Three thousand five hundred miles and twenty days, that was our Montana/Wyoming road trip for September. It was a very diverse trip with stops at several wildlife locations for photography. During the journey we enjoyed seeing a wide variety of wild animals and birds, including: big imposing bison, delicate pronghorn, big eared mule deer, white tailed deer, big-rack elk, full-curl bighorn sheep, high altitude mountain goats, nervous prairie dogs, free roaming wild mustangs, a scurrying black bear, nesting bald eagles, migrating Canada geese and sand hill cranes, noisy Steller’s jays, a lone burrowing owl, chirping meadowlarks, a cautious muskrat, tiny painted turtles, an unexpected osprey, elegant trumpeter swans, a fleeting Clark’s nutcracker, a colorful varied thrush, the aquatic dipper, fishing mergansers, along with various ducks and other LGB’s (little gray birds). It was quite the menagerie of American wildlife.
Our first stop was in rural Charlo, Montana where we had rented a small, remote cabin (www.vrbo/3435680). From there, we day-tripped to the surrounding wildlife habitats, Ninepipe National Wildlife Refuge, Kicking Horse Reservoir, McDonald Lake, and the National Bison Range. We spent most of our time at the Bison Range (www.fws.gov/refuge/national_bison_range) because it had by far the most photogenic subjects. There were bison, of course, but also pronghorn, deer, and elk, all fairly close to the road. At the Kicking Horse Reservoir we unexpectedly encountered some muskrats in a small pond adjacent to the reservoir. From a distance, through the field glasses, we could see them clearly swimming in the pond. When I got closer to photograph them with the long lens, they quickly headed for their shore-line burrows. I managed only one keeper.
Also at this small pond, and others, we noticed several little snouts sticking up out of the water. After several careful observations, we concluded that they belonged to small turtles. Some further research yielded a surprise. It was not any run of the mill turtle, but what we found was the small, painted turtle. indigenous to western Montana.
From this remote retreat in the Mission Valley, west of the Mission Range and south of Flathead Lake, we headed to our own cabin in West Glacier, Montana (www.glacierwildernessresort.com) from where we day-tripped into Glacier National Park, but mostly just kicked back and relaxed for about nine days. In Glacier, I concentrated my photography on panoramas. I wanted to practice to see what makes the best panoramic composition. My conclusion, I need more practice. I did learn a lot and that always means I need to purchase more gear.
We left our place in Montana and drove to Wapiti, Wyoming to spend a few days with Don Getty and Joan to photograph the wild mustangs at the Bureau of Land Management, McCullough Peaks Wild Horse Herd Management Area. Don had assured me that he had never been skunked photographing the wild horses there. Well, he was not skunked this time either. We went out to the Management Area on three separate days and saw horses each time. The second day out, however, proved to be a trying one. We did not spot any horses until we had been driving on bumpy and dusty dirt tracks for nearly four hours.
The Wild Horse Herd Management Area is immense, nearly 110,000 acres. I don’t really know how big that is, but it sounds big and we spent hours driving the dirt tracks looking for horses. Finding them we did and the photography was great. There are suggested rules about keeping an appropriate distance from the wild horses so as not to impact their natural behavior. The horses, evidently, don’t know about those rules because they came so close to us, that we had to change our behavior. The photography was good and the companionship with Don and Joan was outstanding. Jane and I shared a wonderful time with them. Inevitably, however, it became time to head back to San Diego so we embarked on the long, two day drive home after an all-around great road trip.