September 26

The Big Whites

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Even without alarm I woke up just in time for dawn, around 6am. While the nature presented itself still mostly asleep (and dark), the geyser started spewing just as soon as I pointed my wide angle lens at it. This was quite remarkable, as it was labeled that "Geyser may erupt between 5pm and 9pm" the previous night. This sign once again reminded me of my youth in the Czech Republic, where e.g. a train was given about the same window of opportunity to show up at a station, or not. Regardless of whether the geyser erupted the evening before or not, it was sure literally having a blast this morning.

It didn't take long and I was being joined by one photographer, who showed up with somewhat peculiar equipment - a 6x17 cm Fuji panoramic. Very very impressive. We got talking and spent the following hour together, moving from one place to the next. Our experience together peaked when we were shooting an elk bull, who was happily feeding with his ladies, as another bull came out of the thicket. Let's say that the confrontation was rather brief and the newcomer was soon off the battlefield.

Soon after I met another photographer who was shooting the same group of elk from a different angle, with his 10D and 400 DO lens. Do I need to say more? It didn't take long and he got to hear the whole story of me buying and then returning this magnificent piece of engineering. One of these days...

With the morning light gone, and with hardly any clouds in the sky, I went to see some of the many sulphur springs and other bubbly or boiling sources, many of them very colorful. I also stopped at the Old Faithful restaurant - one of the very few still open this late in the season - and ordered my usual, two chili's. I love chili. Athena from Northern California (the pretty part, as she explained) looked at me, and I assured her that I am aware that this may and will turn explosive and that I am ready to deal with the consequences. While eating my chili I downloaded the first 3GB of pictures from the day, only to find out that my #1 IBM Microdrive gave up. The good news is that I have a total of four flash cards for my two cameras, the bad news is ... well, that the Microdrive was not to be trusted. But we knew that, and these days I buy only solid state memory.

After lunch I checked into the Grant Village campground, strategically located around West Thumb where I was planning to spend the next morning. After setting up the tent (less rain fly, since I was too lazy) I went to see the West Thumb springs, and afterwards took a well deserved three hour nap, once again courtesy Ford Expedition. After my nap I found that the chilis caught up with me and that I could perfectly blend in with the surrounding springs. How perfect.

I was planning to use the afternoon light around Madison, one of my favorite spots because of the large number of elk that roam there. As it happened before, I was the first to pull over when I spotted an elk family, including the big guy. 300/2.8 on monopod, I patiently waited for the bull to cross the road, following his women, but of course that would not happen, as very soon the whole area was full of cars, trucks, and people approaching the elk in rather inconsiderate ways. People were making idiot comments and gene pool jokes, and I was ready with my lens to document the bull charging - which never happened. Somewhat demoralized I found myself another bull, and another, and another: there were two bulls fighting, and a third one was promenading by with his harem. Still unhappy with this against-the-light setup, I drove further west towards West Yellowstone, where I joined the group of many photo enthusiasts spending gigabytes and rolls on yet another elk family. The crowd represented one big Canon commercial - tons of big white lenses, and I mean tons, as the 400/2.8 which dominated this crowd do weigh a lot - with some smaller black lenses from a lesser manufacturer strewn in, just so that one can't say this was a Canon monopoly. One older lady had a very rare species - the Canon FD 150-600 zoom, something I have never seen in my life before, and in a way hope that I never will again. The subject of all this attention was of course as usual a large, proud bull, which in this case was not challenged, at least not by other males; however, it seemed like his attempts at winning over some of the females were rather reminescent of many a geek's painful high school memories.

The light went rather quickly, and so the crowd dispersed. I too joined the exodus and headed back towards Grant Village, with a stop at the Lower Basin, which is one of my favorites around here. The sun was completely gone by now, but I did manage to get some nice afterglow images, after an emergency sensor cleaning session that is: you know you are in trouble when you have a turd on the sensor so big that you can see it even in the small preview!

With that I returned to the campsite, where I ate some chips and downloaded the images. The campground was very empty and unusually quiet, except for the group of Asian folks who were illuminating half of the campground with their headlights - fortunately, the "other" half.

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