photography, travel

20 Below // Yellowstone

Life is all about adaptation. If you can’t stay flexible, especially when on the road, you’ll end up frustrated and angry. Plans are going to change. Your best efforts will be thwarted frequently. I promise.

This year’s winter Wyoming road trip wasn’t my first rodeo… But perhaps my first trying to camp in the beautiful, frozen hell that is the Yellowstone Caldera. It is common to reach dangerous temps of -60F here. Maybe we got lucky, it only reached -20 for us.

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Most people think I’m crazy… some of the things I do, get myself into. No, I’m actually relatively sane. I see a great human potential to do things that seem impossible or “nuts” to many, and I want to prove that they are quite normal. And maybe even fun.

Yellowstone is one of those places that immediately captured my heart. Love at first sight… smell, touch, feel. It is magical. But of all the seasons I have experienced in this place, winter was the untouchable. Most of the park is only accessible by snow mobile, snow coach, or cross country skis. It requires a lot of preparation and investment to make an overnight camping excursion into Yellowstone in the dead of winter. It demands to be taken seriously. Especially in winter.

I was looking for an opportunity to test myself in a new way.

Sounds dumb, I know. But I’ve always been this way.

When I was little, I wanted to be a stunt man. Often, I would jump off the roof of our house to practice my falls, or bungee a bunch of pillows around my body and throw myself down the stairs. I’ve always enjoyed catching snakes with my bare hands, only to identify them as poisonous or non, afterward.

It’s not that I don’t feel fear. Trust me, I do. Every time I sleep out in grizzly country, I lay awake most of the first night seeing terrible visions of ferocious bear(s) attacking me ruthlessly. Every snap of a twig makes my heart race. But all I have to do to finally get some shut eye is remind myself of the many hundreds of nights I’ve spent under the stars, and how I’ve never had a terrifying experience… with bears, at least. That’s not to say it couldn’t happen, that’s just to point to the reality that it’s more likely that I get struck by lightning. An event about which I literally never worry.

The fact remains, my life is not my own. It is controlled and ordained by a much higher reality than my fears or eccentricities.

It’s really about testing my limits. It’s less about man vs. nature, and more man vs. himself. Testing one’s mental and physical resolve.

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So back to the point: I can scheme for months, but I’d better be ready to surrender each and every meticulous plan.

This whole trip was brought on by my random stumbling on a new program offered by Yellowstone. A few months earlier, while surfing recreation.gov I came across the brand new self-guided snow machine permit. I’d always wanted to see Yellowstone in the winter, but it never appealed to me to go on a guided tour. So this sounded perfect.

I lucked out and got a permit for the timing and area I wanted. Not easy to do since almost every permit was already taken. And it started a whole chain of events that led us to this point. I began planning everything; the road trip, the activities, shot lists, I started lining up sponsors, gear, etc. It was on. We were going no matter what, in my mind. It seemed to be providence.

When we arrived in Wyoming, after a night at Devils Tower, the plan was to head all the way up and over to Cooke City, Montana. Cooke City lies just across the Montana/ Wyoming state line along the Beartooth Highway, just a few miles from the Northeast entrance to Yellowstone. It was going to be a long drive, but for me the payoff was well worth it. It was still a week until our scheduled permit date to enter the park from the South on snow machine. This would serve as our introduction to winter camping Yellowstone.

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I know that the road from Mammoth Hot Springs to Cooke City is open all year. It’s the only road they plow in the park. However, for some reason, the short drive from Sunlight Basin to Cooke City via the Beartooth Highway is not plowed. I had to learn that the hard way. We ended up adding 4 hours to our drive for that mistake. And it was already getting dark.

After a long detour up to I-90 through Montana, and an overnighter at a cheap motel, we finally arrived at the North entrance to Yellowstone at Gardiner, MT.

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Entering Yellowstone is like being dropped on to another planet. At first, it seems familiar; rocks, trees, mountains, rivers. But then you start to see colors and formations rarely seen anywhere else on earth. Steam rising from mountain streams. The smell of sulphur. Vast herds of bison, elk, pronghorn. It’s so unique. And in the winter, when the snow blankets everything and people are harder to spot than the wildlife, Yellowstone possesses even a more haunting spirit.

So there we were, on the doorstep of testing a new resolve in ourselves, a new level of resiliency. Could we take it? Would a wintry Yellowstone break us?

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We spent the night near Mammoth Hot Springs on top of several feet of snow. It was too cold to hang out long enough to make a fire that night, and we were tired from the days of driving, so we opted to burrow into the cozy tent and our sleeping bags early.

The wind, coyotes, and wolves howled through the night.

The temp when we woke was a solid -20 with the wind, so even the most enjoyable of morning tasks like making coffee became painful. We weren’t deep in the backcountry. In fact, we knew that there might even be fresh coffee to be bought nearby at Mammoth. At the very least, we thought, getting out of the wind and into a quickly warming car would be worth it. I would later come to realize that this moment would serve as the beginning of the end of the test of our resiliency. At least in the way I had imagined.

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Our time in North Yellowstone was short. We had friends to meet up with and clients to shoot for down in Jackson and Pinedale, so we left the park, expecting to return from the South in a week.

Over the next week, we spent a few more nights outdoors, but the cold and the snow was wearing us thin. It became harder and harder to sleep at night and warm up in the morning. On top of this erosion of the physical, several friends we had lined up to go with us on the Yellowstone excursion had to cancel.

The epic adventure was in danger of not happening at all. I was undeterred.

Something that once seemed so providential, so “meant to be,”started to feel cursed. Then I received an email from the snow mobile rental company that I was angling to trade marketing photos for free machines, stating that they would not be able to do the deal any more.

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We’d been on the road for two weeks already and were out of money. It was the last straw. The Yellowstone dream would have to wait. This fact, regardless of how obvious, would take a long time for me to accept.

How do we deal with our disappointments and failed plans? What I wasn’t realizing was that my test of resolve on this trip had now taken a new form. It was no longer the sexy physical test of manhood I wanted. It had become all of our worst nightmares… not getting what we want.

For someone who plans as much as I do, I can become fixated, even obsessed, with objective. The trip was such a beautiful success in so many ways, but from my myopic attitude, it looked like a failure because of the one unrealized objective.

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I learned from this trip that man vs. himself is more than just climbing mountains or wrestling alligators. Man’s true resiliency is shown clearly in his/ her ability to roll with the punches. To watch their carefully made plans go down in flames and still make something of it.

It remains one of the hardest things that I (and all of us will) consistently face in life.

— andrew


In honor of the NPS Centennial this year, I have put together a special collection of (some never before seen) my favorite National Park prints. Please check it out and know that 5% of all the profits from the sale of this artwork will be donated to a wonderful organization that works hard to help preserve our Nation’s most magical places, The National Park Foundation.. We will be visiting almost all of the 59 National Parks this year, so check back often as we will be updating the page regularly. Thank you so much for your support!


 
Want to learn photography and enjoy a guided experience? Check out my exciting, NEW workshop dates:
 
Big Bend NP // Night/ Landscape // 2016 – ONLY 2 SPOTS LEFT!
Isle of Skye // S C O T L A N D // 2016 – 4 SPOTS AVAILABLE
Highlands // S C O T L A N D // 2016 – 4 SPOTS AVAILABLE
 
If you are interested in licensing any of the images/ video from this post, please visit my stock agency:
 
Tandem Stills + Motion // Andrew R. Slaton
Image Brief // Andrew R. Slaton
 
If you are interested in purchasing prints from this post, please check my prints for sale, or email me directly for a custom request:
 
Andrew R. Slaton | photographer // prints
 
For assignment work requests, please email me: andrew@andrewslatonphoto.com
 
Thanks for visiting AndrewSlatonBlog.com!
 
all images and content © ARS Media, LLC 2016
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photography, travel

#wyolove

So finally, after all of these years living in and/ or visiting Wyoming, I have the compelling idea I’ve been looking for to do a book.

Just google “wyoming photography books”, and I guarantee you’ll come up with a plethora of titles.  This was always the route I thought I’d take; the typical landscape/ nature photography book.

Well thankfully, I never felt settled with that idea.  Yet I keep returning to photograph the rugged beauty of this place.

So on my last trip in February, I began laying the foundation, making contacts, interviewing people, etc.  It will be very different from the traditional landscape book.  Sorry, I can’t reveal any more just yet… But what I can say is that it will challenge me to the core… Alas, friends, I will have to work with the most unpredictable of all species… people!

What I love perhaps the most about a project such as this however, is that I still get to roam around the great state and attempt to capture the essence of this place that has so completely entranced me for the last 15 years.  And to share it with all of you.

I will return in July and September/ October… so don’t worry… if you’re as obsessed as I am, you’ll get your fill.

So here are some of my favorites from February…

Lone Big Horn Sheep in the snow near Jackson, WY

a hauntingly still winter day in snowy Grand Teton NAtional Park, WY

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Winter wonderland on Pacific Creek in Grand Teton National PArk, WY

Lone Big Horn Sheep in the snow near Jackson, WY

Lone Big Horn Sheep in the snow near Jackson, WY

Big Horn Ram detail

Lone Big Horn Sheep in the snow near Jackson, WY

Big Horn Sheep in the snow near Jackson, WY

A bald eagle perched in a bare tree in Grand Teton National Park in the winter

A colorfull sunrise over the Gros Ventre near Grand Teton National Park, WY

A colorfull sunrise over the Gros Ventre near Grand Teton National Park, WY

Winter sunrise on the tetons from Teton Overlook

Lone male hiker looking out in the snow toward the tetons

A colorfull sunrise over the Gros Ventre near Grand Teton National Park, WY

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Snow covered Tetons form a frozen Jackson Lake in Grand Teton National Park, WY

Snow covered Tetons form a frozen Jackson Lake in Grand Teton National Park, WY

Snow covered Tetons form a frozen Jackson Lake in Grand Teton National Park, WY

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Sunrise over the Winds from the Cora road in the Upper Green River Valley, WY

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Sunrise over the Winds from the Cora road in the Upper Green River Valley, WY

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The Wind River Range from atop the Mesa oilfields near Pinedale, WY

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morning light in the frozen desert near South Pass, WY

the dirt road to South Pass City ghost town, WY

dramatic clouds and road, south pass

dramatic clouds and road, south pass

White tail buck in the brush

Devils tower national monument, WY

Devils tower national monument, WY

dramatic sunset over Devils tower national monument, WY

a lone hiker enjoys a dramtic sunrise over Devils tower national monument, WY

dramtic sunrise over Devils tower national monument, WY

Devils tower national monument, WY

moon over Devils tower national monument, WY

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A man watches sunrise on Togwotee pass

coyote in the snow near moran junction in grand teton national park, wy

sunrise at snake river overlook, grand teton national park, wy

I love my job :)

— andrew


 
Take your photography to the next level… check out my NEW workshop dates:
 
Grand Teton Photographic Tour/ Workshops 2015
More Destination Photo Tours/ Workshops 2015
 
If you are interested in licensing any of the images/ video from this post, please visit my stock agency:
 
Tandem Stills + Motion // andrew r. slaton
 
If you are interested in purchasing prints from this post, please check my prints for sale, or email me directly for a custom request:
 
andrew r. slaton // photographer // prints
 
For assignment work requests, please email me: andrew@andrewslatonphoto.com
 
Thanks for visiting AndrewSlatonBlog.com!
 
all images and content © ARS Media, LLC 2015
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art, photography, travel

andrew r. slaton // workshops

woo hoo!!  i’m excited to announce my new workshop blog!!

check it out… find the learning adventure you’ve been looking for…  and be sure to subscribe to stay up to date with what i’m offering.

i have several new classes and trips that i will be adding over the next few weeks, such as big bend, grand teton, and yellowstone national parks, and location lighting in dallas!

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all images © andrew r. slaton | photographer 2013

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art, photography, random thought, travel

wyoming | last look at soda

as always, it was very hard for me to leave wyoming.

so i took a short tour of soda lake before starting my long drive home.

i was met by what felt like some old friends.

soda lake is usually the first and last place i visit when i’m in pinedale… i guess you could say a home away from home.

to sear an image like the one above in my brain before i leave is somehow therapeutic.  looking at these photographs now, months later, makes me long to be back in the mountains.

but it also compels me to explore new landscapes… foreign territories.  unfamiliar terrain.

and then i’m reminded that i’ll have that opportunity soon….

all images © andrew r. slaton | photographer 2012

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art, photography, random thought, travel

wyoming | elk hunt

i was incredibly excited to be invited on Mike and Ellen’s elk hunt at the end of my trip to wyoming in september.

at that point, Elle had to head home, so i spent the last 10 days mostly by myself in the wild.  and of the last 3, my friends were kind enough to host me at hunting camp.

Jim also showed up.  he and Mike go way back.  and actually, he and i do too… randomly enough.

when i lived in pinedale in 2005, i tried my hand a few other jobs after quitting my job at the newspaper.

in this part of wyoming, everyone knows that able bodied folks can make a VERY good living roughnecking in the oil fields.  even i was tempted by the high pay they were offering.

one problem though…. no experience.  in steps Jim.

he runs a water well rig, which is very similar to the oil rigs out in the fields.  and Jim was looking for a bit of help.

long story short, i apprenticed with Jim for one day.  quickly realized i’m not the roughnecking type :)

but Jim was incredibly nice to this city slicker, and i will forever be grateful.  he’s a good man.

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buster found a good spot for a midday nap.

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only the essentials… whiskey, guns….. and a broom?

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unfortunately, there was still a fire ban… so we had to use camping ingenuity… thanks to Ellen, we were all warm.

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when you’re at camp with Mike and Ellen, you’re not going to go hungry, that’s for sure.  breakfast, lunch, and dinner, we ate like kings.

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we woke up very early on opening day to get the horses ready…

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it was a beautiful morning.  but opening day is a tough day to spot animals… lots of other folks out looking for them too…

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no luck.  we searched all morning only to find that we may want to look for a new spot.

so we decided to take an evening drive down from our camp to scout a new location…

along the way, Jim spotted a few grouse…. mmm.  dinner.

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tastes like chicken.  especially when smothered in bbq sauce…

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we found a great spot.  but we would need to return the next morning before dawn.

and on the way back… more grouse.

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so we went back to our spot early the next morning, before sunrise. it was the day i would have to leave wyoming.

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it turned out to be a great location… we saw several good bulls.  but one thing that i learned about hunting is that you don’t always get to shoot, even when you see what you’re looking for.

we never got the right looks, or they were never close enough.  the last thing a hunter wants is to wound an animal right before nightfall, or spoil the meat with a bad shot.

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so we explored a bit… and found a moose family.  a cow, calf, and bull popped out of the willows and we had a chance to see them on the move together.  a real treat.

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seeing the moose family was a nice way to wrap up the morning… but the sun was climbing higher, temperature rising.  not a great time for hunting.

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so i decided to say my goodbyes and get on the road.

i had a really long drive back.  but my route took me back through pinedale, and for one last stop at soda lake.

all images © andrew r. slaton | photographer 2012

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