Toulouse and Tarn 2

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Toulouse, Saturday. It had clearly rained overnight and was just starting to clear as I left L’Ours Blanc after breakfast.  A major daily market (Le marché Victor Hugo) was just opposite, so after a quick look around that, P1310216P1310218I set off on another walk, which was planned to include some considerable time indoors.  In fact the weather was not as appalling as had been forecast, and for most of my tour today I did not open my umbrella.  I made my way down to the Cathédrale St-Etienne, P1310225which curiously was made up of two very different and offset parts, as can be seen from this plan,

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The small print includes the word ‘romane’. This is not Roman, but romanesque, a trap for many tourism translators.

from this backwards look, P1310234

 

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(forwards look from the same spot)

and this sideways view, taken from as far away as I could get. P1310237 I have to say, I was not particularly thrilled by this building, but perhaps the weather, which was not only damp but cold, was affecting my mood.

My planned walk took me past via the Monuments aux Morts, where there was a ceremony going on. P1310238

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Apartments lining a long green walk

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At the other end, a monument to those who died in the 1870-71 Franco-Prussian war

A series of adjacent public parks was my next goal, and I was amused to discover that the Grand Rond was also known as the Boulingrin – from ‘bowling green’! (Though I saw no-where for that game, or boules for that matter, to be played.)  P1310247P1310251

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Now why did I suddenly think of the UK Parliament when I saw this duck-house?!

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Antoine St-Exupéry

In due course I arrived at the Jardin des Plantes, where the grey sky did not enhance the vegetation, of which I took few photos.

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A recent monument to those in the Midi-Pyrénées region who saved the lived of Jews during WWII

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I could find nothing about this, but imagine the gateway itself dates from classical Roman times.

P1310303001But I was delighted to find that around this waterfall P1310264was not just one family of ducks and recently hatched ducklings, P1310265P1310279but another with rather older ones.  P1310276There was other wildlife in the park.

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Red squirrel, common in France as grey ones have not yet spread much from the SE of the country to oust them

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Terrapin

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A proud cockerel, in fact leading his harem

After this I spent a long while in the Muséum de Toulouse, a really excellent earth sciences collection, the entire subject of the next post.  From here I made my way to the Canal du Midi, which runs at this point roughly parallel and about a mile from the Garonne. I hoped for lovely views, as I had experienced elsewhere on that canal some years previously.  But no, there was a main road running beside it on both sides, and again the grey skies made it look even less interesting. And it was starting to rain, and it was cold. P1310361001P1310362001Looking backwards, shortly before I left the canalside, I was able to confirm that the water, as I had sensed, had indeed for a short while been above the level of my head.  P1310368001My walk took me past this commemorative statue, P1310369001and to a bookshop to find a map for the second part of my trip.

 

As I left the FNAC (which chain I had been told 30 years previously was ‘a very good bookshop’, but which is now much more concerned with multimedia) it was pouring once more and I was only too pleased to get back to my hotel, via Le Capitole where I bought a ticket for an evening concert, and an organic food store where I picked up a snack for my evening meal.

You would think that since: I had bought my concert ticket at Le Capitole; which had an auditorium (well, I learned later that it was more an opera house); the orchestra giving the concert was called the Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse; and there being nothing on the handbill or ticket to say where the concert was – that it would be at Le Capitole itself.  So when I turned up a in very good time for the start of the concert and found not a single door opened in either Le Capitole or the Hotel de Ville, after two complete tours around both, I was completely mystified.

I found one light on behind one door, the stage door.  So I was pleased to find that this would open, and that a concierge was there, so I was able to ask how I could get in to the concert.  He told me there was no performance that evening, to which I replied that I had bought a ticket for one that very afternoon.  Ah, I wanted the Halle aux Grains, he told me.  Where was that I asked.  (Le Capitole being so close to my hotel, I had left my map in my room.)  Did I know the Metro?  No, I hadn’t used it (and didn’t fancy having to faff around now discovering how it worked.)

Anyway, thanks to him and a couple of other good citizens of Toulouse, I arrived on foot at the Halle aux Grains (via the afore-mentioned Monuments aux Morts) just in time not to get in for Schumann’s Manfred Overture. When I was let in afterwards to a convenient seat marginally better than the one I had bought (its proper tenant had not turned up), I enjoyed an excellent Prokofiev Second Violin Concerto and Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony (called Héroique in French).

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Photo snuck during applause, French horns taking their bow

This really was a first-class concert and I was glad to have made the effort, the enjoyment added to by a good chat with the geography professor mentioned in my previous post.  She told me that this hexagonal building, the home of this orchestra for the last 40 years, had, after it stopped serving as a cereals market, been among other things a boxing venue!

 

It was absolutely tipping it down when I emerged after the concert, and I decided that the time had come to find out how to use the metro (i.e. how to buy a ticket for and follow that metro plan – with only two lines the latter was not a problem).  I was very pleased that I did not have to walk back the half hour, two stops, to my hotel in that downpour.

Toulouse and Tarn 1

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Toulouse, Friday pm.  I had a short break in SW France recently. I flew into Toulouse Airport, and spent two nights in the city, which I had not visited before, followed by three nights in the countryside, based at Lisle-sur-Tarn.  I had been in the rural area in April/May 1990, and ever since then had wanted to go back to see the lovely countryside, and particularly the wildflower meadows, which I hoped were still there.

The weather forecast was telling me that Friday would be lovely, that Saturday would be awful, and that the remaining three days would be light grey and showery.  About Friday it was right.  It was gorgeously warm.  By the time I had taken the shuttle bus into the centre ville, found my hotel (the excellent two-star Ours Blanc – Victor Hugo, but NB there are also three- and four-star Ours Blancs in the immediate vicinity – as I found out before finding mine!) and had settled in, it was mid-afternoon. Wanting to take full advantage of the only good weather, I planned a walking route, starting at the tourist office in Le Capitole, the fifteenth century keep (Confusingly in French ‘donjon’!) prettified many years later, right by the Hotel de Ville, which was quite animated. 

I walked on to the Garonne, which, like all the rivers I was to see in the following days (the Tarn and the Aveyron were the others) is very wide, an effect exaggerated by my panoramic photo of it.  I was beginning to suspect that Toulouse had an awful lot of students, though I was puzzled to see them here on a Friday afternoon.  From my experience when I had lived in Poitiers, and had taught at its university, I would have expected all the students to vanish back home after lunch that day.  But I was to learn the following evening from my neighbour at a concert, a retired geography professor at Toulouse University, (who had ‘loved’ her job) that its status was such that students came from far and wide to study at the huge university, unlike most in France which attract just fairly local young people.

A 16th century Merchant’s house, the Hotel de Bernuy, now a state high school

This was shut for restoration works

I arrived too late to visit the church of St-Sernin, but found its exterior very pleasing.

I couldn’t work out whether this was a heavily restored old building or a brand new one. It appeared to be a small apartment block. Its detail certainly seemed quite old.

All the road names were in French and Occitan, though I read later that using this old language for place names was somewhat fanciful, since no-one now speaks it.

Would I resist this chocolate shop right next door to my hotel?  I was intrigued by this drawing of a bear in the lobby of the hotel.  Had they had some famous illustrator to stay in 2013?  I took dinner at ‘Le Murano’, a short way away on the Boulevard de Strasbourg.

Magret de canard on a bed of varied and unusual vegetables

 

 

USA 2018 (16), Aerial magnificence!

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USA 2018 (16), Aerial magnificence!  The Los Angeles/Amsterdam flight was of course an hour late taking off on Sunday, 25th February. This time the reason given was ‘an incident in the hold on the previous flight’. Is that all you’re going to tell us?! Oh well, I’d a few hours to pass at Schiphol, before my 9th and final flight of the trip(= chance for luggage to be mislaid), to Bristol, so no worry, (though others were not as able to be as laid back about it, with much tighter connections to make). I had been allocated the window seat at the right hand side of the plane, so I took a few photos on my tablet – camera not easily accessible – as we rose above the LA coastline.151238151239151240Then I turned to my book. That is, until I remembered that there was a good chance we might be flying over the Mojave Desert.  We were, though only over the southern part, I later discovered.151648152113152250 What on earth are these incredibly bright lights, apparently within saucers?152715 Alien invaders?152741 When I got home I was able to discover that they had been part of the controversial and biggest solar energy scheme in the world, the Ivanpah Solar Power Facility, on the California/Utah border. Wow! (The ‘saucers’ had been an optical illusion – the constructions were flat in reality.)

The scenery grew more and more spectacular.153512153654153812154205 I started to wonder whether we might be going over Yellowstone in due course.  The answer was no – the flight map showed we would be going too far south, over Utah and Colorado rather than over north-west Wyoming.  I was riveted to the window.  Was it possible that this was the Grand Canyon?  If not, it’s amazing viewing even so.154510154830155016155154155255155421160141 (A check with my atlas once I was home confirmed that indeed this had been the Grand Canyon, and the Rockies in Colorado.) We were cruising at between 33,000 and 39,000 feet.

There was no way I was going to avert my eyes from the window now. The flight attendant had to disturb me from my reverie to serve me the first meal.  I was glued to the window until we flew into the eastern dusk, with the sun setting behind us.160724160855161111161227161450162233162858What an amazing end to an amazing fortnight!

And here endeth the 16-part account of a most amazing trip to the United States, one I’ll never forget.  I’ve had enormous pleasure in writing it up, and selecting from the literally thousands of photos I took. Some kind people I know have read every post. To you and everyone who has dipped in, thank you so much for coming along with me on the journey!

USA 2018 (15), Horses, waterfowl, and people

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USA 2018 (15), Horses, waterfowl, and people.  From Bozeman, I flew via Denver to Burbank, Los Angeles. And true to form, the second of these flights was about an hour late arriving. I’m not sure we were ever given a reason this time, but it meant my niece,  Karina, had to hang around for me.  There wasn’t much of the day left, and there are no photos of that day.

Karina was having car worries, but she had worked out a plan to minimise disruption the following day, Friday 23rd February, which she had kindly taken off work. In any case, as I told her, I wasn’t there to do stuff, but just to be with her in her normal life – though, as she replied, sitting around in a car dealer’s was hardly typical!  However, that was not for long.  Having deposited the car, she took me off (thanks to a courtesy shuttle) for brunch at ‘Marmalade’ in Thousand Oaks.P1300807001 She had warned me late in January that they had been experiencing temperatures in the eighties Fahrenheit (upwards of 26ºC) in her part of Los Angeles county. This had not lasted though, and my t-shirts were unnecessary.  While it was sunny, there was a definite chill in the air, and locals found it cold.

Karina practices dressage to what seems to me (a total non-expert) a very high amateur level. We visited the Keenridge stables, where she has a few lessons from a former Olympian, Hilda Gurney (bronze medal US team dressage 1976). The aura of this woman was palpable.P1300809001P1300810001P1300813001

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Pepper tree

From here we went to spend time (and Karina effort) with her own horse, Klassie, at the equestrian centre where he is stabled.

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I saw quite a lot of the devastation caused by the recent wildfires and mudslides in southern California.  I didn’t think it decent to take photos, but I seem inadvertently to have captured here some of the damage caused by wildfires which had happened very near Karina’s stables – causing evacuation – a few months prior to the ones which made the headlines in, mainly, Ventura and Santa Barbara.

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Karina is not short – Klassie is tall!

Towards the end of the day, because Karina knows I like walking, we were joined by a friend of hers, Sara, who took us into and up Griffith Park, Los Angeles.

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Looking back

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Karina and Sara graciously agreed to my taking this photo of them against the background of downtown LA

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On the way back down

The following day, Sunday, Karina had another car problem, but this could be sorted at a tire/tyre place within walking distance of her home, after she had paid an early visit to her own stables for a lesson there.

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Meanwhile, the lovely Patches looked after me.

Looking at the time available for the rest of the day, before an evening meet-up, we decided to visit a local park, which Karina had never got around to seeing herself.  I was pleased to give her a reason to do so.P1300839001 It looked as if it might take us no time at all to walk around the lake, but Karina did not know just how long I can linger when looking at wildlife!  (This time I had no wildlife expert or bird book to identify the birds we were seeing, so I have been hesitant in my labelling.  One problem is that there can be American versions of Eurasian birds which look almost identical, c.f. ravens and magpies. Corrections and additions would be gratefully received.)

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Like the Eurasian grey heron

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These three caused much amusement. Is the second goose (gander) in courtship mode, with his tail feathers up? Is the little white bird a chaperone? In love with the first goose?

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The threesome stayed together for all the time we were aware of them

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Even when the geese eyed up the ?American bittern,

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the little white bird was close by

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“Do not feed the ducks”

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OK, coots are not ducks but…

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Grackle, I think

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I couldn’t see what these birds were, about the size of starlings, but they were making a heck of a racket as we walked by the tree

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I’d love to know what the ducks on the right with the green streak are

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Cormorants/anhingas/shag?

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I’m pretty sure these are Egyptian Geese

A further visit to Klassie ended the afternoon, and I was delighted to see this coyote hanging around, on a hillside just outside the premises, as the sun began to set.P1300943001 The evening was spent very pleasurably at the restaurant of an Irish pub, (I had fish and chips!) with three of Karina’s horsey friends.  The talk was very little of horses and much of my Yellowstone trip, which I was delighted to recount.

 

I thought the photo of the coyote at the stables might be the last picture in this whole USA 2018 series – but I was to be mistaken.  The flight home was very visually exciting.

USA 2018 (14) Wolves!

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USA 2018 (14), Wolves!  Yes, on this last day of our Yellowstone ‘safari’, we did see wolves.  It was slightly less cold (about minus 23ºC/minus 9ºF) as we left Cooke City on Wednesday 22nd February, making an even earlier start, at 6.30 a.m.

The last wolf pack in Yellowstone Park was killed in the 1920s.  On 12th January 1995 the first wolves for decades were released here, and, by the end of 1996, 31 of them had been relocated from Canada to the park.  They and their descendants have changed the ecosystem, with an enormously beneficial effect on fauna and flora, there now being a top predator where there was none for decades, rebalancing nature.  Here is a 4’34” video on how. (Another, on a wild wolf playing with domestic dogs, shows just how huge the wolf is.) [Three weeks later. There’s a snippet in March’s ‘BBC Wildlife Magazine about this phenomenon. ‘Predators don’t just eat prey animals, they scare the hell out of them, and this fear factor alone is enough to shape ecosystems. After wolves disappeared from Yellowstone National Park, elk were free to forage wherever their tastebuds led them, including into lush but risky riverbank habitats. This led to the devastation of specialist riparian vegetation. When wolves were reintroduced, the elk looked elsewhere and the riverbanks recovered.’]

Once more heading for Mammoth Hot Springs, our first stop was to watch a moose eating its favourite food, willow – recovered thanks to the wolves perhaps.P1300601001 I got interested in an American dipper (nothing like European ones) by a riverP1300602001 and I walked back a few yards to take a closer look.P1300603001  Imagine my astonishment on turning round after a few minutes, at seeing this!P1300619001 Of course any coyote likes an easy surface to walk on, and this one walked right on by me, and through my companions by the vehicles.P1300620001 We next stopped to observe a young bison’s carcase being recycled, about half a mile from where we were on the road.

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All very symmetrical: American ravens to the left, a coyote on either side of the carcase, and American magpies to the right

By midday we had reached and gone through Mammoth, turning north to Tinker’s Hill, Gardiner, and the North Entrance to the NP.  This is the Roosevelt Arch, (1903).

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On the other, entrance, side of the Arch, there is engraved, ‘For the benefit and enjoyment of the people’.

P1300681001P1300682001 We were now technically out of the Park, but still well within the wider ecosystem of Yellowstone. I wandered around a little, while telescopes were being set up.

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There are worse locations for a cemetery.

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Tim encouraged me to feel this bison fur he had found an a fence.  It was so soft!

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Whimsical landscape on Sprinter window

And I joined the others, patiently seeking a wolf pack known to hang out around here.

 

YES! Not with the naked eye, but with binoculars, cameras and ‘scopes. The Wapiti Lake pack I believe, itself inside the Park boundary.  About two miles away. (Just very occasionally – very occasionally – I wish I carried around one of those paparazzi cameras with enormously long lenses, instead of the small thing I wear slung around my neck.)P1300688002P1300688003P1300694001P1300695001

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Here – really – they have moved to the further ridge and are lying down

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There is even a black wolf or two there…

 

In due course they disappeared over the ridge.

”Turn around! Pronghorn!” We had seen a very graceful sculpture of a pronghorn at the National Museum of Wildlife Art at Jackson Hole.  Here were a whole crowd of them in the flesh. Such delicate creatures, not at all fazed by our presence. (They are sometimes called pronghorn antelope, but they are deer. Most photos slightly over-exposed.)P1300710001P1300712001P1300730001P1300732001P1300734001 It was back to Mammoth for lunch, and a look at the Lower Travertine Terraces. P1300739001P1300743001

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The extinct cone is known as the Liberty Cap, after the cap worn by colonial patriots in the Revolutionary War

 

Then we had a serious drive back north to Bozeman, where we were to catch our planes home the next day.  We stopped briefly at the Roosevelt Arch, but saw no wolves this time, but (apologies to those of a squeamish nature) I thought this bison poo there was really  artistic.P1300768001 It was too fast a drive for any real photography, though I did manage to get these bald eagles.P1300781001 We also saw white-tailed deer, and some bison, and I noticed a fabulous geological dyke.  Looking around at a comfort stop by the Yellowstone River, Drew told us that this was evidence that there had been an ice jam somewhere nearby.P1300790001P1300792001 Approaching Bozeman I took a final picture of the mountains.

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I think the form at the top of the mountain is a cirque.

It was minus 10ºC/plus 14ºF when we arrived at Bozeman.  The leaders commented that this had been the coldest trip they had ever known.

 

Most of my companions were going straight home.  I was to embark on the third and final part of my journey the following day – after a lie-in!

USA 2018 (13), Wolves?

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USA 2018 (13), Wolves?  It was still dark – and minus 33ºC/minus 28ºF – when we set off at 7 a.m., to look seriously for wolves on this Tuesday morning, 20th February. After all, the name of the trip was ‘Yellowstone: Ultimate Wolf and Wildlife Safari’. We were essentially retracing the last part of our journey the day before, westwards from Cooke City, which is just outside the north-east corner of Yellowstone National Park, back along the Lamar valley, and then continuing parallel with the Yellowstone River westwards a little further. At our first stop, where we looked in vain for a wolf pack before the sun had even risen above the mountains, we saw water vapour rising from the creek, as if a hot sun were evaporating the water prior to a scorching hot day! But I was told it was case of thermal inversion.P1300210001P1300213001 Our next stop, for ‘comfort’ purposes, was in yet another beautiful spot.P1300231001P1300233001 Then we pulled up again, when we saw a group of photographer tourists parked and looking upwards – at four sleeping coyotes, of which here are two.P1300250001

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Female bighorn sheep. Unusually, the female of this species has horns, but this one is lacking one of them.

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Female bighorn sheep encounters bison, with no untoward outcome

We arrived at the furthest point intended for the day, where there was a good chance, we were told, of seeing a given pack of wolves.  We met Lizzie, who spends much of her time tracking the animals.P1300296001 She passed round a collar which had been round a wolf’s neck, and that felt quite spooky to me. It was pretty heavy, and we were reminded that the wolf is a very large animal, though it’s difficult to realise when you see them from a distance – IF ever we should see them, from a distance or no. No luck this morning and we made our way back to Cooke City for lunch, quite slowly as we kept seeing interesting things and stopping.

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The other two ‘sleeping’ coyotes

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Icing sugar? Ice cream? Thick snow?

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Bald eagle

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Male bighorn sheep

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Pawing the snow aside to reach the vegetation.  Despite appearances, it is the legs of the sheep which are vertical, not the camera crooked

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Ravens eating carcase, antler and vertebrae visible

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Coyote

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There is a tiny cream-coloured smudge in this photo, three-quarters of the way from the left and about a third down, below and to the right of the second big tree in from the right.  It is at least two, perhaps three miles away, and is a mountain goat. Tim somehow spotted it for us.

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Enlarging this photo further would just make the animal very blurry indeed.

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Cooke City

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The view from my room, not seen in the dark the night before or in the morning

Plans for the afternoon were to meet a wildlife cinematographer, and then to have an individual choice between: resting for a while, going snow-shoeing, or further wildlife searching. Most people seemed to be going to opt for the last, including me. But then all plans changed. Wolves had been seen, where we had been that morning. So we ‘rushed’ off there, as safely as we could, but even so it took about an hour. En route we saw…

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Male Bighorn sheep, presumably the same we had seen before lunch

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A red fox, the only one all week. (Just how do these animals survive?)

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And more bison. So difficult not to take photos of them.

Arrived at the same spot as the morning, we met Rick McIntyre, who gave us a fascinating talk on the ecology of the animal. [PS, three weeks later. Rick is featured in a fascinating article on one of the Yellowstone wolves in the March  edition of ‘BBC Wildlife Magazine’.]P1300520001 But the wolves had gone. ‘Hang on, there they are!’ the cry rang out from one of the leaders (now three as Tim from Nat Hab had joined us.).  A very, very long way away.  I was not the only one not to see them, whether through binoculars, cameras, or telescopes.  Try, try and try, no, we just couldn’t.  Moreover, it was said they were disturbing elk and bison, which would have been even more fascinating to see.  But no, not many of us saw them. Not us amateurs anyway.  I took several photos of where we were meant to be looking, hoping to blow them up and at least see them on my screen.

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Not here

 

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But here, on maximum zoom

No such luck. ‘They’ve gone now’. We left the scene, and made our way back towards Cooke City.

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Golden eagle and American magpie on carcase

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Fleeting glimpse of an elk which had not made its way to the refuge at Jackson Hole, 100 miles or so to the south

However, we stopped at Silver Gate, just a short distance from Cooke City (not a city but more a large village, by the way).  Our stop there was to meet the very patient Don Hartman.  But then wildlife photographers are used to being patient.

I was especially thrilled to meet him. In post (5) of these USA 2018 posts, I mentioned that there had been a second BBC series on Yellowstone just before I left for the trip. Don Hartman had taken its amazing footage on the Great Grey Owl family through the seasons. He show us some of this footage, some more which didn’t make the cut, and other work of his, then answered many questions. What a surprise and privilege to meet him, and here he is.P1300600001

It was dark as we left for another good meal in Cooke City.  But a little warmer (!) as we bade each other goodnight, minus 25ºC/minus 13ºF.

[My apologies for the changes of type, which I have no idea how to correct. Retyping has made no difference. Any advice from fellow WordPress bloggers would be gratefully received.]

USA 2018 (12), the beautiful day’s end

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USA 2018 (12), the beautiful day’s end.  As we arrived in Mammoth Hot Springs, around 3.30,  we learned that contingency alternative accommodation had been reserved for us in Gardiner, but also that the authorities were hoping that the road to Cooke City would be cleared by 5.30.  So instead of continuing straight on with our journey, Jeremy took us on a visit that had been intended for a day or so later, while Drew stayed behind to do whatever had to be done.  This visit was to the Upper Travertine Terraces.  Where silica is the main mineral which separates out from the hot water in the Old Faithful area, at Mammoth it is limestone. (I did ask if the remains of a mammoth had been found in this area, but it seems the name comes from the size of the terraces.)  This was perhaps the only time in the whole of the trip where I might have preferred to have been there in warmer weather.  The extreme cold meant that the water vapour was so very extensive that it was difficult to get a full idea of the splendours. Our nevertheless lovely walk was a There-and-Back one.

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From the start of our walk There

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I kept finding myself a little behind the group as I stopped to take photos

P1300050001P1300051001P1300058001P1300063001P1300070001P1300078001P1300084001 When we were at the furthest extent of There, Jeremy had a call to say that the road to Cooke City was now clear, an hour earlier even than hoped. Great! We could continue on our way!

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We start walking Back to the vehicles, in the shade, as the sun starts to disappear behind the mountains

P1300141001P1300148001P1300152001P1300158001P1300167001P1300168001 In the course of this time in the Mammoth area we said goodbye to our faithful snow coaches, and reverted to Natural Habitat ‘ordinary’ Sprinters. On this last lap of the day, a further couple of hours’ driving, pretty well due east now, it was minus 23ºC/minus 9ºF.P1300180001

 

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Drew said there was a rule that drivers should do nothing to impede the intended paths of the wildlife, but that it was not always respected. Here it was the bison who moved over and decided to impede us!

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P1300191001And then it became too dark to take any more photos.

The last two days were to be spent concentrating on wolves…

USA 2018 (11), What a beautiful ride!

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USA 2018 (11), What a beautiful ride! Little commentary necessary for this magic afternoon.  I’m still in the seat next to the driver.(And since publishing the last post, I have discovered how to eliminate the blue effect of the smoky windscreen glass, although it does leave a slight distortion of colour towards brown.) Our first stop was at Gibbon Falls.P1290930001 P1290933001

 

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Just to prove I haven’t made up this whole extraordinary adventure

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The walk back to the vans

Our road continued.P1290957001P1290962001P1290969001 The amateur geologist in me was fascinated by the yellow stone (er… Yellowstone?) through which we were driving.P1290973001P1290974001P1290975001

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Golden Gate

 

(My battery ran out!)

I have since discovered that the yellow stone is a thick layer of tuff thrown out 2.1 million years ago from one of the huge (Krakatoa was hundreds of times smaller) volcanic explosions, and it’s called Huckleberry Ridge Tuff.

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What’s this? Mule deer!P1300022001P1300025001

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What is it about an animal with snow on its nose?

It was about his time that we learned that Drew and Jeremy had been keeping something from us that had been worrying them for two whole days. We were (relatively) fast approachingP1300035001 a spot called Mammoth Hot Springs. The road onward to Cooke City, where we were to spend the next two nights, had been blocked for two days…

 

USA 2018 (10), Mud pots and fumaroles

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USA 2018 (10), Mud pots and fumaroles. Our next stop for a walk in Yellowstone National Park, this Monday, 19th February, was at the Lower Geyser Basin. P1290834001

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Dead lodge pole pines, with petrified bases. They have absorbed the prevailing silica material through their roots, and ‘frozen’.

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More evidence that bison like warm water

P1290839001Here we learned more from Drew about hot springs, fumaroles, and mud pots, having already learned about geysers, such as Old Faithful. We saw for ourselves how vegetation and even small birds could thrive in well below freezing ambient temperatures. At 7.30 this morning, it had been minus 2º Fahrenheit, which sounds even colder in Celsius – minus 19º.  Photos can show the water vapour/steam – but not the rotten eggs smell of hydrogen sulphide, H2S, (“very poisonous, corrosive, and flammable” – Wikipedia) which invaded the nostrils from time to time, and had done the previous day also.P1290840001P1290849001P1290852001P1290857001P1290864P1290861001

 

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Red-breasted nuthatch, at the edge of the field of mud pots.

P1290879001P1290880001Regaining our yellow snowcoaches, we found one of those dark red Bombadiers, the precursors of the modern vehicles we were travelling in. P1290885001Onwards and northwards.

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Snowmobiles approaching, and in the distance, the northern edge of the most recent (640,000 years ago) Lava Creek caldera

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This is my very favourite bison portrait

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Not a human footprint in sight

After a short while we reached our next warming hut, Madison Information Station I think, where we took lunch (in the company of a load of snowmobilists) – and were visited by a coyote.

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P1290920001  I saw no-one give him/her anything to eat!

 

USA 2018 (9) Old Faithful!

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USA 2018 (9) Old Faithful! Monday 19th February was the very best day for me on the Yellowstone adventure, in terms of experiences. Masses of snow on the ground, none falling, Old Faithful, clear skies for much of the time, excellent wildlife sightings, and I had the privilege of being in the seat beside the driver all day. We were not due to leave until 10 a.m., but baggage had to be outside our rooms for collection by 7 a.m., so there was no chance of a lie-in.  I chose not to go out for a group walk at 8.00 a.m., so was able to enjoy a somewhat more leisurely breakfast than usual. I heard a rumour that Old Faithful was due to blow next at around 9.00.  (Formal predictions don’t start until a little later in the day.) I was planning to go out for a little walk on my own before departure, so my destination was clear.

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Quietly steaming away

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False alarm

Around 9.15, she did blow.P1290725001P1290729001P1290730001 I tried a couple of videos.

 

P1290736001I’ve since read that the difference between the temperature of the emerging steam and that of the ambient atmosphere on a really cold day can be some 115 deg C/240 deg F.

I dawdled back to Snow Lodge.P1290739001P1290742001P1290744001

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A snow plough had cleared a broad path – the bank seen here came almost up to my waist.

P1290749001 We shortly set off in our Sprinter, a yellow one this time. (All our vehicles were Sprinters; they were just adapted for different road conditions.)P1290911001 Maximum speed allowed: 25 mph, but we were able to do considerably less for most of the time – all the better for enjoying the views.

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The eye can disregard the smoked glass of the windscreen, the camera does not lie.

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Bison enjoying the steam/water vapour – I am reminded of the picture at the Museum in Jackson Hole.

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Snowmobiles and a Bombadier, the predecessor of our snowcoaches

P1290800001 Some had seen bison on their walk earlier in the morning.  I saw my first on this drive.P1290806001

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Some found their faces menacing.  I thought they were lovely and gentle – though it was safer to take these pictures through a wound-down window!  The animals were just feet away.

P1290815001P1290822001 This video shows one of them using its strong neck muscles to shovel the snow out of the way with its muzzle to reach the vegetation.

 

It’s only 11.30. Such a full day still to come!