Yellowstone Road Trip: Vicki & Anna (part 1)

Here are some pictures of my two favorite girls during our road trip. Part one covers the first few days as we were driving to Yellowstone, and part two will cover the pictures of them at the park.

The second leg our our journey (after Mall of America – sorry, no pics), took us to Mount Rushmore in South Dakota.  I had never been there before, so it was a new experience for me.  I definitely enjoyed it, and walking around learning about how it was constructed was pretty cool.

The entrance has pillars and flags for very state, so we had to get a picture by the Michigan one.

Getting a pic from the observation deck was a requirement. The key is to get there early, by the time we left a couple hours later, there were TONS of people around and it becomes much harder to get “clean” pictures.  Of course, that could be said of every place at Yellowstone too.  One thing that worked in our favor was basically staying on Eastern time.  We’d be two hours earlier than many people without even trying.

This one is from our quick hike around monument area.

I really like this one from our night in the cabin we stayed at near Mount Rushmore.

Next up was Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming.  I really enjoyed checking the tower out, as it has been on my bucket list for a long time.  It was famously used as an alien landing pad in the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It is well worth the effort to take the fairly easy hike around the tower to see everything up close.

We even saw a couple climbing it!!  That picture was taken with a 300mm f2.8 lens with a 2x teleconverter for an effective 600mm focal length.  They were a LONG way away!


These next two were taken around the back side of the tower during the hike.

Here is Anna trying to entice a prairie dog to come a little closer with a piece of grass.  It’s not food, don’t worry.  No feeding the animals!!  In a future post, I’ll have one dedicated to all the cool wildlife I was able to get good pictures of, and we’ll see these guys in more detail.

The final picture for this post is from one of the many side-of-the-road stopping points.  According to the sign, it’s part of the Bighorn National Forest.

Be sure to check out part two for our dynamic duo in Yellowstone!

Yellowstone Road Trip: Top Landscapes (part 2)

These are some of my favorite pictures from the entire trip.  The hot springs and thermal features of Yellowstone are incredible.

The most famous geyser of all, Old Faithful.  This particular shot was one of about 150 I took of a single eruption sequence.  I thought this one best captured the peak point of the eruption, and had a lot of nice detail in the water and steam.

If you hiked the marked trail/decking at Old Faithful, and then continued on, you will come upon this next scene.  I really like this picture as it shows the full range of colors in the park.  The number of people here, compared to around Old Faithful itself, was drastically reduced.  As soon as any amount of effort was required to go somewhere, the herd was thinned.  That was nice.

Just a bit further up the hiking trail, you come to this incredible hot spring.  It would have been nicer to be able to get this from a slightly higher angle, but unfortunately, there were no ladders around.

Hiking quite a bit further up the trail was this amazing scene.  It is one of my all time favorite pictures from the trip.  The picture, while pretty impressive, doesn’t do the actual scene complete justice.

The previous pictures were all in the Old Faithful general area of Yellowstone. That day, we hiked over 12 miles!  It was quite tiring, but it was very much worthwhile.

The next set of pictures come from the Mammoth Hot Springs area.  If you recall from the map in part 1, it’s in the upper west area of the park.  These next few pictures might be the most “other-worldly” of all.

This does not look like planet Earth!

In a slightly different area of Mammoth Hot Springs, there is mixed scenery like this next picture. Milky light blue, along with pine forest.  Very cool!

Next up is what is probably the second most famous thing at Yellowstone, the Grand Prismatic Spring. The best pictures of this hot spring come from much higher elevations, so you can see the entire thing at once, but my only access that day was from along its “shore”. This picture represents between a third and a half of the entire spring.

What is really neat, is that this next picture really does belong directly below.  It is the runoff from the Grand Prismatic Spring.  According to Wikipedia, this spring discharges about 560 gallons of 160 deg F water per minute!

Yellowstone Road Trip: Top Landscapes (part 1)

Now we get into some of the cool landscapes.  This post focuses on the non-hot-springs areas and part 2 will explore the rest.

This is a nice map of Yellowstone. It shows the major hubs of the park around two loops.  Our hotel was just off Yellowstone Lake in the lower right side in Lake Village.

The primary thermal/hot springs areas are around Old Faithful in the lower left corner and the Mammoth Hot Springs in the upper left.

Something to note, while the distances between these areas aren’t too great, it can sometimes take a long time to drive.  For example, the distance between Lake Village and Canyon Village is only about 16 miles, but it can easily take 45 min or more to make that trip. Especially if you have to stop for a herd of buffalo in your path!  Those guys get the right of way, and can do what they want, when they want.

This is was of the first pictures I took after arriving on the first day.  This is Yellowstone Lake, and was only a couple hundred yards from our hotel.  Anna and I explored this beach almost as soon as we got there. You had to climb down a sandy berm to get here, which means there was pretty much nobody else around.  It was awesome. That was a general theme, if you get off the beaten path a bit, you can be very isolated.  If you only pull your car over and barely get out, you will run into big crowds depending on the time of day.

One of the best things I did, in retrospect, was to sign up for a photography tour.  There were a group of about 10 of us being led around by a guide, in a really cool, old, bus.

I took over 2600 pictures during our entire vacation, and I eventually printed 22 of them at 20×30 inches to mount on our walls throughout the house.  Of those 22, five of them were from this half day photo tour!

The next five pictures are those from that tour.  The first picture was taken right at sunrise overlooking Fishing Bridge, and I really like it.  So much so, I made it the front page picture of this website!  I think the cloud ring around the sun is really cool.

The next picture is overlooking Yellowstone Lake.  It was breathtakingly calm and beautiful.  Yellowstone is at about 8000 ft elevation, so the air is cool and clear. It also takes a bit of time to adapt to the thinner air during hiking.

This is a small inland lake.  I really love the clouds reflecting on the surface and the lone duck creating a perfect wake.

These next two are from the Canyon Village area and are considered to be the “Grand Canyon” of Yellowstone.

What is neat is that they are taken from pretty much the exact same spot.  From one direction is the falls, and if you turn around, you’ll see the valley on the right.

I don’t remember exactly where the next two are from, but one of the many smaller, side falls and rivers.

Be sure to check out part 2 to see the thermal and hot springs landscapes.

Yellowstone Road Trip: Night

One of the really neat things about Yellowstone National Park is that besides all the incredible landscapes and wildlife, it is really dark at night.  Like REALLY dark.

Here is a light pollution map of the United States.  As you can see, there are very few spots left that have little light pollution.  Yellowstone is one of those places.  It’s in the black area in the northwest corner of Wyoming.

So, why does that matter?  If you want to take any kind of deep sky astrophotography, you typically are taking long exposure, high ISO, pictures of the night sky.  This is true if you are shooting through a telescope to get nebula, galaxies, etc. or if you just want to get a cool wide-angle shot of the Milky Way.

Now, I didn’t really have all the proper equipment for astrophotography.  It helps to have some of the lenses specifically suited for the task and more importantly, to have a polar motion compensation tripod head.  That is a device that you can mount your camera to, and it moves to compensate for the Earth’s rotation.  That allows you to take very long exposures without getting “star trails”. Because the Earth is spinning fairly fast, if you take exposures of the stars, even around 30 seconds, you’ll start to see that movement in the stars smearing.  There isn’t much you can do to compensate for that except take shorter exposures and stack them digitally after the fact, but it’s better to get the proper equipment to really account for the movement.

Given all that, I still wanted to see if I could get a picture of the Milky Way. It turns out that the days we were there, there was a major light source that I couldn’t eliminate… the Moon!!  D’oh!  It was nearly a full moon too.  I still took some shots to see what would happen and the best processed result is below:

Canon 1DX Mark II, 24-70mm f2.8 II lens @ 24mm, f2.8, ISO-3200, 30 sec

Considering all the disadvantages, I’m pretty happy with the result.  You can at least see that it’s the Milky Way!  The whole clouding in the right side and right lower area is from the Moon.

The Moon was my enemy that night, but on the plus side, I did get this pretty nice shot of the trouble maker reflecting on Yellowstone Lake.

Canon 1DX Mark II, 24-70mm f2.8 II lens @ 33 mm, f2.8, ISO-12800, 1/10 sec

Yellowstone Road Trip: Intro

Hi everyone, this is my first official blog post!!

I’ve shared some of our Yellowstone pictures on Facebook, but not some of the best landscape ones.  Our two week road trip took us to Mount Rushmore, Devil’s Tower, and a full week exploring Yellowstone National Park, and a quick visit to Grand Teton National Park.  It was an incredible trip and I can definitely recommend it to others, especially if you have any interest in photography.  Of course, there were a million selfie-taking tourists there as expected, but there were also plenty of serious photographers taking advantage of some of the best landscape in the world!

Ann Arbor, MI to Yellowstone is about 1600 miles.  We decided to break that up into 3 roughly equal driving days.  Vicki and Anna convinced me that our first stop should be the Mall of America in Bloomington, MN.   It would only be about 20-30 miles out of our direct way, and it was almost the perfect distance away for the first leg of our journey.  It was a pretty impressive sight to see so many stores in one place, and many unique stores that I’d never seen, but for the most part, I was glad to get this part of the trip behind us.  The various Lego stores in that mall were definitely the highlight for me.  No real good pictures to share from this first day but think about a ridiculous giant mall, and everything that goes with it, and you’ll get the idea.

The second leg of our journey put us just outside Mount Rushmore.  We stayed in a small cabin, one of about 10 or so.

This is a good time to mention that our trip timing happened to coincide with the massive Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in which hundreds of thousands of bikers descend on Sturgis, South Dakota.  We had zero issues involving them, but I can attest that Harleys are loud, especially thousands of them riding together. It was actually very cool to see and experience throughout our trip.

Mount Rushmore itself was pretty interesting.  We particularly liked the hike around the monument and all the history related displays showing how it was constructed.

It is definitely something that can be fully explored in a couple hours though, so there is no need to schedule too much time for this.  I had heard that the most impressive thing is when they light it up every night, but our schedule was tight and we didn’t want to stick around until evening.

We were off to Devils Tower!  Devils Tower is a National Monument in northeast Wyoming, not too far from Rapid City, SD.  The movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind made this monument really famous.  I made sure Anna had seen it before this trip!

We didn’t see any alien ships, but we hiked around the entire monument and really enjoyed exploring here. We even saw two people climbing it!

The next day, we finally arrived at Yellowstone.

We stayed at the Lake Yellowstone Hotel.  It was very nice, and also very expensive.  We booked about six months in advance, and we should have booked 9+ months in advance to be able to get a larger and cheaper room.  Live and learn.  I would say, if you are going to visit Yellowstone, definitely try to nail down your lodging ASAP, and a year early is not crazy.

There will be many more pictures to share in subsequent posts, but here is a quick feel for what Yellowstone is all about.  The scenery is other-worldly at times!

On our final day, we drove about 10 miles south and visited Grand Teton National Park.  We only spent a single day here so our exploring was limited, but the scenery here is also incredible.  Here is a taste of what that park has to offer.

That is a quick introduction to our 2016 road trip to Yellowstone.  I plan on creating several posts dedicated to various landscapes, wildlife, and family pictures.

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