I was spellbound watching "Yellowstone: Battle for Life" on Animal Planet recently. It brought back the memories and lessons of my own adventure into this wild place a few winters ago during a blizzard. Remember to always enjoy the journey. It was a lesson that served me well once again on Kauai.
January 7, 2005, we awoke before dawn and made the hour-long journey from Big Sky, Montana down to West Yellowstone, for a snowmobile tour through the park to Old Faithful geyser as a break after a few days of big mountain skiing.
On the back of my sled, I had a Canon 20D and a mess of lenses inside a Lowepro Omni Pro bag. In a moment of sheer brilliance, I'd left the "extreme" Pelican case portion of the Omni Pro kit back in the ski condo. For those unfamiliar with snowmobile design, the open-design gear basket sits directly atop the propulsion belt, meaning a good portion of the snow that is driven over kicks up into the basket. And let's not forget that the snow was dropping from the heavens at a nice clip, too! Somewhere within this snow cocoon was my gear. Each time we'd stop, I'd have to meticulously de-snow my bag to make some incredibly low-contrast shots of the distant elk and buffalo.
Around lunchtime, we arrived at Old Faithful, and you've all heard that old joke about the polar bear eating marshmallows in a snow storm. The flakes were still falling with that muffling and enveloping silence of a serious snow event, and off in the distance, through the low visibility that was a combination of the falling snow and the local steamy microclimate, a Geyser spouted. I'm pretty sure there's a few loaves of Wonder bread and Jet-Puffed marshmallows in this frame, as well.
After lunch we traced a different route through the snow, and for a few brief moments in the afternoon, the snow lightened, and there were actually some patches of blue to be seen. I managed to make a handful of photos through the course of the day, and more than anything else, they tell the story of our day in Yellowstone, the good light, the storm light, and the total journey was by far much more memorable than our visit to Old Faithful.
So...we went to a place known for its snowfall, and it snowed. A lot.
Flash forward to August 26, 2009 on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. We push our rented Nissan Rogue up the road past Waimea Canyon, and plan on climbing almost as far as the road rising through Koke'e State Park will take us: an overlook promising great views over the Kalalau Valley to the Pacific beyond. Here might be a good time to mention that this section of Koke'e Park is just a few miles from Mount Wai-'ale'ale, one of the rainiest places on the planet.
As we rise in elevation through Koke'e State Park, the clouds turn from decorative balls of fluffiness to break up the monotony of an ultra-blue sky, to a darker shade threatening rain, to fat droplets of rain, and finally, just as we are reaching the Kalualua Lookout, to an all-enveloping combination of fog, cloud, and rain. Visibility wasn't more than 10-15 feet. We didn't even get out of the car. The only shot would have been of some scrubby Polynesian roadside vegetation giving way to pure blinding vapor diffusion.
We turned back down the State Park road, and descended back down, out of the weather, and never once stopped to make a picture in the Koke'e Park. The road with its tight corners, switchbacks, and blind rises and falls was a whole lot of fun to drive. We took in many a fine southerly vista on our way back to sea level–almost always along stretches of road where there was no safe place to stop for shots, and so, we didn't stop and make any photos.
So, as far as a photo outing goes, the trip through Koke'e was a complete wash.
But there's a lot worse ways to spend an afternoon than simply taking in the ever changing views along the roadway while exploring a new place. Remember to always enjoy the journey, whatever the weather brings.