YELLOWSTONE PHOTOGRAPHY WITH NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC EXPEDITIONS

Tour Dates January 11-16, 2017

Photographing Yellowstone in winter has many challenges and rewards,

This was the second of five trips I'm guiding in Yellowstone National Park this winter season. Temperatures ranged from the mid-twenties to -14 degrees fahrenheit. Snow was deeper than I've seen in many a year and the light was magical highlighting steam, frost, and wildlife. Rather than droning on I think it best I just show you pictures.

Selecting an image will open a lightbox for better viewing.

CROWN OF THE CONTINENT

TOUR DATE: JULY 17-22, 2016

Photographing Island Lake and the Three Bears Mountains in British Columbia.

Photographing Island Lake and the Three Bears Mountains in British Columbia.

When people think of NW Montana, Glacier National Park immediately comes to mind. Some may include Alberta's Waterton Lakes National Park since collectively they are known as the "International Peace Parks". But National Parks aren't terrariums. They are often more influenced by what happens outside their borders than by their insides. Increasingly we are referring to regions surrounding our parks more holistically. The most famous being the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem encompassing an area nearly nine times that of it's namesake park. Likewise the region from near Missoula, Montana in the south to almost Banff, Alberta in the north, including a portion of British Columbia, is collectively known as the Crown of the Continent. 

Because there is no possible way to take in such a vast expanse in the space of a week, this Crown of the Continent Tour by NPCA and Off The Beaten Path picks out several jewels from the crown and takes a good look at each. Our tour starts in Whitefish, Montana, travels over Going-To-The-Sun highway and spends two nights in St Mary. Then it's north to Waterton for a night before traveling west to Fernie, British Columbia. After two nights tucked in the mountains at Island Lake Lodge and Resort we end up back in Whitefish.

Black bear cub explores new succulent vegetation after last year's forest fire, Waterton Lakes National Park.

Black bear cub explores new succulent vegetation after last year's forest fire, Waterton Lakes National Park.

Trip details change somewhat depending upon the guide. My tour in late July hiked Avalanche Lake, Rockwell Falls, and the Swiftcurrent River in Glacier; Blakiston Falls in Waterton; and the Fir and Spineback trails at Island Lake Lodge. Along the way we studied the Lewis Overthrust Fault, examined two forms of argillite, looked over fossils in British Columbia limestone, and heard all about the Frank Slide disaster that buried part of a coal mining town in 1903. Bears, both black and grizzly, made our wildlife list along with mountain goats, bighorn sheep, moose, elk, two species of deer, numerous small mammals and birds. 

I think it better for me to quit writing and post pictures. I'm a better photographer than writer, after all. So here you are! These are photos I took while on this particular trip.

ZION AND BEYOND

May 14-19, 2016

This trip's group enjoying Calf Creek Falls in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

This trip's group enjoying Calf Creek Falls in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

The Zion And Beyond tour for NPCA and Off The Beaten Path spends six nights visiting Bryce & Zion National Parks and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Southern Utah. Sampling what geologists call the Grand Staircase by van and on foot, we also learn of the area's ecology. This spring trip experiences the desert in bloom and even touches a little snow at higher elevations while lower elevations are beginning to set seed in some cases. Weather, as always, is unpredictable and it's important to keep one eye on the sky and avoid sketchy roads and slot canyons if rain threatens.

Weather was definitely acting up for this week's trip. We caught a little rain now and then yet it was hardly enough to unpack the rain gear while on trail. We did experience a few good downpours while in our van's dry, heated comfort and saw the after effects of at least one hail storm. Kurt's luck holds out.

We got in some great hiking in spite of the threatening clouds walking three miles along Bryce Canyon's Rim, Six miles along Lower Calf Creek in GSENM, three miles along Observation Point trail in Zion NP, along with several other routes showing the region's varied terrain, geology, wildlife and wildflowers. Claret Cup was just beginning to bloom and Prince's Plume was out in lower elevations. Lizards weren't as visible as they would have been in warmer weather but we did see about thirty recently reintroduced bighorn sheep shortly after arriving in Zion. All in all a great trip with wonderful people.

Our next Zion And Beyond trip is a fall season excursion departing September 17 and I'm told it's almost at capacity. Be sure to check out our other trips if you can't get on this one.

Here are a collection of photographs I took during this trip. Selecting one will open a larger version on your screen.

Thank you for reading our posts. Please take a second to like this page below or the share on Facebook. Getting feedback helps with motivation.

Hope to see you soon and TRAVEL SAFE. 

NGE Yellowstone Winter Wildlife Photography Tour

February 21-26, 2016

Morning photography outing along the Firehole River in Yellowstone's Upper Geyser Basin.

Morning photography outing along the Firehole River in Yellowstone's Upper Geyser Basin.

My last National Geographic Expeditions Photography tour of the 2015/2016 season went out with a bang. Great weather, loads of wildlife, interesting participants and a motivated National Geographic Expert Photographer (Dan Westergren) combined to make guiding this trip a breeze. 

It's seemed like this winter in particular was a great one for red fox, but this trip was the RED FOX Trip. You couldn't hardly take a picture without a red fox in it (okay, exaggeration, but I bet we saw fourteen of the little vulpes this particular week.) Add to the list coyotes and wolves, making a three dog day, bison, elk, pronghorn, and numerous birds all in a variety of light conditions and I couldn't have asked to fill out the winter season better.

Here are a few of my shots from the trip. If you wonder where my shots of all that wildlife are remember I'm guiding ... my job is to help my clients get great images, not take pictures myself. 

Sunrise on the boardwalk near Castle Geyser.

Sunrise on the boardwalk near Castle Geyser.

Along the Firehole River

Along the Firehole River

Morning steam along the Firehole River

Morning steam along the Firehole River

Dan Westergren explaining photographic opportunities near Castle Geyser.

Dan Westergren explaining photographic opportunities near Castle Geyser.

My rendition of Castle Geyser one morning.

My rendition of Castle Geyser one morning.

Early morning at Mammoth Hotsprings Terraces.

Early morning at Mammoth Hotsprings Terraces.

The top of Canary Terrace at Mammoth Hotsprings Terraces.

The top of Canary Terrace at Mammoth Hotsprings Terraces.

So ... I was trying to get a photo of snow texture when this stupid fox photo-bombed me!

So ... I was trying to get a photo of snow texture when this stupid fox photo-bombed me!

I'll close this post with an example of why I enjoy photography and guiding so much. Below are two photos taken from the same footbridge across the Firehole River at about the same time on different days. The feel of each picture is so different as to almost be different subjects. How could anyone get bored with such ever-changing beauty?

Until next time - keep traveling and enjoying the beauty of this wonderful planet.

Kurt

NGE Yellowstone Winter Wildlife (Photography)

February 7-12, 2016

Bighorn sheep ram with limber pine in Lamar Valley, Yellowstone National Park.

Bighorn sheep ram with limber pine in Lamar Valley, Yellowstone National Park.

I just completed my second of three photography tours of Yellowstone National Park for National Geographic Expeditions this season and what a fantastic tour it was. The weather was mostly clear and way too warm while most wildlife was cooperative even to the point of being in our way at times (read bison jam). Coyotes, red fox, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, elk and bison were plentiful while bobcat and river otter remained hidden during this trip. We did manage to see one black wolf this trip, at a distance perfect for spotting scope viewing but too far for any but the very longest photographic lenses. Still, it was interesting watching the wolf interact with a coyote (meaning the coyote kept a good distance) while a mature bald eagle stood on a nearby rock watching the drama. There must have been a wolf kill nearby but we couldn’t see it from our location.

Mark Thiessen advising the group on how to photograph  sunset over the Firehole River in Yellowstone National Park.

Mark Thiessen advising the group on how to photograph  sunset over the Firehole River in Yellowstone National Park.

Here’s a special shout to National Geographic staff photographer Mark Thiessen who served as tour Expert this trip. Though Mark’s knowledge of Yellowstone was limited, his photographic expertise and ability to teach are outstanding. Expedition Experts are required to make three presentations during these tours. Mark’s first offered several helpful photography tips in an entertaining way without being overwhelmingly technical. His second was about his experiences as a National Geographic photographer and his third was an exceedingly helpful critique of participant images. More than his presentations it was Mark’s ability to step off a snowcoach, take in a scene and begin offering advice on how to shoot it that really stood out. We all came away better photographers for Mark’s efforts.

I was recently asked if a DSLR was required equipment for these tours. The answer is … no. A good smartphone is enough to play with composition skills and begin understanding dynamics of light and color. A small point & shoot camera with a manual setting is enough to creatively experiment with exposures and light balance. While a DSLR offers the most potential in your learning experience it is far from essential. All the photos on this blog entry were taken with either my iPhone 5s or a Fujifilm F900 EXR for example.

The calendar is set for 2016/2017 Yellowstone Winter Wildlife National Geographic Expeditions but guide assignments still have to be made. I've been assured it won't be too much longer until I know which, if any, of these tours I'll be taking out in the season a year from now. Will keep you posted. Until then - Travel safe

Kurt

 

NGE Winter Wildlife of Yellowstone (Photography)

Tour January 17-22, 2017

T0rn between watching coyotes and taking photos of sunset - Sometimes coyotes are more interesting.

T0rn between watching coyotes and taking photos of sunset - Sometimes coyotes are more interesting.

The first 2016 Photography Edition of National Geographic Expeditions Winter Wildlife In Yellowstone tour went exceedingly well. Having learned a lot from our two pilot trips in 2015 this season's version sports a smaller group size and a more flexible itinerary enabling us to take advantage of sunsets, sunrises, weather conditions and unpredictable wildlife movements. 

Bobcat along the Madison River in Yellowstone National Park.

Bobcat along the Madison River in Yellowstone National Park.

Finding wildlife close enough to photograph is always a roll-of-the-dice proposition. This trip was unlucky for wolves as we saw none at all. However, bison, bighorn sheep, elk, pronghorn, coyotes, red fox and even bobcat made our list of photographable wildlife. Our bird list included trumpeter swan, great blue heron, red grosbeak, mountain chickadee, red-breasted nuthatch, Clark's nutcracker and, of course, ravens and bald eagles.

Yellowstone doesn't lack scenery either.

These photography tours are turning out to be quite popular as all three of this season's tours are completely full. Registration has begun for the 2016-2017 winter season and a fourth photography departure has been added. The calendar looks like this:

It may be some time before I know exactly what tours I'll be leading but I'll be asking for several of the departures numbered 6 through 11 in case you'd like the chance to join me. 

My next NGE Photo Expedition of Yellowstone departs on February 7, 2016 and I'll blog a post-trip report soon after. Until then please leave a comment below telling me what you think. 

Cheers and Happy Travels

Kurt

Another great wildlife day

Much of Yellowstone's wildlife has moved to lower elevations by late February. This concentrates the animals into larger herds making them easy to find and fun to watch as they interact with one another. Today we saw eight to nine bald eagles, one coyote, probably a hundred or more elk, bunches of mule deer and whitetail deer and that was before we entered Yellowstone. A great start to this fabulous tour. 

HBighorn sheep are often hard to find much of the year. Disease issues being a large part of what controls thier population. Winter, however, increases your chances of encountering a fairly large ram, like this one in Gardiner Canyon. He was part of a  herd of  eleven animals. 

HBighorn sheep are often hard to find much of the year. Disease issues being a large part of what controls thier population. Winter, however, increases your chances of encountering a fairly large ram, like this one in Gardiner Canyon. He was part of a  herd of  eleven animals. 

Bison jams, like this one are a common occurrence in late winter as animals move to lower altitude for better forage.  

Bison jams, like this one are a common occurrence in late winter as animals move to lower altitude for better forage.  

One of my favorite animals in or out of the Park is the Yellow-fronted Camera- toter. Or Eve Wills, my wife forever and co-guide for this trip.  We do work well together. 

One of my favorite animals in or out of the Park is the Yellow-fronted Camera- toter. Or Eve Wills, my wife forever and co-guide for this trip.  We do work well together. 

Temperature: The Visual Difference

People are often shocked when I tell them I'm hoping for the coldest possible temperatures when visiting Yellowstone National Park in Winter. They remain wide-eyed and shivering as I continue with descriptions of ice crystals, foggy atmospheres and the beauty associated with cold. Not that Yellowstone isn't beautiful when it's warmer, it's just that we rarely see the formations associated with real cold anymore.  I miss those formations so I reminisce while my listener's chattering teeth go unnoticed.

Below are two photos of the same location at very different temperatures to illustrate my point.

Taken on February 13. Temperatures were in the teens overnight and about 36°F at the time of this photo. It shows the microbiological mats and dead saplings of a hot spring outflow. Temperatures are too warm to form many ice crystals or create an ice fog so we see more of the changes hotsprings create in the landscape.

Taken on February 13. Temperatures were in the teens overnight and about 36°F at the time of this photo. It shows the microbiological mats and dead saplings of a hot spring outflow. Temperatures are too warm to form many ice crystals or create an ice fog so we see more of the changes hotsprings create in the landscape.

This image of the same location taken on February 6 has a totally different feel. Overnight temperatures dipped to -33°F and hovered around -25°F at the time of the photo. Ice fog limits visibility and the dead saplings seen in the image above are now 'Snow-ghosts' covered in rime frost. 

This image of the same location taken on February 6 has a totally different feel. Overnight temperatures dipped to -33°F and hovered around -25°F at the time of the photo. Ice fog limits visibility and the dead saplings seen in the image above are now 'Snow-ghosts' covered in rime frost. 

I'm not saying that one view is better than the other. Nor am I encouraging visitors to come only when it's really cold. The best time to visit Yellowstone, or any National Park, is when you have the time available. I am saying that beauty comes in many forms at any temperature, in any weather. Only those brave enough and prepared enough to venture into the weather will have the opportunity to see that beauty for themselves. Never let the weather keep you indoors. 

Nearly Alone in Old Faithful's Basin

Day four of this trip found us in blizzard conditions. Heavy snow and wind gusts approaching 40 mph closed many roads in Yellowstone and kept the less intrepid from venturing out of the Snowlodge. Not my group of adventurers! WE bundled up and sallied forth into the maelstrom, the spirits of Shackleton and Scott at our backs. Okay, so we had a warm hotel dispensing hot buttered rums and irish  coffees upon our return but still ... we were more adventurous than most.

See the resemblance to Shackleton's band of Antarctic adventures? Okay, I admit we weren't pulling boats across the ice and we ate bison at the restaurant instead of sled dog cooked over an oil burner but we are a product of our time and we did go outside in challenging weather and had a great experience.

See the resemblance to Shackleton's band of Antarctic adventures? Okay, I admit we weren't pulling boats across the ice and we ate bison at the restaurant instead of sled dog cooked over an oil burner but we are a product of our time and we did go outside in challenging weather and had a great experience.

This coyote was one to the few living things we saw in an area known for it's crowds. We didn't see it for long as the coyote crawled under the boardwalk to escape the storm and didn't come out again as far as we could tell.

This coyote was one to the few living things we saw in an area known for it's crowds. We didn't see it for long as the coyote crawled under the boardwalk to escape the storm and didn't come out again as far as we could tell.

Flat light on days like this, while not the best for grand landscape photography, is excellent for colorful detail shots like the edge of this warm spring. The green algae and red/brown grass really 'pop' in grey light.

Flat light on days like this, while not the best for grand landscape photography, is excellent for colorful detail shots like the edge of this warm spring. The green algae and red/brown grass really 'pop' in grey light.

Hanging in front of Castle Geyser. Dressing properly is the key to enjoying days like these.

Hanging in front of Castle Geyser. Dressing properly is the key to enjoying days like these.

A matter of weather

I've been away from the blog for a few days because of poor Internet and lack of time, my apologies.

I'm writing this morning from a cozy room at Old Faithful Snow Lodge in the Upper Geyser Basin. The weather outside is certainly warmer than my last trip with highs in the high 20s. We've had loads of new snow this week and wind creating a ground blizzard preventing us from going through Hayden Valley. By wind I mean the kind that blows up sharp snow crystals stinging your face and creating wideouts where it's difficult to tell where the ground ends in the sky begins. This is just one of the many experiences of Yellowstone and we are certainly enjoying our time here.

I try to make at least one snow angel per trip. Sometimes the entire group will layout snow angels in a line, 15 or 16 long. This day it was just me.

I try to make at least one snow angel per trip. Sometimes the entire group will layout snow angels in a line, 15 or 16 long. This day it was just me.

We did get a glimpse of the sun  shining off Mammoth terraces.

We did get a glimpse of the sun  shining off Mammoth terraces.

Here's the National Geographic Expert Kitty Coley braving the snow the Grand Canyon the Yellowstone.

Here's the National Geographic Expert Kitty Coley braving the snow the Grand Canyon the Yellowstone.

Here is Gibbon Falls on the Gibbon River. A location we normally don't get to see, however, getting turned back in Hayden Valley allowed us to catch this feature, Beryl Spring and a couple of others we normally don't see on National Geographic's tour of Yellowstone National Park.

Here is Gibbon Falls on the Gibbon River. A location we normally don't get to see, however, getting turned back in Hayden Valley allowed us to catch this feature, Beryl Spring and a couple of others we normally don't see on National Geographic's tour of Yellowstone National Park.

The Day Off That Really Isn't

So what does a guide do on his one day off between trips? Well, between doing trip reports, trip accounting, laundry, repacking, getting snacks and water for the next trip, organizing client emails, posting to his blog, and going through photographs, there a few moments of laying on the floor with the dog thinking over the trip's highlights. There were many highlights but I'll take the time to mention two. First, aside from seeing bison, pronghorn, bald eagles, bighorn sheep, coyotes and wolves, to name a partial list, the wildlife highlight was watching a bobcat hunt ducks along the Madison River for nearly a half hour! By far the best bobcat sighting I've ever had! My second highlight is weather related. With temperatures dipping to -30°F some nights the amount of hot spring generated condensation was the best in years. Clouds of steam billowed from geysers and hotsprings filling the air with ever changing drama. Where steam contacted trees, needles, boardwalks and bison it froze in long feathers of rime frost. These are the kinds of formations we used to see regularly in the 80's before our warming trend made them rare. It was great to have them back for this trip. My next tour for National Geographic Expeditions starts tomorrow - I'm looking forward to seeing if the drama persists. I'll try keeping you posted on this blog.

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Day Five: Having fun at 27 below

The key to having fun in really cold weather is preparation. Bison prepare by having thick fur and a healthy layer of insulating fat. We replace those adaptions with appropriate clothing and regulating our activity. (Pardon the selfie but I thought you'd see my resemblance to the bison). Properly prepared we not only get to see formations that only occur in really cold weather like these snowghosts over hot spring outflows, but we are comfortable doing it. Having fun at -27 ain't so hard.

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Day Four: -24°F and Still Gorgeous!

These really cold temperatures make for a truly spectacular Yellowstone National Park. The added condensation of steam from thermal features makes them appear much larger than you would ever see in the summer; as you can tell from the photograph of Old Faithful at a distance after an eruption. Steam collected on trees as rime frost creates a magical landscape for snowshoers. I love days like today.

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Day Three: -4°F and Gorgeous!

Started out this morning by carving the outside temperature on the frost inside of my Mammoth Hotel room window. Then took a walk in the brisk air before we left for Old Faithful. What a beautiful day! The sun was shining, no wind, and great people to share Yellowstone with. The cold temperatures made spray from the lower falls of Yellowstone River appear much larger than it would any other time of year.

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National Geographic expeditions wildlife and Yellowstone day one

I find the first day of any tour to be the most difficult.  When dealing with the airport and airlines, the first day has the greatest potential for things to go wrong.   However, once people are on the bus with their luggage, usually the rest of the trip goes quite smoothly.  Here we are north of Gardiner just before we enter Yellowstone National Park looking at our first bighorn sheep of the trip.  Life is good and we are on our way!

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