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On the Road with Frank

Immediately after retiring from the United States Navy Frank started a blog he named On The Road With Frank. The purpose of which was to share the travel experiences he and his wife were to have as they wandered around North America in their motorhome. While On The Road With Frank certainly fulfilled that goal, it also provided a venue to display some of Frank's photography. With the emergence of Frank Madia Photography, it was fitting to move the blog to FrankMadiaPhotography.com.


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The Lost Summer Part 1

There is very little that causes me to lose sleep at night. However, for the last several weeks I have had a terrible time staying asleep. It has taken a good long while to determine what exactly has interrupted my slumber. Over these last few nights, I have come to realize that almost every time I find myself awake I am thinking about this blog and how delinquent I have been in keeping it up to date.

So, with my sleep and continued good health in mind, I intend to catch up. I will likely spend most of today, December 24, 2015, writing and selecting photographs to help in the story telling. Then over the next week or so, I will publish posts in reader manageable bites so as to not overwhelm anyone. We all know I am capable of being pretty wordy. I am calling this post The Lost Summer because it seems as though the entire summer just got away from me.
My last blog post ended about the time Connie and I moved from Rocky Mountain RV Park in Gardiner, Montana to Indian Creek Campground in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming where we once again would work as volunteer campground hosts. So, the story continues from there.
The routine of getting moved onto Site 1 at Indian Creek Campground and getting settled in for the summer went well and without incident. Preparing the campground for opening day with our fellow campground hosts was equally stress-free as we have all developed a strong degree of efficiency at our jobs. So, on opening day, June 12, we were ready to go.
Connie and I were scheduled to work the first shift again this year. So, at the appointed time our ranger, Allan Bush, opened the gate and the fun began. Fortunately, we were well rested, because as we learned on that opening day, we were in for a very busy season. Normally it takes several days before the campground fills for the first time. Even then, the fill times have historically been late in the day.
That would not be the case in 2015. We filled the first day! Unfortunately, I no longer remember what time we filled, but I know it was still daylight. Filling daily and early would be the pattern that developed over the first week or two of the season. It became the norm to fill before noon most days. Now, to the casual observer that would seem like a good thing for the campground hosts as once your campground is full the traffic falls off and you can concentrate on making sure all the campers understand and are following the rules that are designed to protect them, the animals and the environment.
Once the campground is full, we post full signs in four locations. One each for the north and southbound traffic along the Grand Loop Road, one just after the turn onto the campground access road and the fourth is a large sign that covers the registration board at the registration cabin. Additionally, once a campground is full and the host calls that fact into the dispatch center, there are signs at each of the five park entrance stations that are to be turned from “Open” to “Full”. There is also a new website that went live this past summer called Yellowstone Live where travelers with web capability can check on a variety of things, not the least of which is campground and lodging availability. For the campgrounds, this useful tool not only indicates which campgrounds may still have sites but what time each filled the previous day. There are terminals at the visitor centers that display this information. It is just about as real time as can be given the varied processes required to get the computer updated and the manual signs turned. So, in addition to the four signs at the campground, there are numerous ways the traveler can learn of not only our campground’s status but each campground within the park.
Of course, the reality is a bit different. Visitors enter the park early in the morning. They may have had to wait in line for several minutes to get to the gate ranger. They might have missed the fact that there were fewer than five campgrounds with sites still available. What most did know is that they were now in Yellowstone and life was about as good as it gets. From any of the five entrance stations there is a whole lot to see before arriving at the first of the campgrounds. Most people enter via one entrance and exit through another. Therefore, the natural intention is to do all the tourist things to be done along the way to their intended camping location. So, regardless of what information may have been available at the entrance station, many of the park’s visitors will not have finding a campsite as their main priority on that first day. Sadly, they may not adjust their priorities in subsequent days.
By now you may be wondering where is this heading. Well, here it is. After we filled the campground each day we spent the next several hours helping visitors find a place to stay other than at Indian Creek Campground. I am serious when I say hours were spent each day as many a day we were still turning people away at nine or ten at night. Compounding this situation, we were usually among the last few campgrounds in the park to fill. Most if not all the campgrounds operated by concession were filled before the day started due to their reservation system. Most savvy travelers realizing that they saw more full signs than open signs at the North Entrance Station wisely stopped at Mammoth Campground to guarantee a site before starting their adventure. The smaller campgrounds in the northeast part of the park filled quite early and saw very little camper turnover day to day. That left but three campgrounds in the northern region of the park to pick up visitors off the road. Tower Fall Campground captured those coming from the Northeast Entrance Station who had found the other two camps full. Norris Campground to our south picked up the visitors coming from West Yellowstone. That campground’s entrance road was a the southern end of a massive road construction project. So, visitors found that they had to wait in traffic to get to the campground where they then found it very difficult to find available sites. Once they exited the campground they were once again confronted with construction delays impeding their flow to Indian Creek Campground. By the time they got to us they were panicked. If we had sites we could quickly calm them. Otherwise, we not only worked to find them a place elsewhere but had to get them calmed down enough to realize their vacation was not ruined.
So, our workdays were consumed with redirecting visitors, often in a direction they truly didn’t want to go, in order to have a place to sleep. When this redirection is happening at 12 or 1 in the afternoon and we are stressing that the priority has to be nailing down a campsite over doing what they came to do, it can be stressful for all involved. I have to say that Connie was much better at calming the masses than I. I did just fine with those who were open and already in the receive mode. I did not do so well with the angry ones who tended to shoot the messenger while more or less demanding that something be done to solve the problem that we all knew would not happen in a lifetime, much less by bedtime.
This is the way the entire summer season would be. We filled early. We gave directions and guidance for several hours following our fill time. Of course, we also continued to monitor the campground and campers for rules violations and roaming wildlife. Our workdays were tough, but then so were we.
By now you could possibly be feeling sorry for us. Don’t! We only worked two days in a row and then were off the next four days. That has been the normal rotation at Indian Creek Campground for many years. It is truly a very efficient way to manage the campground. Remember I mentioned some other campgrounds in my discussion above. With the exception of Mammoth Campground among those campgrounds managed by the national park service, ours is the only campground with what I will call full-time coverage for the office. While all the others have campground hosts, they do not have three couples of them thereby making it possible to have a host couple available 24 hours a day. Therefore, in many cases, we were the first people wearing a uniform that our frustrated visitors would come in contact with.
So, after working two tough days, we typically spent most of the first off day taking care of household duties such as laundry and grocery shopping. We found that with the busier and more stressful workdays that a larger portion of that first day off was spent relaxing. Generally speaking, that still left us with the better part of three days to experience the park along with all the other visitors. That is what we tried to do as much as possible. Of course, there were other distractions that prevented us from playing each of those days, but we tried to make the best of it as we always have.
We were really fortunate this summer to have been able to host more of our relatives. Our great-niece, Emma West, and her boyfriend, Matt, wrote to tell us they would be coming to the park for a few days and would like to see us. We offered them a place to stay, at least one home cooked meal and free tour guides for most of their visit. They accepted our offer and we all had a great time. It was the first time either Emma or Matt had been to Yellowstone, so we wanted to make sure they saw all the have to see places. Since they were to come up from the south we directed them to Indian Creek Campground via Old Faithful and the Norris Geyser Basin and all the other thermal activity spots between. This would keep all of us from having to deal with the road construction between Indian Creek and Norris to our south. Once they had done the southwest portion of the park and dealt with the road delays the one time we were able to concentrate on wildlife and less steamy landscapes. We had a great time with this young, energetic and involved couple. While they wanted very much to see the park for its beauty and wildlife they were at the same time very much aware of the fragility of the environment they were witnessing. It was really quite reassuring to see this example of their generation actually understanding why conservation and preservation are important to the earth and her inhabitants.
The sightseeing went very well indeed. We drove right to a bear jam where a mother black bear and her cubs were grazing near the road and eventually crossing to get to greener grass. I parked the car and we walked to the front of a very large group of visitors and a number of park rangers who were keeping the people the required 100 yards from the bears while also providing a continuous narration of what the animals were doing and why. I could not have planned that stop had I tried. It was pretty fantastic. I found myself paying as much attention to not only our guests but many of the other visitors at this sighting. Everyone was completely in awe of these wonderful animals and their interactions with one another and their environment. Although there were at least a hundred people around there was very little noise. Everyone was paying full attention to the bears and the ranger and showing respect for the bears. It was wonderful.
Before their stay with us would end we would have found examples of all the wildlife they had hoped to see with the exception of a grizzly bear. They even saw a wolf.
Connie and I had committed to do more hiking this summer. So, we laid out a plan to start with some short easy hikes to get acclimated. Our first outing would take us out on the Big Horn Trail which cuts across the campground. We have hiked the first few miles of this trail numerous times over the years, but never tire of it.
Our second venture was a hike to Grebe Lake, the lake is north of the Norris to Canyon road. The hike is not very strenuous at all. Our primary worry in the beginning was the clouds of mosquitoes that awaited us in the parking lot. I had dressed in shorts for the hike but quickly decided to shift to long pants to save some blood. Before the day was over we had a second concern, the weather. While we are not afraid to get a little wet, we are prone to be very cautious of lightning. The skies looked as though a good thunderstorm was brewing, so the return hike was as much a forced march as it was a hike. I was able to pause long enough to make a few photographs. Some appear here on the website.

Below are a few of my personal favorites.

Grebe Lake

Grebe Lake – I made this photograph as soon as we arrived at the lake. It was good that I did, because within just a few minutes the sky was completely overcast and the wind was coming up.

 

We were sort of surprised to not see a lot more birds around the lake. There was an Osprey that flew over, but I was not able to get a photograph.

We were sort of surprised to not see a lot more birds around the lake. There was an Osprey that flew over, but I was not able to get a photograph.

 

As we ate our lunch this little chipmunk came around looking for a handout. From our lunch location we could see one of the backcountry campsites. It was apparent that someone had been feeding this critter. By the way that practice is not only discouraged, it is not legal within the national parks to feed any animals, including birds.

As we ate our lunch this little chipmunk came around looking for a handout. From our lunch location, we could see one of the backcountry campsites. It was apparent that someone had been feeding this critter. By the way, that practice is not only discouraged, it is not legal within the national parks to feed any animals, including birds.

 

Heartleaf Arnica (Arnica cordifolia) Asteraceae ( Sunflower Family) These beautiful flowers seemed to love the shady areas along the trail.

Heartleaf Arnica (Arnica cordifolia) Asteraceae ( Sunflower Family) These beautiful flowers seemed to love the shady areas along the trail.

 

A cloer look at the flower's leaf structure reveals how the common name was derived.

A closer look at the flower’s leaf structure reveals how the common name was derived.

 

Erythronium grandiflorum Liliaceae (Lily Family) I could not get enough of these wonderful lilies. They were so fragile looking, yet so very sturdy.

Erythronium grandiflorum Liliaceae (Lily Family) I could not get enough of these wonderful lilies. They were so fragile looking, yet so very sturdy.

 

Glacier Lilly

Glacier Lily

 

One more look.

One more look.

For reasons I cannot explain the Grebe Lake hike ended our hiking season and it was still June at this point. We have already talked about how to make a better attempt next summer.
Later in the summer we were visited by our niece, Cinda Isler. Cinda was with one of her congregation members visiting the other woman’s sister-in-law. The three were camped in a travel trailer outside West Yellowstone. During their visit they came into the park to see Old Faithful among other sites. They also did some hiking while in the park. The day they came in to hike to Fairy Falls, see Old Faithful and take showers was the day they came to visit us. I cooked dinner and we all sat around our campsite talking about their adventures. Their visit to our little piece of paradise was far too short, but we truly enjoyed being able to share our site with them for the few hours they were there. Before their longer visit to the area was complete they would see a great portion of the northern region of the park with a whole lot of windshield time as they were camped such a long distance away. Cinda had never been to Yellowstone before. She is still talking about the “wildness” of the entire ecosystem.
Our June was a busy month for sure. We did get out and about once in awhile and I was able to make some photographs. I will let some of them do the talking for a few inches.

We took a ride along the Old Yellowstone Road northwest of Gardiner, Montana and found this very young elk calf hiding in the bushes.  There was no adult nearby, so we were very concerned about his future.  We did see several cow elk a few hundred yards away.  Hopefully, one of them was the mother and was keeping a better eye on her child than it appeared.

We took a ride along the Old Yellowstone Road northwest of Gardiner, Montana and found this very young elk calf hiding in the bushes. There was no adult nearby, so we were very concerned about his future. We did see several cow elk a few hundred yards away. Hopefully, one of them was the mother and was keeping a better eye on her child than it appeared.

 

As we watched from inside Rick and Donna's pickup, the calf acted as though it was aware of our presence.  We tried very hard to not make noise or make any sudden movements that would startle the youngster.  I think he thought he was completely hidden in the bushes, but once in awhile he would stick his head up to see what might be happening and I would get three or frames in.

As we watched from inside Rick and Donna’s pickup, the calf acted as though it was aware of our presence. We tried very hard to not make noise or make any sudden movements that would startle the youngster. I think he thought he was completely hidden in the bushes, but once in awhile he would stick his head up to see what might be happening and I would get three or frames in.

 

Just as we decided we might be pressuring the calf and decided to drive on an Osprey flew in from the east.  I barely had a chance to get my camera up and fire off a short burst.  Unfortunately, I was in single point focus mode for the elk calf and that made focusing on a moving target as fast and as near as the Osprey a challenge I did not win.

Just as we decided we might be pressuring the calf and decided to drive on an Osprey flew in from the east. I barely had a chance to get my camera up and fire off a short burst. Unfortunately, I was in single point focus mode for the elk calf and that made focusing on a moving target as fast and as near as the Osprey a challenge I did not win.

 

Further up the road we came across a single male Pronghorn, or buck.

Further up the road, we came across a single male Pronghorn or buck.

 

This fellow was pretty cooperative as he was only several yards off the road and paying us no attention at all.  He was obviously more interested in dining than seeing what we were up to.

This fellow was pretty cooperative as he was only several yards off the road and paying us no attention at all. He was obviously more interested in dining than seeing what we were up to.

 

Some people I know think that Pronghorns are just sort of so so when it comes to neat animals to look at.  I disagree.  I think they are among the more beautiful and certainly of the most graceful of all ungulates.  By cropping I was able to get a pretty tight shot of this guy's face.  How could you not love that?

Some people I know think that Pronghorns are just sort of so-so when it comes to neat animals to look at. I disagree. I think they are among the more beautiful and certainly of the most graceful of all ungulates. By cropping, I was able to get a pretty tight shot of this guy’s face. How could you not love that?

 

While I doubt that this buck was using that grass as a toothpick or to look cool, it certainly gives the onlooker a sense that he has personality and character.

While I doubt that this buck was using that grass as a toothpick or to look cool, it certainly gives the onlooker a sense that he has personality and character.

 

Well, that about does it for The Lost Summer Part 1.  As promised within the next several days Part 2 will be available for your enjoyment.

Frank Madia

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