This blog post is kindly contributed by John Cumberland, long-standing tour guest and all-round good egg.
All images by John Cumberland.
The Big Bang didn’t happen . . . . not this time. Had the super volcano that lurks below Yellowstone National Park gone off, we would have returned home in record time on the blast wave (it’s due any time now though and the last time it erupted an estimated 240 cubic miles of rock and ash was chucked all over America, the earth cooled for years, life was extinguished – you get the picture.
Cairns holds me partly responsible for the resurrection of the winter photo-tours to Yellowstone. My initials “JC” may have been a factor. Crashing through the ice in the Arctic on the trusty M/S Origo before he fell in (see my blog ‘Cairns finally goes over the edge’ – September 2011), he casually mentioned that Northshots “used to run trips to Yellowstone”. Before he could say boo to a goose, I’d rallied my fellow Svalbard guests and hey presto, here we are. As you might expect from an adopted Scot, the subject of commission has never been mentioned!
So there we were, high and cold out there in Yellowstone in January. It was a landscape to die for, which could easily happen without the right sort of clothing and some of those Hotty hand-warmers about which Mr. Cairns is so disparaging. Although the super volcano remained restrained while we were there, the noxious gases seeping out of the earth in all directions reminded us that it was alive and well.
The old geysers provided us with rich colours, textures and shapes as well as steamy atmospheric shots, some taken at night. Fumaroles burped and blubbed mud with sound effects reminiscent of ancient feasting. There were images everywhere and pictorially speaking, we indeed feasted.
Speaking of old geysers, whilst we were out there in snowy Wyoming, Pete’s ‘big birthday’ rolled around. It is the age at which the ladies hope, somewhat forlornly, that their menfolk will finally ‘grow up’. We menfolk know better . . . no chance! After the birthday celebrations, energy and enthusiasm levels undiminished, we were out chasing the dawn light and all kinds of wildlife. Bison, moose, elk, mule deer, coyotes and eagles did not escape the attention of our lenses, in fabulous settings and frequently in lovely lighting. Spindrift sparkled in backlit misty woodlands. Pink sunsets turned snow covered landscapes and brittle hoarfrost into a wintery version of landscapers’ heaven. Otters left their footprints and trailed their tails.
The wolves were around but they kept clear of us during this trip. Pete emulated Chris Packham and confidently demonstrated his dexterity in handling a sizeable wolf dropping proving that they were there, somewhere, watching us. Maybe these smart creatures have picked up the vibes that humans have decided, in their ‘wisdom’, that they now need ‘managing’. In other words, the authorities have been lobbied and cajoled into accepting that the success following their reintroduction into Yellowstone, now means their numbers should be reduced.
What would you do if you were a wolf? Certainly not seek out the companionship of the ‘top predator’ – humans – even kindly Northshots folk.
If you get chance to visit this fantastic place – do so.
I recently scratched a lifelong itch: to visit Yellowstone National Park in the American west. Ever since Yogi first appeared on my TV, it’s been high on my “must do” list. And contrary to some itches that take years to scratch, it lived up to expectations and then some. I’m not going to bore you with endless holiday tales – this is after all a photography blog and I am after all, a photographer (of sorts).
I’m told I was an hour late for this shot – that’s because I was in bed of course!
A few days into our holiday I decided I really should improve my picture taking. Announcing that I would embark on some formal tuition once back home, Pete nearly choked on his maple syrup pancakes and immediately offered a (money-saving) crash course. He started talking about aperture and something to do with light but in all honesty, I had no idea what he was prattling on about and after 5 minutes the lesson (along with my photographic career), came to an abrupt end.
In spite of that I think I produced some first-rate pictures. Perhaps not fine art but decent enough for a beginner. During an evening critique session Pete scrolled through my portfolio wearing an expressionless face (not what I’m used to). After several silent minutes he announced that the only decent shot was of a pair of discarded knickers we found on the front steps of Old Faithful Inn. I think that says more about him than the standard of my photography. I would add by the way, that the knickers in question didn’t belong to me!
A moose kissing a statue of the largest member of the deer family (caption by Peter Cairns)
Kevin Costner he ain’t!!
All’s well that ends well!
What is a holiday? A chance to do what you like doing? Yes, exactly. And I like taking photos which means I take my camera on holiday. No ifs, no buts and no amount of protestation from my good wife.
And so it was I agreed to a holiday in Yellowstone. I say “agreed”, it’s hardly a hardship to spend time in one of the most exciting places on earth. If you’ve never been to this part of the world, it is above all else, exciting. The scenery is gobsmacking, the wildlife abundant but that’s not the attraction for me: Yellowstone is damned exciting. It’s exciting because it’s effectively a volcano spewing and spluttering its intentions ceaselessly; it’s exciting because it was America’s first National Park signalling a new era in land custodianship; it’s exciting because it now attracts 3 million visitors a year; it’s exciting because with the return of wolves in 1995, it is claimed to be one of the last true wilderness areas of the northern Hemisphere. Now, we could debate the definition of ‘wilderness’ all day but anywhere that creeps close to it (especially a place with wild wolves) that also accommodates 3 million people, is VERY exciting to me.
Ian taking some time out…with a friend.
Swan Lake at dawn
Amanda my wife, and our close friends Eileen and Ian, had never been to Yellowstone whereas I had the knowledge built up over many visits with tour groups. This inevitably resulted in me becoming the (unpaid) tour guide, a role that was remunerated only through the occasional opportunity to take pictures – I did less than 1gb in two weeks so please don’t give me a hard time!
Initially based in Mammoth, we took in the famous Lamar Valley where one early start rewarded us with roadside wolf howling, the like of which I’d never experienced. Thick forest prevented a view but we knew…we felt…those wolves were close. From West Yellowstone we saw grizzly and cubs, black bear up close (a bit too close for Eileen), beaver and river otters. One morning we witnessed a young wolf swimming the Yellowstone River and bumped into the same animal close to the road the following day. Moving south we immersed ourselves in the rustic delights of Old Faithful Inn for two nights before leaving Yellowstone for Grand Teton where moose were abundant but the fall colour was regrettably past its best.
These River Otters can really shift – I just managed to grab this shot as a family swam upstream one evening at sunset.
Bison herd at Firehole River
It’s been several years since my last visit to Yellowstone and there was a noticeable change in the profile of visitors with many more nationalities represented – surely a sign of emerging economic wealth and perhaps in tandem with an increasingly urbanised lifestyle, a latent yearning to flirt with nature? I’m not sure, but it seems that the wilderness is no longer the preserve of wealthy Westerners and although I have concerns about the impact of ever-growing visitor numbers, that is surely no bad thing?
Burnt Lodgepoles at dusk.
Our final day was spent on horseback high above Jackson Hole and in full view of the National Elk Refuge, the controversial wintering grounds for beleaguered elk and not a million miles different from the practice of feeding red deer in Scotland – like I say, for anyone with an interest in the human-wildlife dynamic, this is an exciting place.
The Good, the Bad and the very, very Ugly.
If you scratch beneath the surface of the Yellowstone story – and it’s one helluva of a story – it will draw you in and sink its metaphorical teeth into your heart and mind. Over the years, this place has taught me more about wildness and how different people perceive and relate to that wildness, than anywhere else I’ve been.
The food is crap if you’re vegetarian; the French Vanilla cappuccinos are delicious but too sweet and the monster-sized trucks that pass as family cars get right up my nose (as do photographers that never reduce their tripods below head height) but if you can put up with these minor encumbrances, Yellowstone (and Grand Teton) is a delight.
Amanda after an early start and a lack of caffeine.
The mind-boggling lobby at Old Faithful Inn.
Against the context of the emerging ecological ethos of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, you might be interested in these web sites.
Greater Yellowstone Coalition
Yellowstone to Yukon Initiative