Fire season has kicked off with a whimper this year, and we’ve only just moved from Preparedness Level 1 to 2, something that usually happens a month or two ago. The Northern Rockies up here is pretty wet and green, but even the areas of the country that are abnormally dry haven’t gotten many fires yet.
Still, how much can I complain when I’m a 5 minute drive from Yellowstone? We changed our days off last week so I ended up with a three-day weekend, and spent basically all of it in the park. I wanted to do an overnight hike, and preferably one near the Lamar Valley, and ended up settling on the Bison Plateau hike, 14 miles round-trip over a vast open grass plateau, during which you climb over two thousand feet to trail’s end at a cabin.
There’s a big lake to the north of the base here called Hebgen, and a friend from the base here showed me a nice spot to watch the sunset from along the shore. Last Friday it rained all day and was generally pretty miserable, but I thought I should head to the lake shore anyway just in case, as the sun often comes through the clouds at the horizon around here. It didn’t disappoint, and after a vibrant sunset behind me, the sun came through the clouds and lit up the sky something gorgeous. I was out in the water about knee deep for this one, and the four images stitched make it about a 180 degree field of view.
The hike wasn’t very fruitful as far as photography was concerned, but it was a really great walk. The views were awesome and I saw a lot of wildlife, even for Yellowstone. The wildflowers are in full bloom right now and I spent some time focusing on them as the sun dropped low, particularly the Sticky Geranium, pictured below, so called because they’re covered with hairs on the stems and leaves.
Canon 5d Mark iii, 300mm f/2.8 lens w/1.4X teleconverter, 1/100 sec at f/4, ISO 250, handheld
I took this shot just as the sun dipped below the horizon but there was still enough light to illuminate the flower.
I also did some more experimenting with moving the camera mid-exposure, and thought that these sunflowers against a dark background provided a good opportunity.
Canon 5d Mark iii, 300mm f/2.8 lens, 1/15 sec at f/25, ISO 100
This came out pretty well in my opinion, but I definitely think there’s far more potential for this technique, just gotta keep at it.
On the long climb up through the grassland I must have passed 15 elk sheds within 5 feet of the trail, so who knows how many there actually are up there. The only bad thing about the hike was that the mosquitos have come out suddenly in full force around here, and I didn’t have any bug spray with me. For most of the hike there was a strong wind blowing across the grass that kept them off of me, but the rest of the time I was hiking and swatting with my jacket.
The ranger had told me that a couple people did this hike weeks ago and saw a big grizzly, so I was a little wary while setting up camp. When I hiked the PCT I always slept with my food bag in my tent, because if a bear got your food and you were halfway through a 100 mile section, you were in for a really rough time. That’s probably a better idea when you’re dealing with black bears than grizzlies, but I had bear spray in my tent and I can’t imagine a bear persisting after it got a full dose to the face, so the food was in with me. The morning was calm and cold, and shortly after starting out I ran into a group of 6 or 7 large grouse, and got this photo of one peeking around a tree at me.
Canon 5d Mark iii, 300mm f/2.8 lens w/1.4X teleconverter, 1/100 sec at f/4, ISO 400, handheld
When I got back to the trailhead I decided to hike a ways on the Slough Creek Trail in the Lamar Valley, as I’d heard good things and the campsite is almost always booked up. The trail climbed up for a bit before leveling off and following Slough Creek, which was beautiful. In a little mud puddle I saw my first Amphibian of the year, and got this shot of him peeking at me over the water.
As the evening progressed it became pretty clear that the light show at sunset was going to be amazing, and even before the sun was low in the sky the cloud formations were picking up different colors and textures, and i’ll just go ahead and post all the photos I took that evening.
A group of Bison graze under threatening skies in the Lamar Valley.
Canon 5d Mark iii, 16-35mm lens, 2 seconds at f/11, ISO 100, Gitzo Tripod, 4 photos stitched together
I rushed around for awhile trying to find a suitable foreground for this amazing sky, and ended up settling on this bend in Slough Creek.
Canon 5d Mark iii, 70-200mm f/4 lens, 1/40 sec at f/5.6, ISO 400, 2 image panorama
After I thought the sunset light was gone, it found a small gap near the horizon and lit up the sky and some sheets of rain falling over a few buffalo walking across the plains.
Some aspen trees lit by the last rays of light before the sun dipped below the horizon.
Some snags from the 1988 fires that burned almost 40% of the park, in the last light of the day.