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by Stan Tekiela
January 30, 2017
Early one morning (4:am) in a small town in western Wyoming I had stopped at a local breakfast diner to grab a bite to eat before a long day. Over my eggs and toast I was contemplating which route I was going to take to get to my final destination. I had just 250 miles to go but a large mountain range stood between me and where I needed to go.
A nasty winter storm rolled through the high planes of Wyoming just the day before making driving tricky. My two choices were to drive an extra 200 miles around the mountain range on relatively flat but super icy roads or go up and over the mountains, crossing at about 9,000 foot elevation. I was thinking that perhaps I should error on the side of caution and take the long flat route, rather than risking the high mountain pass. Traveling in winter is always challenging but today was especially challenging.
Sitting at a table next to me was four local "old timers". They were drinking coffee and talking. Perfect guys to ask for some friendly advises, so I spoke up. I quickly found out that one of the guys just drove along the long route I was considering and he said it was ice covered and very dangerous. He explained it was super slow going with lots of traffic. So next I inquired about going up and over the mountains. They laughed and asked, "what are you driving?" I told them I have a large 4 wheel drive truck. I held my breath for a moment to hear the answer.
"Ya, sure" one guy said, "you should be able to make it." They said the highway plow guy had over an hour head start on me and as long as I followed behind him should be able to make it. Making sure I had enough food and something to drink, just in case, I headed out in the darkness up the snowy winding road.
It was very cold and clear skies, which is typical following a nasty winter storm. The layer of snow squeaked loudly under my tires and as I drove higher up the twisting and turning road the temperatures started to fall even colder until it was 10 degrees below zero.
By the time I reached 6,000 foot elevation, the sun was just appearing over the eastern horizon, bathing the mountain side in golden light. It was a beautiful morning. The road was snow packed with only about 3 inches of fresh snow that hadn't been plowed yet. I thought to myself, where is the plow truck the guys talked about?
Nearing the top, the road dripped into a valley casting a deep cobalt blue color across the entire valley. It will be another hour before the sun reaches this valley. As I drove along it occurred to me that I haven't seen another vehicle on the road since I started up the mountain.
In a small grove of willow trees not far off the road I spotted a cow and calf moose. They were covered in frost and a dusting of snow and where munching on the willow branches. Naturally I stopped and very quietly slipped out of my truck with my camera. Since the light was very low I needed my tripod to stabilize my camera and lens.
After 20 minutes of photographing the pair of moose, I looked to my left and saw a large bull moose entering the valley. He was moving quickly through the deep snow and heading straight for me. I moved to the opposite side of my truck for a better vantage point and waited for the right moment.
The moose definitely had a destination in mind because he didn't slow down at all. He approached within 100 yards and crossed the road right in front of me and headed up the hillside on the opposite side of the road. This was the moment. As the bull moose approached the top of the hill I knew he would be silhouetted against the sky. I quickly made some adjustments to my camera's settings to be able to capture just the dark outline of the moose against the deep blue sky and began to captured some unique images. Sometimes it all works out. Until next time...
Stan Tekiela is an author / naturalist and wildlife photographer who travels the U.S. to study and photograph wildlife. He can be followed on www.facebook.com and twitter.com. He can be contacted via his web page at www.naturesmart.com
The nationally syndicated NatureSmart Column appears in over 25 cities spanning 4 states: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois,and Pennsylvania. It is a bi-weekly column circulated to over 750,000 readers.
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