Trip Report: Yellowstone National Park

August 19, 2023  |  Yellowstone National Park

Last month, along with a stop in Red Lodge, Montana to explore the Beartooth Highway, I also headed to Yellowstone National Park, about two hours from Red Lodge. Yellowstone is enormous- larger than the states of Rhode Island and Delaware combined. What that means is that while I spent several days in the park, I merely scratched the surface of what there is to be seen there. Knowing my time was limited, I hit the major highlights, but I'm anxious to get back and explore more as soon as I can.

Old Faithful erupts on a clear summer morning in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming.
Old Faithful

Old Faithful erupts on a clear summer morning in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. The geyser erupts approximately every hour to an hour and a half, spouting boiling water and steam as high as 145 feet in the air.

It's well known that Yellowstone is crowded. Thankfully I like to photograph in the early morning light, so we were up well before dawn, driving the Beartooth Highway in the dark on the first couple of visits to the park, which allowed us to be in Lamar Valley just around sunrise. The benefit of this is that I was able to see quite a bit of wildlife as we drove into the valley. One morning we saw a pair of foxes walking along the road, and on another, we witnessed a lone wolf perched at the top of hill, about a mile away, calling to his pack across the valley. Through binoculars we could see these wolves as well. We listened and watched for about a half hour before moving on.

The Grand Prismatic Spring viewed from an overlook on the Fairy Falls Trail in Yellowstone National Park. Excelsior Geyser Crater steams in the background.
Grand Prismatic Spring II

The Grand Prismatic Spring viewed from an overlook on the Fairy Falls Trail in Yellowstone National Park. Excelsior Geyser Crater steams in the background.

As I said, we hit the highlights early. The first morning in the park, after a drive through Lamar Valley and a few other stops, we headed for Old Faithful. We weren't quite sure what time the geyser was slated to erupt, but stopped in at one of the shops near the Old Faithful Inn and one of the staff there told us it was about to erupt in the next few minutes. We quickly hurried over to the viewing area and found a spot to watch the show. Sure enough, she blew right on schedule! One of the many photos I took of the eruption leads off this entry.

Grand Prismatic Spring, located in Midway Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park, releases steam on a summer morning. The...
Grand Prismatic Spring III

Grand Prismatic Spring, located in Midway Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park, releases steam on a summer morning. The spring is the largest hot spring in the United States, and third largest in the world.

One of the major stops I was looking forward to was the Grand Prismatic Spring. I could have spent hours here, as there were a lot of photographic opportunities here. I still have some to edit. Grand Prismatic Spring, with its vibrant turquoise colored water and red, yellow, and orange microbial mat, allows for wide landscape images, as well as abstract detail photos. There's another trail that allows for an overhead view of the spring as well, which gives a true sense of the scale of the spring, and a better view of the source of its colorful name.

Yellowstone's Grand Prismatic Spring is a hot spring known for its colorful surface. The colorful microbial mats range from red...
Grand Prismatic Abstract II

Yellowstone's Grand Prismatic Spring is a hot spring known for its colorful surface. The colorful microbial mats range from red to orange to green to blue, depending on the temperature of the water at those areas. It's a spectacle to see as a hole, but here, this abstract shows the incredible texture and color close up.

The microbial mat around the Grand Prismatic Spring offered a variety of abstract compositions to photograph. I loved this one, above, that allowed me to capture a range of colors from turquoise to yellow to red. The textures were amazing and the colors were so vibrant, it would have been easy to stand there for hours and see all the different lines, shapes, and colors.

Opal Pool, located in Midway Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park, is actually considered a fountain-type geyser, despite its usual activity as a hot sprin
Opal Pool

Opal Pool, located in Midway Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park, is actually considered a fountain-type geyser, despite its usual activity as a hot spring, and rarely erupts.

The geothermal features that are scattered around the park are amazing. Opal Pool, above, is located on the footpath that winds through the area of Grand Prismatic Spring. In reality it's a geyser, but it hasn't erupted in years. In fact, for several years the pool was drained dry, before refilling in 2008.

A rain cloud passes overhead at Heart Spring and Lion Geyser on a summer evening in Yellowstone National Park.
The Heart of the Lion

A storm cloud passes over the Lion Geyser group and Heart Spring on a summer evening in Yellowstone National Park. The Lion Geyser Group is made up of four geysers, Lion Geyser, which has the largest cone at far right, Lioness Geyser, and Big Cub Geyser.

If you follow the trail around Old Faithful, there are more geysers and thermal features to see. One of them is the Lion group of geysers, which includes four geysers. Lion Geyser is the largest of them, and also the one that erupts most frequently. Unfortunately, its eruptions are unpredictable, so it's hit or miss whether or not you actually see an eruption. Located near Lion Geyser is Heart Spring, a small hot spring with a deep turquoise color. I had a composition in mind for this spot, which you can see above. Unfortunately the setting sun shines right into your lens (and your eyes!) when standing in this spot, but on my second evening there, a storm passed to the west, creating a dramatic sky that really ended up making the photo for me.

The Yellowstone RIver surges over the brink of the lower falls through the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone in Yellowstone National Park.
On the Brink

The Yellowstone RIver surges over the brink of the lower falls through the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone in Yellowstone National Park.

Lower Yosemite Falls was also high on my list of things to photograph. Most people are familiar with the shot of the lower falls from Artist Point, but I was thrilled to find the view of the falls from the Brink of the Lower Falls, which looks out from the top of the falls down the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. For the image above, I used an ultra wide angle lens to allow me to capture not only the top of the falls, but also the Yellowstone River as it traveled through the canyon into the distance.

The Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River create a rainbow when viewed from Lookout Point. in the morning light.
View from Lookout Point

The Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River create a rainbow when viewed from Lookout Point. in the morning light.

I think my favorite view of Lower Yellowstone Falls was from Lookout Point. Late morning, when the sun is high enough, the mist from the falls creates a gorgeous rainbow down in the canyon, adding a splash of color against the browns and greens that make up the canyon's color palette.

An American Bison, also known as the American buffalo, gazes into the camera as he wanders through Lamar Valley in Yellowstone National Park.
You Lookin' at Me?

An American Bison, also known as the American buffalo, gazes into the camera as he wanders through Lamar Valley in Yellowstone National Park.

I already mentioned the wildlife. Unfortunately, other than the bison, most of the animals we saw didn't make an appearance when I could be ready with the camera. We saw a cinnamon black bear while driving in a spot with place to pull out, and the aforementioned foxes when it was still dark. The wolves were too far away to photograph well. I managed to get a few photos of bison, and a couple of some pronghorns as well, but I've said many times that I don't do much wildlife, unless it's by accident. So the bison above was more or less one of my accidents.

Mount Washburn on a sunny summer day in Lamar Valley in Yellowstone National Park.
Mount Washburn

Mount Washburn on a sunny summer day in Lamar Valley in Yellowstone National Park.

Overall, it was a great trip out west. There was one issue with my car. On my way home, my car's engine blew due to a mistake made when I had the oil changed a few days before, forcing me to purchase a new car in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Certainly not the ending I envisioned to the trip, and quite a setback personally. But thankfully it didn't involve any crashes or injuries and we were able to make it home safely. Thanks to the good people at Halladay Subaru for helping us get back on the road!