From Ambivalence to Affection

November 09, 2023  •  Leave a Comment


Midway Geyser Basin
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
I live near two of the crown jewels in the National Park System: Grand Teton and Yellowstone. The driving time from my house to the nearest entrance of each park is almost identical, yet most often you'll find me in the Tetons. I love Grand Teton National Park - always have - and relish working there. 

My relationship with Yellowstone, on the other hand, has been much different. While I've developed a genuine affection for it, getting to that point has taken quite a few years and a great deal of effort.

That probably seems odd. After all, Yellowstone is home to some of the most unique landscapes and recognized natural wonders on the planet. It's renowned for its abundant and diverse wildlife. It is beloved by many. 

Why the ambivalence on my part? SLOW DANCINGSLOW DANCINGUnderwater grasses gently sway in the Firehole River

Upper Geyser Basin
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Simple. Yellowstone is huge and extremely popular. These two factors can make it a challenging and frustrating place in which to work.

The park is a contradiction: often overwhelming due to its size, yet throngs of visitors make it feel cramped. 

Because it's so vast, long drives are unavoidable. Throw in a bison jam or two and getting from one location to the next becomes an interminable slog. 

Its many fantastic features are fascinating to observe but often difficult to photograph in an interesting way. 

So yes, I've had mixed feelings about Yellowstone. On more than one occasion I've left the park following a shoot wondering why I bothered to make the trip.  

Truth be told, had I not lived so close, I doubt I'd have gone out of my way to return after my initial few visits. 

Fortunately, the park is nearby and I know better than to look a gift-horse in the mouth. Then there's this: I'm nothing if not persistent. 

So I kept at it. Now with a few more years under my belt, rather than feeling like I ought to go to Yellowstone, I want to. 

What happened?

TRANSLUCENCETRANSLUCENCEDense fog hangs over the Yellowstone River on a cold autumn morning

Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Most important, I accepted the fact that there are limitations (often significant) on what can be accomplished in a single day. I've come to terms with the fact that it's going to take longer to achieve results there: perhaps a lot longer. I don't let that get to me anymore.

I've also accepted the fact that the collar seasons aren't what they used to be. Until recently May, September and October were reliably slow periods with far fewer visitors. Sadly, I think that ship has sailed. September now looks a lot like August - and what about all those people who showed up last month?

Accordingly, I've re-evaluated my cardinal rule about avoiding Yellowstone during the summer months. My utter and complete aversion to visiting in June, July and August had been long standing, but with off-seasons disappearing I may as well get maximum use out of the park throughout the year. Spending more time is always beneficial.

I haven't thrown caution completely to the wind; I'm still choosy about when I'll go. Early summer is generally better than later, though this year I did both. Forget about the first part of July. You do not want to be there then. 
CONTROLLED CHAOSCONTROLLED CHAOSYellowstone National Park, Wyoming Because I've been logging more hours in the park, I've found myself looking at it differently. The types of images I'm making there has changed. Along the way I've also figured out some logistical strategies which have somewhat minimized the challenges associated with Yellowstone's size. 

The crowds still drive me batty during the middle of the day when the park is bursting at the seams. That's when I just try to get out of the way. Sometimes a hike will do the trick (admittedly, the level of success depends on which trail is selected). Even in the chaos also known as the Upper Geyser Basin it's possible to leave the crowds behind if you're willing to walk - the farther, the better. Most folks there are just interested in seeing Old Faithful erupt and/or grabbing a bite to eat.

I remind myself that the park is always - always - quiet in the wee hours of the morning and again from the dinner hour on. 

Yellowstone requires extra effort but that's okay; learning to hear what it's trying to say to me has been a worthwhile endeavor. I'm glad I didn't give up on the place. 

TANGLED ENDINGTANGLED ENDINGThe remnants of this tree - entombed within a bacterial mat and bright white from mineral-laden water - are striking even in death

Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

THROUGH THE FOGTHROUGH THE FOGGrand Canyon of the Yellowstone
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Odds and Ends

The Jackson elk herd - the largest in North America - is now migrating. The animals are making their way from higher country into the valley where they'll winter.  

Concurrently, now through December 15th the National Elk Refuge hunting season is underway. That's right: they're hunting elk on the elk refuge. File that one under paradox.

Actually this dates back to 1950 when Congress expanded the boundaries of GTNP. Part of the deal called for management of the herd via an annual elk reduction program. I find it ironic that every autumn, the Elk Refuge isn't a refuge at all. 

At any rate, if you're planning on being in Grand Teton National Park in the next few weeks wear bright clothing. I avoid the southern part of the park altogether until the hunt is over, but that's just me. 

Also migrating to Jackson Hole now are beautiful Rough-legged Hawks. These birds summer in the Arctic and winter here. According to the Hawk Mountain Sanctuary thousands of Roughies spend their winters in Wyoming, with a few dozen of them living in Jackson Hole. Good places to see them are said to be along Spring Gulch Road, at the Elk Refuge, and south of Jackson.


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