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As one of the last remaining intact temperate ecosystems, visiting Wyoming's Yellowstone National Park is like taking an adventurous journey back in time to the last Ice Age of the Pleistocene epoch some 10,000 to 15,000 years ago when hordes of megafauna roamed the prairies of North America. Driving along the northeast entrance road in the Lamar Valley in the northern part of Yellowstone during winter, you experience hordes of bison and wapiti (elk) seeking shelter from the harsh weather conditions of the high plateau at the center of the world's oldest national park. The wildlife isn't timid, and you can get very close, but you must respect the safety regulations and stay at safe distances from the wildlife. The animals don't care much about safety regulations, and I've experienced coyotes, wapitis and Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep strolling casually along the road, passing me within a few meters. Yellowstone is also considered the best place in the world to experience the gray wolf, and if you get out early in the Lamar Valley before sunrise, you're likely to hear wolves howling.
The weather is harsh during the winter, which lasts for half a year. At Yellowstone's high plateau, the amount of snow commonly reaches 300 inches while an average of the surrounding lower valleys is around 150 inches. At the high plateau, the lowest temperature measured was -66º F. In the Lamar Valley, I've experienced daytime temperatures down to -22º F in clear weather and temperatures at around zero with harsh, snowstorm-like conditions and heavy snowdrift—all within a few days. The winter conditions here, harshest of all the Lower 48 states, should never be underestimated, and you need to bring the right winter gear.
I prefer minimalism, so I don't bring loads of gear—two Nikon D300S camera bodies with a Nikkor 500mm ƒ/4 VRII and a Nikkor 70-200mm ƒ/2.8 VRII attached is about it. The 70-200mm is my all-time favorite, and I use it for 60% to 70% of my images. It's great for capturing details from the landscape, and it's absolutely excellent for the images I mostly prefer, of animals in their environment. Of course, if you want some close-up contact action, you need serious tele power like the 500mm—or even more. I carry my gear in the Lowepro Pro Trekker 400 AW where I have lots of space left for necessary equipment like outdoor winter clothes. You can also attach all sorts of hiking equipment to the outside of the Pro Trekker like a snow shovel and snowshoes.
In general, winter is my absolute favorite photo season, and winter at Yellowstone is extraordinary. Seeing the bison struggle their way through the enormous amounts of snow, using their massive heads as snow shovels, is quite a sight. The mighty and majestic animal spends its whole day searching for food underneath the snow, its trail cutting through the winter landscape like the tracks of icebreakers in an enormous Arctic ice-covered seascape. The white snow offers an excellent opportunity to spot the more timid wildlife inhabitants of Yellowstone like the gray wolves. Watching wolves digging and jumping their way through the snow on the mountain slopes is something I'll never forget. You also have lots of space during winter. Every year brings millions of tourists to Yellowstone, but the majority visits during summer, and in wintertime, you can enjoy the great scenery and the unbelievable wildlife more or less undisturbed—just like this unique wilderness deserves!
Contact: Yellowstone National Park, www.nps.gov/yell.