October Surprise

October 28, 2020  •  Leave a Comment

Not all October surprises are political. I had one just a few days ago and can assure you it had absolutely nothing to do with the upcoming election!

A photo shoot in Yellowstone has been on my radar for weeks. Because I avoid that park between Memorial Day and Labor Day (far too many people) my window of opportunity to work there is limited - even more so lately due to lengthy stretches of cloudless skies, heavy smoke from California wildfires, and prolonged periods of high winds. 

That said, the park's roads close for the winter on November 2nd. Now or never.

Just in the nick of time, the local meteorologist and my weather apps all predicted a two-day period of workable conditions after a cold front moved through. Winds would die down, I could expect some clouds, and it would be dry. Unseasonably low temps would be a plus; the park's geothermal features are even more pronounced when the mercury dips. All good! I packed up my gear, and in the wee hours of the morning pointed the car in the direction of the west entrance.

As advertised, it was brisk: 16 degrees. But when I hit the Montana state line I encountered ice - first a little, then a lot. West Yellowstone was like one big skating rink. Rain overnight had turned to measurable snowfall and left a parting gift of very poor road conditions. Oops. So much for the forecast.

What about the park? I'll bet you can guess. It was closed.


Would it open at all that day? The ranger couldn't say. At that point I should have called an audible and scrubbed the shoot but this cockeyed optimist decided to hang around and see what would happen. 

The park did finally partially reopen but not until mid-day. Dozens of vehicles lined up at each of the four entrance gates, waiting to get in. Many filled with kids. On a weekday. Late in October (when Yellowstone is typically very quiet). It may as well have been June. 

Once inside, it was obvious that though the roads were "open" they were ice-covered and in very rough shape. The one-hour drive to Mammoth took more than double that time. Even more snow had fallen there. What I intended to shoot was now buried under a foot of fresh powder. 

(For the record, the park is beautiful in winter. The terraces at Mammoth are pictured here in early March.) 

FrigidFrigidEarly March means spring in many parts of the country, but at Mammoth Hot Springs, it's still sub-zero - perfect conditions to amplify the thermal features at Mound Terrace. (Mammoth Hot Springs - Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming) So my subject matter had mostly disappeared, the place was crawling with people, the roads were terrible, and I'd lost most of the entire first day before even reaching my first location. Comedy of errors. The whole situation was so ridiculous it was almost amusing. Bottom line, it's impossible to avoid racking up mileage when dealing with a park the size of Yellowstone; given the unexpected inclement weather it was going to be difficult to efficiently travel from one location to the next.

Know when to fold 'em.

I put the camera away and treated myself to a hike before heading to the exit and back to autumn in Idaho. 

October surprise. 

When you're having a run of back luck with poor conditions, or struggling through a series of difficult shoots, try not to let it get you down. It happens to us all! Persist. The tide will turn.


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