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Still Here! / Tetons and Yellowstone (Land and Stars)

It's been a while since I have had something to post. There was work before vacation, vacation, work after vacation, processing of photos, the wet weather, and excuses. That's all behind me now; at least temporarily. I have a couple more vacations coming up.


On to more important things, though! Yes, I mainly do bird photography; so, starting with a set of landscape and night shots might seem a bit odd. I bought a Sony a6300 a couple years ago in the hopes of using it to capture a bit of the scenery where I'm birding. I am also fascinated with astrophotography. Astrophotography is not a good hobby for where I live. It's also not a great hobby to combine with birding. One requires staying up late - the other requires getting up early. I enjoy it, but, like everything else, I have a lot to learn.


We started the trip by flying into Montana and driving down through Idaho and over into Jackson Hole, Wyoming. We spent a few days poking around (in the rain) in Grand Tetons NP. I did not know much about the place before we went, but the Tetons have to be one of the most beautiful mountain ranges that I've ever seen. I wish we'd had better weather while we were there.


From Oxbow Bend

After the Tetons, we headed north to Yellowstone NP. We spent a couple nights in the park and then relocated up to Gardiner for a few more nights. It was more time than we really needed there, but we found plenty to do each day. Of the places we visited in the park, the Porcelain Basin

and Mammoth Hot Springs

were my favorite places. We stayed until dark the first evening we visited Mammoth (staying a bit longer to photograph the city down below). It's not the latest we'd visit here, though.


To put it ineloquently, the southern part of the park is filled with strange and wonderful sights punctuated with colorful water, bubbling mud, and farty smells.

I should point out that the erupting geyser is not Old Faithful. We waited an hour and a half, and the geyser did not erupt. We did see one of the distant ones erupt during that time. It was nearing dark, and our only food option (the cafeteria there) was closing in a half hour; so, we headed over to eat. We had just set our trays down when Old Faithful blew. I watched from the window while Carmen stepped outside for a few shots.


We stayed at the lodging near the canyon. This is the area that inspired the idea for the park, and, it's quite impressive. It's also where the park derives its name.


Mistakes were made. As we transitioned to investigating the northern part of the park, I made my first run at some night shots. I misplanned. I'd picked a spot near Mt. Washburn (which was closed while we were there) to try and capture the Milky Way. For some reason, I did not adjust the location in my planner (Photo Pils) and was in location about 2 hours earlier than I needed to be. Given that the sun was just setting as we left, I should have known, but I was not to be deterred. It took a while to figure out what I'd done wrong. We stayed a while, and I captured these shots of the Milk Way starting to appear in the darkening sky. We could not really stay until conditions improved. We already had plans to be up super early in the morning for our first trip into Lamar Valley. I'd also managed to pick up a nail in a tire that had to be dealt with the next morning; so, it was better that we went back and got some sleep.


The northern part of the park is completely different from the southern part. Thick conifer forest gives way to open grasslands; eventually becoming quite hot and dry at the north park entrance. The norther part of the park is also where Lamar Valley lies. The first morning we rolled in, cars lined the road for miles. These were the "wolf people". As this would indicate, this was the best area for viewing wolves - and most other wildlife. Lamar runs out to the NE gate and the town of Silver Gate. This is also where Beartooth Highway starts, but it was closed most of our time there. We made a lot of runs through here, and I'll cover the wildlife we saw in a different post.

Lamar Valley

We spent quite a bit of time driving between Gardiner, Silver Gate, and the Tower Falls area. Near Tower Falls, I took my favorite landscape shot of the trip.

Creek near Tower Falls

Carmen is usually in charge of landscape, but I managed to snap a few shots while looking for wildlife.


As you can see, evenings were quite cloudy during our time there. In the morning, the skies would be clear. Near the last day of the trip, I finally decided to try another run of night photography. I'd not planned anything. I had a vague idea of one shot I wanted to try, but I was going to wing the rest of it. That's just what amateurs do. We headed to bed at 7 and got up at midnight. Technically, this was already a couple hours later than what we should have been out the door, but we did need some sleep. Our first stop was Mammoth. This was the shot I knew I wanted to try. While Carmen held the flashlight and scanned for wildlife that your imagination always has creeping just beyond your scanning beam, I managed this.

Mammoth Hot Springs

The plan from here was to drive and look for places to shoot. We wanted to end out near the NE gate just before sunrise to start scanning for wildlife. Along the way, I'd find a place to shoot star trails, and we could grab a quick nap. The plan, of course, did not go well. First, some planning needs to be done. In the complete darkness of the area, it's impossible to tell where, exactly, you are at sometimes. Even the dashlights on the car will ruin your night vision; so, it's difficult to even see what things look like when you pop your head out the window. Second, we didn't have any bear spray. Turns out, you cannot even carry the stuff in your checked luggage. We did figure this out before we got to the airport. Wandering around outside the car a lot was not going to be an option. We would be shooting from the car. Third, there is still quite a bit of traffic at 3 AM in the park. Napping next to the road with cars buzzing by is not easy, for me. We managed to more-or-less stick to plan. We just did not get that nap in.


I'd set the tripod up and planned to shoot trails for an hour. Unfortunately, I did not pay attention to what time it was. Pre-dawn drifts in early, and the last half hour of trails was pretty blown out. We squeezed in some "blue hour" shots afterwards and went to find a place for a half hour nap. That did not work out, either.... More on that in the wildlife post.


This pretty much wrapped up our trip. We did get a nap in later in the day back at the hotel. We made one last run into the park. On the final trip back, I kept squeezing in stops. We'd lost light, but I was shooting anyway. I just was not ready to end the trip.

Post-Sunset at the Gardiner River

The next day was an uneventful trip back to Bozeman and a flight home. I plan to do a separate post for wildlife and birds. That should be coming soon.


Thanks for reading,

Mike



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