Yellowstone - A Great Breathing Place

Sept. 17, 2023  |  Yellowstone National Park, Montana

I am on a two-week road trip to explore Colorado fall colors. On the way I’m revisiting some favorite places like Yellowstone National Park. In a few hours I’ll be driving around Lamar Valley looking for signs of Bison and bears. It’s not the best time of year to see wildlife, but it’s always a good time to wander the roads of America’s first national park.

During early debates in the halls of Congress on the merits of Yellowstone, George Vest defended its value, aptly calling it “a great breathing place for the national lungs.”

I’ve always found Yellowstone hard to photograph. The geysers and colorful springs seem beyond the grasp of the 2x3 aspect ratio of my camera. It’s not usually a great photo place for me, but it is reliably a great breathing place that renews my creative spirit.

As I anticipate driving around the park, I’m thinking about my encounter with a famous wolf in Yellowstone. The biologists called her 926F, but most people knew her as Spitfire, the alpha female of the Lamar Valley pack. On New Year’s Day in 2018, I was driving on the north loop road when I saw a black wolf punching through the deep snow. I parked and jumped out of the car with my camera. She wandered nearby and paused. She looked around and howled longingly for her packmates. Her haunting tones and frosty breaths filled the air, and then she was gone.

Later that year, she wandered a mile beyond the safety of the park’s boundaries, where a trophy hunter shot her, skinned her, and tagged her.

I’m grateful for people like George Vest who saw the wisdom in setting aside places like Yellowstone. The boundaries of Yellowstone may be a bit precarious and arbitrary, but I know when I go through the park entrance today, it will be like taking a great big, deep breath of wild air. And You never know. Maybe I'll see one of Spitfire's grandkids.

See below for more photos from the greater-Yellowstone ecosystem.

Grizzly 399 with cub at Grand Teton National Park

In 2020, grizzly 399 emerged from her winter slumber with four cubs. Of the four, this one stayed close, holding on to mom’s haunches so he could get a good look at the world. 399 has dazzled visitors to Grand Teton National Park for 24 years, making her one of the most famous grizzly bears in the world. No one needs to tell this cub that he got lucky to have such a great momma.