Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Back in Yellowstone

Steam and dead trees on the Terraces at Mammoth Hot Springs

I have returned for another season in Yellowstone, arriving in the park on May 10 to less snow than I have had some years.  It wasn't that they didn't have snow this year, it just melted early.  

I am slow updating my blog.   With the high number of visitors and almost everyone using their cell phones or tablets for texting and various internet uses, getting on is difficult at best.  Even when I get on, I sometimes get dropped.  Now I am playing catch-up.   This will be a photo essay of various scenes in May and the first half of June.

I am again leading photo tours in the Historic Yellow Bus or Touring car, heading out at 6 a.m. after a short orientation in the lobby of the Old Faithful Inn.  By then I have already been on the job for an hour as I prep the bus, checking fluids, tire pressure, paperwork from the previous log and picking up muffins in the Inn kitchen.   This means going to bed early, before the sun is down.  But the lighting is good and we don't deal with crowds until the return near the end of the tour.

Crowds are an issue this year.  Last year saw a 17% increase in visitation over 2014.  Already this year it looks like we will be well over last years 4.1 million visitors.  A combination of factors including the 100th Anniversary of the Park Service, lower gas prices, reluctance by many Americans to travel overseas these days, greater awareness of our national treasures through the Ken Burns program, The National Parks; America's Best Idea, and greater visitation from other countries, especially China now that foreign travel is allowed and there is a growing middle class.   The May National Geographic issue dedicated to the Greater Yellowstone Region is probably not a big factor as it came out after most folks had made their summer plans.  I do recommend that issue however.  It is well written and researched.  All of the guides received a complementary copy and I know most of us read it cover to cover.

Mist at the bottom of the Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River.  In early June, with snow melting, the force is incredible.

Only anglers are out on cold mornings as early as photographers.  Here someone fishes in the Gibbon River

Bit of frost and steam from the water, on June 1

Mammoth Hot Springs scene
For about 20 minutes each sunny morning, when the sun is at the right angle, a rainbow appears at
the base of the Lower Falls.  Some winter snow still remained when this photo was taken.

Castle Geyser erupts.

This photo and the next are of Grand Prismatic Hot Spring, the largest in the park.  From the boardwalk it isn't possible to include the entire pool and its magnificient thermophiles in the shot, even with a wide angle lens

Patterns in the run off at Biscuit Basin, one of my favorite spots

Biscuit Basin with a bison bull

Great Fountain on Firehole Lake Drive

Spring means baby animals

Osprey on nest

Only the smaller calf belongs to this cow.  The other was there to play. When it was time to nurse, it returned to its own mother.  Bison offspring are single, while twins, are fairly common with pronghorn, elk, bears and others.  One year a griz was regularly seen with 4.  That number of births for a grizzly is not uncommon, but having them all survive is.
One pronghorn twin nurses while the other played and looked about

bison calf tugs on its mother's tail


On a cold marning, I could see steam as he breathed.  I shared this morning with friends, Lynn and Gail who were visiting from Martinez, CA

Seeing a badger in broad daylight is an unusual treat.

This elk looks pretty scraggly.  He is still losing his winter coat and his antlers are still growing and are covered in velvet.

A marmot suns himself on the rocks

A male Mountain Blue Bird delivers nesting material to the hole in the tree.  His breeding plummage is brilliant.  Unfortunately they decided to try another hole in another tree somewhere.   This was an ideal spot for me to watch them raise their young.  I am still looking for another nest to watch

Trumpeter Swan

This mother coyote was hunting.  I watched her catch a ground squirrel and swallow it whole.  The tail hung out of her mouth

Ground squirrel, NOT the one that was caught in the previous photo

Unsafe, but here people climb on Sheepeater Cliffs.  These basalt columns are not stable,as evidenced by the pile of them laying where they have fallen at the base.  Too many accidents happen in the park as people, in their excitement over the wildlife, the geothermal features, the canyons, take risks.   

I love the patterns in the snow and dead trees on Mt. Washburn.  These trees burned in 1988 when the park experienced major fires that burned 30% of the park.   In many places, new thick forests sprang up beginning the following spring.  Not so on the slopes of this peak

Spring means lots of wildflowers.  Here is a sample of a few.
Leopard Lily

Indian Paintbrush comes in a variety of colors from pale yellow to magenta


Shooting Star

Indian Paintbrush

Black and white is a great way to capture the bobby sox trees.  These are trees which drowned in water from the geothermal features.  The silica remained behind and preserved the trees, giving them the appearance of white sox on the trunks.

Looking down the Firehole River toward Grand Prismatic as storm clouds form

Scene from Mammoth Hot Springs.