High Plains Drifter

disclaimer:  "The meteorological views/forecast thinking expressed are those solely of the author of this blog
and do not necessarily represent those of official National Weather Service forecast products,
therefore read and enjoy at your own risk and edification!"

September 26, 2006

Yellowstone Trip: Back home!

Filed under: Yellowstone Trip 2006 — Mike U @ 9:42 am

I rolled into Dodge City around 9:00am this morning.  It was a long drive, I slept like 4 hours in the car near Goodland.  3796 total miles.  About 2000 of that is the drive up to the park and back.  The other 1796 is mileage around Yellowstone, the Beartooth Mountains, and Grand Teton during the 10 day trip.  Average gas mileage was 22.6 mpg (Jeep Liberty ’03).  Adding up all the receipts, I spent 474.29 in gas at an average of $2.76 per gallon on a total of around 172 gallons filled.  Sit down restaurant charges were $112.84 and total ATM withdrawls of $228.50 with the ATM fees, minus $37 I came back with for a net of $191.50.  I also stayed at a motel for two nights for another ~ $115 when I spent time at Grand Teton.  Total of just under $900.  And that’s with staying with Jay for a majority of the trip.  In the previous blog entry, I went ahead and added one of the fogbow images with Grand Teton in the background.  I realized these images I crudely processed in my laptop turned out only so-so when displayed on a better monitor.  When I process these photos using my desktop computer with the CRT monitor, the photos will look much better.  That monumental task will begin really soon, so keep checking back on my main page for updates.

September 25, 2006

Yellowstone (Grand Teton) Day 11: Signal Mountain overlook & a fogbow

Filed under: Yellowstone Trip 2006 — Mike U @ 2:10 pm

An incredible fogbow with Grant Teton in the background.  One of my best images of the trip!It’s early afternoon and I’m on the road back home.  Currently 2pm MDT in Lander, WY where I just had lunch.  I arrived for my sunrise shooting location atop Signal Mountain in Grand Teton NP around 6:30am.  Morning fog at the foot of the Tetons over the lakes was incredible!  From 1000 feet above, I had one memorable view of the Tetons looking down on the fog.  Incredible!  I thought this was surely enough… but there was more… after that shoot, I drove southwest a bit from Signal Mountain to near the Potholes Turnout at the edge of the fog.  An incredible fogbow greeted me… it was the first time I’ve seen such a phenomenon actually.  I was able to capture some spectacular images of this.  Even more… the fog was just transparent enough…including the fogbow…. that Grand Teton’s peak was in view along with the remaining fogbow!  Holy cow, anyway, I can’t wait to see how those images look on the computer..  I may upload a "photo of the day" either later tonight at another resting spot or sometime tomorrow morning.   

September 24, 2006

Yellowstone (Grand Teton) Day 10: Autumn Tetons alive!

Filed under: Yellowstone Trip 2006 — Mike U @ 10:34 pm

Peaks of the Teton Range from a location known as Mormon Row where old farmstead structures remain on the park site.Sunday 9/24 proved to be spectacular today at Grand Teton NP.  A low fog bank prevailed at sunrise over the adjacent lakes just east of the Teton range.  This allowed for dramatic photography opportunities throughout the morning…as the fog lifted and became a thin veil of stratus cloud.  Wow!  There are some old barns/farmsteads on the National Park property that photographers can go up to to use as foreground elements… and with the thin stratus veil, dramatic images were a result.  I took advantage of this during the mid-morning hours.  These old farmsteads are in an area called "Mormon Row" in the southeast section of the park.  For midday and afternoon, I went on the same hike as yesterday, since the wind was much calmer, allowing for smoother water on Leigh Lake and String Lake.  The water is really clear, which allows smooth rocks and some driftwood for foreground elements in a lot of my mountainscape shots.  Remnants of the morning fog were now just small little clumps of cumulus near the summit of the higher peaks, like Grand Teton and Mount Moran.  For sunset, I went to the Snake River Overlook, and the photography here wasn’t as good as this morning and afternoon’s shoot.  Since you are facing the direction of the sun at sunset, clear skies actually create more of a bland mood, unlike yesterday when the sunset photography was great with pink/violet hues in remaining cumulus cloud clumps.  There were no clumps of cumulus left for sunset this evening, so I ended my photography about 45 minutes earlier than yesterday.  Tomorrow is Monday, and I will be getting up very early again for a sunrise shoot.  I will spend a majority of the morning in the park in hopes of getting a few more shots I want to get… then by midday, I’ll begin my trek back to Dodge City.  It will be back to the grindstone Tuesday evening.  I have a solid 2000 raw images downloaded to my laptop here over the past 10 days.  This will certainly be a fall project that will keep me busy — prioritizing and processing all these images.  Whew, what an awesome trip!   

September 23, 2006

Yellowstone/Teton Day 9: Goodbye Yellowstone, Hello Grand Teton!

Filed under: Yellowstone Trip 2006 — Mike U @ 11:07 pm

Grand Teton sunset with statocumulus clouds illuminated pink by the setting sunGreetings from Idaho!  I’m staying at the Driggs, ID Super 8 motel just on the west side of the Tetons.  This morning I left Yellowstone around 7:00am and on my way south, photographed the Gallitan mountains in amazing morning light from a location about 6 miles south of Mammoth.  In fact, this may be my best photography of the day.  I arrived at Grand Teton NP by midday.  The light wasn’t all that great a majority of the day with a lot of stratocumulus clouds lingering about and obscuring the highest peaks of the Teton range, including Grand Teton and Mount Moran.  I took a short 2 mile hike along a small lake shore which was fairly beautiful.  Towards evening, the cloud situation was still looking pathetic with mostly cloudy skies…except for the far southern portion of the park.  I chased the light, heading towards the Moose Junction.  The stratocumulus was more scattered down here, and by the time sunset rolled around, the remnant clouds were turning a beautiful pink hue.  The light all of the sudden became fantastic with the sky becoming increasing pink and violet.  This light only lasted 5 to 7 minutes or so, so I had to work quick.  I photographed from an overlook about a half mile north of the Moose Junction.  I shot a lot of zoomed images of Grand Teton as it was still producing clouds at its peak, which were a brilliant pink.  Some of the 400mm images were fairly interesting with the very jagged edges of the peak and the pink light with the clouds.  You can get pretty creative with 400mm of length and distant landscape scenes.  Anyway, time for bed, for I will be getting up very early for sunrise shoot.  Gotta take advantage of all the good light I can get before I have to head back.  More later! 

September 22, 2006

Yellowstone Day 8: Two more waterfalls — and a bald eagle!

Filed under: Yellowstone Trip 2006 — Mike U @ 9:09 pm

we found this bald eagle perched above the Firehole River after taking a wrong turn on the Mystic Falls trailToday was another pretty successful day of photography.  The main focus was on the two trails Jay and I hiked (after Jay got off work around noon), the Fairy Falls trail and the Mystic Falls trail on the west side of the park near the geothermal basins.  Fairy Falls was a very interesting falls of about 170 feet with low water flow.  Pretty strong winds were blowing the water all around in this narrow chute of a waterfall, which provided a myriad of different long exposure compositions, as the water danced around on its way down to the bottom.  After that hike, which was 5 miles, we headed to the Biscuit Basin which was the trailhead for Mystic Falls.  At the beginning of this hike, we took a wrong turn which added another three-quarters of a mile to this hike.  This fateful error turned out to be quite magical, for we spotted a beautiful bald eagle perched high atop a tree over a sharp bend in the Firehole River.  I was able to get some decent shots at 400mm of this eagle.  Oh yeah, we also spotted an Osprey on the drive south towards our first hike… who was feeding on a fish perched high above a tree.  The two major birds of prey of interest in the park, and photographed within a few hours time — not too bad!  Mystic Falls was a decent waterfall, which cascaded several levels for a total of about 75 feet or so.  We then continued this hike to the top of an observation point overlooking the entire geyser basin with a few of the whole Old Faithful area.  Unfortunately, the light was very poor with graupel showers falling on us during the hike, with temperatures around 38 to 40 degrees.  This marks the last day in Yellowstone and tonight will be my last night staying with Jay… for my final two days of the trip will be spent photographing around Teton Nat’l Park.  I will be staying in Driggs, Idaho just to the west of the park.  I will shoot here Saturday, Sunday, and the first part of Monday.  I will begin heading back to Dodge City Monday afternoon.  (A couple hours later…)  Jay and I just got done eating dinner at this place that Jay knows about north of West Yellowstone, called Eino’s.  Several firsts for me in this place.  Here, you actually order your food, and you cook and prepare it yourself!  Jay and I both had half pound burgers which were pretty good.  You look around…all around this place and there are dollar bills hanging everywhere that people sign little messages on along with their date they visited.  There’s a couple thousand one-dollar bills hanging around everywhere… some of the older ones laminated from as early as 1988.  The other first was the men’s urinal was tucked nicely inside this old shower, with the shower head and everything still there.  I really went to the bathroom in the shower!  I really wish I had my camera to offer a visual of this odd (but really funny) scene… but talk about freaking hilarious.  Anyway, more later.   

September 21, 2006

Yellowstone Day 7: Beautiful Beartooth Mountains (just outside Yellowstone)

Filed under: Yellowstone Trip 2006 — Mike U @ 8:42 pm

Today was another play it by the seat of the pants deal because of the weather.  When I woke up at around 8:00am or so, it was overcast with light rain, which was pretty much in the forecast.  After Jay left for work, I decided to actually drive east to the Beartooth Mountains again just to, if nothing else, experience a little more snow.  On my drive to Tower then east through the Lamar Valley, the skies were lightening up a bit, although still an overcast for the most part.  When the first of the Beartooths were coming into view, they were fairly spectacular in bright overcast sky.  The snow level from last night’s precipitation was about 8,000 feet or so.  It’s amazing to see the sharp demarcation in the snow line in the trees.  It’s quite abrupt — as abrupt as a single or two rows of trees in some spots!  On approach to Cooke City, there were hints of blue sky in spots with the overcast becoming more of a strato-cumulus cloud cover.  Stronger sunlight was coming through the semi-opaque cloud cover, which was really bringing the Beartooth landscape to life.  The snowcovered peaks were just amazing.  All along the Beartooth Highway from Cooke City to about the 9,500 foot level, I did plenty of photography.  The Beartooth mountains are a very jagged series of peaks, similar to the Tetons in a way.  Above 8,500 feet on the Beartooth Highway, the landscape was completely snowcovered and a bright white.  It was gorgeous.  It’s just amazing that at this very time I was witnessing and photographing this, tornadoes were probably ongoing a few hours from home in Kansas!  To be quite honest, I’m not really dissapointed I missed a tornado event in Kansas today — this Yellowstone trip has just been a complete success for me so far, and I am having a blast.  On my way back to Mammoth through the Lamar Valley, I photographed my first bull moose, who was out with a lady of his. So that’s now a bull elk, bull moose, a black bear, and grizzly bear for the main large wildlife photographed in Yellowstone.  Can’t complain about that!  After a late lunch, I came back to the dorm and Jay came back… and then the heavy showers started up again.  We had a nice heavy thundershower with groupel at about 42 degrees.  To kill the rest of the day, we drove back out to Lamar Valley for wildlife opportunities, along with doing the whole weather-weenie thing of watching the rain-snow line which was hovering around 7,000 feet at the beginning of the drive then lowered to around 6,500 by the time we got back.  Tomorrow looks like another mostly overcast day with a few showers.  Jay and I had planned on hiking Washburn Friday, but that looks like a no-go for sure now with a bunch of snow on the mountain.  We may wake up to an inch or so at Mammoth tomorrow morning.  Jay’s dorm is at 6,500 feet, the town itself is 6,300 or so. 

September 20, 2006

Yellowstone Day 6: Hike to secluded falls

Filed under: Yellowstone Trip 2006 — Mike U @ 7:49 pm

Secluded Osprey Falls of the Gardner River near Bunsen Peak, which is about 5 miles south of Mammoth.I was planning on a cloudy day today, and it pretty much verified as such.  I wanted to get some waterfall photography in with mostly cloudy conditions, so after sleeping in until 7:30 or so (yay!), I left around 9am or so to the Bunsen Peak/Osprey Falls trailhead which is just 5 miles south of where I’m staying with Jay.  This was a looooong hike, a 10-mile out and back hike, 3 miles of which takes you through some horrendously steep switchbacks through a narrow canyon that the Gardner River flows north through.  In this canyon is a ~130 foot waterfall which is really secluded from the rest of what normal tourists might see.  This hike is not hiked by many people, let alone seriously photographed.  It was mainly this last reason I wanted to take this long, strenuous hike.  Once I got down to the canyon floor, I photographed and rested down there for about 30 to 40 minutes.  I headed back up, which is actually easier than going down, given the steepness.  Dark skies were now prevailing as I was hiking out of the canyon as some heavy showers were developing all around.  The most significant shower was pretty large and was developing just northwest of me.  I knew I might get into some rain, so I had all my rain gear with me.  It started raining lightly…and moderately at times…in the last mile and a half or so of my hike.  Everything that was supposed to be dry remained dry, so my rain gear kicks butt :)   It was raining and 43 degrees, and I wasn’t feeling cold at all.  I called it a day and headed back to the dorm after this hike, and then for dinner we headed north to Corwin Springs, which is about 10 miles north of Gardiner.  We ate at this place called the Lighthouse.  An interesting little restaurant with the whole weird lighthouse motif, a little odd for the mountainous area we’re in, but the food was great.  I had shrimp fetuccini.  Yummy.  Anyway, not a whole lot else going on today.  We just looked at the 12z GFS model and it looks like a significant Pacific jet stream slamming into the northwest, so more cloudy or mostly cloudy days are in store with afternoon showers.  More later! 

September 19, 2006

Yellowstone Day 5: Magic of Morning Light

Filed under: Yellowstone Trip 2006 — Mike U @ 8:56 pm

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone in awesome morning light.  Taken at Artist Point.326 images today.  And almost zilch wildlife.  This is actually a really impressive feat, given the fact that for landscape photography, you aren’t usually shooting in rapid-burst mode like wildlife in action (especially birds).  I departed Jay’s dorm at 4:30am to arrive at Artist Point near Canyon.  This is the spot that many of the classic Yellowstone waterfall images come from.  I was hoping for some brilliant morning light and I got it!  Some high, streaming cirrus in the western and southwestern sky added a magnificent backdrop to a magnificent landscape that is the Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River into the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.  I was at this one spot for about one hour from just after 6:00am until around 7:00am.  I was the only photographer here until the very end of my shoot… and this one photographer missed the brilliant pinks of the cirrus.  So while this shot is a shot taken many times before, the sky I had is one that few photographers will get I would think… so I’m pretty excited about that.  After that, I headed south just a bit to catch some incredible backlight landscape stuff with rising mist from the Yellowstone River and Alum Creek… in the north side of the Hayden Valley.  In a few of my shots, I had a small group of geese fly into my landscape scene at just the right time.  Just awesome stuff.  I can’t wait to share these incredible scenes with you all :)   But it’s gonna take awhile to go through all these photos, LOL, and I’m only half way done with the trip.  So anyways, after that, I headed down into the geothermal areas, mainly the Upper Geyser Basin.  Here, the photography was not as superb, but the hot spring pools were vivid in the mostly blue sky… that is until about mid-afternoon.  More clouds were moving in ahead of the next storm system, killing the good light.  I just missed Grand Geyser going off, which is like a 12 hour interval eruption.  I then waited for about an hour for Great Fountain Geyser farther north… reason being there was information from others that this geyser was about to go up, so I stuck it out with some of the geyser fanatics.  Well, as it turned out, apparently the stupid thing blew just before everyone got there, meaning it must have gone up in the first part of the 4-hour window this particular geyser had.  There are a couple of pretty awesome 9-15 hour interval geysers that shoot up to 75 to 200 feet, and the predictibility of them is about (+) or (-) 1 to 2 hours.  Oh well, geyser hunting isn’t the main focus of my trip to Yellowstone anyway, so I’m not dissapointed.  Overall, a very good day.  Tomorrow’s weather looks pretty foul in terms of clouds and showers, so I’ll probably sleep in past 5:00am and skip a sunrise shoot.

September 18, 2006

Day 4 Yellowstone: Yellowstone Lake View from Above & Another Grizzly

Filed under: Yellowstone Trip 2006 — Mike U @ 9:48 pm

Yellowstone Lake view from high up along the Elephant Back trail just northwest of the lake.Today was another all-around good day for photography in Yellowstone.  I woke up at 5:15am to do a sunrise shoot of the higher peaks of the Gallitan Mountains that make up the far northwest corner of the park.  I was really hoping for some sun at sunrise after the several cloudy and foul weather days, and the clouds parted just in time.  On our way back from Canyon yesterday, I scouted a potential sunrise spot, and my choice was a local high spot on the Mammoth-Tower road very close to a self-guided nature trail.  After this shoot, I wanted to go down to Canyon and investigate tomorrow morning’s sunrise shoot:  the classic Yellowstone Canyon landscape with Lower Falls.  Oh by the way, as I’m typing this, we are driving back on Mammoth-Tower road as Jay is successfully dodging the here and there female elk among an assortment of other wildlife (this typing will be uploaded in about an hour!).  Anyway, as I was saying, earlier today, I wanted to study tomorrow morning’s sunrise shot at Canyon, but for some reason the Tower-Canyon road was barracaded over a short distance, thus foiling that plan.  I drove back to Mammoth-Gardiner where I shot Mammoth Hot Springs terraces in the pristine blue skies of late morning.  Around noon, I met back up with Jay and we hiked Elephant Back trail just northwest of Yellowstone Lake.  This 4 mile hike took us up to an amazing nearly panoramic view of the lake with the famous Lake Yellowstone Hotel in view as well.  Using the polarizer filter, the blues of the lake and the sky were just brilliant.  Afterwards, we had a beer at the Lake Yellowstone Hotel then headed off north for more wildlife hopes along the Hayden Valley and the Mount Washburn area.  I apparently just missed a grizzly bear sighting (Jay claims he saw it) on the north part of Hayden Valley, but we were to have another interesting sighting in the Lamar Valley shortly thereafter.  We, along with a bunch of other people, observed a grizzly bear feasting on a kill (probably elk, we guess) about 3/4 mile away.  This valley has great visibility, and I took a few photos of the scene to preserve what we saw.  In my images, you could make out the features of a grizzly, but that’s about it.  We called it a day and ate dinner at the Beartooth restaurant in Cooke City.  More tomorrow!    

September 17, 2006

Day 3 Yellowstone: Taking the plunge in the Gibbon

Filed under: Yellowstone Trip 2006 — Mike U @ 8:31 pm

Gibbon Falls of the Gibbon River photographed from its base during the late-morning hours. Interesting day today.  The day started off with some elk wildlife shots at Mammoth.  The herd led by "Number 6" was right along the highway across the street from the hot spring terraces.  I shot many images of the bull that had a beautiful rack.  Anyway, after that I decided to head to Gibbon Falls and try to photograph these falls from the base.  This required a hike along the banks of the shallow Gibbon River.  The hike ended up being more adventursome than I had hoped.  I slipped and fell as I forded the stream, soaking myself, including my backpack.  The pack I have for all my photography gear is waterproof, and everything inside was dry, thank goodness.  After that slip-up, I continued the rather trecherous hike over some large rocks and fallen timber from the ’88 wildfire to reach my destination.  It was well worth it.  The 85 foot falls were amazing from the base.  As an added bonus, I had a couple of fly fishermen fishing right at the base of the falls providing an interesting composition.  I headed back to Mammoth after that to get into drier clothes and meet up with Jay.  We headed towards the Madison River for more wildlife photography.. elk, elk, and more elk!  And bison :)   We were trying to spot some eagles as well, but none were to be found.  Then for near sunset, we headed back towards Canyon and the Hayden Valley area again to see if we could strike gold like last evening with bear sightings.  No bears today, but the day was rewarding nonetheless.  Tomorrow’s plan is a sunrise mountainscape opportunity if the weather cooperates, then a hike with Jay near Lake Yellowstone.  Oh yeah, and speaking of elk… topped off the day with a fabulous elk burger at the Helen’s Corral drive-in "home of the hateful burger!".  More tomorrow.

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