Road Trip! Back to Yellowstone and Grand Teton… Finally!

Yellowstone 2021: What can we learn from a pandemic?

It’s only a faint memory now, the daily news reports about something making people sick in a far away place. Early news reports told us it would ‘suddenly disappear,’ but other reports were more disturbing. I recall one of the doctors warning that ‘millions upon millions of people will die’ under a worst-case scenario.

It was late March, 2020, when my home state of Ohio first began warning of indefinite lockdown of non-essential businesses and public schools. During the early part of the lockdown I did what many people my age did – I rarely left the house. I also learned to cut my own hair, which I still do, and I’m improving with each weekly ‘trim.’ And, I didn’t have so much as a sniffle over the next year. So, it seemed in my world that it wasn’t all bad. The world news was horrific, though. I pray for all those families less fortunate than mine.

What must the wildlife be thinking? “Where is everyone?” I guessed.

I used my down time to learn new skills and hone some that needed honing. And, while I stayed busy working on my art, my mind drifted off to far away places. I wondered what a place like Yellowstone might look with no cars…no bison jams… no tour buses! What must the wildlife be thinking? “Where is everyone?” I guessed.

Grudgingly it seemed, the months slowly passed. My close friend and photography colleague, Eric Curby, and I were on the phone one day in April, 2021, when the subject of traveling once again was first mentioned. I had told him back in March that I was taking the bold step of a road trip to Colorado in between Covid-19 vaccination shots.

While parks were closed for the pandemic, wildlife took over. Now, they don’t want to give it back.

I had taken another bold step (for me) by staying in a hotel one night on each leg of the Colorado trip. “I pretty much had the entire floor to myself,” I told Eric, “so I think if we are both open to the idea of a Spring trip there won’t be many people traveling yet.”

After bouncing around a couple of ideas as to places we could go, Eric came up with the most brilliant idea. “What about this year we go someplace we know really well?”

“Yellowstone!” I think we both said it at the same time. And, it stuck.

What Lessons can Man Learn from the Beasts?

I remember the two-day, seventeen hundred mile drive from southwest Ohio to Island Park, Idaho, the site of our AirBnB. Compared with past experiences that drive seemed pretty mellow. On our first morning drive into West Yellowstone and the west entrance to the national park, we discussed how different it seemed, as though we had the entire place to ourselves. I believe the park service had four lanes open, with no more than three vehicles in any of the lanes, and moving quickly.

It was a little before 9 am and, after all, there were no international flights coming into the United States at that time due to pandemic restrictions, and K-12 schools were still in session here in the USA. I remember thinking it all made sense, most people are working and if they travel at all this year, most will delay traveling until their children are out of school.

“It makes a person think… For the here and now, we travel the roads of Yellowstone as permitted by the bison.”

Soon we exchanged greetings with a park ranger at the gate, showed my NPS Senior Pass, and proceeded through the gate with park map and newsletter in hand. The drive from the West Entrance to Madison Junction told us a lot about how the pandemic-induced absence of people had impacted the natural order of things, in Yellowstone at least. Bison and elk had discovered a preference for man-made roadways over taking traditional game trails, not simply as places to be crossed, but instead as primary routes of migration for entire herds. We saw hundreds of animals taking up both lanes of the two-lane road, a scene we witnessed day after day in a number of regions in both Yellowstone and Grand Teton National parks.

It makes a person think. I’m speaking of the sight of hundreds of 2,000-pound bison, shoulder-to-shoulder, tall as many SUV’s, moving at a serious gait, right at you. You, for what it’s worth, are helpless if not defenseless in your sheet metal and glass vehicle, sitting dead stopped in the midst of total chaos – hooves clicking, grunts gurgling, calves darting in and out of the crowd looking for the parents, it’s all dusty and smelly and a bit scary. It causes a person to contemplate his or her place in the order of things. For the here and now, we travel the roads of Yellowstone as permitted by the bison.

There have always been bison jams. This year, however, entire herds are taking to the roadways.

What lessons can be taken from what we are witnessing now? For one, we have learned that in the absence of man, the beast will move on just fine. For another, we are now learning that re-introduction of man into the ecosystem tends to upset the natural order that was set in place while man was away.

Let’s talk about the Experience: Seeing Yellowstone post-pandemic

There is also a lot about Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks that remains the same. The springtime is sensational. As expected, spring snowmelt had swelled rivers and streams. We stopped occasionally mid-span of a bridge over a roaring stream, shutting off the engine and putting windows down so we could witness the unreal roar reflecting off trees and canyon walls.

A sudden snow squall appears over ice-covered Yellowstone Lake, just as we are walking around West Thumb geyser basin.

Sudden springtime snow squalls are commonplace. We might be driving across the expanse between West Thumb and Lake Junction, enjoying a sixty-plus degree spring day, only to encounter a sudden temperature drop of twenty degrees or more, as storm clouds form over Yellowstone Lake to our right and sleet begins to pop against the windshield. Then turning north at Lake Junction, driving up through Hayden Valley, the weather deteriorates further and snow begins to build up on the roadway. Later, we reach the Canyon Junction and the weather has improved dramatically, as if nothing had happened.

I must say that my personal experience in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National parks in the spring of 2021 was unlike any spring I had experienced there, and I’ve been in both parks many, many times. It is not lost on me that the spring of 2021 happened at a time when circumstances in the world were quite unique. We arrived in Yellowstone on May 10th, a time when only half of the Grand Loop road system was open. Fewer than half of the facilities were open, almost none of the picnic areas or lesser known thermal areas were open – think Firehole Lake Drive, Artist Paint Pots, Grand Prismatic Overlook, etc.

But what we lacked in terms of access during out first week was more than covered by what we witnessed in the way of wildlife. By our second week there, roads began opening up and our access expanded rapidly. Weather was still a stinker, though. Just to give you an idea how crazy the weather got in late May, on our last full day it began to snow and sleet on us around 5:00 pm, just as we were heading back to our AirBnB in Island Park, Idaho, from Jackson Hole.

Our AirBnB hosts were very understanding when we reported that we were stranded. Here, Eric preps the car for the 1,700-mile trip back to Ohio. The date was May 22, 2021. Happy Spring!

By around 7:00 pm, we were within seven miles of our destination as we headed up a pass on Highway 20, just outside of West Yellowstone, Montana. The wipers were starting to load up with wet, sticky snow. Eric had to grab the driver-side wiper about every two or three minutes to ‘snap’ it to clear the buildup of snow. I’ll spare the reader all the nasty details… I’ll just say we didn’t make it home. but that’s a story for another day. It was a memorable trip, as they always are in Yellowstone and Grand Teton!

Best Places to See Moose in Grand Teton National Park

If you are wondering where to see moose in Grand Teton National Park, I wrote this article just for you! As I am writing this post, the date is Saturday, June 12, 2021. I recently completed a two-week photography trip to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks.

Before you read further, you will see some pictures of moose in this article. These pictures are from my personal collection, taken over several years and a number of separate trips. I don’t approach close to moose, period. All of my moose pictures were taken with telephoto lenses from safe distances.

Map courtesy of National Park Service

Moose are commonly seen along Moose-Wilson and Gros Ventre Roads, both located north of the town of Jackson WY

I have always found moose to be a reclusive animal. My first sighting of moose was a mile or so north of Teton Village on Moose-Wilson road. I would never have seen this bull and cow moose on my own. A few cars had pulled to the side of the road and I could see a few long lenses on tripods, so I pulled over too.

Approaching the photographers, I noticed that no one was making a sound. I was relatively new to wildlife photography in those days, so I mostly ‘lurked’ at first by pointing my binoculars in the same general direction the lenses were pointed. I had no idea what these people were looking at! After a while, a guy standing next to me took pity on me.

At first I didn’t see what the others were looking at. Bull and cow moose resting in tall grass.

“You’ll have to look down in the grass,” he leaned close and whispered. And, so I did.

“Oh, geez,” I barely whispered, “it’s a pair, and the bull is huge!” And so went my first moose sighting. To this day, I have not seen another mating pair of moose. The bull was an absolute monster that might have stood seven-feet tall, or more. If only I had the patience in those days to wait for that magnificent moment when they stood up. I’m pretty sure those who were more patient than I was were treated to a ‘wall-hanger’ of a shot.

Over the years, I have had mixed experiences when it comes to spotting moose in the Tetons. I remember one particular year, when my photography buddy Eric Curby and I were leaving a favorite store just south of Grand Teton National Park. The store is called Dornan’s, and they always seem to be open and well-stocked. We had just left Dornan’s parking lot and turned left toward Moose Junction. Before we got to Highway 191, Eric spotted two bull moose who appeared to be about to get into a rutting battle.

Bull Moose spotted just south of Moose Junction

‘Standing guard’

We turned right (south) on Highway 191 to see if there was a turnout where we might get a better look. We found a ranch road within a short distance, but there was a “Private” sign posted a few hundred yards down, so we pulled over at that point. Now that we were closer to the jousting pair, we could see that one of them was fairly young and the older one, although much larger, seemed to lose interest in the contest…he seemed to be more interested in us than rutting.

“I think that big bull is going to walk right over here,” I said to Eric, as I started walking back to the car. Within a few minutes I was back inside the car, as was Eric, because the bull did exactly that. Luckily for us, we turned out to be not that interesting, and he walked on down the road.

Another great area to spot moose is anywhere along Gros Ventre Road. From Highway 191, locate the relatively new Gros Ventre roundabout just south of the Jackson Hole Airport Road on Highway 191. Take the Eastbound exit from the roundabout and follow that road, which runs parallel to the Gros Ventre River (a tributary that joins the Snake River). There are several convenient turnoffs along the road at points where is the river is quite close. We have had the best luck spotting moose along this road when we have a lot of time to stop and watch what is going on, even driving back and forth several times between the roundabout and the turnoff at Gross Ventre Campground (private).

Bull Moose, photographed near a Gros Ventre Rd pullout. Note early spring antler velvet.

I’ll close by sharing my best advice for moose-spotting along both Moose-Wilson Road, between Teton Village at the south end and Moose Junction at the north end, and Gros Ventre road between the roundabout and the campground road. I can say from experience over a number of trips that both areas can be exhilarating and disappointing, depending upon the time of day, the season, and frankly, luck.

Here are a couple more images I have been fortunate to get over the years at various points along Moose-Wilson Road. One key to success in moose-spotting is to spend a good bit of time slowly cruising the road. Early in the morning and last light near dusk are probably the best times, but I have seen moose along this route at all times of the day.

Bring along some snacks, water, a good pair of binoculars, and a camera with telephoto lens. Having patience and keeping a safe distance from the animals will win the day! Drop a comment below to let me know about your moose-spotting experience!

Best Places to See Grizzly Bears in Yellowstone National Park

If you are wondering where to see Grizzly bears in Yellowstone National Park, I wrote this article just for you. As I am writing this post, the date is Thursday, June 10, 2021. I recently completed a two-week photography trip to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks.

Before you read any further, you will see some pictures of Grizzly bears in this article. These pictures are from my personal collection. I don’t approach close to bears, period. All of my bear watching is done from long distances using binoculars, and my pictures are taken with telephoto lenses from distances well in excess of 200 yards.

It often happens that, upon returning home from a trip to Yellowstone, friends and family will ask two questions: First, “Did you see any bears,” and second, “Did you get any good pictures?” Well, it’s been happening again this year. So, I decided I would write a blog post on this topic.

Bear Management Areas in Yellowstone National Park (Map courtesy of

I have spotted one or more bears on almost every trip to Yellowstone National Park (and Grand Teton National Park) , since 2004. Referring to the map above, one of the first bears I spotted was a Black bear sow with two cubs, in Area “E” of the map. This is quite near Mammoth Hot Springs, in an area called “Blacktail.” We were driving along the northern road between Mammoth Junction and Tower-Roosevelt Junction. I cannot call this area a hot spot, though, because that spotting happened over 15 years ago, and I haven’t seen a bear in that area since.

My next spotting (2005) was also a one-time event that happened near West Thumb, along Highway 191, just past West Thumb Junction as we were driving north toward Old Faithful Junction in the vicinity of Duck Lake (see Area”N” on the map). There was, and still is, a lot of ‘deadfall’ timber on a hillside. A large Grizzly bear was turning over fallen logs, looking for grubs to eat. This eventually became a particularly dangerous encounter, as a high number of visitors stopped soon after we spotted the bear. At one point the bear became irritated and tried to leave the area to cross Highway 191 and continue on down to Duck Lake on the other side of the road. There were so many people out of their cars that the bear didn’t know how to get through the parked cars and gawking visitors. Luckily, it ended without incident and the bear managed to get across the road.

A large Grizzly Bear encounters a large number of visitors and parked cars, just wants to cross road (telephoto lens from over 100 yards)

Another time, I was hiking with a couple of friends in a very remote back-country area known as the ‘Bechler’ region (see the lower left corner of the map). Walking into a thickly forested area, we came across an old Forest Service cabin that appeared to be occupied, because we could see smoke coming from a chimney. A short time later and maybe a half mile down the trail, we saw a dark shadowy figure in the distance, off to the left side of trail. We all immediately stopped until we could make out what was there. Suddenly, a very large Grizzly bear stepped into a clearing where we could get a good look. I pulled out a digital camera and got off a couple of shots. At that point, we decided to head back to the Forest Service cabin we had seen earlier. We knocked, and a ranger came to the door. “We just saw a large Grizzly, and we thought we should report it to you.”

“I doubt it was a grizzly,” the ranger told us, “we don’t get them down here.” At that point, I pulled out my camera and showed the picture to the ranger.

“Hmmm. I think you just saw a great big Grizzly! I will have to report this… the Chief will be surprised to know we have one of them here.”

Each of these events were one-time events. Please don’t go looking in these areas with high expectations of finding a bear… but, you could. Next, I’ll share the story of a very light colored Grizzly bear that we have seen on several trips over a period of 4-5 years.

Spirit Bear (left) and Mom, seen in the same place over multiple years (telephoto lens from 500 yards)

We came to call her ‘Spirit Bear,’ because of her coloring, which was nearly white. Staying very close to her Mom, a very large sow, she looked to be 1 ½ to 2 years old. The first time we saw her was in the Fall of 2016. Speaking with a few ‘locals’ over the years since then, some call her ‘Snow.’ Frankly, although most people refer to the bear as female, no one has been certain. We found her along the Southeast Entrance Road just before the turn-off to Lake Butte Overlook as you drive toward Cody, WY (see area J1 on the map).

Spirit Bear in 2018, in the same place, but this time without Mom (telephoto lens from 300+ yards)

We returned again in the Fall of 2018, and once again our Spirit Bear was in the same exact spot. And, then we returned again in 2021, but we were disappointed that our ‘Spirit Bear’ did not show up. There could be a couple of good reasons for her absence: For starters, our trip in 2021 was a very early Spring trip and some bears were still in hibernation. Second, she may have found a mate by now, and moved to maintain family ties.

I’ll close this out with some safety information about bear-spotting in Yellowstone National Park. You will read in various places that 100 yards is the minimum distance to keep between you and the nearest bear. That sounds really scary to me – these are huge and very fast predators! I stay far enough away that I need a telephoto lens to photograph them, and a pair of binoculars to see them well.

I also have a concern about bear spray. Please don’t think it works like mosquito repellant. When I read the instructions on the bear spray can, I notice a picture showing how to use it – the can only sprays a short distance! If you get yourself into a pickle so deep that you reach for your bear spray, you better get right with God right then! Bear spray might be great as a last resort, but my hope is to never get myself into a ‘last resort’ situation.

Just keep it simple… stay far enough away that the bear isn’t nervous, and neither are you. Use binoculars and/or telephoto lenses to get a great view and pictures. Live for another day.

Wild Utah: Five National Parks and More

Virtual Field Trip: Five National Parks and More

If 2020 were a ‘normal’ year, I might be reviewing my travel checklist about now. But, as everyone knows, 2020 is about the furthest from a ‘normal’ year it can be.

Many of us have needed to adapt our work to our current ‘normal,’ and I am no exception. When life serves lemons, we look for a way to make lemonade. The pandemic of 2020 opened a new doorway for me, and I’d like to share that story in a separate post. For now, I invite you to click the link below to enjoy just a small sampling of my 10,000-plus photos and videos from Utah’s National Parks and a couple of State Parks.

In this video, I had to make difficult choices. For instance, I dropped The Goosenecks State Park altogether, because from a travel standpoint it lies far off the path of parks in a line between Moab and Las Vegas, which is a convenient path to choose for a recommendation to those folks who will be visiting Utah for the first time. I decided that I’ll include it with a separate video on the Navajo Nation Tribal Parks of Arizona (coming soon), which will feature Monument Valley, Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon, and The Goosenecks State Park of Utah.

Parks that are featured in this video include: Arches National Park, Dead Horse Point State Park, Canyonlands National Park, Goblin Valley State Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, and Zion National Park.

It was really difficult to curate a ‘short list’ from so many photos and videos showing so many miles of wonderfully wild country. This being the third in my series of Virtual Field Trips under the tagline ‘A Photographer’s Journey,’ my initial timeline to create and publish was one week long. I missed the target by a mile (4x). I thought I had mastered the tradecraft of video making. I was wrong.

My journey continues. When I first thought about the tagline ‘A Photographer’s Journey,’ I was short-sightedly thinking of all the years between receiving my first camera as a birthday gift at age 8 and today. Somehow I forgot about all the times I’ve had to re-learn that my journey has barely begun, or so it seems. I had forgotten about all the equipment technologies I’ve had to learn from scratch, all the new techniques required of each technology, and yes, all the generous master photographers who shared their tradecraft with me. I’m a lucky man, I’m still confronting technology changes, still learning from those who inspire me, and my journey continues.

Want More of Larry Rogers?

Check out my book, Wind, Water & Time: Canyons of the Southwest

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“What is it about Yellowstone that keeps you going back year after year?” a dear friend asked

Since the Fall of 2018, about this time of year I am reminded of an event that changed me to the core and inspired me to share my experiences in the wild with as many people as possible.

The event that changed me forever was foretold in the early spring of 2018 during a FaceTime call with a dear friend who was challenging my choice of certain places as I planned my travel itinerary for that year. He knew that I had made countless trips to Yellowstone already, so he suddenly challenged me to explain it: “What is it that keeps you going back to Yellowstone year after year?”

His question caught me off guard. I had to think for a second or two. “It is wild,” I told him. Those words came from somewhere deep down inside me, and I know this because I had never said that before. But I immediately knew it was true. There was silence between us.

“It is wild,” I told him.

Larry Rogers

“What do you mean, wild?” he asked after a while. By the time he broke the silence, I had realized a couple of things. On the one hand, he had likely never experienced a truly wild place, and on the other hand I was suddenly crystal clear about the answer to his question.

“A truly wild place is a place where you can go, and you cannot see the hand of man from horizon to horizon, north, south, east, west, and yet you will see the hand of God everywhere around.” I sensed that he was happy with my answer.

Now, I’ll explain the event that changed me forever. Soon after the springtime FaceTime call, my friend made plans to visit Yellowstone. He and his wife visited Ohio and spent a couple of days here, during which I shared stories of Yellowstone and some advice for his first visit. I remember clearly discussing how to experience the ‘wild’ nature of a place like Yellowstone.

“You will need to leave the boardwalks behind for a full day. Just set one full day aside. On that day, leave the lodge area and drive out into the back country. After driving a while, find a safe place to pull over. Safely step out of the car, and turn 360 degrees watching the horizon. If you see any structure, other cars, or other people, drive a bit further. Once you find the right place, find a log or a rock to sit on or lean back, and read a book. Just listen to nature.” We had a great visit those two days in Ohio.

I talked to him again a few months later, after he had made final plans to travel. As fate would have it, his plans included exactly one day that would overlap with my plans for the Fall of 2018 when we would both be in Yellowstone. We tentatively made plans to connect and possibly have dinner in Yellowstone in the Fall.

My Fall travel for 2018 included making a presentation at a biennial conference of naturalists, educators, rangers and National Park Service folks. The conference lasted four days, and I planned a few days either side of it for hiking and photography. The timing worked out. We were able to meet at the Old Faithful Inn late in the afternoon one day, enjoy dinner and drinks for a couple of hours, and make plans to meet early the following morning at Midway Geyser Basin, where I would ‘guide’ the group to a somewhat lesser-known (at that time) trail to a feature called Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook. It’s a spectacular, colorful, and simply amazing sight to see.

At one point during our after-dinner conversation, my friend’s sister-in-law leaned over to me and said, “Larry, I’m so glad you shared so much advice to us leading up to the trip. I feel like I am witnessing something truly amazing – beyond anything I have experienced before. You told us to find a shady spot and just listen – we did that, and then I went off by myself so I could experience the sounds of nature for a while. Thank you from my heart.”

I went off by myself so I could experience the sounds of nature for a while. Thank you from my heart.

Name Witheld

Everyone in the group echoed the same sentiment. And that is the moment that changed me forever. I did not ever want to forget the magic that happened that week in a far off place in wild Wyoming, in the western United States of America. There were six other people at dinner that night, and we all felt the magic of a new perspective happening before our eyes.

In November of 2018, I sat down to document that two-week period in September 2018 that changed several lives for the better. I know for sure it changed mine. My journal from that trip became a book entitled, Yellowstone: Engima in Fire & Water, which follows my small group of three around Yellowstone in text and pictures for two weeks. The book opens with a few pages about my friend’s question, “What is it about Yellowstone that keeps you going back year after year?”

As I am writing this post in the Fall of 2020, I keep hearing that question, “What is it…?”

I’ll never again hear my friend ask. In the months that followed, he shared with me that he was dealing with some medical problems. I visited him in a recovery center for a few days, during which we reminisced about meeting up at Yellowstone. We talked about doing it again as soon as we could. He told me how much he enjoyed his time time there and looked forward to the next time.

He is gone now. I am changed forever. I am a better person for it.

Virtual Field Trip: Yellowstone’s Old Faithful Loop Trail

We all want to get back to ‘normal,’ whatever that was. I’m optimistic that soon we all will have confidence to venture out again. For those of us (yes, me too) feeling the urge to get back out, but perhaps aren’t quite ready for crowds and hotel stays, I am bringing you the best experiences from my travels in a new video series, ‘A Photographer’s Journey.’

About a year ago, I published a pilot video, ‘Virtual Field Trip: Bald Eagles in the Wild.‘ In that video, I explain why Bald Eagles migrate hundreds, even thousands of miles each winter and I share the exact location where I travel each winter to photograph hundreds of them congregating in a small area. As I will in all Virtual Field Trip videos, I share some of my favorite pictures from the past 30 years, and basic safety and awareness information, just in case you decide get outside to see Bald Eagles for yourself.

In ‘Virtual Field Trip: Yellowstone’s Old Faithful Loop Trail,’  I share some aerial footage of some of the most awesome places in the national park, like the Yellowstone River flowing toward the Lower Falls, Midway Geyser basin and Grand Prismatic Spring; a slow-motion video of Old Faithful Geyser during an eruption; maps of the overall Yellowstone National Park highway system and a detailed Trail Guide of the Old Faithful Loop Trail. You also get to see some of my favorite videos and pictures, all taken along the trail. As you watch, please understand that the images I show have been taken over a period of years, spending many hours patiently waiting for a geyser to erupt or for weather to improve. Yellowstone is a huge place best enjoyed at a slow pace, over a number of days or weeks.

In each of the videos in the series, I share deep personal experiences that moved me to become an activist for wildlife and environmental conservation. Standard content includes travel information to help you get to each place I travel, some of my favorite videos and photos from there, and I’ll de-mystify each of these places that may seem to be just out of reach for those interested in the experience.

Thanks for stopping by. Please check out the video above by clicking on the goofy image of me in my Tilley hat. Stay safe and healthy until next time.

Best, Larry

Additional Resources

Maps of Yellowstone

GPS Coordinates for the Old Faithful Area
44 27 37.31 (Lat) -110 49 41.59 (Long)
UTM Zone 12: 4923021 N, 513665 E