Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is one of the classic images of the national parks.  One that just says being out west on vacation.

Look at my last post of the Hayden Valley and the realize this is just a few miles down river from that wide expansive view.  Actually the Yellowstone River changes greatly in the park.  The broad expanse of Yellowstone Lake, the running through a narrow forested canyon, opening up to the wide Hayden Valley, back into the woods and suddenly over the falls into the magnificent canyon.

Quite a view.

Of course it was clear again.  However you work with what you have.  I spent about an hour taking it all in and then as the sun was already bright in the sky, headed south.  It was time to get to the Tetons!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Hayden Valley

The Hayden Valley is another area favored by the wildlife crowd in Yellowstone.  It follows the Yellowstone River as it flows north out of Yellowstone Lake and before it gets to the big waterfalls at the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.

The river is actually rather forested and passes the Mud Volcano area I blogged about in my last post.  It then opens up into the wide Hayden Valley suddenly in front of you.

The views are rather expansive here.  The river meanders through the valley.  There seems to be ever present bison.

I would really like to be here on an overcast day with elk, bison, wolves, and bears in the valley.  Not that I would make much of a picture of any of them.  One thing I have learned is I am not a wildlife photographer at all.  Give me rocks and trees, they move a lot slower.

Still being here on a day with some spring green and a few bison made me try to capture a sense of place for what the valley is.  

Actually being here confirmed my earlier thought that Roosevelt is the place to stay in Yellowstone.  It is a great base camp to explore the Lamar Valley to its west, the Northeast corner to the northeast, and south to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone into the Hayden Valley.  It also is far less crowded than the Old Faithful area.  Great views, animals, mountains, and not near the fire damage as the western side of the park.  Seems more like a winning plan.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Along the Yellowstone River

I really should title this, how what seems bad might actually turn out good.  Or maybe something about lemons and lemonade.

After watching Old Faithful in the mid afternoon, I had to set about finding a campsite.  One of the things about Yellowstone is the crowds and those crowds fill up all of the available lodging basically every night all summer.  I had hoped with it being only mid-June that I would be able to get a campsite at one of the numerous campgrounds in the park.  My plan had been to stay on the west side so I would be close enough to Old Faithful to try a middle of the night shot.  The campground I wanted has several hundred sites.  They were all booked.


So, I got on the phone and called Yellowstone Central Reservations.  I asked if there were any campsites or even rooms for the night.  The long pause on the other end did not sound good.  Then they tell me that one single tent site was all that was left in the entire park.  Needless to say, I took it.  It was over by Yellowstone Lake.  Really too far to try going back to Old Faithful for a night shot, so after setting up camp and looking at the map, I headed north following the river looking for some thermal features and something called the mud volcano.  It sounded cool.  However, it was also a total guess on being a possible image.

I followed the river into the forest north of the lake and saw several neat geothermal features in a small area.  Turns out the mud volcano was cool but just not a good picture.  However the Dragons Den was one I got a cool image out of.  So, I was thinking this is getting better.

I walked across the road to the edge of the river and then waited for the sunset.  Nice views here.  The clouds gave me some great light and the thermal features across the river gave me something interesting that were undoubtedly Yellowstone. 

I was able to photograph both up and down the river.  If only a bison would have appeared.....  Ok, no bison but the clouds, light, and view with really nice.

It turns out I found a great area with a nice view and luckily no crowds either.  To me that always helps.  The sunset was a great one and I stayed along the river until it was all gone. As I drove back to the last campsite in the park, I smiled.  It was a great afternoon afterall!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Old Faithful

I drove from Mammoth down the western side of Yellowstone toward the Firehole River and Old Faithful.  One of the things you notice on the west side of the park is how big the fire damage was here in 1988.  It seems the entire western side of the park is all new growth trees.

The earlier cloud cover had given way to only a few puffy clouds moving past and I only made a few images.  I finally got close to Old Faithful about 3pm and drove up to the visitor center.  Old Faithful along with Yosemite Valley are the two epicenters on the national parks.  Famous area and vast crowds.  The wonderful old lodge is still there along with a big visitor center and man does it get visitors!

I arrived with about 20 minutes until Old Faithful would erupt so I grabbed my tripod and went to set up a shot.  Of course about 1000 other people were there with me.  The hardest thing about the shot was really trying to find a spot where you had a clear view and would not be bumped by people, yes it is that crowded.

I set up my shot and decided to add a solid ND filter so I could make a 30 second exposure.  This way I could capture the geyser eruption and hopefully get some moving clouds.  While waiting for the magic moment, I ran a test shot and the exposure looked good.  

The suddenly, Old Faithful lives up to its name and put on a two minute show.  Impressive. It is one of those sights everyone ought to see.  The image worked out better than I thought, especially for a middle of the day shot.  I had my Old Faithful image.

My goal had actually been to to stay nearby and come back at 3 am to try a night shot, but that did not work out.  See the epic journey for finding a campsite in Yellowstone in my next post.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Northeast Yellowstone

After spending almost two days on the Chief Joseph and Beartooth Highways, I made my way through Cooke City and into Yellowstone National Park at the northeast entrance.

It was my first visit into that corner of the park and I was very impressed with it.  As a landscape photographer I had been underwhelmed with Yellowstone on my one prior visit.  I know, it seems wrong to say that Yellowstone is underwhelming.  However, as a landscape photographer, I find the Tetons, Glacier, and the Beartooth Highway much more to my liking.  Maybe it has something to do with the crowds.  Certainly the animals and the thermal features are spectacular, but the overall landscape was more rolling and the mountains seemed far away in most of the park.

The northeast corner is different.  Here the mountains surround you, then you enter the beautiful Lamar Valley and start to see the abundance of wildlife here.  The scenery here was outstanding and I enjoyed spending the morning making the drive into Roosevelt.  If I was to plan a Yellowstone trip to specifically stay in the park Roosevelt would be the spot. 

I was also lucky this morning as after a clear dawn it clouded up nicely on my way into the park giving me some soft light to work with.  I made several views of the deep valleys here in the northeast corner (see the top image).  I even saw a black bear from the car (the only way to see a bear in my book) but he was so far out my lame attempt at a photo is laughable.  I did see a great many bison in the Lamar Valley.  I can see why that area is popular with the wildlife photographers as it certainly offers up animals, great views, and easy access-even in winter.  In fact I have considered a winter Yellowstone trip and would certainly want to try to stay in Gardiner or Mammoth since this road is plowed and open to  drive.  

After this morning in the northeast corner, I have changed my mind and am much more impressed with the Yellowstone landscape.  I just had not been to the right part to appreciate it.

Monday, September 3, 2012

The Beartooth

The Beartooth Highway is something everyone needs to add to their bucket list.  Seriously.  Write it down.  Beartooth!

I have wanted to get to the Beartooth Highway for several years since I had read that Charles Kuralt of CBS fame had considered it the most beautiful drive in America.  That is a bold statement and I can say that I find it one of the best drives in America too.  

It was getting here that lead me over the scenic Chief Joseph Highway.  I made it to one of the open NFS campgrounds near where the Chief Joseph and the Beartooth Highways meet late in the day.  Quickly pitched my tent, paid for two nights and was driving up the pass after 7pm.  The higher I sent the colder it got and the more scenic it became.  This was all new territory and I was torn between stopping at each new view and driving to the summit of the pass.  

Driving on won out as a huge thunderstorm cloud loomed at the top of the pass and I decided the cloud had great potential toward sunset.  I occasionally stopped and made a quick image, most out the window of the car, but I kept driving up the pass.  Up past treeline, I saw frozen lakes, big peaks, and many distant mountains.

Finally I reached the summit, views in every direction were of mountains, ice, and snow.  I grabbed my gear, put on a jacket, hat and gloves and started walking trying to take it all in and find great compositions.

The big thunderstorm cloud moved off east and dissipated by sunset, but other clouds hung around the peaks.  I stayed until sunset and drove down the mountain in the dark thinking this indeed is a fantastic road.

The next morning I was out the tent and up the highway early.  It was a clear morning (seemed to be a running theme on this trip), and I stopped at a frozen lake and worked images along the edge of the lake with peaks.  I spent a few hours in the wind along the top of the pass.  The thermometer in the car read 27.  When the light got harsh, I slowly drove down the far side of the pass into Red Lodge, looking for some breakfast.  

This drive had it all.  Forested lower reaches at either end, the road goes up and up into the heart of the mountains.  You drive past alpine lakes, rocky cliffs, big peaks, and have amazing views. I have never been on a road that puts into this type of high alpine environment where you were among the summits like this.

I spent all afternoon walking in the wind around the summit.  I caught another nice sunset that afternoon (the top image here), and made my way down in the dark again. 

Needless to say after being out in the sun and wind all day, I was tired.  You forget how long the days are this far north.  I would be out on location before 5:30am and dark was not until almost 10pm.  Long days.

The next morning, I was out early again, this time breaking camp in the dark.  Again it was clear but I went to the summit for the sunrise anyway.

The views were spectacular even without the clouds I had hoped for.  I can only imagine how incredible a great sunrise must be up here.

As the sun quickly turned to daylight, I started down the mountain.  In the wooded part of the drive toward the bottom of the pass I saw a grizzly bear in some grass near the trees. He saw me and darted into the forest before I could even think about a camera.  

As I drove into Cooke City, I thought about what a great day and half it had been on the Beartooth.  It truly is a fantastic highway.  I'd say it just beats out the Going to the Sun Road in Glacier NP and it trounces Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain NP.  On a ten point scale:  Beartooth 10, Going to the Sun 9, Trailridge 4.

It really is that awesome.  Go.