Yellowstone. A land of fire and ice. A land of explosions and extremes. A wild land where Mother Nature has no sympathy for its inhabitants. And the place that gave birth to my childhood heroes, Yogi Bear and Boo Boo.
These were some of the thoughts running through my mind as the plane touched down at Bozeman for the start of a Natures Images trip to Yellowstone, where I was joining Mark & Danny as one of their guests.
Yellowstone National Park was created in 1872 with the aim of protecting its unique environment and wildlife. And it was also unique at the time because it was the world’s first national park. Within its invisible boundaries, it has provided sanctuary to some of America’s iconic species – the Bison, Wolf, Elk, Pronghorn. And geologically, it’s one of the most active places on the planet with frothing hot springs, geysers, steaming pools and bubbling mud.
So after a night of restful sleep in Bozeman and with a stomach full of Montana’s best breakfast, we set off in anticipation to Gardiner, where we would spend the next 3 days exploring the northern side of the park. This area of the park is famed for Mammoth Hot Springs and the wildlife paradise of the Lamar Valley and Soda Butte. The national park is huge, in fact it’s more than 3,400 square miles in size and you might think that looking for wildlife might be like looking for a needle in a haystack. However the Bison, Elk, Coyote , Big Horned Sheep and Dippers did not disappoint us and we spent some rewarding time with each.
No good holiday is complete without a romance, and I must admit that I fell in love on this trip… with the Bison. He’s the iconic mammal of the American northwest, but despite managing to survive since the last Ice Age, he was on the brink of extinction because of us, Man. Photographing them was all the more rewarding and I was full of admiration for their survival skills in the sub zero temperatures and deep snow. Bison have evolved for the Yellowstone winter – they have tremendously strong neck muscles which allow them to sweep away about 4 feet of snow to reach the grass beneath, and their thick coat means that they can survive temperatures down to minus 30 degrees.
Yellowstone is as stunning for its landscape as it is for its wildlife, and the Lamar Valley and Mammoth Hot Springs also gave us some great opportunities. What struck me most about Yellowstone is that its hot springs and geysers provide a lifeline for wildlife in the winter, but they can also be a danger. Scalding water, high in silica and arsenic can be a blessing in disguise and as such, petrified trees and animal bones in a hot spring provided a stark reminder of what it’s like to try and survive here.
Even trees in the deep snow and open space of the Lamar Valley were photogenic and stunning because of their simplicity.
For the second half of the trip, we headed down to the Old Faithful Lodge in the southern part of the park, expertly driven in snowcats by our Yellowstone guides Brenda & Dave. If you visit the Old Faithful area in the summer, you share it with 25,000 people every day; the great thing about winter is that not many people venture here, so you really can feel the silence – it’s just you and the wildlife. This area of the park has a huge concentration of geysers and hot pools, which of course attract the Bison herds. We also had a taste of what real winter can be like, with white out blizzards battering us for 2 days. In fact it snowed so much that most of us had to switch to manual focus and sweep snow drifts out of our lens hoods. Yet more admiration for the Bison!
So did Yellowstone live up to my initial thoughts? The answer is yes, and more. I’ve returned home besotted by this place in north west America. It is truly stunning, startling and inspirational. My fellow guests were all great fun as were Danny, Mark and the Yellowstone guides. And I would love to go back – most definitely in the winter… but also the spring or autumn so that I can meet my childhood heroes!
Thanks everyone for a fantastic trip!
Ellie RothnieBack to news index