Friday, November 7, 2008

Bacon Creek

I spent last week walking along through the antelope migration corridor with a big, heavy backpack on and mud on my hiking boots. A few days into the trip I followed the Bacon Creek drainage up toward the high pass the antelope cross in the Gros Ventre mountains. By late afternoon, I was getting pretty tired, but needed to push on just one more mile to keep to my schedule. As I came over a small hill, I saw my shadow cast way up the valley by the setting sun (and took this picture). By the time I reached my campsite in a meadow along the creek, set my tent up, prepared a place to hang my food bag, and started cooking supper, the last of the sunlight was gone. I ate my noodles and had some tea in the dark with glittering stars overhead.

Sometime in the night I woke up to the sound of ice on the creek breaking. I grabbed my bear spray and held my breath, straining to hear any more sounds in the night and imagining the giant grizzly I thought must be crossing the creek to come get me. After a while, I realized the ice had only shifted as the temperature changed and I relaxed enough to fall back asleep until morning.

Though I was scared at the time, I relish that deep humility that comes from venturing into bear country, the feeling of vulnerability in the presence of another creature that is bigger, stronger, and keener than myself. Humility seems to be in short supply in a time when any mention of reconsidering our consumption of resources, slowing growth and development, or leaving habitat untouched is construed as a threat to our economy. I wish more people could spend a cold, dark night alone in a place like Bacon Creek, listening to the ice crack and holding their breath. That taste of humility can keep us in check, help us recognize the wonderful things we already have, and reveal our entanglement in a wild and complex world where human control is often a myth.

About a week later, with blisters on my feet, sores on my hips, and a journal full of notes I returned to Laramie. On Tuesday night the humility I carried from Bacon Creek was replaced for a while with swelling pride as I watched Barack Obama win his election as the new president of America. This is a very exciting time to be thinking about how the future in our nation may be shaped. I hope that sharing stories about the wildness of the antelope migration corridor will help protect it for upcoming generations (of antelope and people alike) to enjoy. I can't wait to get writing.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Emilene starts her walk...

I just dropped off Emilene near Blacktail Butte in Grand Teton National Park, she had all her gear and is ready to walk the path of the pronghorn.  She is doing the 125 mile walk mostly solo, but with journal and pen in hand. I will pick her up near the town of Farson WY on November 8th, I can't wait to hear all her stories and experiences!!!

It's been a busy month for me, photographing everyday for almost 5 weeks now. Right now I am sitting in my truck on the side of hwy 89 outside of Jackson WY ( I think I am getting wireless internet from some motel or inn, so thanks to whoever is letting me write this blog entry).

I walked the 125 mile path of the pronghorn with Rick Ridgeway in early October, it took 11 days, we had some good weather, and some really bad weather, which was good weather because some pronghorn migrated early and we were immersed in the pulse of life and energy that surrounds this migration. I'll show you all photos from the trip when I can, hopefully sooner than later.  On our last day of the walk, we watched between 700-900 pronghorn travel through Trapper's Point, roughly half of the entire pronghorn population that summer north of Pinedale WY.  It was by far the best day of my photography career to date. When I look at the images I got, I still cannot believe that I was behind the camera documenting the event, it was truly beautiful. Then in mid October a film crew from NG Wild Chronicles documented my work for a couple days, in addition, I flew the corridor to do some aerial photography with Chris Boyer from LightHawk.

This past week I have been busy keeping all of my remote camera systems functioning and in front of the pronghorn. I am looking forward to showing you the images I get of this migration, I know it will inspire you to do your part.

I hope you all are enjoying these fall days.  I know Emilene is, she is probably listening to howling wolves and buggling bull elk right now, waiting to move with the pronghorn in the morning.  All the best, Joe

Friday, October 10, 2008

Corridor access

In the last week of September I strapped a gigantic red canoe on top of my tiny red Ford Escort and drove up to northwest Wyoming from Laramie. I met up with Joe at Trapper's Point outside of Pinedale. Trapper's Point is a historic monument commemorating a rendezvous of mountain men in the 1800s. It is also a bottleneck where migrating deer and pronghorn are funneled between the Green River and some subdivisions when they cross Highway 191. Joe and I had a lot to talk about, as this was the last opportunity for us to get together before the fall migration starts.

Joe had a remote camera set near the fence. A few groups of pronghorn had started slowly filtering through. After sitting on the tailgate of Joe's truck, looking at maps, eating crackers, and catching up about our project for an hour or so, we went in to Pinedale to get some information about canoeing a section of the Green River that flows out of the Bridger-Teton National Forest, across a stretch of private land, and onto some Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land in the pronghorn migration corridor. The guys at the Great Outdoor Shop warned us that the water might be pretty low, but said they thought otherwise the canoeing would be fine.

On Saturday morning we set up a vehicle shuttle and pushed off into the current. We had about the most perfect day imaginable. It was a warm day with clear, blue skies. As the river curved through oxbows to the left and right the view shifted from the rugged high country of the Wind River Mountains to the tree-covered slopes of the Gros Ventre Mountains. Thousands of ducks of several different species including mergansers and trumpeter swans coursed up and down the river, chopping the air with their wings. The crisp September sunshine lit up the turning aspens. We even drifted quietly past a cow moose and her calf resting in the shade of some willows.

In the afternoon we met with a landowner who was very interested in our project and granted us permission to walk across his property. This felt like a big victory, as access to private property has proven to be the biggest challenge to our planning so far. "Pronghorn Passage" feels like more and more of a reality as we get closer to the fall migration. In camp that night we poured over the maps and shared ideas around the campfire. The turning of the leaves, plus the heavy frost on our vehicles and tent in the morning, were a reminder that the migration will be in full swing very soon.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

"Drill Baby Drill"

I've been in the Gros Ventre Mountains for the past couple days, mainly just trying to find pronghorn in the high mountain meadows and locating spots where I will set up remote cameras in a couple weeks. I spent last night camped on a high mountain pass with the Wind River Range to the east and the windswept sage steppe of the Upper Green River Basin to the south. This local is equally beautiful as it is full of untapped oil and gas deposits. About 50 miles farther south near the town of Pinedale, energy exploitation is full on and evident. 
Before I went to bed last night, I drove up to a hilltop so I could tune into NPR to hear the Republican national convention coverage. It made me tear up as I listened to the crowd at the convention in downtown Minneapolis chant "drill baby drill." I wandered if any one of those people chanting have seen the landscape that I am in, and if it would have changed their opinion on oil and gas exploration. I wish they could see what uncontrolled natural gas drilling looks like, as well as experience the wildness of a place like the undeveloped northern part of the Upper Green River Basin that is currently under siege to be developed. I understand that we need energy resources to continue our way of living, oil and natural gas drive our society. But when are we going to draw the line? I am looking forward to showing you images that will inspire you to draw that line. Until then, best wishes, Joe.

Monday, September 1, 2008


Make sure to read Emilene's first post listed below...

Today marks the start of my Pronghorn Passage field work. I've been planning and researching this pronghorn migration with Emilene for almost one full year now and finally I am doing what I like doing, wildlife photography! I spent the past couple days in Laramie going over last minute details with Emilene as well as making field work plans with my photographic assistant, Jeff Jewell. Jeff will be helping me keep all 8 of my remote cameras running smoothly, as well as watching for migrating pronghorn and relaying information to Emilene.

I will spend the first part of the Fall in Grand Teton National Park and the Gros Ventre Mountains just to the east. Then later this Fall I will move down into the Upper Green River Basin as the majority of the pronghorn move south towards more favorable climates. I will be living full time in the corridor with exception to a few Pronghorn Passage related obligations. On September 20th, I am giving a Pronghorn Passage presentation at Duke University for the National Geographic Society, then a couple media related obligations later in the Fall. Other than that, it's full time photographing pronghorn until Santa arrives.

I look forward to telling you about some of my field experiences. Until then, enjoy these wonderful Fall days and thanks for reading.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The end of summer...

First of all, if you don't know about our project already, check it out at The website explains our mission and will teach you about who we are. This blog won't really make sense unless you already know about our project.

In late August it's time to wake up from the long warm nap of summer and start getting ready for the coming autumn. I recently returned to Laramie, Wyoming, after spending the last few months with the pronghorn of Teton Park. I followed along as they arrived in the park in late spring. I watched as they gave birth to fawns, chased coyotes away, and gained weight eating the lush grass and sagebrush in their summer range. Now I am switching gears from my life as a pronghorn to my life as a student. Being a student entails lots of sitting at a desk indoors, but it also means sharing ideas with my classmates and feeding off the creative energy at the University of Wyoming. I'm glad to be in classes where I have an attentive audience for my writing and an opportunity for lots of feedback.

Like the pronghorn, Joe and I are using this time between seasons to prepare for the fall migration. We're building our website and blog so that people can stay informed about our project and find out what we are up to. Joe has been packing his truck with all the supplies he will need when he moves to the Teton Park next week. He's well-stocked with camera equipment, non-perishable food, and camping gear. He's plastered a giant map of the migration corridor to the ceiling of his camper shell as a reminder of where he'll be spending these coming months.

Meanwhile, 400 miles to the northwest, the pronghorn of Teton Park are weaning their fawns and getting fat and sleek as they graze among the bison in Jackson Hole. I know Joe is excited to get up there to see what they are doing, and I can't wait for the fall migration to start so I can go out among the pronghorn again. We hope you'll check in regularly to read about the adventure and follow along.