Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone - Yellowstone National Park

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River is incredibly photogenic, especially if you like spectacular waterfalls. Witnessing the raw, thunderous power of both Upper and Lower Falls is very impressive.

Both the north and south rim provide a variety of excellent viewpoints, with options of hiking even closer if desired. My favorite locations along the north rim were Lookout Point and Red Rock Point, the latter a 1/3 mile descent from Lookout Point to a very beautiful, up-close viewpoint - the location this first image was taken.

Grandview is also nice.

At the end of the north rim is Inspiration Point, a very interesting overlook of the canyon. It offers no view of waterfalls, but the expansiveness is impressive. I didn't walk away with anything exciting, but I think it would be a great place to capture dramatic clouds at sunrise.

The south rim offers excellent viewpoints at Upper Falls Viewpoint and the famous Artist Point. Upper Falls can be framed up close, or to include an arching bridge behind it. I found the bridge to be an attractive element.

This is also the starting point for Uncle Tom's Trail, a very popular trail that descends precariously down to the edge of the river. However, this trail was closed during my visit.

I missed another viewpoint further south of the main one. Considering that I spent multiple mornings at this location, I really kicked myself for missing it!

Further down the road is the icon for the area - Artist Point. This viewpoint is a further away from Lower Falls than Lookout Point or Red Rock Point, but offers the classic composition of the river snaking toward you below the falls.

Artist Point can also be absolute mayhem, depending how many tour buses are in the parking lot. The viewpoint can get very congested and frustrating at times, with personal space often feeling compromised. Guided tourists only have a short amount of time to collect their snap shots (including groups posed in front of the falls) before hurrying back to their bus again. There is a conflict of different cultures and customs interacting here, with the English language often not a common ground.

The good news? As crazy as it can get sometimes, understand that all can change in only 10-15 minutes as the tour guides collect all their patrons and herd them back to the bus to move on to their next destination. I was amazed at how quickly things changed. Several times I witnessed the tour buses leave only to look around and see but a handful of people left and a suddenly quiet surrounding. So if you find yourself amongst the numbers, relax - take a deep breath, and be patient. You will surely be rewarded.

The observation deck at Artist Point is large, and offers subtly different perspectives depending on where you set up, so be sure and give it a quick scout. Also, there are other very rewarding compositions available before the observation deck, which some photographers actually prefer. Options abound for the attentive photographer!

There are a couple of things worth noting when photographing the falls. The first involves shutter speed. A slow shutter speed of 1/4 to 1/2 a second will blur the water and give it a smooth appearance, while a shutter speed 1/30 or faster will render the waterfall as our eyes see it. For larger waterfalls such as these, I think the faster shutter speed does a better job of capturing the power and intensity of waterfall. But play with it and find what you like.

The second item worth noting is the regular appearance of rainbows at the base of the falls in late spring and early summer. These typically appear mid-morning and add a beautiful element to your composition. I was successful in catching rainbows at the Upper Falls viewpoint and at Red Rock Point, but not at Artist Point.

Once you've exhausted your compositional ideas of Lower Falls from Artist Point, don't forget to turn around and follow the river down canyon. The colors in the canyon wall are very attractive and well worth your camera's time. This area was formed by a combination of lava flows and thermal action. The lava rock below the falls is much softer than above the falls, allowing the river to carve deeper into it. Geothermic activity also works to make this rock softer, and can be witnessed along the canyon walls on cool mornings in the form of steam.

The bright colors in the canyon walls are best witnessed under diffused light. The pinks really pop out when a thin cloud scoots in front of the sun. These colors are from the presence of iron and magnesium oxides, a product of the geothermal activity in the area.

Don't forget to visit Brink of Upper Falls to witness the intensity of the falls up close and personal. This is an impressive viewpoint of Lower Falls at the brink of the falls (as the name would suggest!). It's turnout is half way between North Rim Drive and South Rim Drive.

Another beautiful waterfall worth visiting in the area is Tower Falls about 17 miles north of the Canyon area. Unfortunately, the trail was closed due to washout during my visit. Hopefully you will have better luck!

This is the second part of a series I am posting from our visit to this wonderful park last June. I hope you are enjoying it and finding the information useful for your own planning!

Next Up: Upper Geyser Basin.

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