Tuesday, August 23, 2011
A Photo Highway
Route 89 carves its way through some of the most spectacular scenery in the Western U.S. It’s a landscape photographer’s dream road trip.
Route 89 exits the Colorado Plateau at Spanish Fork Canyon and dips back into the northern part of the Basin and Range as it traverses the Salt Lake Valley. North of Salt Lake City at Brigham City, you begin the ascent into the Rocky Mountains. There’s perhaps no landscape more iconic to the American psyche than the Rockies, and the three national parks along Route 89 in Wyoming and Montana challenge the photographer to look beyond the icons for a special view.
One thing you can count on for help in making unique images in the Rockies is the weather. In my experience, dramatic clouds are more the rule than the exception. When I’m on a road trip, I try to keep the schedule flexible, but it’s not always possible to wait out bad weather. On my border-to-border road trip in May and June last year, I had planned to take my time going north to allow the spring thaw more time. As I left Salt Lake City, however, the forecast was for stormy, cold weather for several days. So I changed my strategy and went straight to Glacier National Park, hoping the weather would improve as I turned around and headed south.
The strategy worked that time. The afternoon in Glacier was stormy with ominous clouds. I set up on the shore of Two Medicine Lake and photographed the changing cloud formations over Sinopah Mountain and then took shelter for a rainy night in my teardrop trailer. The next seven days from Glacier to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon were marked by cloud-filled skies and beautiful sunsets.
Inclement weather fits the mood of Yellowstone perfectly. The geysers, hot springs, steaming fumaroles and mud pots are strange and otherworldly. Stormy skies and subdued light enhance their oddness. One of my favorite areas in Yellowstone is Norris Geyser Basin, a large collection of geothermal features. On my last day there, I headed down the path into the basin late in the afternoon under a very cloudy sky. I could see breaks in the clouds on the western horizon and hoped for some dramatic lighting. Another photographer passed me going out with her tripod over her shoulder and a disgusted look on her face. Well, she really missed an outstanding sunset. It turned out to be the most productive hour of shooting in three days at Yellowstone and resulted in one of my best photographs from the trip.
James Cowlin is a freelance photographer living in Oracle, Ariz. His Route 89 project continues to be a work in progress. You can see more of Cowlin’s work at www.jamescowlin.com, and you can find out more about Route 89 at his dedicated Route 89 website, www.us89society.org.
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