Eye to Eye with Giants: What Happens When Wildlife Stares Back?

I had never seen a Bison close-up in the wild before. Sure, I had been to Yellowstone as a child and seen them at the zoo, but nothing like this! During my trip to the Grand Canyon, I thought I was traveling to take landscape photos of a giant hole in the ground. I had no idea what was in store for me!

As we passed through the gates of the North Rim at the Grand Canyon National Park, the sun was low in the sky. I was rushing my husband to reach our intended destination by sunset. We were still 30 miles away from where I thought I wanted to be! About a mile past the entrance, I spotted a small patch of animals near the road. They were standing at what looked like a watering hole. At first, I thought nothing of it because horses and cows are regular occurrences around these parts. However, as we got closer, I saw more animals across the landscape and took a closer look. It was a herd of bison! All plans for sunset quickly went out the window. We stopped the truck a safe distance from the herd and watched in awe. In my heart, I knew this was the place where I was going to capture magnificent photographs today!

At this moment, I'm an aspiring professional photographer who mainly photographs landscapes, sitting in front of a herd of bison for the first time. The sun had dipped below a nearby mountain. The light was fading. And the bison seemed to be moving around a lot! I didn't dare get out of the truck because they appeared to be slowly moving toward us. I was finding it extremely difficult to get a decent photograph at all.

I knew I had to be patient even though my heart was racing. And I knew if I was going to get a sharp photo in this light, I had to hold the camera very still. I had seen many videos on the Internet about humans getting close to bison, so we moved the truck backward every time they got closer. Thank goodness there were no cars behind us! I found the burning need for great photographs and the absolute need for safety challenging to balance. Hanging out the window was as daring as I was going to get on this adventure! 

My husband was just as excited and just as anxious as I was. He was also capturing photos but from the window of the diver's side. We travel everywhere with our pups, who were in the back seat on this occasion. And after an hour of sitting at the side of the road, their patience was running thin, and they desperately wanted out.

However, we found ourselves surrounded by the herd, and there was nowhere to go! As the bison moved across the street, it seemed the largest males stood directly in the middle of the road as if they intended to stop traffic for the smaller ones to safely cross. One vehicle that eventually pulled up behind us decided he would pass anyway and nudge the bison out of the way with his Subaru. I was shocked at the sight of these enormous animals moving out of the way for a small car! This action made me very nervous because I did not want to end up on the 10 o'clock news! At this point, there seemed to be bison everywhere. Too close for a good landscape shot, too far to capture any great detail, and too dark to make a crisp, clear picture.

Suddenly two bison walked right up next to the truck, stopped about 30 feet in front of me, and began casually munching on grass. I knew this was my moment! I gulped, then positioned myself on the window ledge of the door using the side mirror to stabilize my lens and snapped a photo. A bit further away, two more bison began dueling in the grass. I zoomed in, focused, and snapped another.

Triumphant, I knew I had at least two excellent pictures of the encounter! We returned to that spot twice more on that trip and did not see them again. I felt blessed for the experience and elated for the new potential additions to my growing wildlife portfolio. Two steps closer to becoming a professional photographer were under my belt!

Experiences like this don't happen every day. At least not to me. I feel most at peace during these rare moments when I connect with nature at this level, like looking into a bison's eye. And indeed blessed for the opportunities I have to travel and capture nature with my camera.

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