Behind the Picture: A Year Along the Same Spot of the Yellowstone River

There is this view along the Yellowstone River that I have taken a picture at hundreds of times a year. I stand on a mostly flat rock a few steps up on the levee, next to Sacajawea Park in the small town of Livingston, Montana and snap away. Looking up a side channel of the Yellowstone River, a few shrubs have grown out of the ever-shifting gravel, holding on tight through the spring floods and somehow surviving the frigid temperates and ice dams of winter. In the distance, the Absaroka-Beartooth wilderness beckons modern day explorers, its rocky mountain tops scraping the sky.

It is easy to look at a picture and assume we know the story of the scene. Our brains quickly and happily create a narrative, but few know what really happened when the shutter clicked and the image was captured. In this weekly series, I’ll be going behind the scenes of one of my pictures, giving a quick insight into things. I’ll be describing the how, when, what, why and where of the picture and hopefully, it is appreciated. 

Watch the video of a year along the Yellowstone here: https://youtu.be/TvJS57X1-Bo 

Read on for some background. 

Late Fall from a side channel of the Yellowstone River in Livingston, Montana, looking toward Livingston Peak and the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness.

What is going on in this picture: This video is a series of images put together, showing the changing scenery from a side channel of the Yellowstone River in Livingston, Montana. From the snowy days of winter and the extreme flooding during the spring, to the summer sun, forest fire smoke and arrival of fall colors, I tried to capture what life was like along the river during a 2020. This is over an entire year of images taken from the exact same spot. 

When was it taken: I started this series in mid-November of 2019 and ended on January 1st, 2021. There are around 170 images in this series. I exported 178 and put them in the video, but didn’t count how many I deleted that were too far from the angle that I wanted for a smooth video. Looking back, I also realized how few sunrises and sunsets I caught over the past year from this spot. I hope to change that in 2021. 

Where was it taken: The spot where I took the pictures is in Livingston, Montana. As you head south on Yellowstone Street, you’ll reach Sacajawea Park. West of the bandshell, there is a small set of stairs leading to the top of levee and right near there, on the large rocks, is the spot on which I stood. The rock is mostly flat and can be found in heavy snows, which is one reason it was chosen. 

Spring floods from a side channel of the Yellowstone River in Livingston, Montana, looking toward Livingston Peak and the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness.
Winter clouds and snow from a side channel of the Yellowstone River in Livingston, Montana, looking toward Livingston Peak and the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness.

How did I take it: Every single picture in this series was taken with an iPhone XR. All but a handful were taken on my runs. I tried to capture the same angle each time, but occasionally missed the mark, so the video is a little more jumpy than I’d like. Each image is around 10MB in size and taken with whatever settings the camera felt like using. I did minimal effort to get proper lighting or angles and instead tried to get consistency. How’d I do?

Why did I take it: I go to this spot every chance I get when I am in town. At the end of 2019, I decided that I would to take a picture from this spot as often as I could. I was hoping for once a week, or 52 images. Instead, at the end of 2020, I had 178 pictures from this spot from all the seasons of the 14 month period. I could have picked just 52 to use, but that didn’t sound as fun.

I look at these pictures and video and have a lot of emotions, which I don’t expect to transfer to anyone else. This spot is special to me. I remember details about each day. I recall how the wind was blowing, how the air smelled, how I felt and how I smelled. I think about the birds flying overhead, or the moments of silence and solitude I had here while processing life during a pandemic. This spot is a now a favorite of mine and one that I hope I appreciate forever. I have even written and read a short story about the spot, which can be read and listened to here

I know I’m  privileged to have stand here, week in and week out, and be able to bask in the wilds of Montana. To gaze at mountains I have climbed and ridgeline I have frolicked on is amazing and I can’t stress enough how lucky I feel to be able to do this. I feel honored to have seen the arrival of pelicans in the spring, watched geese land on the ice in the winter, and witnessed insects hatch, getting eaten by the fish in the waters. To have seen thunderstorms and rainbows, heavy snows and smoke-filled skies just makes the time spent on this rock even more amazing, forever cementing my soul to the river. 

The view from the spot looks toward the nearly million acre Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, a region that millions of visitors to Yellowstone overlook. The spot is also right above America’s longest free flowing river, as no dam dares to block the majestic Yellowstone. The river is ancient and the region is the ancestral homeland of numerous indigenous tribes who were brutally removed. I sincerely wish the atrocity never happened and acknowledge and take a moment to reflect on the sadness each time I get to enjoy the views from here.  

This spot along the Yellowstone River is one that I do not claim as mine. I see countless others snapping pictures from the same area and look at that with a smile. As much as I feel a little bit of ownership over the rock and angle, I hope everyone reading this or passing by the river has a chance to stand on the rock and gaze into the wilds off in the distance. I hope everyone gets a chance to hear the roar of the river in the spring or see it start to ice over as temperatures linger in the single digits. 

If you aren’t able to find your way to this famous river town in Park County, Montana, don’t worry.

Every community has that one spot, that one view that one can take in and briefly escape the stresses of the world. I’d love to see others find a spot they frequent and take a picture as often as possible. The world is always changing and if we don’t take time to stop and notice it, celebrating its beauty and soul-restorative power, we may just miss a moment that is looked back on decades from now as a truly happy time.

May you find and rejoice in your spot.

THE VIDEO