Yellowstone in Winter
I went to photograph Yellowstone in the winter because I read that it is beautiful, and brutal.
It is brutal, especially for the animals that winter there. In January, the average daytime high is 20º F, and the night-time temperature descends to the single digits. The snow is deep, food scarce. Bison standing in three feet of snow move their massive heads from side to side to plow through the snow to the withered grass they depend on for food. The bison move slowly, to conserve energy, and their shaggy coats are such good insulators that snow remains on them instead of melting.
And Yellowstone is certainly beautiful. The night sky bursts with stars. Snow drapes the rolling landscape, the crystalline blanket broken only by prints, a record of who or what passed through – coyote footprints, irregular depressions of bison or the paw marks of elk, both searching for nutrients. In some places, fields are mysteriously bare - even pools of liquid water and steam - so strange among all that cold when one would expect only ice.
Those liquid pools and that steam, are created by the special additional gift of winter in Yellowstone - the miles thick magma, lying less than 10 miles underground creates thousands of hot features - from boiling pools to shooting geysers. These features warm the ground, keep rivers from freezing over even in the coldest weather, make copious amounts of steam that condenses and freezes on pine needles, rocks, grasses, and pathways.
And from time to time, one can see bison taking advantage of these warm baths, lying down as yet another way to conserve their precious energy.