When president Obama visited Old Faithful in August of ‘09 the secret service had to clear out an area for him and his family on the nearby platform, from which they could catch a glimpse of this geothermal wonder. I imagine they could barely hear the ‘breathing’-like sound of the monstrous forces at work beneath, mixed in with the oohs and aahs of 3,000 other spectators (according to Park service records). No wonder they didn’t stay longer than 10 minutes.

I’ve been there and done that, as I am sure have many other visitors to this blog, playing tourist and getting lost in the predictable crowd (4+ million people visit Yellowstone each Summer). But… wouldn’t you like to commune with this wonder of nature in a private, exclusive “command performance”? I enjoyed such a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity –one that that eludes even presidents, or perhaps especially presidents. It happened last month. Two weeks before Memorial Day. And you can have the same experience, too. The secret: be there at night.

When I started working on this image, on May 19, a couple of hours after sunset, I was alone with my camera and tripod, a few yards from the geyser.  The sky above, all clear and starry… what a welcome finishing touch to a day of changeable, mostly overcast weather.  And Old Faithful, true to its name, did not disappoint. I stood in awe of the momentary column of water and steam, when it came, endlessly climbing to the stars, and all happening just next to where I stood  — if the gentle breeze was blowing my way I’d have been soaked.  And oh, that pure ‘breathing’ sound, uncluttered by human exclamations will stay with me for ever… it was like a living thing…  much like a breaching whale…

When the show started, almost on cue, I’d already spent the better part of an hour trying out compositions, long exposures, focal lengths, noise reduction settings and other camera controls until I finally got what I liked… or guessed I might like… since the geyser was sleeping during my practice.   And when the time came … I was cold… my hands freezing in the crisp, twenty degree air of the starry night, alone with the geyser while other visitors stayed warm and comfortable inside the nearby lodges…

Yes, I was there, thankful for the experience, with camera ready, and, as it turns out, set exactly as it should have been. It was all worth it. You’ve got to try it some time.

(As usual, click on the image for access to the rest of our relevant collection– in this case: Yellowstone/Geothermal)