If you’re anything like me, you take a lot of pictures when you’re travelling. And when I say “a lot,” I mean thousands of shots, a virtual flip book of frozen moments. This comes in really handy when you’re trying to piece together where you went and exactly when you went there. Even if you’re using a film camera instead of a digital camera, which can tell you the exact minute each picture was taken, at least you have a sequence of photographs taken.
I bring this up because I’ve been conducting my own forensic investigation of filename numbers and image-capture times, the official Yellowstone National Park Map, and Flickr, which I’ve been using to try and figure out the name of each waterfall, hot spring, pot, and geyser I shot. In the rare event that Flickr can’t help me, I use Wikipedia. When that fails, I keep searching on Google until I find it.
You might be thinking what a waste of time it is to try and impose order on these silly pictures. And you might be right. But I have this crazy need to establish a strong sense of place and time. For me, the very act of assembling all of this information is necessary to faithfully chronicle such a magnificent experience. Plus, what if you see a geyser here that touches you unexpectedly and you feel the need to add it to your bucket list? Wouldn’t it be helpful to know where to find it? Trust me, I’ll be carrying a pen and little notebook next time I’m taking pictures on a trip.
You see, we spent at least 12 hours per day either in our vehicle or out hiking for four full days, visiting hundreds of spectacular sights, and all of those bits of memory start to bleed together after a month. Did I take that buffalo-in-the-canyon photo the same frozen morning we went to Fountain Paint Pot? I thought so until I went back and checked out the capture times. The buffalo shot happened on day three.
I was not blessed with a great memory. Instead, I was burdened with the unfortunate cognitive phenomenon of delusional certainty, in which I reorganize events in my head after the fact and am 100% positive that the reassembled order as I misremember it is correct. In other words, I am an unreliable narrator. Contrast this with my wife, whose mind works like a surveillance camera, continually scanning and saving, scanning and saving. She knows where my keys are, where I left my wallet, and exactly when I took the buffalo-in-the-canyon photo.
Enough of where my memory has failed me. Read on for a few of the pieces I do remember clearly from day two of our Yellowstone trip.
Morning, October 4, 2010
From the dilapidated Days Inn parking lot in West Yellowstone, Montana, the amethyst predawn glow in the eastern sky brought with it a profound sense of promise. With a full tank of gas and large coffees in hand, we headed toward the growing light, along mist-laden Madison River.
When you see a group of vehicles pulled over to the roadside in Yellowstone (and, I assume, in most other parks), it usually means one thing: wildlife. Our first stop in the park that Monday morning was to join a few other photographers admiring a group of elk wading in the Madison River, curls of mist rising around them. Spread out behind them was the first blush of sunrise. The scene is depicted in one of the masthead images above.
After very nearly hitting a rhinoceros-sized elk with our rental at Madison Junction, we decided to head south, back toward several areas of the geyser basins we had skipped the day before. Along the way, we took Firehole Canyon Drive, which runs next to Firehole River and along majestic Firehole Falls. It was still very early, so the road was all ours. I photographed the falls until my freezing fingers couldn’t take it anymore.
Certain moments get their very own dot along the timeline of your life. One of my latest dots sits right on October 4, 2010, and is labeled as follows: Descent Into the Lower Geyser Basin From the North, Frozen Morning Air Meets Sulfurous Steam, Teri and I Take Pictures. It’s a long title, I know, but nothing shorter sums it up better.
It was like magic when we first came upon the icy valley cradling the Lower Geyser Basin. Steam billowed from every spring and every pot and every fumarole, even tiny ones along the road that are invisible when the air is warmer. Collectively, all that steam settled as a thick veil of mist on the valley floor, obscuring trees and distant bluffs (shown in a couple of other masthead images above). Visible above the mist were high outlying ridges illuminated by the morning sun.
Fountain Paint Pot was amazing, not so much because of what we could see, but because of what we couldn’t. The steam was blinding. At times, the only thing we could see was the walkway beneath us. Nearby, a lot of spraying, boiling, and hissing was going on. Several times, I had to shield my camera from tiny droplets raining down on us from what I assumed was a spouting geyser. It was otherworldly. It was also one of the only times during the whole trip that Teri was telling me where to point the camera, and I gladly obliged.
We spent the rest of the morning heading north through other geyser basins, and the heavy fog gradually receded as the air temperature rose. Norris Geyser Basin was another highlight along the way. You can see a few of the shots I took there below.
I’ll recap the rest of day two in my next post.