Flowery setting for fierce wildlife
With the record rains of June and the promise of soaring temperatures next week, it is flower time in Yellowstone. When the conditions are right, the color, variety and abundance of the wild flowers is amazing. The best places to see the bloom are the road from the West Gate to Old Faithful; the meadows as you approach the South Gate; along the west and north shores of Yellowstone Lake; the climb towards Sylvan Pass going east; Dunraven Pass, especially the northeast side; the Tower area; Little America; and the Lamar Valley, all the way to Round Prairie.
Remember to look but don’t pick or touch the flowers. A good close-up attachment on your camera can help get good flower photos. Calm days with diffused light are best, which means a light overcast. A tripod allowing you to get close to the ground is a must.
Occasionally when the bloom is good, you can get a wildlife shot with animals in the flowers. It always seems to enhance the quality of the photo to have some flowers showing. One morning as we started up Dunraven from the Tower side after a night of rain showers, the flowers were bright and glorious. Without warning, a lone wolf walked out of the timber and angled towards the road, staying in view long enough for some quick camera work. It is one of my all-time favorite photos both because of the rarity of seeing a wolf that close to the road and because of the astonishing contrast between a top, lethal predator and the field of flowers he was moseying through. He was wet from the grass and flowers, which only accented his look as a lean and hungry hunter of prey.
There is still lots of bear activity in the Tower area with some groups reporting multiple sightings in one day. Cruise the road from Floating Island Lake to Dunraven Pass and the spur road to the Petrified Tree. With luck you may get a bear in the flowers.
One of the great ways to enjoy the flowers and wildlife in the park is to stay for several nights without the need to go out to the gateway communities. This is best done in grand style by booking some nights at one of the famous landmark lodges in YNP. These are the Old Faithful Inn, the Lake Hotel, the Roosevelt Lodge at Tower and the Mammoth Hotel. All these locations are iconic and historic buildings with grand architecture and history. They all have good restaurants and unique old bars for cocktails and relaxing.
The Lake Hotel has a beautiful, old lounge area that has drink service and hors d’oeuvres in the late afternoon before dinner and an expansive view of Yellowstone Lake. The Old Faithful Inn is known for its vaulted ceiling and log construction, but seems to have more hustle and bustle, no doubt due to the steady reliability of the eruptions at Old Faithful. The Roosevelt Lodge is the most secluded and quiet while the Mammoth Hotel gives you access to the exhibits and displays of YNP Headquarters. These charming establishments are very popular, so make reservations well in advance and be sure to specify that you want to stay in the actual lodge—not one of the satellite cabins.
Photo tip of the week: You don’t have to be a good spotter of wildlife to capture quality animal images. Nor do you have to be good with a spotting scope or binoculars. The best way to find wildlife is to just drive around and look for the bear jams. Often the traffic will be stopped on both sides of the road with nowhere to park so switch off with the drivers in your group and get out and start looking and shooting while your driver keeps moving and comes back to get you after a bit. If possible, park where you can, shoulder your gear and walk to wherever the action is. Always observe the rules about keeping a safe distance from the animals and carry your bear spray. Good shooting and I hope you get that shot of a lifetime.