Yellowstone National Park, home to half the world's geothermal features and hundreds of species of animals, is a very different place in winter than it is during the summer months, when a glut of tourists and vehicles can spoil the wilderness experience. Harsh winter temperatures down to -30F and deep snow make the park far less accessible, but it's also the time when the park recovers from overuse and regains its solitude. When John Colter, a member of Lewis and Clark's expedition, spent months alone exploring Yellowstone's improbable geography during the winter of 1807-1808, no one believed his published report of "fire and brimstone" geysers and steaming rivers. I like to think that I saw Yellowstone in much the same way he did, when I joined eleven other photographers on a week-long Van Os Photo tour this January.
The Firehole River, with its many steam plumes, was named by early trappers who thought it looked like it was on fire. In this image, steam has coated nearby trees with ice.
As I walked down a snow- covered path in Yellowstone's Upper Geyser Basin, a silvery glade of trees appeared out of the morning fog. Thermally heated patches of earth remained untouched by snow.
I had prepared for the rigors of the trip by hiking up steep, snowy trails near my home in Boulder, Colorado. Outfitted in full Arctic regalia and lugging my heavy camera backpack, I would pretend to spot elk and bison, setting up for the shot as quickly as possible. Fortunately, there weren't a lot of people around, or they might have wondered why I was photographing trees with such urgency. At home, my husband gamely endured being my wildlife subject as I photographed him grazing in the kitchen and moving around his territory.
Here's a picture of a Yellowstone bison at rest, frosted by early morning fog and his own breath.
As I toured the park, I felt peaceful looking out from the snow coach window at miles and miles of pristine snow. I tried to capture that feeling with this image of a lone tree on a snowy hillside.
Steam plumes, wind, snow, fog and frost alter the usual boundaries of the landscape, creating a fluid environment that seems otherworldly. Thermal energy becomes steam, which frosts the vegetation and the trees until the sun melts it, or if temperatures are cold enough, it turns to ice. In this image, the yellowish color in the foreground is caused by heat-loving bacteria called thermophiles.
To see more photographs from my trip to Yellowstone, please visit the Geysers Gallery.