A Wild Vacation

– Posted in: Garden Adventures, Garden Photography


I have been on vacation. No gardens. No professional camera. It was wild – which is where I learn the best lessons for gardening.

If you have never been to yellowstone National Park, put it on your bucket list. I’d recommend going camping there if you can! Sure there are lots of people there during the summer season, but there are grizzly bears too, so it is easy (and only a bit risky) to go on trails where most folks don’t go.

Old Faithful geyser seen from visitor center

Old Faithful geyser seen from visitor center

The geothermal features draw the most visitors, with 25% of the world’s geysers in the park, but in late summer the wildflowers are at their peak.

As you hike away from the crowds it is a bit eerie to see steam rising across the valleys and through the woods, but the further you go the more you notice the habitats and plant communities.

Yellowstone wildflower hike with Old Faithful geyser WAY in the distance.

Yellowstone wildflower hike with Old Faithful geyser WAY in the distance.

To get to Yellowstone we had no choice (darn…) but to drive through The Grand Tetons where I made the first of many panorama photos.


I am using a Canon G11 camera that shoots RAW format and by stitching together multiple exposures I get very good optical effects without the curving lines that a single shot wide angle lens would give. The photo of the Grand Teton mountains was 3 frames. The photo of the Yellowstone River flowing through the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone was 10 frames: 5 across the top and 5 across the bottom.

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, the river runs through it

Enough of rocks, mountains, and hardscapes – this is a gardening blog; let me share wildflower pictures – the landscapes.

Before I ever took a professional garden photo, I was a landscape photographer who loved to study ecosystems and native plants. Nature taught me a lot about gardening, about how plants live together, about companion plants, about habitats, and the intrinsic beauty of wildflowers. Now that I have been a garden photographer for very nearly 30 years, I find gardens have taught me a lot about how to photograph the wild.

Wildflowers along Mystic Creek in Yellowstone Park

Wildflowers in meadow along Mystic Creek in Yellowstone Park

I am keenly interested in showing plant relationships and scale. I really don’t care about macro close-ups, I want to see how the plants and flowers relate to the landscape. My garden work has taught me that the most informative photos tell a story of plants organized by the gardener. Now when I am in nature, I habitually look for “organized” compositions. I see nature’s garden much easier than ever before.

Wildflower ground cover in nature's garden

Wildflower ground cover in nature’s garden

I wish I knew this low shrubby wildflower but finding it in a gravel scree, it showed itself to me as if next to a garden path – a garden photographer’s habit.

When I began this walk into the back country of Yellowstone I really did not expect to see so many wild flowers. Ignorant me. Late summer in the mountains is always the peak of the wildflower season.

I wish I had brought along some sort of wildflower guide. Not knowing the real name of these beauties makes the photos almost unusable for publishing, but I sure had fun.


Buckwheat, Eriogonum sp.


Lupine, Lupinus sp.


Aster family wildflower by Mystic Creek


White everlasting wildflower


Indian Paint Brush, Castilleja sp.

After Yellowstone we went into Montana to the The Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument for a canoe trip down the river following the trail of Lewis & Clark.

Bend in the River at White Cliffs, The Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument

Bend in the River at White Cliffs, The Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument

Not so many wildflowers here but this meadow lover was captivated by the prairie.


Lawn alternative in nature's garden

Lawn alternative in nature’s garden

Does this not look like a fine native lawn, edged with a perennial border under trees ?


Yucca above the White Cliffs of Upper Missouri River


Dandelion seed head in Montana prairie

holt_1085_302.JPGLight. SO very much fun to see and play with. Here Blue grama grass (Mosquito grass) Bouteloua gracilis dancing in the wild.

Here the same native grass in a photo from my book, The AmericanMeadow Garden:


I may have been on vacation, but I was really looking to refresh my eye, and get ready for more garden photography.

ahhh… gardening gone wild…

Wild Montana meadow under cottonwood tree at sunset.

Wild Montana prairie meadow under cottonwood tree at sunset.

Saxon Holt
Saxon Holt is the owner of PhotoBotanic.com, a garden picture resource for photographs, on-line workshops, and garden photography stories. An award winning photojournalist and Fellow of The Garden Writers Association with more than 25 garden books, he lives and gardens in Northern California. PhotoBotanic - Garden Photography online at www.photobotanic.com. https://photobotanic.com
Saxon Holt

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Donna August 10, 2013, 7:28 am

My dream vacation… true gardening gone wild. I am so motivated in nature’s garden to get out the camera and see what there is to find. I agree with you it is like nature makes a garden with gravel paths and layering of plants. Also, I agree that nature teach ways to be a better home gardener. Why too many lessons from nature too.

I too don’t always know the native plants, but I think your dandelion is Western Salsify or Goatsbeard.

I love your photos and panoramas. I can just feel your enthusiasm and delight being there.

Thanks Donna, it was a vacation full of unexpected delights. – Saxon

ann August 10, 2013, 8:20 am

Is agave and yucca same?

Thanks(!) for the correction, now incorporated into the caption. -Saxon

Lynda August 10, 2013, 8:20 am

Such beauty! I loved all of your photographs, but would really like to know what those red stemmed, pink, bell shaped flowers are!

I hope you don’t mind my exuberance in sharing here, but the “dandelion seeds” are Salsify or Oyster plant! They are related to dandelion and the roots are edible when cooked. I just learned this morning that they are also in the sunflower family.


Thanks Lynda – this sort of sharing and linking is most certainly encouraged. Saxon

Note: The salsify is European plant. If you want to eat it, then plant it in your garden, but never let it go to seed. If you do, then you will never be able to get rid of it! (voice of experience) ‘-)

I really enjoy your articles! Thank you

Benjamin Vogt August 10, 2013, 8:26 am

Saxon, thank you for the tour off the beaten path! You know how I feel — every yard in the Great Plains should be prairie, and if it were, we’d be much happier and healthier.

Thanks Benjamin. I still need to see lots more of what prairie is still out there. I was intrigued to see many grassland preserves on the map but out of reach – for this trip. – Saxon

Lee@A Guide to Northeastern Gardening August 10, 2013, 8:50 am

Wow…love wild! You have captured the magic of this place beautifully with your photography. The last photo of the sunset is amazing!

Thanks Lee. The magic is certainly in the place, but most places have a certain magic and it takes a visit from another place to really see it. _ Saxon

Laura August 10, 2013, 10:21 am

I was just there too, and I was blown away by the wild flowers. We walked along sunflowers, Agastache, wild geraniums, penstemon, and all the ones you photographed, I was in flower heaven. I didn’t see the plant with the lovely pink bell flowers anywhere though.

As a soil geek, I was blown away by the thickness of the top soil, and many times I dug my fingers in it to smell it.

So glad this place exists and is protected, and thanks for sharing such beautiful photos.

Thanks Laura. I was amazed to learn how thermally active the area still is. A volcano ready to happen. – Saxon

Saxon Holt August 10, 2013, 11:38 am

Yikes ! To those who wonder what Ann is talking about – the photo (now captioned – Yucca) in the White Cliffs regions was mislabeled as an Agave. Shouldn’t I at least know the genus ? Thanks Ann

Lenore August 10, 2013, 1:18 pm


Fabulous photos. I teach native plant master classes in Colorado and am also a gardener, and it’s inspiring to consider nature’s garden as related to cultivated gardens. Also, the salsify is Tragopodon dubius (European import & weed – Asteraceae/sunflower family) and the pink-flowered shrub appears to be Apocynum androsaemifolium (spreading dogbane Apocynaceae – dogbane family). The white everlasting is Anaphalis margaritacea (Asteraceae/sunflower family).

But my main comment is wow – love your photos and I love Yellowstone/Tetons too. I tend to do macro photos, but you’re so correct in saying it’s important to show where the plants are growing.

Thanks Lenore ! Much appreciate your being able to give ID from my photos. – Saxon

Carol J August 10, 2013, 6:28 pm

What wonderful pictures. My husband and I need to get out there and see the sights. We live in VA Bch so it is hard to leave paradise! I will definitely plan a trip in mid August next summer.

Funny, I have been saying the same thing about leaving the paradise of Northern California to go on vacation …:-) Do plan well in advance for your accommodations. – Saxon

Jon Paxton August 10, 2013, 10:33 pm

Your pictures are amazing! I have always wanted to go to Yellowstone. Someday hopefully!

When you go, make plans well in advance for camping or lodging. It fills fast. – Saxon

Marilyn Kircus August 10, 2013, 11:48 pm

I don’t get to do much gardening any more but I still love finding nature’s gardens. And I love getting to live and volunteer in the northern states with mountains, where spring goes on and on. You just have to go to a higher elevation when the spring flowers disappear at a lower one.

You should definitely have your garden sight renewed.

Thanks Marilyn. Indeed I feel renewed, and am again reminded this time of year to go higher in the mountains where it is now spring. – Saxon

Amy Beam August 11, 2013, 8:00 am

That is so beautiful. I grew up growing to the Sierras and I loved late spring when the creeks were high and flowers were in bloom. Living in so cal my heart years for large expanses of mountain wilderness. I am now placing Yellowstone on my must see list.

Yellowstone should be on everyone’s list, but much closer to you is Mineral King area of Sequoia National Park in the Southern Sierras. Great wildflowers in late summer. – Saxon

Michael August 11, 2013, 8:02 am

I’m a native plant gardener in Montana, so these plants are familiar.
The pinkish-white bell-shaped flowers are Apocynum androsaemifolium. A common name is dogbane.
The paintbrush is Castilleja miniata.
Yes, the dandelion is salsify, Tragopogon dubius.
The yucca is Yucca glauca.
The yellow wildflowers along Mystic Creek are Solidago, possibly canadensis.
Regardless of the ambiguity about the plant names, the photos are superb.

Thanks Michael ! It is wonderful to have your feedback. I was particularly enamored by the dogbane. What a great plant. – Saxon

Gail Klein August 11, 2013, 7:59 pm

what a pleasure to see them as you did. makes me want to visit, too.

THanks Gail. Photos are fun and as I like to say “the camera always lies”. In many cases, such as Yellowstone, the camera can not do it justice. Put it on your bucket list. – Saxon

Debra Lee Baldwin August 12, 2013, 12:17 am

Somewhere along the way I started hearing “America the Beautiful” in my head. If I had to pick a favorite, it would be the “lawn alternative” photo. The composition is exquisite. It reminds me of what I love about a good plein aire painting. Saxon, you are indeed a virtuoso with a camera, even on vacation!

Thanks DL It helps a lot to vacation where good photos are waiting to be had. – S

Carolyn August 13, 2013, 5:23 pm

Yellowstone is certainly among my most favorite places in the world to be. As a child, no Summer was complete without a trip to Yellowstone. We went every year. Except for the year of the big earthquake. Did you see any bears ? Probably not, those days are long gone. We kept journals of all the wild life we encountered and it wasn’t uncommon to count dozens of bears on our trips. Your images truly capture the magic to be found there. Thank you for a trip down memory lane.

Pam/Digging August 14, 2013, 12:11 am

I have been to Yellowstone — 13 years ago — and it still remains one of the most incredible wild places I’ve ever seen (although Tanzania’s national parks top the list). We even saw grizzlies. It’s well named as the American Serengeti. Our visit was in late May/early June, with snow still on the ground, so it’s a pleasure to view your images of a warmer, more floriferous season.

Sarah Blunt August 14, 2013, 6:16 am

I dreamed of getting great photos like that! I just don’t have time to visit beautiful wild sceneries. You are truly my inspiration! I’ve learned so much from this blog. 🙂

Charles Hawes August 14, 2013, 11:07 am

Loved this post. And of course the fabulous pics. I photograph gardens for publication and am based in the UK. Well I did. I do very little now. Mostly of our own garden, Veddw. But I have been taking my Canon G12 on my hikes and write a blog, Usually working from the Raw files, too. My wife has rather taken over my G12 so I bought a G15 which is also great. Apart from the fact that Photoshop CS 5 would not recognize the camera so I had to just upgrade to Creative Cloud just so that I could process my non – commercial Raw files from my walks!

Chris August 19, 2013, 10:21 pm

Such a beautiful vacationing spot!

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