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Photographer Tom Murphy on Wildlife and Yellowstone

Wildlife photographer Tom Murphy is well known for documenting the beauty and wildlife of Yellowstone National Park. He shares photos and experiences from decades of hiking, camping and skiing across Yellowstone, a place he refers to as "one of the finest wild land ecosystems in the world." (Photos and captions by Tom Murphy.)

  • One cold January morning, two bison bulls stood for several hours soaking up heat from the steam rising from Chromatic Spring in the Upper Geyser Basin.

    Yellowstone's thermal feature provide rare opportunities for wildlife to get relief from the stress of severe winter cold. Many of Yellowstone's bison spend at least part of the winter in the shelter of thermal areas.

    One cold January morning, two bison bulls stood for several hours soaking up heat from the steam rising from Chromatic Spring in the Upper Geyser Basin. The steam coated the nearby trees and parts of the bison with frost, but at times the steam would envelop the bison long enough to melt the frost and make them sparkle with tiny drops of water. The bison were very passive and still, saving their energy for when they must leave this thermal oasis and search for food in the nearby heavy snow.

    Photo provided by Tom Murphy
  • Autumn colors and Mt. Moran at the Oxbow Bend.

    Autumn colors and Mt. Moran at the Oxbow Bend.

    Photo provided by Tom Murphy
  • "A bad feather day."

    This adult bald eagle was standing on the ground. It was raining lightly and there was a 15–20 mile an hour wind blowing toward me from behind the bird. When the eagle turned its head at a certain angle, the wind picked up the slender, delicate, wet, white feathers ruffling its normally smooth looking head and creating "a bad feather day."

    Photo provided by Tom Murphy
  • Members of the famed Druid Pack of gray wolves.

    Members of the famed Druid Pack of gray wolves.

    Photo provided by Tom Murphy
  • Standing and lying on the relatively warm geothermally heated ground, these bison were coping with one of Yellowstone's typical February mornings.

    Standing and lying on the relatively warm geothermally heated ground, these bison were coping with one of Yellowstone's typical February mornings. By holding very still or moving slowly in the cold, they conserved energy which also allowed frost to accumulate all over them. They left this spot only when hunger drove them to the surrounding deep snow.

    Photo provided by Tom Murphy
  • Puffs of steam from the Old Faithful geyser cone moved up and covered the early gold sun rising above the distant ridge.

    The warmest light of the day will be at sunrise or sunset. Puffs of steam from the Old Faithful geyser cone moved up and covered the early gold sun rising above the distant ridge. The geyser had erupted a few minutes earlier and the runoff channels were still steaming too.

    Photo provided by Tom Murphy
  • During the ten minute exposure, I walked in front of the camera going from one tent to the next and illuminated each with a small hand-held flash.

    While on a fifty mile backpacking trip from Jackson to Yellowstone Lake, we camped one night near the mouth of Trapper Creek. In the dark, I set up the camera on a tripod facing north to Colter Peak and Turret Peak. During the ten minute exposure, I walked in front of the camera going from one tent to the next and illuminated each with a small hand-held flash by firing the flash behind each tent and toward the camera. The clouds blurred as they blew across the sky, the stars appeared to move, and the landscape was lit by a three-quarter waxing moon.

    Photo provided by Tom Murphy
  • This cow and calf were unusual because they played together for about five minutes. I have rarely seen cows play with their calves for more than 30 seconds.

    Bison calves, like all infants, spend significant time playing. Playing develops strength, coordination and agility as well as bonding and competitiveness as a calf seeks a place in the herd's hierarchy. This cow and calf were unusual because they played together for about five minutes. I have rarely seen cows play with their calves for more than 30 seconds. The cow stood with her head down, encouraging the calf to push against her. The calf backed up with her tail in the air and made short runs at her mom's head. The calf danced around thumping into the cow's large skull but could not move it even an inch.

    Photo provided by Tom Murphy
  • Rainbow at Tower Fall, where water hits the rocks at 100mph.

    Rainbow at Tower Fall, where water hits the rocks at 100mph.

    Photo provided by Tom Murphy
  • Bald eagles in Yellowstone.

    The sunset light illuminated a narrow band of the landscape. During a brief few minutes, these bald eagles were lit by gold sunlight while the mountain ridge and clouds were in the blue-gray scattered light.

    Photo provided by Tom Murphy
  • A brown bear cub touches mom's nose at Katmai National Park in Alaska.

    A brown bear cub touches mom's nose at Katmai National Park in Alaska.

    Photo provided by Tom Murphy
  • Yellowstone Lake.

    Every twenty-nine plus days our moon moves around us and is in position opposite the sun. It is called a full moon because we can see the fully illuminated surface. On clear nights, this rocky mirror casts reflected sunlight down on our night landscapes, creating bright shadows and reflections like this across the still surface of Yellowstone Lake.

    Photo provided by Tom Murphy
  • Grizzly bear cub, playing in the snow.

    Grizzly bear cub, playing in the snow.

    Photo provided by Tom Murphy
  • Sunrise over Yellowstone River.

    Sunrise over Yellowstone River.

    Photo provided by Tom Murphy

"Wild land is my interest," says photographer Tom Murphy. "It's amazing to me that we have one of the finest wild land ecosystems in the world and a core of that is in Yellowstone Park. It's beautiful; it's accessible. Three and a half million people visit every year, but most of them stay on the roads and the parking areas, which is fine."

"But get off the road, and it's a profoundly beautiful, healthy, wild place. I like it. That's why I live here."

Related Audio Interview

"Never Ruin a Bear's Nap." – Wildlife photographer Tom Murphy discusses his adventures hiking, camping and skiing across Yellowstone National Park.

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