Yellowstone

General Thoughts
Nez Perce Flats — Yellowstone NP, WY © jj raia

Nez Perce Flats — Yellowstone NP, WY © jj raia

In 1871, the Hayden expedition set out to survey the sources of the Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers. Thomas Moran joined as artist of the team and, along with photographer William Henry Jackson, depicted many of Yellowstone’s geologic features and landscapes which later proved essential in convincing the United States Congress to establish Yellowstone as our first national park. I have always admired Moran’s paintings, but especially his depiction of the Green River Cliffs that I first saw at the National Gallery of Art in Washington many, many years ago, and I actually recognized them when I drove through Green River, WY later in the trip. His famous painting of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone was bought by the US government for the amazing sum then of $10,000!! (to see it, click here) I’m sure he and Jackson were inspired by the varied displays of the earth’s power so easily evident throughout the area. Whether it was the mountains, forests, hot springs, geysers or the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, there is so much to inspire anyone who wishes to record it.

It’s been 38 years since I last set foot in Yellowstone and I have few recollections except for two photographs from that trip. So I was essentially visiting for the first time, although I did have memories of some wild, colorful designs within the many hot spring and geyser areas, and initially thought that may be my focus. But what really garnered my attention were the large areas of wide open grasslands where streams or rivers meandered in such beautiful bends and buffalo grazed at a leisurely pace.
Gibbon River at Dawn — Yellowstone © jj raia

Gibbon River at Dawn — Yellowstone © jj raia

Although each morning of the week began cloudy, there were two occasions I was extremely lucky when those clouds broke for just a few moments. Each time I scrambled to find something to photograph before that beautiful light disappeared, I was fortunate to have those flat lands and rivers close by when the sun broke through on those mornings, but no such luck ever occurred for any sunsets. I did have a couple late afternoons when there was some sunlight, but those sumptuous skies at sunset eluded me the entire week I spent there. In fact, for the most part, there was a severe lack of sunlight all together and an overabundance of clouds. But I do have to admit, there were times when those clouds proved to add immensely to the drama of several scenes and were an advantage for some panoramas here and at the other parks I visited, a few of which have already been posted.

Each time I photographed the sunrise, I used my hard edged split neutral density filter to better balance the light above the horizon which worked well if the horizon was flat, but if there were hills or trees in the foreground, the soft edge ND was used. I also tried using my soft edged ND combined with the hard edged filter if the horizon was really bright. On one of the mornings, there was a dusting of snow which helped brighten the land and made balancing the bright sky with it a bit easier. 
Nez Perce Creek — Yellowstone © jj raia

Nez Perce Creek — Yellowstone © jj raia

The solitary night that was clear in Yellowstone was a complete surprise because I went into the Old Faithful Inn while it was raining, but when I left to head to the campground, it had cleared and the sky was full of stars. One of my hopes was to photograph a geyser erupting with the Milky Way above and I had that chance when I came across White Dome Geyser along the Firehole Lake Drive that first night. Although the first unexpected eruption caught me by surprise and I recorded it without having properly set up the camera, I did get a decent shot of it. But it was the second (also unexpected) eruption about 20 minutes later that turned out a bit better. I had hoped to do the same at Old Faithful and possibly Castle Geyser, but there was never another clear sky again and I was a bit disappointed. But I am happy with what I was able to come away with.

White Dome Geyser and Milky Way — Yellowstone © jj raia

White Dome Geyser and Milky Way — Yellowstone © jj raia

Although I was completely alone photographing White Dome, I always felt the presence of something else out in the darkness because I kept hearing sounds off in the distance, and continually scanned the surroundings with my flashlight. Later, I determined it to be the bubbling of a nearby hot spring, yet I was always on the lookout for some bison herd wandering by or, my worst fear, a bear. It is a bit spooky sometimes doing these shots by yourself, but having that experience was well worth my unease.
During the day, whenever I was photographing or exploring those great open areas I mentioned, I was also alone and always completely immersed in the landscape. But when I went to some of the popular geyser basins to search out the abstract colors I remembered from that trip long ago, it was a different story: the mighty hordes of cellphone toting tourists descended and crushed the quiet and sanctity I always seek.

More Grand Teton

General Thoughts
Moulton Barn and Milky Way © jj raia

Moulton Barn and Milky Way © jj raia

Somehow, with all the clouds and rain in Grand Teton, I managed to have clear skies three nights for some Milky Way photography, but what was a bit frustrating was that a few hours later when the sun was due to rise, most times it was blocked by either clouds or fog. One of those clear nights I was lighting the Moulton Barn and decided to have some fun and try to get myself into the frame, thanks to the wireless remote. But on one of those inevitable cloudy mornings that followed, I commiserated with Eric Bowles, who as it turned out, was a photographic instructor and workshop leader (www.bowlesimages.com). I felt pretty fortunate to be in his company and his willingness to share his photographic knowledge. We decided to do some exploring along Antelope Flats Road, and when we climbed out of the depression that is Schwabacher’s Landing (my hotel location), we found the dense fog burning off and the sun dramatically lighting up the flats in between bands of fog. Just a wonderfully dramatic and unexpected scene.

Burning Fog — Grand Teton NP, WY © jj raia

Burning Fog — Grand Teton NP, WY © jj raia

It was difficult to work with the bright sun and darker shadows, but a 2-stop ND filter helped. We also stopped to photograph a small group of pronghorn, which was my first ever attempt at wildlife and later, stopped at a spot under clouds where I saw some hills that had a beautifully flowing pattern. And although there were plenty of wires throughout the shot, I took it in spite of all the extra work that would entail.

Rolling Hills — Grand Teton NP, WY © jj raia

Rolling Hills — Grand Teton NP, WY © jj raia

There were other days that fog was around and I did my best to capture something that really showed the fog in all it’s glory being burned off by the sun.

Standing Snag and Fog © jj raia

Standing Snag and Fog © jj raia

When it was finally time to head north to Yellowstone, I encountered a newly burned area that went on for miles. At one point, I came to a spot where the complete devastating effects of the fire abruptly stopped and the edge of the forest remained unscathed. It was a great opportunity to illustrate the opposing forces of life and death in the forest, and luckily, the showers that were around seemed to have moved on and the area was lit by the sun. The recent shower made the black of the burn area that much more intense for added contrast with the green of the still living tree and the few remaining rust colored pines affected by the fire. I was there quite a while until the clouds and showers rolled through again, but during that time, several cars pulled over thinking I must have been photographing some wildlife, and when they saw none, they got back in the car and drove on. Eventually I drove on as well, hoping that the weather pattern would change with my arrival into Yellowstone and my long awaited return to try some abstracts of the colorful organisms living around the hot springs and geysers. The last time I was in the park was 1978 as a newly minted locomotive engineer who loved to travel and carry a camera. But this time would be different. This time I had bear spray!!

Forest Burn — Grand Teton NP, WY © jj raia

Forest Burn — Grand Teton NP, WY © jj raia

Takeaways

General Thoughts
Rain Curtains and Teton Range — © jj raia

Rain Curtains and the Teton Range — © jj raia

The initial takeaway from this two week trip was the “unsettled” weather encountered during the majority of my time in Grand Teton, Yellowstone and Rocky Mountain National Parks. Although Craters of the Moon was clear and calm, like all the other parks, I just didn’t feel I came away with any great images. There were many times I took several differing exposures of the same scene because of the great variance in light values in hopes of being able to properly blend them together later in either Photoshop or Nik HDR. I also ended up taking quite a few panoramas because of the enormous views and big skies. They had to be stitched together later and since I don’t own one of those expensive panorama heads to hold the camera at the proper “nodal point,” they may not work out because of my poor technique in originally taking the  images for the final photo. So when I dove into processing the images, I was a bit skeptical about how much would work out and how much would end up in a huge pile of deletes.
The other takeaway, a continuing distasteful recollection, were the crowds. Not so much the numbers, although a bit of an annoyance, it was their complete lack of reverence for these iconic lands. For them, it never seemed that the incredible scenery was the ultimate star there, but rather their own self importance and that they were there, constantly taking selfies every few yards, posing as if they were in the middle of a fashion shoot. I was asked several times to take pictures of them with their phone on a selfie stick!!! I spoke to a ranger in Yellowstone and she mentioned that there was a 50% increase in tour buses at the park the previous year and that another 50% increase was expected again this year; an enormous influx for an already overloaded park.

First Rays on the Tetons — © jj raia

First Rays on the Tetons — © jj raia

My problem is that when I visit these places, I feel as though I am in a cathedral and that a quiet, religious humility comes over me as I try to absorb what is before me. These crowds were loud, boisterous and inconsiderate to the point of placing a camera directly in front of my lens to snap a photo! I try to travel in the “off season” to reduce these encounters, but this trip did not pan out that way. 

Day 15 – October 11, 2016 – Tuesday – Decisions

General Thoughts
Menacing_Storm.jpg

Menacing Clouds

Whenever I’ve taken these road trips in the past, I’ve always tried to take the safe course mainly because I’m traveling alone and in some remote areas where help may not be coming for quite some time. Well last night after leaving McDonald’s in Estes Park outside of Rocky Mtn. NP, I literally came to a fork in the road and decided on the wrong fork. I was hoping for one last chance at a great sunrise in the mountains and wanted to be up at an overlook on Trail Ridge Road above the tree line for first light. I also thought about some star shots with or without the Milky Way, and maybe some night shots with some movement in clouds of the partially cloudy sky I saw. It was a half moon and I thought it would light the clouds and the snow on the mountains. So when I came to the choice, right or left, I rejected going left towards the campground at a lower elevation, which was in the opposite direction of where I wanted to be in the morning that was much higher at around 12,000 feet. I chose to go right up to where I wanted to be in the morning and possibly do some night shooting. Well, when I got up to 12,000 feet, above tree line, the wind was still howling like the afternoon, so the idea of long, 25-second or longer exposures was out of the question. So I decided to spend the night at the Alpine Visitor Center a few hundred feet lower in elevation, down the road a bit on the west side of the mountain. There was a pit toilet there and I would be very near the overlook I figured would have good side lighting on the range across the valley when the sun came up in the morning. All very optimistic conclusions without a shred of information (weather reports, angles for sunrise, etc.) for them to be based on.

So I climbed into my sleeping bag and listened to the wind howl for a few minutes before falling asleep. At times during the night I felt the car shaking from the wind and just rolled over and fell back asleep. But when the alarm went off at 6:30am, it was all white outside the car and there was a blizzard going on!!! It slowly sank in that here I am, all alone on top of a mountain in a blizzard. I had food, water, half a tank of gas and barely any cell service if I had any at all. I was weighing my options whether to stay put until the snow stopped, having no idea when that would be, or head down in the storm, and if I head down, in which direction do I go: east or west? Should I wait until they plow the road later? having no idea if that would indeed happen (I saw some equipment to do that at lower elevations) or would they just say the season is over and the road will be closed until spring? Lots of things going through my mind. Even “Will I make my flight tomorrow?” But I did make the decision to hit the pit toilet first and go from there.

Back in the car, I started it up to get some heat going and have a granola bar for breakfast while I weighed my options, feeling just a little insecure about the predicament. Suddenly, through the storm, I saw some headlights coming from the east side, down from the highest point on the road. I kept turning my headlights on and off to get his attention and he came over to the car. He said he had come from Estes Park and that further below it was rain and that I could make it and he drove off. Well, I decided to give it a go and drove out of the parking lot heading up over the top toward the east side, but the snow was blinding, barely able to see the road and pulled back into the parking lot. I felt trying to go east and up higher, conditions would be worse before they got any better while the poor visibility and going uphill made that option sketchy. I also knew that most sections of the roadway had severe drop-offs without any barriers whatsoever. That’s what gave me pause to drive out in the first place. I did feel a little confident after handling the car in the snow in Yellowstone and taking manual control of the transmission, so I decided to head down the west side even though it would mean a long drive around to get back to the east side of the range. It was getting a bit lighter out and I kept the car going at 20mph or less, following the road and tracks of the guy in the truck I spoke to earlier. If I had waited a few more minutes to decide, the tracks would have been covered, making it that much more difficult. But I was determined to be patient and always be in control of the car, no matter how long it took as I headed down, but found I had to drive a very long time before I saw any improvement or decrease in the snow falling and wind. The more I drove, the more I realized that this was no snow squall that would be over in a flash, and when I finally felt I was off the mountain and feeling quite relieved, I looked to my right and saw some of the blackest, most ominous clouds I have ever seen in my life!! The picture above from my cell phone does not, in any way, truly show the menace in those clouds; and that is where I came from!!

I counted my blessings for getting down the mountain safely and for being uninjured during this trip as well. There is truly some guiding force that propels me to places where I photograph the unexpected, and it is the same force that watches over my well being. For that, I am thankful. After the long drive to get back to the east side of the mountains, I spent the afternoon visiting with a former Cary neighbor who moved to Colorado Springs about a year ago into a lovely new home, enjoying lunch and dinner there before heading toward Denver for the flight back home tomorrow. There were times this morning that I felt I would have missed my visit and possibly even my flight tomorrow while not being able to communicate my whereabouts to them, or anyone, of my predicament. Thankfully, that truck passed by and gave me the courage to try to wrestle myself out of the predicament in which I so foolishly put myself. I’m just happy he didn’t pass by while I was inside the pit toilet!!

Day 14 – October 10, 2016

General Thoughts

Day 14 – October 10, 2016 – Monday

 

 Clearing Snow Squall no.1 – Rocky Mountain NP, CO

 

Got up early enough to try to get a sunrise shot somewhere near Rock Springs, but there were no clouds and I had an almost 6 hour drive ahead of me to Rocky Mountain NP, so I opted to just get in the car and drive. Stopped across the street this time instead of going back to Starbucks and for $2.99, I got a breakfast sandwhich and a 24-oz. coffee!! About the same as a medium coffee at Starbucks. Managed to get in touch with Laurene about visiting Tuesday, and I talked to Denis to ask where he was, and found he was already back home in CA. Sounds like he had much better weather in CO than I did in WY.

Clearing Snow Squall no.2 – Rocky Mountain NP, CO

Made it into Rocky Mountain NP after driving through the awesome (in engineering too) Big Thompson Canyon and asked about any aspens in the park and the ranger told me to turn off in about 2 miles and there should be some aspens. Well, there were very few and not in any way like the stands I saw in CO two years ago. Mostly evergreens. So I headed up Trail Ridge Road, the highest regularly maintained road in the US. The temperature kept dropping as I got higher and higher going from the mid 60’s to the mid 30’s!! Above treeline there were 360-degree panoramas of weather systems moving through the Rockies. Snow squalls, various types of clouds, sunshine glistening off the new snow dusting the mountains. It was simply beautiful…but super windy!! No busloads of self-absorbed tourists, but still plenty of selfies to go around. At the Gore Range Overlook, the weather went from sunny, to a completely socked in white-out, to snow blowing sideways, to some crazy clouds clearing the way for sunshine again; all in about 20 minutes. Glad I waited it out as the scene that developed was nothing short of spectacular!! I did a lot of shooting in hopes of getting the raw power of what occurred in both single shots and panos. I just hope something comes of it because it would be a shame to have not recorded it properly. But it was just a great moment in the trip watching it unfold across the entire range of mountains before me.

I returned to the same location when sunset should have occurred, and there were still plenty of clouds around as well as plenty of wind. It sure looked like the pink was trying to make its way through, but just never did to any degree. If it had, it would have been two spectacular events in just a few hours; too much to expect. But I waited in the gale with my camera, completely ready with split ND’s in place in case I got really lucky.

Drove back down to Estes Park, gateway to the park, and was amazed at how commercial it was. I found a McDonald’s and wrote out the journal tonight, just like any other homeless person…just killing time before heading back up to find a spot to crash for a few hours. I don’t think the skies will be clear to try any star shots tonight with the moon setting pretty late now, and if it remains as windy and cold as when I left, I think I’ll skip it and stay warm. I’m amazed that this is the first and only night I don’t have a specific place to stay because the only campground is in the opposite direction of where I want to be in the morning. But after tomorrow morning, the photo part of the trip will be over. I hope it is a good one since I haven’t had a single great sunrise, or sunset for that matter. Time will tell…

Day 13 – October 9, 2016 – Sunday (2nd Presidential Debate)

General Thoughts
Day 13 – October 9, 2016 – Sunday (2nd Presidential Debate)
Finally got into the sleeping bag after having to redo my journal and fell right asleep. I have to admit the new pillow I bought for this trip has been great; not cold to the touch like the old one and much softer. I had to wrap the old one in my fleece jacket to stay warm.
 

Lava Field at Dawn – Craters of the Moon NM, ID

I set the alarm so I don’t sleep through sunrise even though if there are no clouds, it will just be a repeat of yesterday and figured if I woke up earlier, I would make another attempt at the Milky Way. Woke up around 4:10am and would normally just roll over, but I got up and out and went back to the Devil’s Orchard to that tree to see if it lined up better 4-5 hours later. And it did; the profile of the tree was much better. I did the same tungsten and daylight white balances and went down as far as f/4 to try to keep the tree and stars all in focus. Glad I crawled out of the bag this morning.
Headed over to the Inferno Cone parking lot to wait until it became light out. Dozed a bit but realized as the horizon lightened, that the light would be the same as yesterday and I thought to go on the caves trail instead since it is a wide open lava field and should get some good cross lighting. It was good light, but difficult to record. I eventually put a hard-step ND filter over the sky to keep it from blowing out and the gradual split over the bottom to keep my foreground subject from getting overly bright allowing the dark lava a bit more light in the middle ground in order to have some substance there, otherwise it would probably be just blocked up. It was a good experience watching the light work its way into all the nooks and crevices within the lava field, and how it brought out so many of the colors and textures. With all the small plants struggling to survive in the cracks and placing them within the frame of lava without eliminating the sky’s reflection, there was the opposition of warm vs. cool.
Afterwards, I stopped in at Pickles Place for breakfast and it couldn’t light a candle to Wendy at Mel’s. A whole different atmosphere and attitude. I did take a few shots of the bright green outside that seemed to have fewer flies than inside. Went across the street snd photographed the Lost River Hotel which was painted bright colors. Then began the long trip to Rock Springs. The area around Arco is pretty desolate which is probably why the government set up an atomic plant there, just in case there were a mishap.
Finally got checked into Motel 6 around 5pm, and the kind woman behind the desk gave me a magazine with many of the places I saw on the morning of the second day in the book in Starbucks, all listed and a map of where they were. I took a quick shower and blasted out the door to try to get to  the Little  Firehole Canyon Overlook along route 191. Managed to just get there in time before the sun went down. Unfortunately, the canyon below was in complete shade so I used the same double ND filter set- up that I used this morning at Craters of the Moon. I knew I would miss the first portions of the Presidential Debate tonight, but managed to listen to the first 20 minutes on NPR radio and watched the rest at the motel. Then went to McDonald’s to have dinner and to try to straighten out the mess of the journal entries on their wi-fi. Still conflicted on what to do tomorrow: either move on to Rocky Mountain National Park, or stay here in the Rock Springs area for a day now that I have a good local map. 

 

One final note, although not the usual type, my back has felt tender today but in a different spot. Hopefully it will clear up tomorrow.

Day 12 – October 8, 2016 – Saturday

General Thoughts

Day 12 – October 8, 2016 – Saturday

#%$!?&!!!!!!!!! Here it is, 10pm and just about ready to crawl in the sleeping bag, and somehow the whole day’s journal I was writing disappeared!!!!!!!!!!!!! This would never have happened when I used to use pen and paper!!!!!!!!!!!!! So I’ll write it again.
 
The moon didn’t set until around 11:30pm last night, so I just sat in the car until around 11pm to begin looking for an interesting snag facing the right direction for the Milky Way. Found one in the Devil’s Orchard, but its best side didn’t face rigt, but I used it anyway. It didn’t work out well,mso I headed off to the Spatter Cones where I wanted to light the rock using the daylight white balance and shoot the stars in the tungsten white balance to have the interplay of warm and cool tones when the two are blended later. The stars were the easy part, but lighting the rocks seemed problematic. I finally did get a few right and finally crawled into the sleeping bag around 1:30am! After a few hours sleep, I got ready for the hike back up the Inferno Cone for sunrise. I figured I woukd use the same solitary (only) tree up there with simply the light coming from the opposite direction as last night’s sunset. It turned out that shooting south was totally wrong and the best lighting was tomshoot toward the north!! So much for scouting locations and pre-visualizing. Anyway, managed a few using the red rock up there and ai found a partial tree trunk lying on the ground without any of the other parts of the tree anywhere around. Made me wonder where the rest of the tree ended up. 

Wendy, the 90-mph do it all at Mel’s in Arco, ID

Headed to Arco, ID (pop. 973) for a late breakfast and to do some grocery shopping. I stopped in Mel’s for breakfast and what a great place it was; just full of character and characters. Wendy was going 90 mph all the time preparing and cooking meals for customers, waiting the tables and running the register, all at the same time carrying in a conversation with everyone. She even shredded the potatos for the hash browns I ordered right then and there! “It was one of the best breakfasts I’ve had in my life!!” A great place; I’m glad I stopped in and met Wendy, it was the best part of the day. Made Motl 6 Reservations in Rock Springs, WY for tomorrow night’s Presidential debate and took a few architectural pictures while in Arco, who’s claim to fame is that it is the first town in America to have electricity provided by nuclear power.
 

Atoms for Peace – Arco, ID (pop. 973)


One turned out pretty neat. I saw an old filling station garage door with some “character” in the shade and decided to shoot it with a sunlit building across the street reflected in the windows. I liked it, but it got even better when to people walked by and I caught their reflection in the window as well. Got some groceries at the A&A Market in town before heading back the Craters of the Moon. I did some hiking to a lava tube and some caves, taking some shots, but thinking that the enormous lava field might be better when the sun has gone down and the lava reflects the blue sky. So I returned there again after deciding that sunset may not be too good because of some thick wispy clouds moving in, but then they also blotted out half of the blue sky. As it turned out, the clouds did actually part at sunset lighting up the mountain range to the northeast, and then to make it even better, lighting up the entire sky beautiful shade of pink, purple and red pastels. I clicked off a few panos using only a small thread of land on the bottom of the frame, so being up high may not have been any more advantageous. I really lucked out on that one. 
Finally got back to the campsite and the stove seems to be working, but just not puttingn out enough btu’s. It seemed to take forever to get the water to boil; but then again, I was watching it quite a bit! Another camp dinner of Pasta Primavera which is probably my favorite. Then the fiasco of having to rewrite the journal!! Probably won’t shoot the stars again tonight unless I get up later and shoot it as it sets. We’ll see….

Day 11- October 7, 2016 – Friday

General Thoughts

Day 11 – October 7, 2016 – Friday

Woke up this morning with the alarm and of course it was another cloudy day, but on the bright side, it wasn’t completely socked in, but rather some interesting clouds. I headed to the Perce Flats hoping the sun might break through, lighting up the grasses, but the clouds were too thick for that. So I continued south and stopped at a group of dead trees I had filed away and wanted to try a very long exposure to show some movement in the clouds and to blur the steam from the many steam vents off in the distance. You’d think that with the clouds being so dark, and the grasses being pretty bright, I would have no need for a split ND grad filter. But, it just didn’t work so I put the hard edged in front of the lens to properly balance what I had thought was already even toned. And of course…I was waiting for a car to pass, which was traveling slowly, to take a shot and stopped in front of me and asked, “What are you shooting? I don’t see anything.” So I told her there were some bison grazing just ahead and she moved out of my shot. The clouds were pretty neat, so I thought I’d give White Dome Geyser a shot and I managed to set up within 5 minutes of its eruption and I liked it, so I decided to wait for the next one in about 20 minutes if things go according to plan. I changed my spot to include a kind of s-curve in the formation and sure enough, in 20 minutes, off it went again. 
Then it was time to start the drive up to Mammoth on the road scheduled to open today at 7am. I saw the same sign “Road Closed 5-miles Ahead” and figured it was just left over from the closure and they hadn’t gotten it down yet. But of course, when I got 5-miles further, it was still closed. The woman said a federal inspector said it was too rough and wouldn’t let it open, and she said the other detour road was still closed. from the snow!! I had already stayed an extra day for the opportunity to get to the northern sections of the park, but the roads were not open, so I opted to go to Craters of the Moon NM in Idaho and begin my way back toward Denver. When I got to West Yellowstone, I filled up with gas and set the navigation for Craters of the Moon, and it said to immediately turn right at the light. But while it was red, I saw a McDonald’s to the left. So I stopped there first, and when I walked in, who was sitting there but Ted from yesterday!! Boy was he surprised to see it was me when he looked up to see who slid in opposite him. Another chance encounter with a person for the second time, and it has happened twice on this trip. So we talked while we had breakfast and when he left, he said he was headed for Ketchum to see Hemingway’s grave. I stayed a bit longer and used their wi-fi. 
After the 3:10 drive from West Yellowstone to Craters of the Moon, I checked into the visitor center to get some info and get a camp site, but before heading out into the park to scout some things, I stopped at the rest room. And when I was washing my hands there, who pops in but Ted again!! This is a first; a third chance encounter with the same person. he was on his way out of the park, not staying long, but he did give me permission to use his name here in my journal.

Massive Lava Fields – Craters of the Moon NM, Idaho


I hiked the short Devil’s Orchard Trail and took a few shots of backlit sage bushes, but nothing extraordinary. Then I checked out the Spatter Cones before I headed to the tall Inferno Cone. This park is an area of ancient lava flows and is totally black, even the sidewalks are black, with quite a few obvious cinder cones of ancient volcanoes. A pretty unique landscape, which is why I had it on my list of things to do. The hike to the top of the Inferno Cone was steep, but thankfully short, and the reward was a 360-degree view of a snow capped mountain range to the north and cinder cones to the east and south. Also, some bright red rocks at the top along with a large tree and a few downed snags. With the low light, I had a lot of opportunities, but sometimes side-lighting can be difficult to handle and I found that out in a hurry. I think I shot 1-2/3 stops below middle and had to use a split ND filter for the sky. As it is, I will probably have to blend at least three shots together. The bad news was that the wind was howling up there, so I boosted the iso to 400 to try to stop the movement of some sage and other plants that I used in some shots, including a beautiful Double-tree. It looks like it would be a good spot for a sunrise as well and will probably try it. And as an added bonus, skies are clear and will probably attempt some Milky Ways after the moon sets around 11:40pm. 
Made a backpack dinner tonight, but had difficulty with the “old” stove; probably because I over filled it. And now just writing and waiting for the moon. This may be the final attempt of the Milky Way during the trip as the moon sets later and later, and unless I get up pretty early, I would venture that I won’t be out in the middle of the night on this trip any more.

 

 

Day 10 – October 6, 2016 – Thursday

General Thoughts

Day 10 – October 6, 2016 – Thursday

Well, I never set the alarm last night because the weather was to stay the same and I figured I’d get up in plenty of time as I usually do, and so amazingly, I slept until 7am and noticed a hint of a break in the clouds. I dashed to a spot on the Gibbon River and managed to squeak off a few pics before the light lost any hint of color and then sped off to the same spot as yesterday on Fountain Flat Drive where Gibbon Creek winds it’s way through the flats. But when I parked by a small depression with water in it and some grasses with snow lit by the low light, I had to squeeze that in first before running  over to the bend in the creek. I managed just one shot with the sun still out and then it went behind some clouds. It was a hectic morning but at least I gave it a shot. After paying for camping last night, I headed back to the Bobby Sox trees again since they had snow on them again feeling I just didn’t get them the other day. I finally did my first motion blur of the trip there but had trouble with the sky being too bright even with the split ND. Finally got something I may be able to work with and it was time for a shower at the Old Faithful Inn (only $4.74) and shampoo, conditioner and soap was supplied. The only thing in question was the hot water which took several (10) minutes to appear! I found out today  that the inly building with wi-fi was the Snow Lodge, so I went over and discovered that yes, they had wi-fi available, but it was $4.95 for one hour! I passed on that option. 
The plan after the shower and lunch was to go to the visitor center to see if roads were open to get to Mammoth. Found out snow tires were required on the open road while the other was still closed for construction, so I’ll spend another day here and hope for the best tomorrow. If roads are still closed (a lot of snow at the higher elevations) I’ll head for Craters of the Moon using the west entrance. I hope not, because I really wanted to see the terraces.

Riverside Geyser – Yellowstone NP, WY

I wanted to hike around the Upper geyser Basin anyway, which has so many geysers and fountains it’s amazing. I took some shots of bacterial mats and some springs (named and unnamed) on the way to Riverside Geyser having a window from 405p-505p, but scheduled for 435p. So I sat down next to a guy (Ted Olafson – Lt. in Everett PD) and we chatted while waiting for it to go off, and sure enough, at 435p it went off for a good while, along with a side geyser which was phenomenal! Even better was that the sun was directly behind us, which is not what you usually would want, but with it we got some rainbows!! Then Ted and I went over to Grand Geyser scheduled in a little while and sure enough it went off even greater than Riverside, but without as good a rainbow. The light this afternoon was really good and it looked like we would be able to get back for Old Faithful for a 6:12 eruption. But while passing Castle Geyser, we saw some water coming out  said he thought it may be going off at 550p and it had really good side lighting. But someone passing said it had gone off at 1 this afternoon, so we hotfooted it to Old Faithful with the light still great. We still had a way to go to get into position and would probably make it in time except Old Faithful decided this time to go off almost 10 minutes early!! So it was an environmental shot of the eruption with great lighting and if you look really closely, the small white speck is Old Faithful; probably the only shot of it from my time in Yellowstone. After all, who wants a picture of a gray geyser against a gray sky?

Grand Geyser and Friend – Yellowstone NP, WY

 
 
I figured I had about 90 minutes to go out to the flats for some side-lighting and back for a dusk Old Faithful. So off we went and the great lighting turned into a snow squall and heavy snow falling, so back again for the dusk shot of Old Faithful but it was all clouded. So bust at then end of the day, but bonuses with the late afternoon geysers. I can’t complain.

 

So the usual evening of dinner at the bar and sit around the Inn listening to the music of the cellist who tonight, for the first time played the Pachebal (?) She made several electronic loops and played a solo with all the different parts playing electronically, it was just wonderful and I stopped writing just to give my full attention to the music. It brought back memories of a honeymoon so long ago.

Day 9 – October 5, 2016 – Wednesday

General Thoughts
Day 9 – October 5, 2016 – Wednesday
Didn’t sleep very well last night, woke up around 3:30 with a headache that wouldn’t go away until I took Tylenol and had my breakfast bar when I finally got up around 6:30. Probably the beer I had with dinner. Shot the Gibbon River in almost darkness just for the graphic of the river figuring it will probably be a B+W, if anything. It was still cloudy and snow was on the ground for the most part so I was just heading to the “Bobby Sox Trees” between the entrance and exit to Firehole Lake Drive, but was waylayed by Nez Perce Creek which had a nice bend in it with snow covered banks, but mainly the sky seemed to be brightening with reflections in the creek. So I pulled over and began to shoot and the sky, just got better and better. It was too late for a pink sky, but the sun rimmed clouds looked pretty good. Maybe it was that I hadn’t seen a good sunrise since last Saturday, or have barely seen the sun at all. I had to use both a hard edged and soft edged split Neutral density filter to balance out the bright sky with the ground even though it was snow covered. I was trying to get it as white as I could. Then went on to the Bobby Soxes which proved tough. Most were surrounded by snow, but others were not. There was a neat little S-Curve in the grasses that I tried and unfortunately stuck one tripod leg into some hidden bison dung! Then onto, a huge flat that was snow covered, and I noticed a lot of snow trails in the grasses from the bison that I thought were a good graphic, but I think I lost the sun there which would have made it better. 

Beware of Bison


Went to the Fountain Paint Pots and had to share the area with a herd of bison!! For a while no one could walk on the boardwalks; they were pretty close but didn’t seem to care about our presence. At one point me and a few others were trapped between bison blocking the boardwalk in front and in back of us. It was the only time the throng (yes, there was a throng there too) was quiet. Photographed Clepsydra Geyser there as well which seemed to erupt continuously, unless it was just a very long eruption. Took way too many pictures of the eruption. But I also started the day of abstracts of the bacterial mats, here and at the Grand Prismatic. It is so much better with a bit of sunlight. Had a lot of fun doing it; I’ve always wanted to do the abstracts ever since I was first here 38 years ago! I guess these abstracts are the aspen blurs from two years ago. Just a different obsession.
Ran into Eric Bowles again (the guy from Teton), this time leading his group. He said with the storms, the road from Teton to Yellowstone had been closed and after last night I can understand. 
Sunset didn’t pan out tonight. I tried a flat with a perfectly side-lit curving river, but the sun disappeared behind some clouds before I even got out of the car to set up. Just called it a day and headed off for some bison meatloaf, but the lodge wit the cafeteria had closed!! I knew something was up when there were no cars parked there. So I had to eat at the Old Faithful Inn bar again tonight. Not bad though, I got my burger comped  because they forgot the cheese, so the bill was only $2.95 for a glass of pineapple juice. No beer after last night’s headache. 
So the usual: hang around the Inn while the camera battery charges then onto Madison. Tomorrow, I plan to get in a shower here after any morning photography. That should line me up until Sunday when I may actually get a motel to see the second presidential debate.