Right On - Off-Season!

Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park

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Walking the road at Grand Teton National Park.

Walking the road at Grand Teton National Park.

Last fall at the Nature Photographers of the Pacific North West Conference (NPPNW), I won a door prize. It was tuition to the 3rd annual Yellowstone Photo Symposium in West Yellowstone sponsored by Perfect Light Camera. I usually would not consider visiting West Yellowstone during the last week of April while there is still snow lingering in depressions and many of the roads and trails are not open.

But a paid tuition was something I could not pass up. We booked our room at the Three Bear Lodge, reserved an Airbnb to add-on a short visit to Grand Teton National Park, and off we drove across the Palouse of western Washington, through the Idaho panhandle, into the Rockies.

Through the Palouse and on to Grand Teton National Park.

Through the Palouse and on to Grand Teton National Park.

Grand Teton National Park was accessible by road, but most of the trails were closed due to snow. We discovered a unique gem when we found that Teton Park Road from the Craig Thomas Visitor Center to Jenny Lake was closed to vehicle traffic, but open for walking and bicycling. We put on our snow boots, grabbed our picnic lunch and had a quiet walk; just us, the snow, the Tetons, and a few bicyclists who also were out for the beautiful day.

Grand Teton National Park landscape photography: “Always look for the foreground, middle-ground and background.”

Grand Teton National Park landscape photography: “Always look for the foreground, middle-ground and background.”

The Yellowstone Symposium was the first time I had an opportunity to spend one solid week focusing on photography. The photographs by the instructors were awe-inspiring. Throughout the week, I wavered back and forth between wanting to sell my camera and quit taking photos because "I could never be that good," and wanting to head out in search of wildlife with my camera in hand, shouting "If they can do it, so can I!"

Caryn Esplin, Professor of Visual Communications at Brigham Young University was my favorite presenter. As an educator, she had a great attitude, perfect delivery, and practical information. One of her main points was following the four P's: Plan, Photograph, Polish and Publish. I can do that! I also signed up for her critique session and a class in studio lighting.

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Wild bison. My photos seem so ho-hum.

Wild bison. My photos seem so ho-hum.

Practice with my iPhone and studio lighting. Model is photographer  Kaili Orchard

Practice with my iPhone and studio lighting. Model is photographer Kaili Orchard

Photographed at the  Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center,  West Yellowstone.

Photographed at the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center, West Yellowstone.

Pam Hoaglund (also from the Olympia Camera Club) and I went to the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center to practice what we learned at the symposium. There were less than a dozen other visitors at the center and only one other photographer. We had the place all to ourselves and the animals were beautiful.

Photographed at the  Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center,  West Yellowstone.

Photographed at the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center, West Yellowstone.

I like taking photographs when the animals are close and standing still. But alas, they are in a zoo.

“You looking at me?” Photographed at the  Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center,  West Yellowstone.

“You looking at me?” Photographed at the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center, West Yellowstone.

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It was cold at Old Faithful.

It was cold at Old Faithful.

In addition to the Symposium, I found an added bonus and the best value of the trip - off-season travel. Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Yellowstone National Park, and Grand Teton National Park are great places to visit when the weather is cold and the crowds have not moved into the area.

In the off-season, the main roads are open, Old Faithful is active, the geyser basin is steaming, the lodgepole pine are recovering from fires, the skies are sometimes clear, and there are no crowds or lines! Some of the businesses were closed, but we had a nice room and a selection of places to eat. There was no wait at the West Yellowstone entrance station and traffic was light even when bison were trudging in a line down the middle of the road.

I would not have considered traveling for a photography week so early in the spring. But everything was right on!

If I had not won such a prize I might have missed the gift of off-season travel in the beautiful Rocky Mountains.

Thank you Perfect Light Camera.

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Not Old Faithful, but still amazing.

Not Old Faithful, but still amazing.

One of the first signs of spring, the robin.

One of the first signs of spring, the robin.