We just wrapped up a fantastic spring trip to Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park – the workshop was led by Russ Nordstrand, Chris Gheen, and Matt Meisenheimer. This particular workshop was Backcountry Journey’s standard version of Spring Comes to Yellowstone & Grand Teton and it started a day after the hiker version concluded.
Spring is a fantastic time to visit the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Wildlife is abundant, plants and flowers are budding, and dramatic spring weather can make for great landscapes. It seemed like we hit the spring window perfectly. We saw tons of wildlife and clearing storms made for great sunrise/sunset light. So, let’s dive into some of the highlights.
Our trip started with a morning shoot at Oxbow Bend in the Grand Tetons. Oxbow Bend is one of the iconic landscape destinations in the Tetons. The Snake River flows east from Jackson Lake, leaving a perfect view (and reflection) of 12,610 foot Mount Moran in its calm water before winding south. First light hitting Mount Moran is something special and all of us were happy to witness such a beautiful sunrise. We also had our first exciting wildlife encounter. Fellow guide, Chris Gheen, was photographing the sunrise when a thirsty bull elk snuck up behind him. The elk made its way down to the river and displaced all of us on his way. Be sure to check out Chris’s great shot of the elk with the Teton Range in the background. Day 1 also greeted us with some bear sightings as well. While driving the park road, we saw a pile up of cars and immediately saw Grizzly 793 (‘Blondie’) with her two cubs, and she was just feet from the road. The traffic backup made it difficult to park and when we were finally able to find a spot, she had retreated into the woods. We were disappointed, but stay tuned as we’d get our bear fix later in the week.
The next morning we photographed the famous Mormon barns by Antelope Flats in the Tetons. Specifically, we focused on the T.A. Moulton Barn. Although skies were clear, watching the first rays of sun hitting the Teton Range is always remarkable. We then said our goodbyes to the Tetons and headed north to Yellowstone National Park. After a long drive, the first view of Yellowstone Lake was a welcomed sight. The lake is the largest freshwater lake above 7,000ft in North America and stretches on for what seems forever. It also marked our crossing onto the volcanic caldera of Yellowstone.
We took a short break at the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River to see Lower Falls tumble 300 feet over the rhyolite cliffs into the river below. It’s an amazing landscape scene and we reminisced about Thomas Moran standing at the same point 150 years ago painting his classic rendition of the falls from Artist Point. From there, we continued on and headed for West Yellowstone, which would be our base for the next few days. West Yellowstone gave us good access to the Madison River Valley, where numerous bear sightings had been reported the past few days…so we were feeling good about our chances. Sure enough, we ended up seeing a grizzly with a 2-3 year old cub and we also saw a pair of coyotes meandering along the river. Bears are always a highlight, but one standout moment from our days around the Madison River had to be when we encountered a lone coyote hunting in a meadow near Harlequin Lakes. A few group members with a fast shutter finger were able to capture the coyote mid-jump during a ‘mousing’ pounce!
The following morning our focus shifted towards the geothermal areas of Yellowstone. Hot springs, fumaroles, and geysers were on our list. We spent the AM shoot along the Fountain Paint Pot Trail. We were treated to incredible atmosphere, fog and mist were everywhere. The sun eventually rose above the fog and lit everything up, making for dramatic landscape shots of the geothermal basin. We also visited two Yellowstone classics later in the day, Grand Prismatic Spring and Old Faithful. We witnessed Old Faithful erupt and moments later found ourselves in an absolute downpour of rain, perfect timing. The northeast section of the park and Lamar Valley were next on our agenda.
Our most memorable wildlife encounter occurred on our way to the Lamar Valley. We made a quick stop near Tower Junction to try and hunt down a famous black bear known as ‘Rosie’. There were reports she had been roaming the area with her three cubs so we were hopeful. As we approached Rainy Lake and saw the cars backed up, we knew there was a good chance that she was in the area. We caught a glimpse of her and shortly after spotted her three cubs napping in a tree nearby. We spent hours photographing ‘Rosie’ and stuck around long enough to see her cubs awake and head back to Mom. All of us got wonderful bear shots. It was one of those wildlife encounters that you dream of. It was great seeing the cubs play together and eventually link back up with Mom. There was no shortage of photogenic moments. The Tower Junction area would end up being our go-to spot for bears and we headed back the next day too. Black bears were in the area again and we found ourselves surrounded by 7 black bears at one point. The bears were all within a mile radius of each other and we even were able to photograph some ‘friendly’ run-ins between the bears. One bear was napping in a tree, while another bear came by and scrambled up to say hi.
We had great luck searching for wildlife along the Lamar Valley too. There were bison galore and lots of red dogs (newborn bison)! We ran into more coyotes, a grizzly sow and two cubs, pronghorn, elk, bighorn sheep, bald eagles, and had some roadside moose encounters. We even saw some wolves around Slough Creek – granted they were miles and miles away. It’s easy to see why they call Lamar Valley the Serengeti of America. We had a great landscape shoot on our last night in the northeast section of the park as well. Sunset timed up perfectly with a clearing storm and we stopped along Soda Butte Creek for a great view of The Thunderer. Fog rose up from the valley while sunset light hit the peak and the clouds above. It was an amazing night.
And just like that, an unforgettable 8 day trip had gone in a flash. We had a long drive back to Jackson, WY in front of us before our last morning shoot in the Grand Tetons. We arrived to the Tetons earlier than expected and went to Schwabacher’s Landing in hopes of a great sunset. The Tetons were enshrouded in clouds for the entire evening, but we did get a brief rainbow appearance over the hills to the east. We also were able to explore the area around the Landing a bit more and found a great secluded spot that we decided to visit in the morning for our last shoot. When we arrived the next morning, the Tetons were still hidden by clouds, but as time ticked closer to sunrise, more and more clouds wisped away revealing the majestic range. Then, first light hit, the clouds lit up and the peaks of the Teton glowed with golden light. It was a fitting end to an action-packed week of wildlife and landscapes in two of the best parks in the United States. Happy with our shots, we drove back to Jackson and said our goodbyes. It was bittersweet, as we all wished our adventure could continue, but we were all happy with the photographs that we were fortunate to capture across the 8-day trip.
Unless otherwise noted all images by Matt Meisenheimer
Matt Meisenheimer is a photographer based in Wisconsin. His artistry revolves around finding unique compositions and exploring locations that few have seen. He strives to capture those brief moments of dramatic light and weather, which make our grand landscapes so special. Matt loves the process of photography – from planning trips and scouting locations, taking the shot in-field, to post-processing the final image.
Matt is an active adventurer and wildlife enthusiast as well. He graduated with a degree in wildlife ecology and worked in Denali National Park and Mount Rainier National Park as a biologist. He also spent 6 months working in the deserts of Namibia before finding his path in photography. Matt’s passion for the wilderness has taken him to many beautiful places around the world.
As a former university teaching assistant, Matt is passionate about instruction. It is his goal to give his students the technical and creative knowledge they need to achieve their own photographic vision. He truly enjoys working with photographers on a personal level and helping them reach their goals.
You can see Matt’s work and portfolio on his webpage at www.meisphotography.com