Yellowstone in Autumn is a remarkably special place. The seasons are changing and winter is fast approaching. Wildlife is on the move, anxiously awaiting the arrival of colder temperatures and heavy snow. Bears are stocking up for their long winter nap, while the elk compete for mates. Wolves are looking for the weak members of the animal kingdom, hoping to catch an easy meal as temperatures drop. And Backcountry Journeys is in town to show groups of eager photographers the best of what Northern Wyoming has to offer as they come from all over the world in hopes of capturing some of the action.
Our Tetons and Yellowstone in Autumn tour is in place to showcase the world’s first national park during the height of the fall activity. Leaves were changing colors, wildlife was plentiful and very active, and the beginnings of the long winter season meant dynamic cloud activity and plenty of interesting weather.
Our trip began in the still very wild western town of Jackson, Wyoming. Our first morning was the only day of the trip with a cloudless sky, as we shot a beautiful reflection of the Teton range with the Grand Teton dominating the skyline. After a morning searching for wildlife and fall color, we watched the sun set from one of the most classic shots of the park, made famous by Ansel Adams himself, the Snake River Overlook. We were blessed with a beautiful array of color and texture as the outer reaches of a cold front began to make its way into the Teton Valley. The following morning, our luck continued as the same weather system had only just started to envelop the mountains on the northern part of the range as we shot from the iconic Oxbow Bend. The leaves on the aspen trees across from Oxbow Bend were a brilliantly bright yellow and everyone walked away with photos they were proud of.
As we made our way north into Yellowstone National Park, the winter weather began to settle in and gave us a taste of what was to come later in the week as we drove through heavy snowfall to get to Old Faithful. Our ever positive group made the best of the weather and captured the Old Faithful geyser in between snow flurries and the frigid gusts of winter forcing its way into the park.
The next few days would be spent shooting the famous geothermal features and wildlife of Yellowstone. We captured mud pots bubbling with high frame rates, and shot panoramas in Norris Geyser Basin. We photographed wildlife in Lamar Valley and watched the sun rise and set in the park while listening to elk bugling and coyotes howling. Things were shaping up to be a fantastically smooth week for some happy photographers.
On our last day in Yellowstone, we had planned to go through the park and shoot Old Faithful under hopefully better light, so we would venture south toward the most famous feature in our National Park system en route back to Jackson. We awoke to near white out conditions in the northern portion of the park, and hoped that by heading south the weather would let up. Halfway to Old Faithful we encountered a road block, and a ranger telling people to turn around. The heavy snow and wind that had set in that morning had forced a reported 40 cars off the road between Norris and Madison Junctions and we would not be able to drive any further through the park with the Canyon road also closed. Our entire day was then spent driving from Norris to our lodging in Jackson, 7 hours away. This was truly a time when I was glad to work for Backcountry Journeys, as our guests are always so understanding and flexible, and were great sports about the difficult driving conditions.
We shared our last meal together at the famous Million Dollar Cowboy Bar in Jackson Wyoming and went to bed early so as to get up in time for our final shot, one of the most famous of the American West. We awoke to partly cloudy skies to the east and fresh snow on the Tetons to our west. We made our way to the T.A. Moulton Barn and set up a classic panorama shot, recounting the lessons we had learned over the previous 6 days. The light came and went, and so did our time together. After dropping everyone off at the hotel, we said our goodbyes and all went our separate ways with some really fantastic photos to remind us of our time in Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons.
Chris grew up exploring the mountains of North Carolina, originally with his family on weekend camping trips and later as a self taught rock climber and backpacker, leading him ultimately to a degree in Recreation Management from Appalachian State University with a focus in Outdoor Experiential Education. Immediately after graduating, Chris drove west, knowing the mountains and opportunities for adventure were much bigger. Since then, he has worked in a variety of guiding applications, from small leadership non-profits, to adolescent wilderness therapy, to commercial hiking and tourism guiding in California, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming and Montana, always with a camera in hand. Chris loves teaching and sharing his passions and experience with others and is sure to provide careful insight and education whenever the opportunity arises. Chris currently resides in Bozeman, Montana where easy access to Yellowstone National Park allows him frequent trips into the park to photograph wildlife and the unique geologic features of the area. When not behind the lens, he spends his time backcountry skiing, ice climbing, and mountain biking, always on the lookout for a new unique perspective to photograph. The mountains have always been a point of inspiration for Chris and he is excited to capture the beauty of the natural world in an effort to share the space he is so privileged to work in with those around him. For a look at some of Chris’ work, visit his website www.chrisgheenphoto.com