I ease the car off of the road and look out into a deep fog. I see nothing but damp gray. The dawn is beginning to ebb and I am the only one in this part of Yellowstone, except of course, for the bison. When I open my car door, I cannot see them, but I can hear them, muffled grunts and heavy breath that is exhaled in a rush from somewhere across the Firehole River. This is my fourth morning in this spot to catch the sun as it hits the large, lumbering creatures. Because of the heavy fog dawn is muted, and as I walk down toward the river I can make out the faint outlines of something moving on the other side of the slowly moving stream. It is quite eerie being out here at this time of the morning by myself, and more than once I look from side to side and behind me to ensure that something is not slowly moving up on me. But they are on the other side of the narrow river, slowly milling about and waiting for their day to begin.
Around the designated time of sunrise, I can see the first of them begin to move down toward the water and tentatively take their first steps into the river. The sun is still shrouded in a heavy blanket of white, but they move toward it, as they have the other mornings that I have shot sunrise in this place. They come out of the water and step up onto the bank on my side of the river and continue to move forward, slowly walking past me as if in a trance, toward the hidden sun. The ethereal quality of the images that I am attempting to record on my camera remind me of a hike that I took amongst giant sequoias in Kings Canyon National Park a few months ago. I was also alone on that occasion, slowly walking in heavy morning fog on a narrow trail that meandered through a grove of ancient and enormous living beings. In this case, however, the bison are the ones who meander, lowering their heads every couple of steps to bite off a mouthful of golden grass as they continue their trek toward the sun. Below are photos from that foggy morning, as well as from the other mornings that I watched the bison in their morning migration.
On the other end of the day, I was fortunate to see a small herd of elk just before sunset in a field of tall grass. They were in rut, and the bugle of a young bull signaled his acute interest in finding a mate, or two, or three. He had exclusive rights to this particular herd until a distant bugle indicated that there was a new sheriff in town. In the distance, I could see a large male making his way slowly toward the herd through the chest-high grass. One of the photo sets below captures the ultimate meeting of the young buck and the aging veteran. Spoiler alert: in this case, size and experience win out over youthful exuberance.
In total, I spent almost three weeks exploring Yellowstone NP, some days in the park from before sunrise, until well after sunset. In addition to the photos of bison, elk and pronghorns, this post also includes sunrise shots of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and stunning Yellowstone Lower Fall. Finally, there are images of the beautiful Mammoth Hot Springs and the dramatic Porcelain Basin.
Click on photos to open gallery in Flickr –