Yellowstone in Winter
Peter Clark FRPS EFIAP/p APSA EPSA
Yellowstone in Winter is a winter wonderland in every sense, blanketed in snow with steam from the geysers mingling with the early morning mists, trees encased in ice or snow and abundant wildlife.
Last February I participated in a Yellowstone in Winter Workshop run by my friend Nigel Turner of Nigel Turner Landscape Photography. It was my third visit to Yellowstone, but the first in Winter and the thought of the extreme cold was a little daunting, especially as my fingers do not take kindly to low temperatures! In the event I had no issues clad in a down jacket with a fleece underneath, lined winter trousers over jeans and long johns and winter boots with thermal socks. Although I took extreme cold weather gloves they were not worn – the combination of fleece gloves coupled with hand warmers kept my fingers cosy – a great relief! and did not interfere with the operation of the cameras which in turn were not affected by the cold.
|Yellowstone Lodge, West Yellowstone||Workshop Snow Coach at Tangle Creek|
The Workshop was based at the Yellowstone Lodge in West Yellowstone only a ¼ mile from the West Entrance to the Park. Wheeled vehicles are not permitted in the park during the winter months and we had a chartered snow coach with driver to take us wherever we wanted to go; the snow coach shown is a regular street custom wagon (mini bus) on which the wheels have been replaced for the winter season with tracked units. With the tracks fitted it is could not be said to be ‘green’ as fuel consumption is 1 – 2 mpg on a ‘good day’ and it is restricted to the use of 2nd gear giving a max speed of 30 mph, which coincidentally is the speed limit in the Park in Winter.
Yellowstone NP is vast, just under half the area of Wales, and although West Yellowstone is the closest town to the areas of main interest – Tangle Creek, the geyser basins and the Visitor Centre with Old Faithful it is still a 40 mile drive to reach them. We would leave the Lodge at 7.30 am when the temperature was typically minus 20 °F and the Park shrouded in mist or fog. As the sun rose and burnt off the mist the atmosphere was truly evocative and conducive to some magical images. En route to our chosen destination we would inevitably come across herds of bison, sometimes on the road, but always close enough to get a good image albeit at times with a 400mm lens.
Winter Morning Yellowstone
Clearing Mist Yellowstone
Most mornings we would stop in the area of Tangle Creek, a location favoured by many photographers with views across to White Dome geyser.
|Tangle Creek in Winter||Winter Morning Tangle Creek|
|Winter Solitude||Creek in Winter|
The early morning landscape is monochromatic and very atmospheric, but as the sun rises the pastel colours in the sky are truly magical Each day the conditions would be different leading to a series of worthwhile images at this location.
Most of the geyser basins were visited twice as was Old Faithful close by the Visitor Centre. We spent a full day at Norris Geyser Basin which we had entirely to ourselves although we had to stand around for 2 hrs or so in very sub zero temperatures waiting for the sun to break through the heavy fog.
|Fire and Ice, Grand Prismatic Spring||Castle Geyser|
|Norris Geyser Basin||Dead Trees, Norris Geyser Basin|
Another full day was spent around the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone where the Yellowstone River first plunges 100ft over the Upper Falls and then 300ft over the Lower Falls, which are the more photogenic and are shown opposite, The falls were almost completely frozen and traces of the blue tones normally associated with glaciers and icebergs were clearly visible.
|Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone in Winter||Frozen Falls|
Returning from the Grand Canyon we came upon a rare sight – wolves in the wild feeding on a bison carcass relatively close to the road; although a 600mm lens would have been preferred over my 400mm. Nigel Turner had visited Yellowstone at least once each year for 15 years and had never seen wolves in the wild. (There are wolves and grizzly bears to be seen in the Grizzly Bear and Wolf Sanctuary in West Yellowstone which we also visited on the one day that the weather was poor.)
|Bald Eagles on Bison Carcass||Wolves Feeding on Bison Carcass|
The icing on the cake in wildlife terms came on the last day when our driver spotted a Bobcat on the opposite bank of the Madison River – an extremely rare sight in the Park with sightings reported as only a few in each decade.
|Bison in Snow||Bobcat|
This article was originally written for the Cannock PS Newsletter