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.

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

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.