Yellowstone, Idaho, and Oregon Coast Trip
July 24 to August 9, 2014
I did a very thorough job of photographing Yellowstone National Park back in June 2000, my first year using a digital camera for panoramas. Unfortunately, those panoramas just don't meet my standards any more - resolution is marginal, the color is never quite right, and the vertical field of view is limited (the geometry is cylindrical rather than spherical).
I set out to re-photograph this northwest corner of Wyoming last summer, early July 2013, and got as far as the Grand Tetons, but then stupidly ventured into Yellowstone on the 4th of July weekend. It was so mobbed I couldn't camp, or park, or even pull over at any of the viewpoints. So I moved on, to the Dakotas and Saskatchewan.
I did better this year. The campgrounds were full but I camped just outside the park each night, only a minor inconvenience. There was rain almost every afternoon, and one entire day, but that is to be expected in the Rockies. On the way to Yellowstone I revisited southeast Idaho, and on the way back crossed northern Idaho. At the end of the trip I enjoyed some beautiful weather on the Oregon coast.
The Yellowstone panoramas on my website are now a mix of old and new, the difference painfully obvious to me. Maybe next year I will swing by and update a few more.
(Click any picture to open a larger version.)
This trip started with a leisurely afternoon drive across the Sierra to the Pyramid Lake Indian Reservation, just north of Reno.
I took my time getting out of camp in the morning, cruised across Nevada on I-80 as far as Wells, then north to Jackpot at the Idaho state line.
As I travel I am aware of all those who have gone before me, of their routes and their landmarks. This subtle token of the Lincoln Highway, the first to stretch all the way across the country, is typical.
Another relaxed day, I used the interstates to get to Pocatello in the southeast corner of Idaho, then explored around a bit on back roads. I was heading for Soda Springs but did not quite make it before dark.
More back roads brought me up the Bear River Valley to Soda Springs. An interesting area, historically and geologically, which I first documented with panoramas fourteen years ago. Good weather and a relaxed schedule allowed me to update them.
The carbonated springs and rich pastures at Soda Springs were a popular rest stop on the Oregon Trail. This geyser was accidentally man-made in the 1920's while drilling for hot spring water. It erupts every hour, on the hour, and has built a large travertine terrace.
There is a great distant view of the west side of the Teton Range from the Teton Basin in Idaho, and I discovered that there was a road leading up the ridge to a ski resort. Unfortunately only the ski lifts crest the ridge and afford a view to the east. Clouds were building rapidly, so I put Grand Targhee on my list to come back to another day, and camped in the valley below.
Upper Mesa Falls is a spectacular waterfall on the Henrys Fork of the Snake River. The sky was overcast, so no rainbows, and by early afternoon there was thunder and hints of rain.
I hurried to the park entrance at West Yellowstone only to find that there was no hope for camping in the national park.
I went back into town and stocked up on groceries, then made an early camp at the Forest Service campground north of town. I was positioning myself for an early start into the park the next day, but it rained from mid-afternoon until late at night, and again most of the next day, so I just stayed put for a second night.
My first stop in Yellowstone was the Middle Geyser Basin, and it was not a good beginning.
There was smoke from distant wildfires in the air and the light had a funny orange cast to it, which annoyed me. But once I started shooting I began to enjoy it, not so much the natural wonders as the human spectacle of this world famous destination.
The challenge here, and almost everywhere in Yellowstone over the next three days, was how to cope with the constantly moving people all around me, individuals and groups, slow seniors and hyperactive kids, stopping for selfies or to photograph each other in front of the famous sights. I had to capture six shots around in a circle that would neither repeat people, nor capture only parts of them. I got pretty good at it, and with lots of duplicate shots and careful masking in the stitching phase, I think my panoramas convey the reality of summer crowds in Yellowstone pretty well.
Camping in Yellowstone was out of the question, but the previous year a ranger had tipped me to this tiny campground just off the Rockefeller Parkway - not well signed, up an unpaved road, and with conspicuous grizzly bear warnings.
I re-entered Yellowstone from the south, so the first major attraction I reached was West Thumb Geyser Basin. From there I circled the west side of the lake up to the Yellowstone Lake Hotel and Fishing Bridge. It clouded over and rained a bit, then cleared. I eventually exited the park at its northeast corner, into Montana.
West Thumb Geyser Basin was a major destination a century ago, but the geothermal sites have cooled and lost some of their drama. The light was good, it wasn't too crowded, and the hot pools and lake views were great.
That afternoon I practiced my crowd photography techniques again at Artist Point. At one point I counted 128 people at this viewpoint, but with careful photography and editing I managed to reduce it to a dozen or so.
In late afternoon I drove northeast through the rolling landscape and notable bison herds of the Lamar Valley. My favorite shot of the trip was a pleasant surprise. In an effort to get away from the crowds and obtain a 360° panorama without an obvious road in it, I parked where there was only room for one vehicle, then hiked a short distance away over a hilltop, in an area known as Pleasant Valley. When I looked down the other side of the knoll I saw a small herd of bison (buffalo).
Although the native bison of Yellowstone were reduced to a mere 23 individuals by the end of the 19th century, it has rebounded. Here in the Lamar Valley I estimated that maybe a thousand bison were in view at one time.
I wondered why there were floodlights on the campground restroom buildings, then realized that they were aimed at the garbage cans. Wouldn't want to run into a bear in the dark on the way to the bathroom!
There were clear skies as I retraced my route through Cooke City and the Lamar Valley into the heart of the Yellowstone National Park. I shot panoramas from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River, and hiked down to two waterfall viewpoints. The light was perfect and the crowds manageable.
I wasn't really finished with Yellowstone, but I couldn't face up to dealing with crowds again, so I headed north along the Yellowstone River. Then I drove west on Interstate 90 for 200 easy miles.
Lolo Pass over the Bitterroot Range was a real challenge for the Lewis and Clark expedition, but for me it was an enjoyable, if windy, drive.
Midway along the Lolo Pass/Lochsa River road there is an historic ranger station. Stations like this were, and to a lesser extent still are, bases for mule teams that supplied remote patrol cabins and lookout towers
During the night heavy smoke from fires in eastern Washington spread over the entire region. Not only was the orange light poor for photography, but it was making it hard for me to breathe. So I just kept driving westwards until I got upwind of the source - all the way to The Dalles in the Columbia River Gorge. The temperature also dropped from a debilitating 105° to a relatively benign 85°.
The very civilized campground at Memaloose State Park west of the Dalles in Oregon. It wasn't too hot, no smoke, nice showers, but noisy because of its position between the BNSF railroad and the I-84 freeway.
The next day momentum carried me onwards all the way to the coast. The overcast cleared as the day progressed, and I got some good panos in the resort towns of Seaside and Cannon Beach. I had dinner at Mo's, an Oregon (and personal) tradition, then started looking for a campground.
Another day that started cloudy and cleared up to be beautiful. I made my way slowly down the northern coast of Oregon, stopping at small towns, state parks and waysides, and the Cape Meares Lighthouse.
Sunny and warm from dawn to dusk, a perfect day. I have a fairly good set of panoramas of the central Oregon coast, so I took it easy and enjoyed the drive.
Finding a place to camp was tricky, all the parks were full, but I happened upon a private campground that was really very nice.
Another spectacular day, and I was right at the scenic high point of the Oregon coast. I re-photographed Heceta Head Lighthouse then continued south through the Oregon Dunes.
I really hated to leave the Oregon coast with such fine weather, but news from home indicated I was needed there. So I crossed the coast ranges to Roseburg then barreled down Interstate 5 all the way home.