September 29

Eagles Galore

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Well it wasn't warmer. How so, since there was no clouds, still... A photographer's worst nightmare: four days with pure sunshine and no clouds. This morning I packed up my tent right away since I didn't want to challenge the SUV too much with this dirt road, and headed a little bit east. Just before sunrise I got to see "my" four antelopes; somehow there was one additional lady in the group - or it was a whole different family, who knows. Mr. Antelope was chasing Mrs. Antelope #1, and for some strange reason, Mrs. Antelope #2 was chasing Mr. Antelope. Jealousy, maybe?

I turned my attention back west. Let's face it, the east part of the park was never as popular with me as the western side. The only really interesting stuff around here were the yellow trees, but they were in quite large numbers. This was a good enough excuse for some modest hiking and relaxation, before heading further west to Mammoth. I returned to the only restaurant, and resisted the temptation of the chili. Instead I got the first hot dog of the day, given that I was the first lunch customer after pointing out to the grill person that even their own clock shows past 11, and by the way that clock is two minutes slow.


After the quick lunch I went for another hike around the Mammoth Hot Springs - I guess you can't see enough of it; besides, it's the most interesting thing around here. Even though today there was more water than in 2001 when I was here the last time, this still didn't compare to the full watery splendor of 1994, during my first visit. It's too bad, looked so much better when wet, I wonder where all the water went.

Just around this time the first real clouds showed up on the sky, so I rejoiced and headed south to the springs, hoping for better light. Unfortunately, the clouds disappeared as quickly as they came and I was left with a perfectly blue sky again. Given that it was getting almost time for my departure, I headed towards the west entrance, thinking that it was a safe bet for some elk and maybe even eagles. My expectations were exceeded when I found two eagles in one general viewing direction, and even more when they soon regrouped and a third arrived, all to sit on the same tree. The pictures didn't turn out too well, given that I sandwiched the 2.0x and 1.4x TC together, attached that to a 1.3x cropping camera, and fired away only supported by a monopod, and with manual focus. But I can say I was there =)

After the eagles dispersed I documented a few more elk and of course added the mandatory duckies to the collection. I am sure the geese (I call all waterfowl "duckies") would have been proud to know that I used on them still the same setup as with the eagles. And who knows, maybe some of these geese are the little birdies which I photographed here in 2001.

The drive from the park to Bozeman was uneventful. I noticed bizarre objects along the roadside, spaced every 100 feet or so over a stretch of half a mile, which were probably intended to count the crossing animals. They had them on both sides of the road, probably to take into account the animals that cross onto the road but return back, or ... don't.

The search for the airport on the other hand was something which is so typical of me it's funny. When I first arrived at the Bozeman airport on Thursday I of course drove to Bozeman, to get some food. From there I consulted the map and took the I-90 freeway until the "Yellowstone" exit. Now I took the same road from Yellowstone, when I hit I-90 I filled up the SUV ($40 and it wasn't even empty, thank you very much) and went on the freeway. The irony of this is two-fold: first, I headed the wrong way, which may not be a big deal in Palo Alto, as the next exit is just a mile away. Here, after 9 miles I made a U-turn at the next exit and started digging for the Hertz supplied map of the airport area. This map safely guided me to the proper exit... where I just entered. It so turns out after a thorough examination of the map that the Bozeman airport is actually not in Bozeman but in Belgrade, and that's where I was. So I drove roughly 20 miles for nothing, other than probably setting a new speed record for this SUV. Or then again probably not, since this is Montana, where you have to be going a bit faster than 90 to get noticed.

Finally, the airport was found and the SUV was returned. It ran at an average of 17.4 MPG, the final 20 miles brought it down from 17.5. This is worse than my S4 gets in city driving, and that's with me at the wheel; or it's roughly twice as bad as my S4 in Yellowstone two years ago. Yes, I did get 33.5 MPG over three days, don't ask me how...

The TSA agents greeted me anxiously as a welcome distraction, as I was the only person within shouting distance. I didn't have any firearms, but I did declare my used socks as toxic waste, a joke which surprisingly caused laughter. The Delta agent told me that it will be a fairly empty flight with only 6 passengers. It's only a small jet for 60 people, but still, 10% load kinda reminds me of my flight from Zurich to New York where the Swissair 747 had impressive 25 passengers on board - maybe a contributing factor to Swissair not being around anymore.

The Bozeman airport sports part-time gate security. As I approached the gates the area was blocked off and the screeners on break. Now this is an airport where I wouldn't mind a security breach: evacuate all 6 passengers present in the airport. Last time I was part of a security breach we were on the tarmac of SJC, 40 people waiting to dock in a tiny airplane with no functioning lavatories. No fun time, let me tell you. Or then there was of course our experience at LAX on July 4, 2002. Today's airplane was a little bit bigger and had a functional lavatory, but still didn't have enough overhead capacity for my FAA compliant photo backpack. With that I asked Lindsey, the very cute flight attendant (who could have been the sister of the blonde and annoying British Junkyard Wars hostess, just way less annoying) what to do about the situation. She suggested that I place the bag under the seat, or strap it into one of the 54 empty seats. My trip to the airport already proved that at times I don't see the obvious; indeed, this plane may have overhead bins just big enough for your average purse, but the space under the seat is actually bigger than on a 747, and so is the leg room for that matter.

The world has lost a race car driver with our pilot. He landed the thing hard, it sounded like at least two tires blew, and after a very brief and modest braking period he jerked the airplane to the right, straight to the gates. Wow. For a change we left the airplane on steps onto the tarmac, and while proceeding to the gate we could watch the very simple reason why I refuse to check my photo equipment.

Proceeding to gate D8, as walking by other gates, I noticed a Windows error message displayed prominently on top of an information screen. So I found a free seat by that screen, removed my photo backpack, and pulled out my camera. This prompted quite a few curious comments from passengers waiting for that flight, ranging from "I wouldn't have even thought about taking my camera out" over "That's a big camera; how many megapixels?" to "I didn't even notice." The last comment probably came from a Windows user.

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