Color Explorer: A Color Quest in Yellowstone

A man standing on a hill with a view of a lake and the sun setting.

I drove from Jackson Hole to Yellowstone in the late afternoon, passing through the Grand Tetons at dusk to whet my palate for the park. I pulled over frequently to admire the mountains golden glow, but didn’t dawdle. I wanted to arrive in Yellowstone before dark to dodge any elk or bison on the road. The first geysers I encountered were backlit, enchanting in their yellow haze and frothing like a witch’s cauldron. 

A view of mountains and a lake.

I rose early for my private wildlife safari. I didn’t have to look too hard for my guide, Ken, a chatty but amicable conservationist and biology guru. He was decked out in khaki from head to toe and waving me over to his tripod-mounted scope. Color is one of the best ways to spot wildlife, so I scanned the tree line for distant specks of brown contrasting against the undulating valley. When I looked through the scope, the bear was already in focus. 

A country side highway with a buffalo walking in the middle of the street in the traffic.

I tried to play it cool with the abundant bison, and kept my eyes peeled for smaller but equally captivating creatures: pronghorns, coyotes, ravens, hawks, and harriers. Luckily, there were wolves in Lamar Valley. They may not be the most colorful predators on the outside, but as they salivated over fallen prey, I noticed the color of their tongues—a dainty pink hue you might choose to paint a nursery. Nature is replete with colorful contradictions. 

A view of a hot spring with vibrant golden-yellow and blue hues.

I devoted a full day to the park’s geothermal wonders—the travertine terraces of Mammoth Hot Springs, the oddly entrancing gurgle of Fountain Paint Pot (sorry, not for sale), and the impossible, kaleidoscopic marvel that is the Grand Prismatic Spring. Microbes baking in extreme temperatures create this boiling rainbow lake. I walked the trail to the elevated viewing platform and waited for the clouds to part. When the sun hit the spring and those glorious bacteria started to dance, it was a sight to behold.

A view of a hot spring with trees surrounding it.


Yellowstone is a place of raw natural beauty. Although the park is thrilling to explore by car and endlessly popular with children, it remains a wild place. It taught me to embrace color in both its brutal and bizarre variations. The amaranth blood stain on the mule deer’s antlers. The turmeric-tinted mineral castles, formed through thousands of years of geothermal venting. The heliotrope sky as the setting sun reflects on the Yellowstone river snaking towards the horizon. 

A view from a hill of a lake.

Colorfully Yours,

David Axelrod 

BEHR Color Explorer

Follow my journey: @2straws

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