Dale picked us up at 5:30 AM and we headed over to Mud Volcano where we saw a grizzly munching on grass before it moved over onto the snow. After a few photos we discovered another grizzly in the valley by Mud Volcano, so we stopped and took a few more. Then we heading over to Steamboat Point, when I saw a grizzly crossing the road. Dale pulled over and we got out our tripods set up. This big boar was coming towards us! (It was 7:48 AM.) He was on the shore of Mary Bay, walking through the steam created by underwater thermals. We were safely next to the vehicle, higher up, on the shoulder of the road. He was getting closer and walked right by us, but didn’t seem interested in us. He came so close that our lenses were too big and we could only get closeups of him as he passed by. Once he got past our vehicle he climbed up the shoulder and crossed the road. We were packing up our tripods to move the car farther down the road to see if we could get more photos of him, when we realized that there was another grizzly coming from the same direction, running, as if she was hot on his trail. She looked so happy and eager. She looked at us as she trotted by, as if to ask, “have you seen my boyfriend?” Later, we would discover that this was the grizzly known as Blaze for the lighter colored fur on her sides. We have no idea of the name of her boyfriend, but I’ve decided to call him Beau. We took a bunch of photos of her and after she crossed the road, we packed up quickly and high-tailed in the direction that were heading. We got to the large pull-off area across from Mary Bay and set up our tripods and waited, hoping they would show up. The big boar ambled into view and seemed oblivious to the fact that there was a sow trying to catch up to him. Eventually, Blaze appeared and we saw him turn and look at her and start heading towards her, sniffing. It was now 8:00 AM. He tapped her with his paw and she rolled over into a submissive position. She got up and he mounted her and they mated for 22 minutes, right there in front of us…maybe 50 feet away. Many cars had stopped and joined us in photographing Beau and Blaze. I was surprised at how quiet and tender their mating was. We took hundreds of photos and chatted with the other photographers about what an amazing experience this was. When the mating was over, they stayed together and wandered somewhat close to each other up the hillside to graze on grass. Eventually they parted, and we headed down the road. This had to be a once in a lifetime experience!
The sad news is that on August 7, 2015, Mr. Crosby, a five-year employee of Yellowstone National Park went off-trail on a hike and was killed and partially eaten by Blaze and at least one of the her two cubs. He wasn’t carrying bear spray, despite recommendations to do so. A trap was set and Blaze and her cubs were captured. Blaze was euthanized, and cubs (both female) were sent to the Toledo Zoo, where they have been named Cody and Montana. More than 125,000 people, unsuccessfully, tried to save Blaze from her fate by signing petitions. Another petition, unsuccessfully tried to get the cubs to a rehabilitation center (that was waiting for them) so that they could eventually be released into the wild. We hope the Toledo Zoo takes good care of the cubs, despite a past error when a rare bear was starved in a zoo mistake there in 2000. As I reminisce, I think of how happy Blaze looked, when we saw her chase and mate with her Beau. We discovered, that she bore two cubs in late January or early February of 2015, which we photographed from a distance in May of 2015. We were so happy to have had the opportunity to see the outcome of that chilly day of courtship on May 18th; and then the sorrow of finding out what happened to Mr. Crosby. We were saddened for everyone involved. There were no winners here. Personally, I can’t imagine Mr. Crosby would have wanted Blaze to be killed. I believe he knew the risks. See the articles: Yellowstone Regrettably kills Blaze and Outrage in Yellowstone
We headed back towards Steamboat Point and saw a grizzly at the top of a hill. The lighting was terrible, so we didn’t take photos. We wondered if this was the grizzly known as Raspberry, as this was her territory. We hoped she would come down the hill, but it wasn’t meant to be. We headed back to Hayden Valley and saw a grizzly with red ear-tags, but it was farther away than we would have liked, so we only took a couple of photos before heading back to Rainy Lake where we saw a cinnamon-colored black bear. Then we headed up to the meadow and saw Rosie and her three cubs. They were moving away from the road, so we headed to the Yellowstone Picnic Area where we took photos of a bachelor herd of seven bighorn sheep. They were beautiful!
Today was our last day with our photo tour with Dale Franz. The cost of this tour was $2,635. I had hoped that he would work with me a little more to teach me how to improve my technique to get better photos, but it wasn’t that type of class. He had taken us to the best places and gotten us in position to get some great photos. But he had also used those same opportunities to take photos with his expensive camera and bigger lenses instead of watching and teaching us. He didn’t know our Nikon cameras very well, so it was hard for him to help us with our settings. Yesterday, he had figured out what he thought our problem was with focusing, and had turned off the “high ISO noise reduction” setting on our cameras. We think we are doing better with it. My right thumb has also been hurting from taking so many photos and Dale thinks it’s because of the ergonomics of my Nikon with my small hands. I have a longer reach to “back-button focus” than he has does on his Canon. This could be an ongoing problem, so we’ll have to think it through. I’ll be taking a lot of ibuprofen for the rest of our trip. All in all, I’m certain, that if we hadn’t taken this class with Dale, we wouldn’t have seen half of the animals that we saw, including the beautiful wolf and the mating grizzlies, so it was worth the price we paid. Now that the tour is over, we know where to drive in order to see more wildlife. We’ll have fun practicing and hope to see more bears…and other critters! ~ Mary & Mark
Siting List – 6 grizzlies, 5 black bear, herd of bighorn sheep
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