The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is typically bypassed by most photographers come summer months. There are multiple really good reasons for this such as the hordes of tourists wearing Hawaiian shirts and socks with their sandals, or maybe the folks that dress like they are on an African Safari when all they are doing is getting out of their car to watch Old Faithful. Other reasons that a lot of folks avoid the area are the lack of dramatic subjects. The summer time had been hounded hard photographically and the heat drives many of the animals to higher elevations out of easy reach from roadside wildlife paparazzi tactics. Also, the members of the deer family, i.e elk and moose are still in velvet, the wolves aren’t as obvious and usually not hunting in full packs, and like other species many of the bears have already retreated to the sub-alpine areas for cooler temperatures and better pastures as they follow Spring Time up the mountains.
While the tourists begin to flood the parks ( many vying for this years Darwin Awards by trying to have their pictures taken next to 2000 lbs bull bison that are beginning to go into rut), if photographing people being tossed 25 feet into the air like rag dolls by bison at Old Faithfull is not your thing, you might consider the higher elevations. Taking cue from the wildlife in the area, if you move up in elevation a few thousand feet (being thrown only 25 doesn’t count) you can once again find the lush verdant green vegetation, explosions of wildflowers, and species diversity that makes the lower elevations so good in the Spring. For this reason, and the fact that I actually had a few days off from work in a row, I headed up into the Beartooth Mountains this week.
Driving through the Lamar Valley, out the North East entrance into Silver Gate I headed up the famed Beartooth hwy, what Charles Kuralt once called America’s most beautiful drive. Considering that Charles Kuralt made his living by driving scenic areas and reporting back to the public via his radio addresses – this claim is not to be taken lightly. Primarily I was hoping to get an idea as to how far along the wildflower bloom was up in the alpine areas in the Beartooth range. The massive explosion is typically towards the end of July and though this is mid July I wanted a good excuse to get out of the valley and explore – as if I needed any more of an excuse than just that. The three photographs were taken during this sort of “scouting” trip.
The mirror reflection of the butte in Beartooth Lake was where I camped the first night. Waking up at dawn, this is the sight that I was privileged to. I have to say, I have honestly woken up in uglier places before. The photograph of wildflowers and snow is from above the treeline up in alpine region. This is above the limits of growth for most life. Few species manage to eek out a living in this unforgiving landscape. Marmots, pica’s, and mountain goats – other than a few species of birds this time of year – are about all that you might find in terms of wildlife at this elevation. The wildflowers on the other hand are a different story. One of the unique aspects of such harsh landscapes is that the shorter the growing season, the more explosive the wildflowers seem to be. This is for good reason, there’s only a couple of months for them to do their thing before the snow begins to accumulate again. As you can see, flowers are definitely starting to bloom, but it will probably be another couple of weeks before the area is really going good as it was patchy when I was there.