Whispering its name conjures up magical imagery: geysers, grizzlies, wolves, moose.
Yellowstone calls you from far away. As you load up your favorite Polaroid, pack your tent, and fill your film cooler, think of heading to Northwestern Wyoming. Go camping. Hike. Breathe the mountain air. Stretch your vision of the West!
Yellowstone defines the American West. But…
Don’t stop at Yellowstone. Keep on going. Let the lure of the open road lead you and your camera obscura to Yellowstone and then beyond, to those atmospheric, luminous wild spaces out there.
Out West, I’d like to share a few of my favorite places to photograph, in these 5 states:
- Wyoming. Yellowstone, of course, for furious scenery and wildlife. Good times to photograph are early June and late September. I go about the first week in June. The park is just coming out of winter, so the night temps are chilly, but few visitors means the wildlife is closer to you, and abundant. In June, babies are being born everywhere, and the bears are still at the lower altitudes in the park.
- Colorado. Lionsgate Sanctuary is a little-known wildlife rescue group. Although their enclosures are not fancy, and there is wire fencing that may deter some visitors, your admission helps this non-profit to rescue abandoned lions, bears and wolves. You may want to call them as the website is still in progress.
Rocky Mountain National Park near Estes Park is a photographer’s paradise. Fall is the best time, and you can check the web for the best aspen color as you are driving through. I lived in Colorado for 25 years, and the Telluride area in southwestern Colorado is a personal favorite. It also happens to be right on the way to Utah.
- Utah. The National and State parks of Utah. Each one of them is an epic land of timeless beauty. I’m gone.
- Washington. Photograph in the temperate rain forest around the exuberantly green hiking trails of the Sol Duc, soak in the hot springs there, and explore the Hoh rainforest of Olympic National Park in Washington. The Hall of Mosses trail is made for your view camera. You can camp overnight for as little as $10-$20, and save more money on film and developing.
- New Mexico. From Four Corners to Carlsbad, Valley of Fires to City of Rocks, the land of enchantment explodes with exuberant scenery. There are almost 20 state monuments, and they give a different feeling from the national parks. A favorite photo drive of mine is the Enchanted Circle near Taos. In Taos itself, balloons take off for the sky at the Taos Mountain Balloon Rally. This event is less crowded than the one in Albuquerque, and offers a spectrum of colorful balloons for your lens to enjoy in the New Mexico dawn light. It is the last week in October, 2012.
If you can, stay in a B & B in Taos. If you have saved some money by developing your own film, reward yourself with a blood pumping soak in the geothermal mineral waters of Ojo Caliente Resort. It’s just an hours drive from Santa Fe. Of all the unknown spots in New Mexico, my personal photo favorite is shooting the terrible beauty of the Bisti Wilderness area. To break up the driving in Northeastern New Mexico, I like to get out on a mountain bike ride and cycle up the paved road to the rim of the Capulin Volcano National Monument. There, you get a view of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range.
So, don’t stop at Yellowstone. Keep on going. The bottom line? Taking 4 times as much film as I originally planned was not a bad idea.
About : Jim Austin, Jimages is an adventure photographer, experienced photo workshop leader, and writes photo books (Americans on Parade, Emotion in Motion, Pixels on Passage). He shoots film in 35mm, 127, 6 x 6 and 4 x 5 formats. Jim lives aboard a sailing catamaran.