Scenes from Big Sky Country (2003)

My first SceneSet, containing 25 images captured during a day spent near Bozeman, Montana in 2003. Blue sky panoramas, dramatic cloud formations and fiery sunsets show why Montana is called "Big Sky Country".
Pretty Parking Lot  Upon arriving in the Bozeman, Montana area for the first time, accompanied by my wife and then-two-year-old youngest son, II was struck by the majesty of the mountains all around us, set off by a brilliant blue summer sky.  This was actually taken where we stopped for a short hike to a nearby waterfall (see the next image). I was amused that I found myself taking mountain scenery pictures in, of all places, a parking lot! I'm sure people who regularly visit Montana wouldn't even notice it. :) Road through Hyalite Canyon  We took this road through the Hyalite Canyon to get to the hike towards Grotto Falls. In retrospect it was just another road, not even really in the mountains, just near them. But at the time it was a lot of fun. :) Grotto Falls  At  the end of a short hike we came to Grotto Falls, which was our destination. (My wife Robyn and I are waterfall nuts. :) ) I believe that this is both one of many cascades bearing the name Grotto Falls, and also one of many falls in the Hyalite Canyon.  The stairsteps in this fall intrigued me greatly, and in retrospect, reminded me of some of the formations at Mammoth Hot Springs in nearby Yellowstone National Park. The lighting wasn't the best for a waterfall picture, but I'm still glad I got a useable shot. Hyalite Reservoir -- South View  Having only been in Montana for a few hours, I found myself wanting to take pictures of every wide open scene -- they all fascinated me, since things are so much more "closed in" back in the Northeast. This is a multi-image panorama of the Hyalite Reservoir, taken from a causeway looking south. Incidentally, I am a sucker for big puffy clouds, as you will find out if you are new to my photography. :) Hyalite Reservoir -- East View  Another view of the Hyalite Reservoir (see previous image), this time taken looking east. This is actually only part of a much wider panorama -- it's always amazing just how big everything is out west! I had fun shooting around the reservoir, but I'm pretty sure the gentleman and his dog on the beach were having a lot more. :) First Montana Sunset  It was at sunset on our first evening of the trip that I first began to understand why they call Montana "Big Sky Country". We have nice sunsets back home, but rarely anything that approaches the grandeur of what I experienced that night. The combination of the interesting high clouds, the long visibility and the low horizon made for quite the light show. This was actually taken about a half hour before the actual setting of the sun; it hid behind a low cloud bank and illuminated the sky with bands of orange and gold.
Burning Sky  This photo was taken the same evening as the prior image, as the sun was actually going down. The golden tones gave way to a fiery red, and I zoomed in to capture the sun in her fading glory.  (I used a very old, very cheap consumer zoom for this shot.. don't let anyone tell you that you need the best equipment to get decent images!) Afterglow  I've learned both from others and from experience that the sunset doesn't end when the sun goes down. That was never more true on this particular evening. As the sun sank behind the horizon, its parting rays gave one last gasp of brilliance, lighting up the myriad patterns of high altitude clouds arcing overhead. No photograph could really capture the feeling of seeing it, but I hope this gives you some idea.  Overall, this was one of the best sunsets I've ever experienced in my life. Incidentally, this is actually a multi-shot panorama, stitched together - I had to act fast! Feathers of Sunlight  As lovely as the sky was the preceding evening, it was just as amazing the next morning. At around 6 am, I went downstairs to get something from the car -- only to find myself running back upstairs quickly to get my camera!  The sun began streaming out from between the clouds behind the mountain, forming what are commonly called  sun rays  (but they also have other names). The scientific term for this phenomenon is  crepuscular rays .  The early morning light also illuminated the interesting-looking node-shaped clouds on the right-hand side; these are called  mammatus clouds . They are actually less common in the western part of the United States than in central and eastern regions. And so ends an impromptu meteorology lesson. :) Daybreak Panorama  On the second day of our trip, my wife had a half-day of meetings in Bozeman. (Hey, not fun, but that  is  ostensibly what we came for!) I had a two-year-old and some time to kill, so I decided to drive to Big Sky, Montana for the morning. What struck me immediately was the distances involved in driving out west. You can see a straight road leading towards a mountain, and think that it is only a couple of miles away. You start driving, and after 10 minutes feel like you haven't gotten any closer!  While driving southward this scene unfolded before me, with its beautiful transition from blue sky to storm clouds, and the sun streaming down in the background. I pulled off the highway, cars whizzing by me, and snapped this four-shot panorama. Evergreen Hillside  Another big difference between the mountains of the West and the area I call home is all the evergreen trees -- my home forests are mainly deciduous.  I liked the patterns carved into this hillside (perhaps ski runs?) and the green offset against the brilliant blue of the sky. That blue sky was not to last, however... Road to Big Sky Country  We saw a variety of interesting cloud patterns on this particular day, and they seemed to change almost by the minute. This was just a simple shot of the highway as I approached the Big Sky area.
Lone Mountain Valley  Lone Mountain is the centerpiece of the area around Big Sky, Montana, and this was the first image I took as I approached it. In the foreground is another evergreen-swathed valley and some very nice-looking chalets that I could never afford to stay at. :) The House on the Hill  I can imagine what it must be like to live in this house. And my wife has every intention of ensuring that imagining it is all that I do. :) Road to the Mountains  As we got closer to Lone Mountain, I set off to explore some of the roads going up into the mountainsides. Most of these are very steep and lead to fancy ski resorts and other recreation areas. Lone Mountain and Wildflowers  Now we were getting rather close to Lone Mountain. I took this simple shot from the side of the road, with the mountain accompanied by seasonal wildflowers. Big Sky Cloudscape  Once we reached the Big Sky area, I took my son on a gondola ride up to the top of the mountain. He was a bit young to appreciate the journey -- as I recall, he was mesmerized by all the fallen trees on the mountainside, and kept saying 'tree fall down!' Nice memories. :)  I took this cloudscape by pointing my camera out a partially open window as we ascended in the gondola. A storm was approaching. Lone Mountain Summit  The gondola drops you half way up the mountain, in what is called the "bowl area", at an elevation of 9,047 feet. It was noticeably cooler up there, compared to the valley, though the air didn't seem substantially thinner.  I had a toddler on my hands and not much time, so I wasn't able to go any closer to the summit than my camera would allow me to travel.
View from the Top  A different view from near the top of the gondola ride on Lone Mountain, this time looking back towards the Big Sky valley. There actually wasn't all that much fireweed up there, I just found it pretty so I worked it into a couple of shots. :) Diagonal Vision  Another shot from the gondola, this time taken on the way back down. I used the steep diagonal line of this slope to complement the approaching storm clouds. It began raining not long after we got back down to the valley. Gallatin River Ripples  After my side-trip to Big Sky, I returned to collect my wife from Bozeman and we set off for Yellowstone National Park (the subject of another, much larger SceneSet here at The Gallatin River runs along the highway that connects Big Sky and Bozeman. Gallatin Range Panoramic  The road to the entrance of Yellowstone National Park in Gardiner takes you through a long valley that runs along the back of the Gallatin Range. Yellowstone River Overlook  A peaceful shot of the Yellowstone River taken just a few miles outside the park. The clouds were very cooperative for this one. Dusk over the Gallatin Range  This panorama was taken looking towards a stormy-skied Yellowstone from the north.
Dark Clouds on the Horizon  A fitting close to this SceneSet -- Big Sky Country showing its stormier side. This was taken late in the day near the entrance to Yellowstone National Park.