Yellowstone Winter Photography Tour 2011

Posted Feb. 13th, 2011 by Daniel J. Cox

Gray wolf in Yellowstone National Park

Our Yellowstone Winter Photography tour is now history. What a fabulous season of world class photo opportunities in one of my favorite places on earth, Yellowstone National Park. Tanya and I hosted 28 guests in all with some coming from as far away as Spain. Many were old friends and it’s always a exciting to catch up and reconnect, sharing the passion of travel and capturing images of nature.

Winter has been very cooperative this year, not just in Yellowstone but all around the US. Our two separate Yellowstone Winter Tours started off with several folks from the east coast having issues flying in to our base of Bozeman, Montana. With a little creative scheduling on Tanya’s part we managed to get everybody down to West Yellowstone. The drive from Bozeman to the park by way of Gallatin Canyon is truly one of the most spectacular journeys you can take. It’s a great introduction to the grandeur and scenery of what lies ahead; not to mention the potential opportunities of seeing big horn sheep, maybe a coyote and often times elk and moose.

Our lodging in West Yellowstone is the best you can find and not so long ago was purchased by the Holiday Inn. A remodel to the facility began last year which started with the entryway. Additional improvements to the rooms are scheduled for next season. It’s a comfortable spot to base our winter tours from with cozy rooms, a very good restaurant, a mammoth bar and great facilities for classroom work when needed.


See more of Dan’s photos of the Yellowstone Winter Photography Tour 2011

Dan checks the thermometer the west entrance of the park

This season on the last day of our first trip we hit temperatures just short of -40F below zero. Perfect! That’s the way winter should be in Montana and the way it had been throughout the decades prior to the turn of the new century. That’s not to say it stayed that way. The next morning was at least as equally frigid but the coming days warmed to a more comfortable +10-+20’s. Getting excited about such extreme temps on the low end may seem strange to some but to photographers in Yellowstone it’s pure magic.

On that morning of -40F our main goal was to find bison. Searching for these massive, prehistoric looking beasts thankfully isn’t difficult. In the winter the rivers are one of their main avenues of finding the nourishment they need to survive. The warmth of the geyser fed streams often melts the snow along the banks. Less snow makes it easier to feed, the steam from the heated water boils out into the air, freezing in a blanket of frosty crystals to the outer hairs of their impressive, dark brown hide. Frosty bison with clouds of steam offer impressive opportunities for capturing, etherial, mood evoking images.

Bobcat of Seven Mile Bridge

The bison were the bread and butter for this years guests but the highlight for me was finally getting a chance to photograph the Bobcat of  Seven Mile Bridge (AKA Vapor Cat). Naming animals isn’t usually what I do but it was all I had to describe it. For the last three winters the closest I’ve come to making its acquaintance was comments along the line of,  “you should have been there” stories. Since 2008 my eyes were glued to the far banks of the Madison river each time we passed the area it was known to frequent. I saw feathers from swans it had caught,  tracks along the river bank, sitting beds of snow melted by its body waiting for prey, but never the actual feline.  Finally, 2011’s Winter Photography Tour paid off. It’s the first bobcat I’ve ever photographed in the wild and it was an exhilarating experience to put it mildly.

All through the week we found one subject after another. Often times in places least expected. When people sign up for our Yellowstone Winter Tours the most often asked question is whether we’ll see wolves. My reply is tempered with reality which includes the comment, “we might”.  We never promise wolves to anyone who contacts us, though admittedly our Yellowstone Winter Tour 2010 video does include an amazing chunk of footage that showcases three Canis lupus pack members trying their best to capture a young elk–the elk survived! Wolves are just too unpredictable to make any predictions. This year however, once again we got lucky and on the third day of our first Yellowstone Tour we got our chance to see the most requested animal in the park–wolves.

A lone wolf in Hayden Valley

It was around 11:00am and we were on our way down to the Artists Point lookout on the The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. There in the middle of the road walking toward us was a beautiful, light gray, full grown wolf. One of our very excited guests literally shrieked with delight and I had to remind everybody that any noise was most likely going to make it run.  Unfortunately, the best photos were only possible through the front windshield of our Ford Van. We calmly watched as the wolf came within twenty feet of our snow coach, sniffed the air, then turned back up the road, sauntering off in a slow lope over the roads bank of plowed snow, then off into the timber.  I calmly explained to everybody that we may see others if we silently exit the coach and walk discreetly towards the opening in the trees that gave us a view of the large expansive meadow that extended out over a half a mile.  There on the top of that hill was another black wolf. It walked over the crest and out of sight and just as it did another appeared from the timber behind. We saw three in all though even with large lenses they were mostly just wolf dots.   Even so I heard not one complaint. People were mesmerized.

Bald eagle in snow covered pines

Every year in Yellowstone offers different opportunities. Last year we had the pack of wolves hunting the young elk. 2011 gave us one of the most elusive animals in north America, the bobcat. Three years ago we photographed a pine martin during our coffee break at Madison Junction. Every winter we have the dependable geysers– Old Faithful is the star, gushing steam vents,  ghost trees, families of swans enveloped by steam from the Madison and Firehole rivers. All in all Yellowstone National Park is like no other place on the planet, especially in the winter. It was another very successful Yellowstone Winter Photography Tour season and if you have an interest in seeing a one of kind, world class destination, we’re here to help you make it happen.

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