Monday, October 10, 2011

The last good day in YNP

The second Sunday of October is traditionally the last day that all of the main services at Yellowstone are open until the following spring. The next day, most of the major lodges and stores close for winter.

That makes it an ideal time to make a last visit to the park, so off I went for my last YNP day trip of 2011. Kathleen thought the idea of 10 hours in the car interspersed with short hikes and walks at various stops didn't sound like fun, so I made the trip solo.

The goal was to visit some of Yellowstone's less popular thermal features -- Norris Basin, Black Sands Basin, some individual stops at places like Chocolate Spring, and a half-hour at Fountain Paint Pot with my long lens. After that, I figured I'd head back to West Yellowstone for dinner and be home by around sunset.

By around 3 p.m. I'd accomplished my mission and was finishing up at Black Sand. Don't tell Kathleen, but I'd smoked a cigar while driving from Norris to Black Sand, windows down and Led Zeppelin blaring from the stereo. I'm sure she'll never know.

Anyway, it was still early and I'd heard reports that a grizzly mom and her cubs had been spotted near the road  in Grand Teton National Park the day before, so I headed for the south entrance on the slim odds of catching a photo. Coming into Grand Teton, the first thing I noticed was that a lot of the fall leaves were still on the trees -- a little late in the season for these parts. I snapped a few pretty pictures. To the south, dark clouds were gathering over the Tetons and the sun disappeared.

I connected with the main highway into Jackson and started heading south, then southwest. Coming around a bend, I looked up and saw the most remarkable thing. The clouds over the Tetons had parted slightly, sending streams of light shining through the smoke of a prescribed fire between my location and the mountains. I pulled over and just stared, certain I couldn't capture the shot with my camera well enough to do it justice. Nonetheless, I shot about a dozen images, drove ahead a mile or two and took another dozen or so (it's not like the film days -- digital images are free for the taking).

Surprisingly enough, a couple of the images did reflect the moment and in some ways, with a little cropping and a little dodging and burning with PhotoShop, even enhanced it. After seeing the photo on Facebook, one of the folks in the office said he expected me to come to work on Monday looking like Charlton Heston returning from picking up the 10 Commandments.

Just goes to show -- when in doubt, take the shot. You just never know.

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