Missoula to Jackson Hole, Montana & Wyoming, USA
20th October – 1st November
It would be no overstatement to describe Montana as a vast unknown territory, almost the size of France but with only around one million inhabitants. It remains undiscovered not just by Europeans but also by many Americans. This is a land of huge open prairies and ruggedly beautiful mountains, little changed since the early pioneers passed through in covered wagons. Here one can find forgotten little towns with saloons and poker parlours straight from the Wild West.
We travel southeast from Missoula, through the Bitteroot Valley, flanked on the west by the amazing Bitteroot Mountain Range, one of the US’s largest wilderness areas. The mountains may well be dusted with the first fresh snowfalls of autumn. Road conditions permitting, we might take the unpaved Skalkaho Pass climbing to 7,260ft with unparalleled views across the Anaconda Pintler wilderness.
Our next base is in the Big Hole Valley, site of an historic battle between the Nez Perce tribe and the U.S. Cavalry. The famous Lewis & Clark expedition over-wintered at the hot springs here in 1806. The main photographic attraction for us is the ghost town of Bannack. Known as the toughest town in the West, this was where the State’s first big gold strike occurred in 1862. People still lived here until the 1960's and more than 60 of the town’s original wooden buildings are still preserved including Skinner’s Saloon, the Jail and the gallows.
Our route passes through the Lost Trail Pass, on the Idaho border, and drops down into the Madison River valley - a sparsely populated sweep of lush grazing. The small town of Ennis, at the southern end of the valley, will be our base for two nights giving us the opportunity to explore two more "ghost" towns. Nevada City and Virginia City aren't strictly speaking ghost towns since they are both still inhabited. Virginia City (pop. 150) was the original capital for the Montana Territory and the setting for the TV series “Gunsmoke”. The infamous Boot Hill Cemetery lies at the northern edge of town. A five minute drive takes us to the restored Nevada City with its music hall, piano store and pioneer-era Star Bakery. Both settlements have featured in numerous Hollywood Westerns including “Little Big Man”, “Lonesome Dove” and “Missouri Breaks”.
If you’re looking to see a real outpost then the small town of Pony (pop. 81) is probably as good as it gets. Its red brick buildings stand alongside unpaved streets at the foot of the Tobacco Root Mountains. Once larger than Butte, Montana's capital, it has slowly slipped into glorious obscurity. The only businesses in town are the Post Office and the Pony Bar!
For the next four days we will explore Yellowstone National Park, one of the finest areas of natural beauty to be found anywhere in the world.
The whole park is incredibly geologically active, sitting atop a so-called super volcano. There are numerous geothermal features including bubbling mud, geysers and multi-hued pools of boiling water. About one quarter of all the world’s geysers are crowded into the hills around Old Faithful but the Norris Geyser Basin includes an even bigger example, Steamboat Geyser – though you’ll have to be lucky to see this 400ft monster as it only erupts about once a decade!
The dramatic 24 mile long Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone will no doubt also hold our attention. The 1,200 ft deep gorge is composed of wonderful warm toned rhyolite rocks. Short treks give us access to viewpoints of both the Upper and Lower Falls, which are higher than Niagara.
Other highlights include the beautiful Mammoth Hot Springs, where warm water has re-deposited limestone to produce a series of terraced pools in the form of interlocking arcs. Large numbers of elk can be found lounging around on the warm expanse of Opal Terrace. We will also visit the numerous boiling mud pots in the Mud Volcano area and Yellowstone Lake – one of the largest and highest alpine lakes in the world – in fact there are too many things to see for us to really cover them here!
Just when you thought it couldn’t possibly get more amazing we travel on to the Grand Tetons, perhaps best known from an image made by Ansel Adams from the Snake River Overlook. These jagged granite spires are iconic mountains par excellence. Twelve glacier carved summits rise above 12,000ft and are crowned by the Grand Teton at almost 14,000ft. The 40 mile long range towers over the beautiful Snake River and stunning lake strewn landscape of Jackson Hole.
There are wonderful opportunities for dawn images from the banks of the Snake River or Jackson Lake, with warm light bathing the peaks. Jackson Hole is famously cold in winter so we may, if we are lucky, be granted the first heavy snowfall of autumn attractively blanketing the foreground or there may be frost rime on the reeds bordering the river.
It's been nine years since I last visited this region and I'm really looking forward to showing another group of photographers it's many splendours.
All transport during workshop
Accommodation & breakfasts
Photo tuition from David Ward
Lunches, dinners, alcoholic beverages & other personal purchases
£4,950 for single occupancy
£800 fee payable at time of booking