Travels and Stories

Blue Mist

People in the blue mist, Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone NP, WY, USA

People in the blue mist, Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone

Thermal areas in Yellowstone are often quite colorful. Bacteria form extensive mats in shades of orange, red, yellow, and green, while deep pools become vivid blue, or blue-green.

Viewed from the distance on a sunny day, the steam rising from these pools can look blue, or blue-green, as sunlight hits the water and bounces up into the mist. Sometimes the mist along the edge of a pool turns orange, reflecting the color from one of those bacterial mats.

The grandaddy of these pools is Grand Prismatic Spring. Driving past Grand Prismatic Spring on a sunny day you can see vivid blue and orange mist rising from the pool – an amazing, surreal sight.

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The Swan

Trumpeter swan, Yellowstone NP, WY, USA

Trumpeter Swan, on our first morning in Yellowstone

On our first morning in Yellowstone, as we were driving back to our campsite, Claudia and I spotted a trumpeter swan along the Firehole River. Claudia pulled into a turnout, while I jumped out of the car, grabbed my camera and 100-400mm zoom, and walked back along the river toward the swan. Our friends Charlotte and Gary Gibb soon pulled into the turnout behind Claudia.

I wasn’t sure, at first, how skittish the swan might be, so I approached cautiously. But I needn’t have worried, as it soon became apparent that the swan was completely unafraid of people. It was feeding along the opposite bank of the river, with messy logs and branches behind it. Then it swam right toward me, stopped in the middle of the river (with a perfect dark background behind it), flapped its wings, and settled down to start preening. Claudia, Charlotte, and Gary witnessed this from the turnout and insisted that the swan was performing for me, but I think it was just random coincidence.

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Yellowstone’s Dynamic Landscape

Steaming earth, Yellowstone NP, WY, USA

Steaming earth, Yellowstone National Park

Last spring I did a presentation for Out of Chicago Live called The Dynamic Landscape. It’s a topic I’ve been thinking about for awhile, because I realized that I view the landscape not as something fixed and immutable, but as as a living, breathing, constantly changing organism.

And that view heavily influences my photography. I respond to the changes around me with my feet, my eyes, and my camera as I adapt to light, weather, and other conditions.

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Oregon Badlands

Late-afternoon light, Oregon badlands

Late-afternoon light, Oregon badlands

Claudia and I are in the middle of a long camping trip. We started in Oregon, then moved to Idaho, and for the last ten nights we’ve been in Yellowstone.

One of our stops was in the badlands of eastern Oregon. These badlands encompass a small area, but they’re colorful, and full of beautiful patterns. I love patterns, as you probably know, so I was like a kid in a candy store, finding new compositions everywhere I looked. I used telephoto lenses almost exclusively, picking designs out of the sculpted earth.

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Evenings at the Lake

Sun setting over Mono Lake, CA, USA

Sun setting over Mono Lake, California. Anticipating that sunbeams might appear to the west, I moved to line up the sun with some tufa formations, and captured this scene as the sun broke through a bank of clouds. Five frames, two stops apart, each at 50mm, f/11, and ISO 100, blended with Lightroom’s HDR Merge.

If you’re used to lakes in other parts of the world, Mono Lake might seem like a strange place. The water is salty – two to three times saltier than the ocean. It’s surrounded by sagebrush desert, and instead of trees along the shore you find those otherworldly tufa formations.

You won’t see many people swimming in Mono Lake. You won’t find lifeguards and buoys, windsurfers, or kids splashing in the water playing Marco Polo. Although the very-salty water allows people to float easily, it also leaves a salty and somewhat-soapy alkaline residue on the skin, with no convenient beachside showers available to rinse off in.

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Summer in the High Country

Rainbow and sunset clouds, Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Rainbow and sunset clouds, Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite NP, California. 35mm, 1/2 sec. at f/16, ISO 100.

If I were to make a list of my favorite places on earth, the Yosemite high country would have to be near the top. There’s something about the thin, pine-scented air, intense light, vast expanses of polished granite, and lakes sparkling in the sun…

I’ve spent a lot of time in this area over the last 40 years. I feel like this land is part of me, and me part of it. Some spots are as familiar to me as Yosemite Valley, and yet I’m still finding new places to explore.

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