The past few times I've been out West, Yellowstone was never a major destination. It was always much too crowded with tourists. While planning this roadtrip, I realized that Yellowstone is home to the darkest skies in America! Yellowstone would be the perfect spot for Milky Way photography! I had also heard Yellowstone was a great place to watch for wildlife. Unfortunately, things don't always go as planned.
What I failed to account for was the massive amounts of wildlife smoke blanketing the country. I captured the images below during sunrise, on my way from Cody to Yellowstone.
Upon arriving in Yellowstone, I made a quick list of places I wanted to photograph. Yellowstone Falls, Grand Prismatic, Mammoth Hotsprings, Old Faithful, and of course some wildlife! The standard tourist checklist.
After 4 busloads of Asian tourists overran the viewpoint, I was ready to move on. My next stop was the brink of the upper falls. This provided a unique look at the waterfall!
Next, I visited the Norris Geyser Basin, an other-worldly place filled with bubbling pits, cyan-colored water, and bleached white landscapes. The trail consists of a boardwalk through the hot springs. As a trail builder myself, I couldn't imagine trying to build this one!
The following morning I visited Grand Prismatic. The walk around the hotspring was interesting, but I wanted a better vantage point. I heard someone shouting and looked up. Apparently there was an overlook with the perfect view! I ran back to the car and drove down the road, looking for a possible trailhead to the overlook.
Grand Prismatic Overlook
Since Old Faithful wasn't too far away, and there were some hotsprings along the trail, I decided to hike there. Along the way I saw some incredible hotsprings and geysers!
After walking a few miles, I was really starting to feel it! Clearly I had spent too much time sitting around back in Ohio. I was not looking forward to the hike back to the car. As I neared the Old Faithful Geyser, the Old Faithful Inn loomed ominously over the landscape. They should've made 'The Shining' here! The lobby provided a nice place to relax after a long day and I soon realized I desperately needed my first shower of the trip. To my surprise, the hotel had free showers that anyone could use! I just had to hike back to the car first...
Old Faithful Inn
Now that I had explored most of the geyser portion of Yellowstone, I wanted to see some wildlife! It was a rainy morning and I had a long drive ahead of me. Unfortunately, the main road from Old Faithful to Mammoth Hot Springs was under construction. The wet, bumpy, and muddy road was open however. Better than taking the long way around...
By 8am I was exploring Mammoth Hot Springs. The low-hanging grey clouds complimented the alien landscape nicely!
Lamar Valley is home to a wide-range of wildlife, including: bison, coyotes, bears and wolves! While driving through the valley, I came upon a horde of people parked alongside the road. As I slowly made my way through the gridlock, I overhead that a bison carcass was in a field across the river. Tons of photographers were staked out with their telephoto lenses and tripods, waiting for the perfect shot. While stopped in traffic, I stuck my camera out the window and fired off a few shots. A wolf was eating the carcass!
Since I hate dealing with crowds, I just kept on driving. Eventually I found a quiet pull-off to relax in and have a snack. Suddenly, 3 bison came over the nearby hillside, charging straight at my car!! My camera wasn't within reach, I just sat and watched in amazement. The bison came within 20 feet of the car before crossing the road. I watched them keep on running, until they disappeared over a hill.
Now that the excitement was over, I went back to snacking. About 20 minutes later, a lone bison was running towards my car again. He didn't seem like he was in a good mood! This time I was ready for him!
After nearly a week in the park, the night sky was finally looking good for some Milky Way photography! Before I left Ohio, I purchased a Star Tracker. This device allows me to take much longer photos at night, without any star motion. Normally, I am limited to exposures of 8 - 20 seconds without a tracker. Any longer than that, and the stars will show movement. The Star Tracker moves the camera at the same speed as the stars (technically Earth's rotation speed), which allows me to take photos upwards of 4 minutes long, a massive increase in light gathering!
As I gazed up at the glowing band of stars, I felt like I could reach out and grab the heavens. The stars looked so close! A calm puddle of water beneath my feet reflected the sky above. As I peered down into the abyss, I felt as if I would fall into another universe.
After a week in Yellowstone, I had captured just about everything on my list. I'm still bummed I didn't get any grizzly photos though...
The Solar Eclipse was rapidly approaching, so I began making my way through Yellowstone and down to the Grand Tetons. I spent my last day at the shores of Yellowstone Lake. At sunset, I found an overlook with a boundless view in all directions. Shockingly, the Grand Tetons were visible on the horizon, even though they were over 70 miles away!
After sunset, I waited for the stars to come out. All alone, on top of a desolate mountain. While I was taking some close-up photos of the galaxies, I started hearing weird noises coming from the forest below. It sounded like the entire forest was crashing down in the distance! At first I thought it was a geothermal event. Then I heard the iconic sound of an elk. Turns out it was just two bull elk battling in the night, their antlers colliding with incredible force.
Once that excitement died down, I got back to work. I was amazed at the detail I was able to capture with just a 100mm Macro lens (normally used for insects and flowers) and the Star Tracker. The 2 galaxies below are millions of light years away! Believe it or not, you can see both the Andromeda and Triangulum galaxies with your naked eye, provided you find a truly dark sky. They both look like faint blobs of light though.
Andromeda Galaxy Triangulum Galaxy
The next morning I stopped at the West Thumb, home to the most stunning hot spring in the whole park! And with that, it's off to the Grand Tetons!