Have #Camera Will #Travel
As mentioned previously, I recently took a brief sabbatical from writing book two of The Allison Lee Chronicles. My eldest son, henceforth referred to as Version 1, and I embarked on an adventure across the American West. Our destinations were Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks.
With a bit of trepidation, I started out from the house midmorning on a Friday with Version 1 secure atop his booster seat and the backend of our urban assault vehicle chock-full of gear––everything from instant oatmeal to a carbon fiber tripod. My unease was due to the pandemic. We were leaving our home state with its high vaccination level, a population that generally complies with mask mandates, and a relatively low hospitalization rate for the wild west. On top of that, the delta variant was running rampant. Being an elementary school lad, Version 1 only had his mask and youth to protect from the viral scourge.
We faced the worst traffic on the first day of travel. As we continued east into rural
America, the traffic decreased dramatically as the speed limit increased. Remarkably, Version 1 proved an amenable road tripper even when he realized he hadn't downloaded any programs to his Kindle Fire. As long as he was fed regularly and allowed to go on a ten-minute sprint (I mean sprint quite literally––at every rest stop, he'd run at top speed for at least ten minutes) every hour or so, he remained in good spirits.
By midafternoon on the second day of travel, we reached our VRBO in the town of West Yellowstone. After checking in, unpacking, and wolfing down some food, we headed into Yellowstone National Park for the very first time. Anticipating adventure, we hunted for bison; our destination, Hayden Valley.
Simply put, we found bison, but this was only a hors d'oeuvre of what we would see in Hayden Valley while visiting again at sunrise and later in Lamar Valley. To say Hayden Valley delivered on wildlife is somewhat of an understatement. I didn't expect to see any wolves. But, in fact, we did. The first was a young black wolf at the outskirts of the valley moving through a wooded area.
Along with the abundant wildlife, Hayden Valley is simply beautiful. The lush grassland is surrounded by bucolic rolling hills. All in all, it gives one an inkling of what North America might've been like hundreds of years ago before the concrete spiderweb of highways and interstates crisscrossed the land and people were virtually everywhere. But, of course, it is just an inkling; there are plenty of cars and tourists in Hayden Valley, but happily, only one road.
While traveling in and out of the park, we discovered the joys of photographing the Madison elk herd near the western entrance. We photographed the herd several times, usually in the late afternoon or early evening.
On our first full day in the park, we visited the iconic Grand Prismatic Hot Spring...at sunrise. It was mildly disappointing. You see, we took the short hike to the overlook and were greeted by a wall of steam rising from the spring. The vapor was so thick the view of the actual spring was nonexistent. Undaunted, we hiked to Fairy Falls with plans to return to the viewpoint on the way back to the SUV and then continue on to the boardwalk around the spring. Fairy Falls was wonderful, especially the inquisitive chipmunks.
On the return trip, we stopped at the viewpoint for a far more satisfactory view of Grand Prismatic. We got even better views during the afternoon on another day. The dense crowds at the viewpoint were entirely unsatisfactory. Real estate for your feet was a hot commodity.
We were fortunate to get a parking spot by the boardwalk. The hike around the hot spring was crowded but fun. After that, the exhausted Version 1 and I retired to Old Faithful to watch the geyser go off like clockwork and enjoy ice cream. It was cloudy that day, and a subsequent trip to the basin yielded far better pictures.
While dallying around Old Faithful, Version 1 requested I purchase him a photography book about Yellowstone. I did, figuring he would stare at the pictures and fantasize about the photographs he would like to take. Well, fantasize he did and beg and beg and beg that I take him to the Lamar Valley. Initially, I figured this locale was too far out of our way, but after learning it was only 45 minutes or so beyond Mammoth Hot Springs, I decided what the hell. I'm definitely glad we went.
First off, Lamar Valley is teeming with bison––even more than Hayden Valley as best we could tell. The beasts were everywhere. We also came across a bear, not a grizzly, but it was still the highlight of the trip for Version 1. Even more surprising than experiencing the beast in the wild, we actually got some pretty good shots. To top everything off, we even saw several wolves.
Before entering the Lamar Valley, we stopped at Mammoth Hot Springs around sunrise. For me, this was the highlight of Yellowstone. We saw mountain bluebirds and elk and the landscape, oh my God, is fantastical. The combination of the early morning light and the lack of crowds made the terraced hot springs and the distant mountains even more enjoyable. Truly, Mammoth Hot Springs in the morning is the land of the gods.
That's it for this post. Check back next month for the second installment to see what we experienced in Grand Teton NP, where we intended to recreate Ansel Adams's famous landscape of the Teton Range soaring over the sinuous Snake River.