Yellowstone in Winter 2015 Trip Report

By Jeff Vanuga on Feb 04, 2015

Yellowstone National Park is home to half of the world’s total thermal features—geysers, hot springs, steam vents, fumaroles and mudpots—and there is no better place in the world to view these wonderfully preserved hot spots. In winter, when the pristine snows and cold temperatures meet the hot, moist air and explosive steam of thermal features they create some wonderful atmospherics and a new dimension is added to an already magical landscape. Wherever the warm air from geysers hit something cold, like trees and animals, they form rime and other ice phenomena that are seen nowhere else on the planet.

In January I led two 1-week back-to-back tours in Yellowstone. Our itinerary has not deviated much over the last several years and we had a great mix of photographic opportunities. The park is such a rich environment for the winter landscape photographer. We visit all the major geyser basins and, if Mother Nature rewards us with cold and sunny days, the winter landscape opportunities with geysers and geothermal features are unlimited.

We spent plenty of time driving to and from our destinations in our private snowcoaches photographing the local fauna—bison, elk, deer, bighorn sheep, coyotes and wolves. A special treat this year was a bobcat. We looked for this particular bobcat during Week 1 with little success, but the Week 2 group scored big time! From a snowcoach one of our participants spotted the bobcat sitting on some logs under a rock along one of the major rivers in the park. This was an amazing feat due to cryptic coloration and how well the cat blended in with the local rocks and deadfall. Some participants were still unable to spot the cat when directed to the exact location where it was lying in wait! Patience paid off for us as the bobcat came out from hiding and started hunting along the river, oblivious to our presence. It was a unique photographic experience with a very elusive species. Many people never see a bobcat in their lifetime—and we had the rare opportunity to observe and photograph this cat in the wild. What a treat!

Our schedule allows us many days of photography from snowcoaches. This year, however, we were part of a test run of snowcoaches with large flotation tires similar to the ones used in Iceland to drive over glaciers. The ride was extremely smooth and quiet compared with the traditional tracked vehicles which are popular at the moment. Our coaches were the only ones to have this experimental technology and it is still under review by the National Park Service. If this technology works they will be replacing all the vehicles with tracks to those with large flotation tires in the future. From where I sat and comments from our clients it looks like a win-win situation.

We had seven wonderful days exploring the park’s geyser basins and geothermal areas, including Upper, Middle and Lower Geyser Basins, Biscuit Basin, Black Sand Basin, Norris Basin and the Mammoth terraces, plus two days of walking around Old Faithful and the surrounding geyser basin. Rime ice coated ghost trees and hoar frost covered landscapes to create some amazing winter photo opportunities among Yellowstone’s more than 10,000 thermal features. Our last day of the week was spent looking for wolves and other wildlife in the Lamar Valley.

So, don’t take my word for it that Yellowstone National Park is a magical place in winter. Since photographers tend to be visual by nature, check out the link for the slideshow from this year’s fantastic adventures in Yellowstone. I hope to see some of you back again next year and some new faces in the group!