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Yellowstone Winterkeeper Bids Adieu To Final Weeks Of Autumn

With big crowds now gone from America's oldest national park for awhile, MoJo columnist Steven Fuller pays tribute to the quiet lull

The desiccated skeleton of a cow parsnip overlooks a late autumn sunrise above an S-curve in the Yellowstone River. The lingering funk of smoke from regional late season wildfires tints the early morning light.
The desiccated skeleton of a cow parsnip overlooks a late autumn sunrise above an S-curve in the Yellowstone River. The lingering funk of smoke from regional late season wildfires tints the early morning light.
EDITOR’S NOTE: For Yellowstone winterkeeper Steven Fuller the last stretches of autumn bring weeks of expectation—and transition. The medium of water is shifting from fluid to solid, plant and animal life is slowing down and entering dormancy, the flood of humans has dramatically tapered and all around him, Fuller is taking note of changing textures, atmospherics and starker contrasts. Below is the latest photo-essay from Fuller, who is a Mountain Journal columnist and good friend.

All Words and Photos by Steven Fuller

Grand Prismatic Spring is the most vivid expression of Yellowstone's color and in winter it appears brighter but it is not the rule that applies to most of the national park environs. The magic of Yellowstone is found in her subtlety. 

Around 80 percent of the Central Yellowstone Plateau, where I live,  is forested and most of the forest is lodgepole pine so autumn colors here are mostly in the meadows or on the floor of the forest. The day to day vividness of the autumn colors is dependent on the various qualities of the light at the time.
Above the stark snowy landscape of a decades ago wildfire while below the autumn colors are vivid and richly saturated beneath a thinly over caste bright sky. The same scene on another day under a different sky and the colors might be washed out or even bland.
Or, on a dark and stormy morning even forlorn. 
The skeletons of this summer’s cow parsnip provide complex armatures on which super cooled water vapor rising overnight off the Yellowstone River has accumulated as frost.
Sunset as a weather system moves out of the southwest up onto the Yellowstone Plateau.
Mostly cloud shrouded my home range of mountains on a damp chill early morning. In the middle foreground on the left  a plume of vapor rises up out the the Grand Canyon from the Lower Falls. On the far right a bank of vapor marks thermal area on the south rim of the Grand Canyon.
On a muddy buffalo trail graupel (“pellet snow”) reveals the recent track of a grizzly bear.
Surrounding bubbling hot springs extravagant colors, textures, and nodules of mineral salts proliferate on the surface ofthe ground as saturated geo-thermally warmed water vapor nourishes crystals when the vapor meets the cold surface air. 
Mineral salts in saturated geo-thermally warmed ground precipitate when the water meets the cooler air at the surface.detail.  Surface objects provide “seeds” around which the minerals precipitate.
A vigorous mud pot is in perpetual eruption with only a few moments between out-bursts. Up close the mud is watery and the emerging gases create an explosive momentarily complex bramble-like eruptive mass.
Interesting vapor plumes rise off the Yellowstone River at sunrise.
The surface of another mud pot creates “marbleizing” (literally “marbling with floating colors”), the dynamics of these flowing forms is described in the classic beautiful book Sensitive Chaos.
Graupel  is formed when stellar snow crystals are caught up in brief convective squall snow storm clouds and are frost rimed as they fall.
A  rimed stellar snow crystal, soon to proliferate in the changing season.
A herd of bison gathers along the Yellowstone River on a foggy pre-sunrise morning.  After collective deliberation they eventually swam to the other side. They know winter is coming, fast.
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Steven Fuller
About Steven Fuller

Steven Fuller has been the "winterkeeper" at Canyon Village deep in the heart of Yellowstone National Park for 48 years.  Well traveled on several continents, he is also an award-winning nature photographer.  Follow him at A Life In Wonderland appearing exclusively at Mountain Journal.  His collectible photography is available through Fuller directly. This profile photo taken by Neal Herbert/NPS
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