Yellowstone – A Raging Oasis

 
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There is wilderness, turbulent, and ever changing at its core, yet a serene oasis at its heart. This ever evolving, dynamically changing land is a utopia for all that call it home. This breathtaking wilderness offers not just a refuge to the great beings that call it home, but it also provides solace to those who try and embody the very best of the human spirit. It is a place that personifies beauty, a place where the adventurous heart is able to connect with that which gives it life. It is a place that exists somewhere between myth and reality, for where one’s imagination ends… Yellowstone begins.

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 In this white noise filled modern digital world, Yellowstone stands in unambiguous contrast as a reminder of a world that once was and one that still is. One can only image the wonder that befell John Coltor when he first explored this great erupting wilderness in the 1800s, as he made his way through the jaw dropping Jackson Hole Valley and the incredible area that is Yellowstone National Park of today. Times may have changed since man first explored the greater Yellowstone area, but Yellowstone still ignites this mesmerizing sense of wonder in all that visit her today.

It was just past midnight and we had just arrived in Jackson Hole, a picturesque town on the footstep of the Grand Tetons. Jackson Hole is one of those places where being there for just a few minutes will easily convince you that that’s where you belong. Even though we were dying to start our adventure, we needed to get some rest after about over 24 hours on the road, and this stunning little town was the perfect place to rest our heads. I really wanted to explore Jackson Hole, but knowing that we needed to be up at the crack of dawn, it was something that needed to be saved for another day. 

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 It turned out to be a beautiful morning, with uninhibited excitement filling the air. That’s the thing about exploration and adventure, the excitement never wains, in all actual fact it is the contrary. We packed our overnights, got our gear ready and headed to Yellowstone. Our goal was to make our way through the Grand Teton Nation Park en-route to Yellowstone. It’s incredible when it dawns on you that these two iconic, world renowned parks share a common wilderness, unfenced, wild, pristine and completely breathtaking. 

We gassed up and headed toward the greater Yellowstone Area. We were only a few miles out of Jackson Hole with the anticipation still feverish, when all of a sudden, as if they appeared out of nowhere, there they were, the Grand Tetons. Seeing this spectacular mountain range for the first time was one of the most surreal feelings I had ever experienced. How could something made of rock and dirt be this beautiful? With tears in my eyes, overcome by emotion, I just stared at them in awe and wonder, and thought to myself, oh what a beautiful world this is. As a wildlife photographer I have had the great fortune of seeing some the most amazing sights this planet has to offer, these sublime peaks ranked up there with the most awe-inspiring things I had ever seen. After spending some time taking in the incredible beauty of this amazing park, we continued onward to Yellowstone.

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I remember, as a little kid, spending hours watching documentaries about this amazing place, and here I was… in one of the greatest wildernesses our world has ever seen… Yellowstone. 

Yellowstone National Park is a two-million-acre wilderness, but with its towering cliffs, deep gorges, thundering falls and tumultuous geysers, it feels much bigger than that. Almost instantly, you are blown away by the incredible size of everything around you, landscapes that are as imposing as they are beautiful. 

The 3,500 square miles that make up Yellowstone National Park, are an oasis for the plethora of wildlife that call this magical place home, it is a true wildlife Eden. Like all the world’s great reserves, Yellowstone too was not without its problems, but it has overcome tremendous hurdles to become the incredible park that is. The Yellowstone of today is home to wolves, bison, bears, mountain lions, elk and moose as well as many other of our planet’s most iconic species. 

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Our goal with this particular adventure to Yellowstone was to capture intimate images of some of its most famous residents. The key to this was to visit both Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons during the low season. With this in mind, we chose to explore the park during the last week of the fall season. This would not only allow us to observe wildlife as they played out their days without the mass of tourists, but it also presented them in an environment that was cloaked in the colors of fall. Fall is a simply spectacular time in the greater Yellowstone area, the air is crisp, the aspens are gold and the elk are in rut.

We arrived around midday and headed straight to the Old Faithful Inn to check in and drop off our luggage. The Old Faithful Inn is a beautiful lodge that overlooks one of Yellowstone’s most famous landmarks, the Old Faithful Geyser. Soon after we checked in, we received news about a large bison herd that was mulling around not too far from our current location. Music to our ears, our goal was to create some immersive images of Yellowstone’s most famous resident. With that in mind we decided to dedicate the rest of the afternoon to spending time with this herd. The key to creating images that are intimate and transport your audience and create a sense of longing, is to take your time and allow yourself to be absorbed in the scene. This allows you to capture the moments that create timeless, emotive images. I will never forget that day, it was surreal and beautiful, it was things comings full circle for me as a wildlife photographer. One particular moment that will always be one of my most special encounters in the wild was the time I spent with one particularly large bison bull. It was a moment I had played out in my mind for the longest time, but nothing could prepare me for the emotions that would overcome me. There I was, on the banks of a pristine river, sitting in a golden field in the great wilderness of Yellowstone, completely exposed, as one of our planet’s most iconic beings walked towards me, the moment was sublime, it was transcendent. Even though I knew, respectfully and wisely giving this majestic creature a wide berth was my best and only option, I remained frozen in place, not out of fear or intimidation, but because I wanted that moment to last forever. Every once in a while, you are fortunate enough to experience a moment so rare and beautiful, so pure in every facet, a moment that lives in a realm somewhere between your reality and your dreams, that lasts for an eternity but is over in the blink of an eye… this was one of those moments and I didn’t want to let it go. Nature has this incredible way of surprising you every time she removes another veil, she makes you realize that even though you are keenly aware of her beauty, you are ignorant to the fact of how vast it really is… I thank her for this, I love her for this. This moment meant more to me than I could ever quantify into words, this moment was love, this moment was hope, this moment represented unbridled freedom and unconquerable beauty, this was Yellowstone and here was her greatest son, the vessel she used to mesmerize, intoxicate and leave us falling in love with her time and time again. Mother Nature also offers us life’s greatest lessons if we are just willing to open our hearts to her, she feeds the mind but more importantly she nourishes the soul, and here in the company of one far greater than myself, she taught me that its ok to dream, and that life exists on the roads where dreams are chased. 

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The truth is that during my time in this magical place, I experienced countless moments like that. Moments that simply took my breath away, moments that filled me with so much more love for a world that I already was deeply in love with.

After spending about 4 hours just sitting in that golden field, with those gentle giants, we decided to call it a day and head back to Old Faithful Inn. Our first day had proved to be everything I dreamed of and more. It was time to grab something to eat, take stock, plan the next day out, and most importantly get some much-needed rest. Days in Yellowstone are spectacular, beautiful and awe-inspiring, but they are also long and tiring, so like any safari and adventure… rest is key.

The wilderness known as Yellowstone is big, really big, so the key is to have a well thought out game plan for each day. This allows you to explore the far corners of the park and also allows you to have the best opportunity to see its famous wildlife. Its also important to remember that in addition to its iconic wildlife, Yellowstone is world renowned for is spectacular landscapes, not to mention the many famous geysers and hot springs that make is so much more special, and thus must be factored in when planning your time in the park. Our time in Yellowstone was limited so we wanted to explore some key wildlife areas like Lamar Valley and Hayden Valley in addition to some of its famous landmarks like Grand Prismatic Spring, the various geyser basins and the Mammoth Hot Springs area. Even though our goal as wildlife photographers was to capture images of Yellowstone’s iconic creatures, we quickly realized that the incredible landscapes that shaped this dramatic place told as much of the story of this beautiful place as the bison and wolves, so we wanted to make sure we spent time visiting them as well.

I was tired, it was cold, and without much warning, the saturated clouds were ruptured by echoing thunder and what was a late sunny afternoon had turned into an ominous rainy evening. Yet, despite the conditions, I could not have asked for a more perfect moment, because here I was, enjoying a thunderstorm in this beautiful place, in the company of an icon. There is no other word I can think of that would better describe this beautiful being of the skies. On many occasions, your first instinct when photographing a bird as beautiful as this is to get in tight, to close down your frame in order to capture as much of its beautiful detail as possible. However, as I sat there looking at that magnificent creature before me, I realized that I would only be telling a fraction of the story if I did that. Here before me was an icon of this land, a creature of legend, perched on an anomaly that was a dead tree rooted in a field of gold with the most incredible forest as a back drop. I knew that I would be doing this incredible creature, not to mention this incredible wilderness a disservice if did not capture an image of everything that made this moment perfect. I won’t soon forget the wet, rainy evening I enjoyed in the presence of an iconic creature as it sat perched high on its throne, surveying its breathtaking home, defining what it was to be magnificent in a land that was the epitome of magnificence.

I was tired, it was cold, and without much warning, the saturated clouds were ruptured by echoing thunder and what was a late sunny afternoon had turned into an ominous rainy evening. Yet, despite the conditions, I could not have asked for a more perfect moment, because here I was, enjoying a thunderstorm in this beautiful place, in the company of an icon. There is no other word I can think of that would better describe this beautiful being of the skies. On many occasions, your first instinct when photographing a bird as beautiful as this is to get in tight, to close down your frame in order to capture as much of its beautiful detail as possible. However, as I sat there looking at that magnificent creature before me, I realized that I would only be telling a fraction of the story if I did that. Here before me was an icon of this land, a creature of legend, perched on an anomaly that was a dead tree rooted in a field of gold with the most incredible forest as a back drop. I knew that I would be doing this incredible creature, not to mention this incredible wilderness a disservice if did not capture an image of everything that made this moment perfect. I won’t soon forget the wet, rainy evening I enjoyed in the presence of an iconic creature as it sat perched high on its throne, surveying its breathtaking home, defining what it was to be magnificent in a land that was the epitome of magnificence.

He stood there, undaunted by the rain, undeterred by this ominous fall day. He was calm, at peace almost, a majestic creature, a stoic symbol among these fields of gold. I stood before him, humble and appreciative, for this was his home and I was but a transient.~ We had spent the prior two days tirelessly searching for moose along the endless array of rivers and streams that are the life blood of Yellowstone. These waterways like arteries in the body are what sustain this great wilderness and the wildlife that seek sanctuary within its infinite boundaries. We did have one great encounter with a pair of moose along the banks of the Madison River, but it didn’t deliver the image that I sought. So we continued, each day, out at dawn, returning only after dark, days passed and our time in this great wilderness was drawing to a close. I was residing myself to the fact that I would have to wait until I returned in a few months to get the images I was looking to create. Then things changed... See, thats the thing what many don’t realize about wildlife photography, even in wildlife dense areas, in the great wildernesses of our planet, you can draw a blank. You can spend an eternity searching for the images that you are attempting to create, and sometimes it just doesn’t fall into place. This strife, this constant hurdle, is also what leads to the greatest of rewards, the greatest feelings of euphoria. There are simply no peaks without valleys. OK, back to that which changed our luck. On the eve of our return we were told by another wildlife photographer that frequented these parts, to leave Yellowstone and head to the Grand Tetons. He assured us that our chances would greatly improve in this, another incredible wildlife oasis that was located adjacent to Yellowstone. So on our last morning, a rainy one at that, we headed out at 4:30am to the Grand Tetons in search of this legend. The setting was perfect, fall was in full swing and the many aspens of the Grand Tetons were transforming this already sublime place into a sea of gold. All we needed now was to find a moose... Every photograph is but a small part of a journey, it’s the prologue to a great adventure.

He stood there, undaunted by the rain, undeterred by this ominous fall day. He was calm, at peace almost, a majestic creature, a stoic symbol among these fields of gold. I stood before him, humble and appreciative, for this was his home and I was but a transient.~ We had spent the prior two days tirelessly searching for moose along the endless array of rivers and streams that are the life blood of Yellowstone. These waterways like arteries in the body are what sustain this great wilderness and the wildlife that seek sanctuary within its infinite boundaries. We did have one great encounter with a pair of moose along the banks of the Madison River, but it didn’t deliver the image that I sought. So we continued, each day, out at dawn, returning only after dark, days passed and our time in this great wilderness was drawing to a close. I was residing myself to the fact that I would have to wait until I returned in a few months to get the images I was looking to create. Then things changed... See, thats the thing what many don’t realize about wildlife photography, even in wildlife dense areas, in the great wildernesses of our planet, you can draw a blank. You can spend an eternity searching for the images that you are attempting to create, and sometimes it just doesn’t fall into place. This strife, this constant hurdle, is also what leads to the greatest of rewards, the greatest feelings of euphoria. There are simply no peaks without valleys. OK, back to that which changed our luck. On the eve of our return we were told by another wildlife photographer that frequented these parts, to leave Yellowstone and head to the Grand Tetons. He assured us that our chances would greatly improve in this, another incredible wildlife oasis that was located adjacent to Yellowstone. So on our last morning, a rainy one at that, we headed out at 4:30am to the Grand Tetons in search of this legend. The setting was perfect, fall was in full swing and the many aspens of the Grand Tetons were transforming this already sublime place into a sea of gold. All we needed now was to find a moose... Every photograph is but a small part of a journey, it’s the prologue to a great adventure.

Over the next few days we spent time traversing the far reaches of this phenomenal park exploring its flawless wild spaces, visiting some of the sights that have made Yellowstone world famous as well as enjoying time in her quietest corners reconnecting with nature at its most intimate. Each day brought with it another adventure, there were times that frustrated us when we couldn’t get the sightings and images we so desperately wanted to capture, but it made us realize that natures beauty remained unpredictable and out of our control and this was her allure. Then there were times that were so viscerally beautiful that they left us captivated, left us enamored with this natural utopia and the great beings that allowed us to share a moment in their lives. Yellowstone, like any great wilderness must be explored patiently, lending enough time to appreciate its beauty, unfortunately the more time you spend in a place like this you realize that the fleeting nature of time itself is limiting. Thus, we must continuously return to her, time and time again leaving a little part of us to live amongst the valleys and glades of this beautiful place.

Truth be told we had many incredible moments in Yellowstone and like any great adventure our days were filled with many highs and a few lows. We learned lessons as wildlife photographers and were fortunate to spend many beautiful intimate moments with some incredible creatures. The 14 hour days in the field were a clear testament that hard work rewards itself.  All in all, our time in Yellowstone seemed to pass by in the blink of an eye, leaving us with the insatiable desire to return as soon as we could.

There are those rare precious moments in the wild, those moments that are sublime in their intimacy and flawless in their beauty. There are those moments that will forever be etched into your heart, they become part of what you are, because they are a reminder of a moment that ignited your soul. There was this time, on a beautiful fall morning, out in one of our planet’s greatest wildernesses, where one of our planet’s most beautiful beings allowed me to spend a moment with him, opening me up to something transcendent. Before the gates opened, before the park was a buzz with the chattering of people, before the fields turned a shimmering gold with the morning sun, before any of that, I sat there, alone in a field, with one of nature’s most beautiful beings to keep me company. It was intimate, it was surreal, it was beauty defined. Yellowstone held me in her beautiful embrace, she opened the door and showed me what made her so special was not just in her colossal cliffs or furious geysers, but also in those tiny intimate moments in the quiet corners of her wilderness. This was Yellowstone, this was her gatekeeper… The American Bison

There are those rare precious moments in the wild, those moments that are sublime in their intimacy and flawless in their beauty. There are those moments that will forever be etched into your heart, they become part of what you are, because they are a reminder of a moment that ignited your soul. There was this time, on a beautiful fall morning, out in one of our planet’s greatest wildernesses, where one of our planet’s most beautiful beings allowed me to spend a moment with him, opening me up to something transcendent. Before the gates opened, before the park was a buzz with the chattering of people, before the fields turned a shimmering gold with the morning sun, before any of that, I sat there, alone in a field, with one of nature’s most beautiful beings to keep me company. It was intimate, it was surreal, it was beauty defined. Yellowstone held me in her beautiful embrace, she opened the door and showed me what made her so special was not just in her colossal cliffs or furious geysers, but also in those tiny intimate moments in the quiet corners of her wilderness. This was Yellowstone, this was her gatekeeper… The American Bison

Whenever I think back to any of my adventures, I try not to define it by days, or weeks, but rather by the moments that create memories that last an eternity. Yellowstone afforded me many moments like these, occasions where I was fortunate enough to share intimate moments in time with some of the incredible creatures that seek refuge within her boundaries. I for one had already fallen in love with everything that was Yellowstone, it stole my heart just like the Kruger, the Mara and all the other great parks I have become enamored with. These great parks of the world help millions of people reconnect with our incredible natural world, and that is something that’s needed now more than ever, and that’s why they play a vital role in conveying the love of our planet to future generations. 

The remarkable beauty of this breathtaking place simply leaves you spellbound. Yellowstone showed me that she was a true oasis, and not just for wildlife, but for the human spirit as well. See when you spend time in a place like Yellowstone, you leave a better version of yourself, you grow, you reconnect, you find the best of you… in a place where nature is at it’s most turbulent, your spirit finds peace. 

I pray that you travel far and wide but never find your destination. That the fear of the unknown never stifles that voice within you that tells you to follow your heart’s compass. May you cast off your bow line and set sail, as the sweet sensation of adventure replenishes the very fibers of your being. What you desperately seek is for her to always call to you, this temptress, this beautiful world of ours. May you forever look at her in wonder, in amazement, enamored by the way she fills you with an unbridled happiness, with a joy that ignites your soul. Remember though, as sure as the golden light of setting sun, even brief moments in her company will intoxicate you, they will get lost in her infinite beauty, but in doing so you will find the very thing that makes you whole. For she is of you, as you are of her

I pray that you travel far and wide but never find your destination. That the fear of the unknown never stifles that voice within you that tells you to follow your heart’s compass. May you cast off your bow line and set sail, as the sweet sensation of adventure replenishes the very fibers of your being. What you desperately seek is for her to always call to you, this temptress, this beautiful world of ours. May you forever look at her in wonder, in amazement, enamored by the way she fills you with an unbridled happiness, with a joy that ignites your soul. Remember though, as sure as the golden light of setting sun, even brief moments in her company will intoxicate you, they will get lost in her infinite beauty, but in doing so you will find the very thing that makes you whole. For she is of you, as you are of her









 
Faizel Ismail