Photo Essay: A Multi-Generational Visit to Yellowstone National Park

With a last-minute booking, one photographer visits America's most famous national park for the first time—with his grandfather along as guide

Photo Essay: A Multi-Generational Visit to Yellowstone National Park

Author

Luis Ortega

Photographer

Luis Ortega

Camera

Leica MP, Mamiya 645

Film

Kodak Portra 160, Ektar 100

Luis Ortega is a San Diego based photographer, film photographer, and winner of the first annual Field Mag Film Photo Contest. Follow Luis on Instagram for more beautiful images of Southern California life.


We woke up to a white out in Bozeman. Not the most auspicious start. Undeterred, we made our way to the park. It being an early season trip, the weather was always going to be a coin flip. Having booked everything (sort of) last minute, my grandfather and I were lucky just to be there. This was his second visit to Yellowstone, my first. He had made his way to the park in the early '80s, when travel from Mexico City to Wyoming was a bit of a logistical nightmare. Forty years of wanting to come back and this wish was finally coming to fruition.

As we drove, the storm abated though the sky remained overcast, visibility was no longer a concern—dramatic landscapes are a given in Montana. But the manner in which the terrain within the park changes was not something I was prepared for.

The effect is amplified when you enter the caldera, also known as the Yellowstone Supervolcano. There is an energy about the place that can be felt and seen at any given time through the various geysers, springs, and thermal vents. It's an almost alien landscape that’s constantly rumbling, gurgling, and shifting.

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My grandfather is 79 and in great shape. We even managed to walk seven miles on the second day, but this was never meant to be a hiking-heavy trip. Part of the allure of Yellowstone (and many National Parks, in fact) is just how much you can see from the road—and just off it. Driving at the appropriately set 35 or 45 miles-per-hour speed limit allows one to stop easily and frequently as animals and landscapes appear around each bend.

As we drove and walked our way through the park, our experience neatly split into two types of recurring moments. The first: snowy, overcast days leading to a high volume of animal sightings. We saw bears, bison, birds, and even some animals that don’t start with the letter B. The second kind were when the clouds would part and illuminate these ridiculous landscapes. That's what happened when we visited the hydrothermal area known as Porcelain Basin and the sunset eruption of Old Faithful, that famous geyser.

"Life seemed to slow down as we drove through the park's winding and ever-changing valleys, leading to an almost meditative state."

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The biggest reason to stop the car was seeing a crowd of people armed with enormous camera lenses mounted on tripods. It was amusing, but also helpful as a clear sign saying “Pull over! Animal worth seeing HERE.” That's how we were treated to a visit with the same young grizzly bear on two separate days.

Life seemed to slow down as we drove through the park's winding and ever-changing valleys, leading to an almost meditative state.

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There are only so many things for my grandfather and I to talk about—and there was a lot we covered—before we simply settled in and reflected on what is happening in present time. The excitement of the two of us being able to finally pull the trip off transitioned into an understanding that it would be something we cherish for the rest of our lives.

With our time in this park winding down, a comfortable silence came over us. There was nothing more we needed to see, say, or do. All that was left were the permanent smiles etched into our faces.


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Photo Essay: A Multi-Generational Visit to Yellowstone National Park

Gallery Mode

Photographer

Luis Ortega

Camera

Leica MP, Mamiya 645

Film

Kodak Portra 160, Ektar 100

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