50 Below Zero ?

Last Fall, I drove with a friend of mine to The Grand Tetons and Yellowstone, only to be shut out of both parks by the government shutdown. A little frustrating, a little expensive and quite an adventure.  That was from 2013, the year of Murphy’s Law, rearing it’s ugly head over and over..

But that year is over, and I now have my Guardian Angel with me, so back I went to Yellowstone for a photography workshop in the park.  What attracted me to this was the fact that the photographer grew up in the area around Yellowstone, and knew the area like the back of his hand. Plus, you can’t just drive into the park, you have to ride a snowmobile, or rent a snow cat which is what we did.  

My friend and I started in Idaho Falls and drove to Jackson, which is a few miles outside of the Grand Tetons. We had planned to photograph the iconic Mormans Row at Sunrise with The Grand Tetons towering majestically in the background and Oxbow Bend at Sunset, with beautiful colors reflecting off of the …snow.

Oh yes, I forgot, it was snowing.  Kind of a light powdery snow that would have been fun to play in, but not so great for brilliant sunsets. And it hadn’t snowed like that for weeks.  Was it Murphy’s Law again?  We did see Elk, which my friend scared away by calling it BooBoo, a weasel in his winter coat, and some beautiful snowy landscapes.  

We spent the day exploring, had a wonderful dinner at an organic restaurant, shopped in town, laughed a lot, and headed to Yellowstone the next day, retracing our steps from October.  I’d call the drive through Driggs and Tetonia kind of a white out.  No clouds, just white everywhere.  And slippery roads! Needless to say, we didn’t turn around much, but we did stop to rephotograph a few locations we’d shot in the Fall.  My favorite was Hill House, which was surrounded by Aspens, so we have two seasons of that location.  And we found my red barn, which made my day.  As we got closer to Yellowstone, the wind picked up, I swear there were hurricane force winds driving us into the park!  something was up…or down.

After meeting the group we’d be photographing with the next day, we all headed to bed to get ready for a sunrise in Yellowstone.  The next morning It was cold.  No, not just cold, it was freezing! No, not just freezing, USA Today reported that West Yellowstone was the coldest place in the country that day at MINUS 50.  That’s 50 BELOW ZERO!  Have you ever ???  So, we found our place by the river, stood in the snowbank for 20 minutes waiting for some light to break through, it never did, and by the time we all got back in the snow cat, we couldn’t feel our fingers, toes, arms, legs, nose, I’m surprised we could even move !  The “warming hut” wasn’t open when we got there, but the bathrooms weren’t too bad.  They were probably 20 above zero.  So we warmed up a little in there.  I developed a headache that lasted 24 hours, and I think my feet finally thawed out around 8pm. Did I ALREADY say it was Cold?  50 BELOW?  Seriously?

But there’s always a silver lining, right? We drove through the park that day, stopping here and there, getting out for snapshots because it was too cold for anything else.  We saw a Bobcat, coyote, and the ubiquitous Bison, in fact a lot to them.  And we drove around again the next day, which was a warmer day with the temperature hovering around ZERO.  MY favorite part of our trip, aside from experiencing 50 below was the Norris Geyser Basin.  Beautiful!  

And I’m going back again in the Fall…but this time I’m headed to Bozeman and driving in from the Northern Entrance.  The Western Entrance just hasn’t been good to me.  If at first you don’t succeed, try try again !Image  

 

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A Sign from Above

With the beginning of a New Year, I’ve resolved to step outside of the safe little box that I’ve sheltered in, and create the life that I’ve always wanted to live, exploring this beautiful world and bringing home beautiful images to remind me everyday that finding your dream isn’t hard, or scary, you just have to start moving.  So, this year, I began my travels with a trip to Death Valley, a short 6.5 hour drive south of Reno, Nevada.  A fairly straight drive, well paved rolling highways, which I definitely rolled down and up and down again getting into Death Valley.

When I travel someplace new, I always have this vision in my mind’s eye of a place that’s foreign, where I won’t see many people, where the roads could be steep, and I might get lost.  It’s never the case, although I have gotten a little lost once or twice.  But you just have to turn the car around and head back where you came, and you’re back on track. So, on a Friday morning, noticing some cloudy weather in the forecast, which as a photographer would “make my day”, or actually my sunset and sunrise, I packed up my gear, lunch and dinner, hopped in my Jeep and set out to parts “unknown”.

My plan was to arrive in Death Valley at sunset and photograph the Mesquite Sand Dunes. I stopped a few times on the way down, watching the clouds roll in, buying gas twice, (the Jeep is a gas hog), and drove into the Valley just in time…to realize that there were hundreds of people swarming over the Dunes.  There went my visualization of pristine untrodden lines across the ridge lines of the Dunes, unless I ran, at top speed in sinking sand, way out there, (imagine me pointing about 2 miles out into the desert).  I tried, but with the sun sinking and the sky turning all kinds of pretty, I stopped, popped off a few shots and stood still just watching the color evolve.

I stayed at the Furnace Creek Ranch, and had a map of Death Valley which I’d studied so I’d know where to go for sunrise and sunset.  Zabriskie Point was my sunrise location.  I woke up at 4am, headed out at 5am, found it at about 530am, headed up the little hill from the parking lot in the dark with my headlamp, set up my tripod and waited.  Sunrise is harder to predict than sunset.  You really can’t see the clouds in the sky, so you could be up and out there for nothing at all.  But this was a New Year, and at 6am, the sky started to glow !  I snapped off a few shots, then as the light came up, walked around finding my “Spot”.  As the sun peaked on the horizon, the sky light up in beautiful shades of pink, orange, yellow, and blue.  This was the perfect sunrise !  I’d never seen Zabriskie Point before, and I’ll never forget the feeling of joy that washed through me as I ran around shooting from different spots, capturing beautiful colors in a truly beautiful place.

I hiked around all day, exploring Golden Canyon, Artists Drive and Artists Palette, Mosaic Canyon, making my way back over to the Dunes.  This time I started hiking out on the Dunes around 4pm, leaving plenty of time to make it to an area where there weren’t any footprints, or so I thought.  In hindsight, I should have headed East on the Dunes, but I went straight out to the highest one, and shot from there at sunset.  I love my photos, even with the footprints.  As the sun set, I sat and enjoyed the beauty all around me.  There was a group of 20 somethings on the next dune over, laughing and enjoying the warm sand and soft light.  We waved across the Dunes, connected in peace by the golden light around us.

I shot sunrise over the Badwater Basin the next morning, and never made it to the Racetrack.  I was told by a park ranger that it was a two hour drive over a really really bumpy road, and the ground was wet, making it likely that if you did make it out there, if you walked on the ground, you’d leave permanent footprints.  That kinda sounded cool, but 2 hours of bumping each way just didn’t appeal to me. I made it home Monday afternoon, and downloaded my photos to my big screen.  Lo and behold, there was an angel in my sunrise at Zabriskie Point.  On top of the beautiful colors, I found my Guardian Angel.  She was with me the whole time, and appeared at Sunrise to remind me that life is what you make it to be.  If you sit home, wishing for things to come to you, it probably won’t happen.  You have to go out and find your life. I’m on my way.

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