Due to some work and travel commitments, I missed fall colors before they peaked in California, and I arrived in Montana just a little bit too late to see the deciduous trees in all their golden glory. Sigh. What to do? Head over to Yellowstone National Park, natch! Earlier this week I caught the last hints of autumn from Lamar Valley to the Lower Geyser Basin, and seeing as the overnight lows are now dipping into the teens, it's safe to say winter is well on its way.
Despite the frigid mornings and windy evenings, I'm all about visiting the park during the low season. There are still a decent amount of animals on the move, and there aren't crowds at most of the major tourist spots, like Grand Prismatic or Old Faithful. If you're lucky, you'll get a dusting of snow in some places -- yet the major roads remain open. Aside from needing gloves and a warm jacket, what's not to love about that?! The town of West Yellowstone is about an hour away from most of the westside vistas, and though it's a bit quiet right now, there are a handful of hotels and restaurants that are open year-round. I stayed and the charming and cozy Three Bear Lodge for a few nights, and with a nearly 8am sunrise time, getting out of bed and into the park was a piece of cake. Of course, I did sleep in one morning -- and I enjoyed a delicious plate of brioche French toast down the street at Euro Cafe, which is also open 7 days a week all year long, and worth a visit no matter when you're visiting.
I shot a decent amount of photos and videos (mostly iPhone clips of bison doing weird things and geothermal steam getting blown in my face at 20mph), but I did snap two pictures that perfectly capture everything I was hoping to experience here. The image above is a spot I had previously seen online, and it's one that I've gone back to numerous times. How could such a scene be real? It seemed so inviting, yet so dark. A friend pointed me in the right direction re: the location, and when I first saw the cluster of trees around the curvy creek, I did a double take. It was such a small patch of land, yet it seemed to go on forever. I felt like I was looking through an extreme wide angle lens or a distorted window, and when the wind picked up, the layers of dead trees behind me creaked and groaned in a way that seemingly made them come to life. It was eerie, beautiful and I know I'll stand here again someday with the same sense of wonder. When real life is just as enchanting as a photo you've looked at dozens of times, that's a pretty special thing. This doesn't happen all that often, so these moments are ones I really enjoy hanging onto.
As far as wildlife, I saw bison, elk, bighorn sheep, coyotes and a lone swan, and though I didn't see any bears or wolves, I did bump into the wolf tracking team this morning in Lamar Valley, and they had a solid signal on one of the packs. I imagine if I had spent several days in that area I would have seen even more, and if you're patient and observant, you will always be rewarded. I joked with some friends that I was on the hunt for some magically lit bison, and sure enough, a 5:30am wakeup for a trip to the northern side of the park was well worth it: