At roughly this time of year in 2003, Anita and I made a memorable trip to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. We arrived in Salt Lake City the week before Memorial Day, rented a car, and spent a week in Yellowstone and about four days in Grand Teton. This was the first big trip I made with my Nikon D100 DSLR, and it was a great learning experience for me as a photographer. Looking back through my photo files now, it’s disappointing to me to see how few of the images I still consider “good,” but I do find that many of them are at least “good enough,” in that they can be rescued with a little Photoshop magic. Once I start going back through my old photos, it’s hard to know where to stop, but I’ll only share a few in this post.
One of the great things about a late May trip to Yellowstone is that you arrive just as the full park is opening, and you get to experience some of the remnants of winter while the weather is mostly spring/ summer. During the winter, the only access to the park is via the Mammoth Hot Springs entrance, in the northwest corner of the park, and the rest of the park is only reachable via snowcat, snowmobile, or via cross-country skiing and/ or snowshoe trekking. But in May, the park roads are finally plowed (though the mountain pass roads still have 12-foot high snowbanks at roadside), and the lodging throughout the park begins to open as they train the staff for the summer, opening a new facility every few days. Crowds are relatively light for Yellowstone during this period, and because the staff is being trained, the hotels offer discount rates.
With the discounts, we decided we could treat ourselves to staying at the Yellowstone Lake Inn, which is one of the more elegant park lodgings. We arrived there late in the day, having just spent a full day in the park after entering from the town of West Yellowstone. All day we had been surprised by the amount of snow remaining in the park, and we found the lake still partially frozen:
I have to mention one other great feature of Yellowstone in the late spring, and that is that this is the time when the young animals are born. We found this calf drinking beside the road as all vehicle traffic stopped to let a bison herd cross the pavement:
After our week of enjoying the wildlife, the geysers, hot springs, and wild expanses of Yellowstone, we moved down from the mountains into the Jackson Hole area at the foot of the Grand Teton range, and rented a small cabin at Colter Bay. The first morning, I got up before sunrise, so that I could be at lakeside when the sun came up. I was lucky to catch, not only the sunrise, but a rainbow as well:
When I go back to these old files, I’m reminded of one of the main reasons why I love photography so much. Often these days I feel my age, and am distressed at how little my mind still seems to retain from my past experiences. But when I look at that picture, I can still remember our little log cabin, with its painted “headboards” for the beds on the interior walls. I remember waking to the birds singing, walking the trail down to the lake in the semi-darkness, setting up the tripod on the gravel of the lakeside beach – a whole stream of memory comes back to me, and I know it’s all in there somewhere, if I can just find the key to unlock it.
My only other trip to this area happened when I was about twelve, as my family made a month-long camping trip across the country and back, hitting as many National Parks as possible in 30 days. Compared to that trip, this one was a real in-depth immersion. But as I tap into my memories through these photos, I realize that I could return to either of these parks a dozen times and never feel I had experienced everything they have to offer.