to do something without a very good explanation.  now this can be good and bad.  luckily, this time it turned out to be good… i think.

we hit it off, and over the next few months we would spend hours in the car together looking for bears and telling stories from the backcountry.  whiskey was often involved.  it took a while, but in spite of me being a texan and a dumb kid, i think mike started to enjoy my company.

and now, over five years later, i still see him every time i’m in his neck of the woods.  for some reason he still puts up with me.

something else about mike you should know; he spent over twenty five years guiding hunters and fighting fires in the maze that is the wyoming wilderness.  the wind river mountains, teton wilderness, the gros ventre, yellowstone… he’s the guy you want with you if you want to make it out alive.

so months ago, when we talked about planning a pack trip for this summer for us and the two ellens, i knew it would be unique and memorable for all.

off we went.  into the wilderness.  from elkhart, we took the pole creek trailhead.

it was july 4th weekend, but there were still plenty of snowbanks.  elle was very excited to see snow in july…

the scenery was breathtaking.

and then we made it to photographer’s point.  easy to see why it’s called that.

freemont peak towered in the background as ellen and mike enjoyed the view.

then, possibly the highlight of the trip for elle, a ride in the mountains on pistol pete.

just five or six miles in, we made it to our first camp at eklund lake.  we went up to mary’s lakes, but there were no suitable corrals for the horses, so eklund it would be.

buster was a perfect camp dog.  and i swear he ate better that weekend than i typically do on a good week back home.

that’s definitely one of the joys of packing in your food and gear on horses…  usually i only carry what i can on my back, so as you might imagine, i eat a lot of peanut butter and ramen.

elle and i posed with our “bear spray”.  large caliber pistols and shotguns are better deterrents in my opinion than traditional pepper spray when you’re in grizzly country…

we took the horses to feed in a nearby pasture, and i think elle made a real connection with them.

it was a beautiful sunny afternoon in the mountains, so we relaxed, and enjoyed the quiet.

the next day, due to an ankle injury suffered the night before, elle and i decided to only hike up to mary’s to fish.  we would also stay at eklund as our base camp for the next few days.  no need to push ourselves to hard.  we were on vacation after all!

our time in the winds was over.  elle and i had to start making our way north to jackson, closer to the airport.  sadly, she would have to leave the next day.

we decided to spend the day in the tetons.  so we hiked jenny lake.

…elle’s favorite spot…  the view and the fact the she had to leave soon made her cry.  i wished i could make it all better for her, but i couldn’t.  i wished i could just make the world right, but i can’t.  so we decided to just enjoy what we could, while we could.  that seemed to help…

i no longer identify with certain parts of mr. haggard’s tune, like i have in the past.  i mean, i’m pretty blessed with what i do for a living.  i often get to go to the mountains, and it’s hard for me to say that i feel like what i do is “hard work” with a straight face.  don’t get me wrong; work is work.  but i’m fortunate to love what i do.

however i kept getting the feeling that elle could really identify with parts of the song.  you know, parts about too much work and not enough play, or dirty cities, or working every day since age 20, etc.  it made me sad for her… but it also made me really excited.  see, she has such a unique appreciation for this place that i love so much.  i’m excited that i got to be there to see it light her eyes, to watch it grow in her, and ultimately to see it make her cry.

it reminded me of my first experience in wyoming one magical summer almost ten years ago.  i’m happy to be with her as the magic of the memories start in her now.  and i was starting to enjoy the fact that i now could again identify with a song, through her eyes.

our time together was over… it was so hard.  normally i’d be happy to push someone off onto their plane… anxious to have wyoming all to myself once again.  but those days have passed for me.

after i saw elle off, i drove up through yellowstone to cooke city, montana.

yellowstone lake was surprisingly calm.

with no cell reception and a heavy heart, i made it all the way up to cooke city and lulu pass.

i climbed as high as the snowbanks would allow in my new car.  this forester had to be tested, and i’m happy to say it passed.

when the car wouldn’t go any farther, i got out and went on foot to the highest point around to get a better view of where i was…

i remembered my last experience in this place.

and it occurred to me that it was time to move on.

in more ways than one.

so i left montana as quickly as i came.

on the way back i watched a mother grizzly with two cubs lumber across the hillsides.

they started to get a little too close, so i moved on…

on a whim, i decided to take union pass back to green river lakes.  it’s a relatively deserted 4×4 road through beautiful and rough country.  a place that i’ve found myself stuck many times before.  where you may not see anyone for days.

when i finally arrived at the lakes, the area was shut down for camping due to a menacing male grizzly.

so i camped near pinedale.  and i forgot all about the big city that night.

i went back out to green river lakes the next day.  squaretop mountain greeted and seemed to call to me.

so i decided to leave the comfort of my car and hike deep in to the base of squaretop…

it was a dramatic journey.  the clouds began to form out of nowhere, as is their mood in the mountains.  a sow grizzly with two cubs had been seen recently near the trail, so i kept my .45 loaded and my hand near it’s grip.

only five or six miles in, i reached the park that sits at the very foot of squaretop.

the mood grew eerie.  and i grew increasingly lonely.

i felt dark days from my past crowd in on me.  i knew it was time to lay them to rest.

on my way back, far off in the distance, i noticed something large bobbing in the upper lake.

as i approached, i began to see that it was a moose swimming across the lake…. what a sight…

it started to rain as i neared the trailhead.  melancholy crept in with the changing weather.

but i had a feeling this too would pass.

there was a lot going on in my heart and head on this trip.  different than any other time i’ve been up there.

but it was good.

i know it was good… all of those thoughts to wrestle and subdue…

as i approached my car, i turned back for one last look.  and i noticed a man fly fishing by himself.

i took a picture of him because it was beautiful.

but also, because it made me sad.  the solitary life – that life that i’ve known so well, and that i loved.

and i thought to myself that all things must pass.  all things must move on and grow.

and i let go of it.

and i was happy.

happy that i had a wonderful woman, my best friend waiting back home for me.

all images © andrew r. slaton | photographer 2010

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autumn in wyoming

fall is my favorite time of year.  wyoming is my favorite place in the states.  so you may be thinking, “i know where he’s going with all of this…”

well, i really wish i could say, “not so fast!”  but i can’t.  you’re right.  i’m about to get all mushy on my favorite time of year in my favorite place.

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the proximity of all the wildfires this year to all of my favorite spots, added a drama to the landscape that i never experienced.  it was great for pictures.

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mount moran towers over the fire on jackson lake with the moon and stars illuminating the night sky.  maybe my favorite shot from the 2 week trip…

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my good friend mike and his girlfriend ellen let me tag along on a quick pack trip into the wind river mountains near pinedale.

mike knows the winds and teton wilderness like the back of his hand.  seriously.  he has lived in the area since he was a little tyke, and he guided elk hunters through this maze of a landscape for over twenty years.  he knows the land, it’s history, and it’s wildlife, but more importantly, he knows the ways of the wilderness.

there are certain unspoken rules one must follow when traversing the backcountry.  it’s a matter of respect for the elements.  someone like mike would have never survived so many years in the wilderness without acquiring such knowledge.  he’s a great guy to have with you out there.

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ellen is a great personality, and not too shabby with horses.  she was breaking a young colt on this trip, and considering the nature of the trip, the horse did quite well.  a testament to her abilities.

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being texan, i’m naturally inclined toward firearms.  we are all born with sidearms tied to our umbilical cords down here.  so of course, mike didn’t hesitate when i volunteered to carry our protection from bears and lions (or worse… crazy people).  later, as seen above, i showed the two what i would do if we encountered an aggressive bear.  not all that intimidating, i must say…

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the wind river range from soda lake.  i go here a lot.  it’s only a 5 minute drive from pinedale, but the views are spectacular, and i frequently get to see pronghorn, bald eagles, and sometimes moose and elk.

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the golden hills and sky surrounding soda lake never cease to inspire me.  i’ll never get sick of this place…

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the magic of the alpenglow in the winds.

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this is pinedale.  no stoplights or fast food.  just beautiful surroundings, friendly people, and my favorite beer in the world – the wpa (wyoming pale ale), from wind river brewery.  hoppy and extra strong.  the way i like ’em.

i’m kind of glad i can’t get it back home.  i’d be just a little less likely to have a good excuse to go up to wyoming as frequently as i do.

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the winds on a clear day from soda…

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some of the surrounding hills between willow and soda lake looked as though they were on fire.  the colors this year were spectacular.

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my last night in the tetons was frigid.  the first snow had come and gone.  the clouds were moving out of the area, and thus, the heat from the sun generated during the day was vanishing from the land quickly.  i awoke early to the sound of wolves.

all images © andrew r. slaton | photographer 2009

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like brothers on a hotel bed

wyoming is not a place i share with other people.  i do it alone.  that may sound like a prick thing to say, but it’s true.

i go up there to experience solitude, peace, fear, loneliness.

this trip was a little different though.

i arrived to jackson hole airport late on tuesday afternoon.  i was supposed to be there by 3 that day to pick up my brother.

the inbound flight from austin arrived on time, so he took a taxi into jackson to get a beer.  i told him i’d meet him there as soon as i could.  the traffic coming down through the parks was miserable.  it seems they always scramble to make improvements to the roads just before the ground freezes.  thanks.

i finally made it to snake river brewery, after dark.  but the alone time in wyoming didn’t seem to bother my brother.

after a hug and a few beers, we were off.  it was dark, and i have a spot in teton park that i always go to camp when i arrive late.

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we woke up the next morning to a cool autumn breeze, and my brother’s 34th birthday.

two months ago he called me.  “there’s a fare sale to jackson hole.  $89 each way from austin,”  he said.  “you planning on going soon?”

“well, yeah.  i was planning a fall trip.  september or october.  why?  you wanna go?”

i started to get excited.  no one had ever expressed this much interest or determination to go to wyoming with me since my mother visited 5 years ago when i lived there.

i was excited at the prospect, but then nervous.  could i share this place with others?  would they understand it?  no matter.

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most guys have the idea that if they’re spending any time in wyoming and montana, they better have a fly rod or a pair of skis.  and i think they’re right.  it is world class skiing and fishing, after all.  no snow yet, so my brother brought a friend’s rod.

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we took a drive one evening up the beartooth highway outside of cooke city, montana.

regarded as one of the most spectacular drives in north america, the beartooth runs from red lodge, mt to the northeast entrance of yellowstone national park.

the beartooths are one of the highest elevation and most rugged areas in the lower 48 states, with 20 peaks over 12,000 feet in elevation. the road itself is the highest elevation highway in wyoming (10,947 feet) and montana (10,350 feet), and is the highest elevation highway in the northern rockies.

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we fished the lamar, the snake, the yellowstone, among others.  to no avail.  it may have been too late in the season, i guess.

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the fires in northwest wyoming were in full force this time of year though.  they even closed a few of the roads in yellowstone, preventing me from returning to the lamar valley.  very sad.

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but the drama of it all was truly impressive.

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the fire on the banks of jackson lake at dusk.  breathtaking.

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the next day, there was an unavoidable haze that covered the sky and mountains.  but again, to the naked eye, it struck as a little bit of a downer, but the dramatic effect can be artfully employed with a camera.

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it was my brother’s last day.  he had a flight out of JAC in the afternoon, so we found a section of the snake river, just 10 minutes from the airport.  he wanted to give it one last go.

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he didn’t catch anything, but i was happy.  i think i got a few shots of him in this unreal landscape that will draw others in, and take him back…  anytime he wants to go…

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i’ve never shared this place with anyone before.  but it was really nice to do so.  to see the look on someone else’s face the first time they see the sun rise over the lamar valley of yellowstone, or the moon as it hovers over the tetons before dawn…

the way the fiery autumn leaves shimmer in the cool breeze.  awaking in the cold to the sound of bull elk in rut, bugling.  or the sound of wolves.

it’s all so beautiful.  i’m glad i had my brother there to share it.

i hope there’s more sharing of this place in the years to come.  i’m ready for it.

all images © andrew r. slaton | photographer 2009

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badlands

three weeks ago, i left dallas for a 10 state, 5,000 mile road trip.

the vast majority of the two week trip would be spent wandering my old haunts in the great states of wyoming and montana.  however, the first night, having blown through oklahoma, kansas, and nebraska, i laid my head for the first time in south dakota at badlands national park.

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it’s an eerie landscape.  i have to say that i have never really seen anything like it.

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all images © andrew r. slaton | photographer 2009

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