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“Oh, look another shatteringly beautiful alpine lake”, C said numbly as we drove through Yellowstone.
The day before, we would have stopped on the freeway for a good picture of a buffalo or bison (they are separate, we had to look it up; North Dakota had buffalo, Yellowstone had bison). By the time we were headed out of the park, we didn’t even slow down to look at whole herds of them as they grazed (aka stood motionless) by the side of the road.
We got a little jaded. Part of it was the same phenomenon we had at the National Art Museum, once I’ve seen a fifty(?) unbelievably beautiful things, I lose the ability to process new incredible things. The appreciation part of my brain gets tired and falls asleep. Then I’m left with the feeling of “why the hell am I here?”
One problem was that we started out tired (hmph). What I most would have appreciated in the natural landscape included quieter birds, a lounge chair and a glass of lemonade.
But no, Yellowstone is not about that. It is about being whacked in the head with incredible beauty, over and over again.
However, while I filled up my camera with photos, none of them are very good, at least not compared to the real thing. So I’ll show you the interesting stuff instead of the lovely. I asked C to share his much better photos with me as he goes through them so there may be more.
So, let’s get started. First, keep your hands and arms inside the ride at all times.
To which I say, “Duh!”
Bison are big. I mean, not like “whoa, that horse is kinda big and if I sit on it like you want me to, the earth will be so far I can’t touch and when I fall (and I will), it will hurt. A lot.” Naw, horses are tiny compared to bison. And bison are tiny compared to bull moose. Neither one of them will want to eat me but either one could step on me by accident leaving me bloody and unconscious while they walk away unperturbed.
Ok, so the path around Yellowstone is a loop (ignore the road in the middle, that is for wimps). We came in through the north entrance and headed straight so we were going around the loop clockwise. See the map (much bigger here).
The first thing we came to was Mammoth Hot Springs. Which was a giant hot spring. All the white in the photo is mineral salts.
All of the color comes from thermophiles, those wacky creatures that live in mineral rich boiling water. I figured they were microbes or like red algae. Anyway, this was immense and amazing and we only saw a small part of it, something that was brought home as we drove around the back… it would have been easy to spend the day hiking around the mammoth hot spring, finding neat nooks and crannies.
Shortly thereafter, we saw a bison standing along side the road, maybe twenty feet from the road. It wasn’t moving at all. I mean, really at all. I believed it was fake. We’d just gotten to the park and all, it seemed like a good place for a stuffed bison. I mean, it was posing at the roadside. I can’t be blamed for thinking they faked one to show people the majesty (and huuuugeness) of the bison. Christopher laughed and laughed at my insistence it wasn’t real.
When we went to Lassen years ago, I was surprised by the warm temperatures and the snow (well, glacier). Yellowstone has that too. It is distinctly odd to go from getting hot walking around in tshirt and jeans to slipping and sliding in the snow. Makes for pretty pictures though. I could imagine hiking along here until sunset and getting a fabulous picture.
Oh, but what about those thermophiles? Well, when we saw a hot springs by the side of the road with no one else around, we stopped. We stayed on the stable looking areas but this didn’t have a boardwalk so I was a little wary of placing my feet. Even so, it was C who saw them… worms wiggling through the boiling water! Crazy!
There are some in the first part of that video but it is at the end where a little red worm S-curves its way across the screen.
There were lots and lots of hot springs (an geysers). The main barrier to seeing them was how far we were willing to hike (not being altitude acclimated, the climbing made my heart go pittypat if we went to far). We did stop the car several times to explore, sometimes by ourselves and sometimes at the major marked spots.
We saw the aptly-named-but-not-what-I-was-expecting Porcelain Basin. This area of the part had geysers all over. And hot springs of every color (different minerals means different colors, that bright turquoise in the pic doesn’t really capture the startlingly colored water).
Ok, there was a lot so hiking on that one. I did see a geyser spew water and many of them release steam. Somehow, we started to get really fatigued and not only physically. We’d already felt like we were on a mission. Mission goal: Visit, view, and photograph Yellowstone!
- Snow capped mountains
- Close views of snow
- Snow with water
- Snow with trees
- Other large fauna (geese and ducks do not count) (though a bear would clear all of the other objectives)
- Mud pot
- Steam vent
- Geyser, with water spewing
- Interesting color pools due to thermopliles
- Interesting color pools due to mineral deposits
- Lava rocks
- Picture of my sweetie
- Visible thermopiles
- Herd of bison by a river
- Snow capped mountain reflected in water
Um, did anyone notice where this went off the rails? Where it became a scavenger hunt instead of a deep appreciation for natural beauty? Because we played the game for a little while before C said that crack about another shatteringly beautiful alpine lake which caused me to crack up.
Once it became a game, it was clear the appreciation part of my brain had turned off.
The plan (oh, the plan) was to spend the night near Yellowstone and have a whole 24 hours to enjoy the park. There is a that loop to drive around and then a path to wend south to the Grand Tetons.
We did a quarter of the loop and left to get food and rest. Maybe if we hadn’t been so tired, we might have been so transported that we needed to see more, to get rest and food and go back and see more. Maybe it if wasn’t so close to home and the end of our trip.
But, it is a driving park. While there are lots and lots of places to stop and hike, most people drive through, stopping occasionally. I’ve actually done enough driving, thank you. C didn’t even realize until we approached home that we hadn’t followed the plan, he though he’d just driven fast.
If I had to do it all over again, I think the way to enjoy Yellowstone is to camp and hike. To only see one site a day, maybe two. Not five or more as we did. And not the thirty or more you can go see if you do drive the loop. Normally when I say mind-numbing, usually I mean tedious and boring. But now I have found other ways to numb my mind. I don’t know if that is a good thing.
We are driving through NYC but we made the conscious choice not to stop. Like the art yesterday, New York
City deserves more than a driveby visit.
Still, as C drive across the GW bridge, I was madly snapping photos of the skyline in the distance, hoping to get a good one. Sigh, here’s one of the better shots…
I have shared some pictures here but I’m still trying to figure out the balance between words and photos. I don’t want to bore you with vacation slides, droning on and on. And since C showed me how to balance my pics for better exposure, they should be getting better.
Some of the pictures I’m taking for later, to illustrate ideas I know I’ll want to express. Like the dandelion in the forest outside Flagstaff. There is some idea there about weeds and belonging. Eventually, I’ll sort out my thoughts on that but they are thoughts that were brewing before and will be interesting later; it isn’t part of this adventure other than it happened on the trip.
Sometimes the pictures I didn’t manage to capture are the most interesting. When I miss those pictures, it is more of a loss than the lovely, here-I-was-and-it-was-pretty shots. A thousand words aren’t enough to capture the goal ethos of these non-vacation photos.
One photo that I foolishly thought I’d get another chance at keeps haunting me.
We were headed into Barstow. Earlier, we’d driven though California’s breadbasket, seeing the poetry inspiring vineyards, acres of almond trees and the never ending fields of crops. It makes me more of a even more of a locavore to see all that food, even in April when the plants are just waking up.
Then we’d hit the desert after Bakersfield, all that open space. It was the tan, dry desert with not much alive, just an occasional yucca tree and not-quite-brown shrub in the distance. It was the sort of place you could look at and know you wouldn’t survive an afternoon in. I like the clean, rawness of it but it is clearly vicious. The admonishment to carry a gallon of water per person seems like too low of a bar, particularly as the air wavers from the heat, clocking in at more than 100F.
I thought when I saw the bright green, Irish green, it was an odd mirage. But the house near it was not shimmering. They were growing something leafy and low growing in a neatly plowed field. Whatever it was, it looked ripe. The rows were visible but the plants were nearly touching. It looked lush. It made me crave a crisp salad and ripe tomatoes.
California has a lot of water issues, there just isn’t enough of it. Throughout the central corridor, there are billboard decrying the new laws and the rise in food prices they will cause. The propaganda repeats about every mile so clearly it is an issue someone cares a lot about.
So how can the Barstowians be growing leafy greens in the desert? This isn’t the edge of the desert but the full-on scary desert.
I should have taken the picture of the ragged edge of the wild dry sand with scrub brush and the neat, green farm.
I want the image where the home of the rattlesnakes meet a blithe humanity adapting their surroundings to their comfort. I want other wonder what the rest of the story is: is this some wonder crop that grows without water, poised to feed a new world? Or are these humans truly unaware that actions have consequences? I could have used that image to show a lot of things. But I missed it.
We went to the Petrified Forest National Park today.
I was driving this morning (or there would have been a post posted about Meteor Crater while we were in the car instead of much later). Anyway, I didn’t get a snack when I should have and ended up way too hungry. I’d hiked around Flagstaff’s outskirts and Meteor Crater on a breakfast of coffee and a protein bar.
So, I had gotten well into the low blood sugar mode that includes tired headaches, finding concentration difficult (kind of important when going that fast). I wasn’t sure I really wanted to see something else new. But we had a picnic lunch and needed a place to eat it.
When we finally got to the exit for the Petrified Forest, we got out at the visitor center with our picnic (grocery store bagels, cheese, hummus and a half pound of fresh cut fruit). I gobbled it down and felt much better, like we should go on and see whatever it is they made a national park around before heading off to Albuquerque.
OMG, I think I may be the first person to have discovered this incredibly beautiful place. (Yeah, the roads and paved paths managed to leave me that illusion.) I mean, have you seen the Painted Desert? It was incredible. As with Meteor Crater, no picture does it justice. It was huge. More than, that though, the Painted Desert was incredibly, awesomely beautiful.
I look at that picture and it is missing all the colors, the incredible striations and hills of individual colors. The sky was huge, like the normal California sky is just a little bitty part of the sky here. I don’t have the words and I don’t think the pictures are enough but they are better than the words so I’ll choose only a few more.
These pictures are just reminders to me, like a short list jotted down means a lot more to the person who wrote the list than to someone who comes across it later. Imagine that level of difference between these pictures and the real thing. Then multiply by ten.
It just went on and on. We went to several vista points and each one was majestic and breathtaking.
But this national park is not a mesmerizingly beautiful one-trick pony. It also has evidence of indigenous people, including the ruins of a pueblo city and Newspaper Rock, a wall of petroglyphs. Further on, there are huge logs of petrified wood, each one a giant jewel from eons ago. I don’t mean little chips of wood-rocks. These were giant trees make into giant geode colored rocks.
However, we didn’t see those. We got to the end of the Painted Desert and didn’t go on. Part of the reason was because C was tired (didn’t sleep well last night) and we were both pretty hot. But that wasn’t really it…
I couldn’t take in anymore. The painted desert was so mindblowingly beautiful that I was a little afraid to go on. What could be a second act to that? Why dilute the beauty?
And, part of me wondered, what if it got better? My brain was full of the box of paints splattered across the desert. If it got better, it (my brain) was just going to go kablooey.
I turned that into a joke but I meant it, I really didn’t want to go on because I wanted to let my mind settle, to soak up what I had and to fix the picture in my head that my camera just can’t capture.
Loading 138 photos… I thought that would give me enough time write a blog post about the new Lytro camera. As each picture loads, though, I turn to look at it and try all the different focus areas, deciding whether to keep it or trash it. I usually trash a lot of pictures; it makes people think I take better pictures if they never see the rejects- the poorly framed shots (why is there is flower with the background of someone’s butt?), the over exposed pictures (that sky sure looks ominous though the white flower looks cheerful), the blurry shots (you know the blurry shots well enough, thank you).
There are a lot fewer blurry shots with the Lytro. In case you haven’t heard of it, the Lytro camera uses a special imaging sensor that lets it takes in focus at multiple depths, letting me select where the focus should go when I get back home. No more out of focus things… kind of.
Focus is a funny thing. I’m sure there are technical terms but I’m the sort of photographer who is happy with a point and shoot, I just like the pretty pictures, I save worrying about the tricky details for my work life. I thought the post processing would turn me off of the Lytro (I do not need more time in front of a computer). And I thought I was getting the camera for my husband (for the trip, don’t you know?).
Here are the images from the first day I played with it, taking it around the neighborhood, trying to figure out how to make pretty pictures. Click on a picture and you can see how the focus changes, I’d recommend the pagoda with the red shrub. You can make the shrub a bright blur, focusing on the pagoda. Or if you click on the shrub, you can make the pagoda a mysterious shadow. And the two sets of apple blossoms are there to show that the focus isn’t just a few levels but can go from pretty close to pretty far. Oh, and try the last one, the tulips and tree. It wasn’t the best picture but something happened in that picture… I’m not sure I can explain without visuals so leave the other window open. If you click on the tree, the tulips are a dark pink blur. But then click on the tulip and the image becomes three dimensional for a second. It feels like reality has shifted for a second there. I need a new word to describe a picture that shows the bigness of the world.
I’m not used to my gadgetry requiring new metaphysical vocabulary.
Anyway, the Lytro… I should say that my vision isn’t that great so slight focus errors usually go over my head. I sometimes have to ask my husband (C) if a picture is in focus. But now I can really see it. The Lytro is going to make me a better photographer for other cameras.
After my neighborhood shots, I wanted to try it out someplace where I could take awesome photos. That would be Filoli, a house and garden in Woodside, CA. C and I have been several times over the years. It is a great place to take pictures because it is so incredibly beautiful there that you can turn in any direction and get something wonderful. C had his digital SLR, the heavy lens he was trying out, with the monopod and backpack. I had the hand sized Lytro. It didn’t fit in my pocket but I happily wore it as a charm bracelet.
One problem with Filoli is the number of other people who find it breathtaking (and their kids). Just about everyone had a camera. I was stopped many times, “Is that a Lytro?” and everyone wanted to know what I thought. Did I like it?
Yes, I would tell them, but it changes photography for me. I don’t just compose a shot, I have to compose the shot and the background to the shot and the background to that. Not everything has multiple levels, each one with something interesting.
I’m looking at one of the shots I took this morning on the Lytro now, trying to decide if I want to delete it. It is a nice picture, good texture contrast between the smooth windswept clouds in the sky, the rough trees, the bright yellow field of narcissus (it spelled fantastic, the Lytro failed to capture that), the light and dark interplay is nice and there is a branch of a yellow shrub in the foreground. It is a shot I’d be happy with, the not entirely level with the horizon notwithstanding (it lends movement to the still that is ok with me). Normally, I’d rank this as a decent shot of a pretty place.
Now, I’m not so sure… it is all “at infinite depth” which means it is all far enough away to be in focus. There is no depth; clicking in different spots nets the same picture. So now maybe this image isn’t good enough to survive the culling. It doesn’t have any movement and it fails entirely to show the bigness of the world. (Seriously, I need a word for that.)
Taking pictures this way is much more challenging. I suppose I should be thinking of The Print. The final shot that gets printed and gets to live in a picture frame around the house until some other picture is deemed more interesting. But I’m totally not thinking of that. I don’t care about The Print anymore. Suddenly I care about the image you see on the Lytro page (or in the program before I upload them). I want you (you!) to interact with my pictures. To feel like you can be there, to get a nearly tactile rush from clicking the images to see what you can find. To move from the soft flower to the rough bark, the pitted rock to the blades of grass, the cracked mushroom to the woody forest floor. To see something I never put my focus on.
I was thinking I’d add some criticisms… while I like the Lytro, there are some things I’d change. The easiest is somewhere to put the nifty magnetic lens cover (I’ll be fixing that with a rare earth magnet on the wrist strap). But you know what? The pictures are loading and right now I’m thrilled with the Lytro. I need to go delete some photos; I’ll be gentle, this is its first real adventure after all. There will be more. Oh, and in case you want to see- here are the survivors, for now.