Thursday, January 30, 2014

Yellowstone - January 2014

This past week I went for my second trip into Yellowstone during the winter.  Yellowstone is my favorite national park any time of year, but in winter it is off the charts!  Everyone should give it a try sometime.

The first thing you have to plan on is getting into the park.  The roads are all snow packed and they don't allow any normal vehicles in. Four wheel drive is irrelevant. You need something that looks like this: a nice big, roomy vehicle with tank treads.
To get this, I signed up for a photography trip with Nature Photography Adventures.  This is the same group I went with back in 2007.  I started by driving up to West Yellowstone to meet the group.  I was the only one who drove.  Our group had 13 people and they came from Australia, England, Norway, Oregon, Washington, Texas, and a few others.  I felt odd being only 350 miles away.

West Yellowstone is a funky little town near the northwestern corner of the park.  It's is huge for snowmobilers in the winter, which appears to be the reason they don't quite plow their streets.  They get a bit of the snow out of the way, but it quickly evolves to a significant layer of ice.
Each day we would journey into the park in our snow coach, or coaches.  We liked the big one the best, because it had a tremendous amount of room for the 13 of us, our two leaders, and 9,000 pounds of camera equipment.  One the longest day, we had to take two smaller coaches.  They had better fuel range.  Apparently tank treads aren't great for mileage and a national park layered in a blanket of snow isn't full of filling stations.

This is a normal stop for us.  We all pile out and start looking at something.  Then we begin to wander off in different directions photographing different things.  Some people were all about the wildlife.  Others the trees and geysers. Some were focused on macro photography.  The trip leaders managed to balance everything out so that each person got a good amount of their favorites.
As you will see in pictures that follow, this is indicative of the trip.  In all the geyser basins, there was an incredible amount of steam rising, making photography a big challenge.  Then the steam freezes on the boardwalks, so walking can be a challenge.
The trip was great and I like the leaders.  Probably the best measure of their success is the number of people on our trip who had done multiple others with this same company.  For me, they provided the transportation and all the local knowledge.  They knew where the wildlife would be.  They knew when the sun would hit a certain spot.  Even if I could have driven myself, there's no way I could have found half of what we saw.

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