Grand Teton National Park is a part of one of the last remaining intact ecosystems on the continent. For wild animals and even wilder terrain, there are few places in North America where one can fully appreciate the beauty of Mother Nature. Grand Teton National Park, together with Yellowstone National Park, make up the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, which encompasses nearly 20 million acres. The park itself is relatively small, at 310,000 acres, but the amount of natural beauty within park boundaries is astonishing to say the least. Both Yellowstone and Grand Teton, are colloquially known as the Serengeti of North America. And in this place the viewing of wildlife, notably moose, elk, deer, bear, pronghorn, bison, coyote, and wolf, are available to view and photograph within a stone’s throw of the roads.
Myself and fellow instructor Phil Nicholas, after completing a workshop in Yellowstone National park just days before, made a quick journey down to Jackson to meet our fellow companions for a customary meet and greet before the action began. Jackson, Wyoming is the perfect little hamlet to stay in while exploring the Greater Teton area as it is full of luxury hotels, gourmet eateries, and wonderful galleries highlighting the beauty of the area. After a brief explanation of the next three day’s events, along with some safety information about the wildlife, our group was extremely eager to get out and start shooting!
We began our journey very early today. Rising well before dawn, we made our way into the park and stopped at Mormon Row, which is famous for the old Moulton Barn, among others. T.A. Moulton, built a homestead in the early 1900's along with other farmers and ranchers in an area called antelope flats. These properties were the last parcels sold back to the National Park Service, and have become icons of the Teton Area. Well they sure chose a great spot, what with that amazingly picturesque mountain range behind them, it’s no wonder this barn is probably the most photographed in North America. Sunrise came and gave us just a glimpse of nice light, before the sun retreated into some clouds. We stayed a little longer, gathering some nice shots of the little creek, and fall colored leaves on the ground, all with the Tetons as a backdrop. We drove a little further into antelope flats and stopped to photograph a herd of bison, again with the Teton Range as a backdrop, before heading into the Gros Ventre campground to see if we could find some moose. Just as we pulled in, BANG, we spotted a huge bull making his way toward the amphitheater. We let everyone out as Phil parked the van, and followed the lumbering giant for about an hour before he headed back toward the river. Um, well, that was cool! With everyone giddy at the morning’s find we headed to the hotel for a nice break.
In the afternoon we headed back into the park via the Moose-Wilson road, which traverses through an area with high wildlife population. Although we didn’t see anything this time, as we came around toward Jenny Lake in the north part of the park, we spotted a bull elk chasing after a female. Phil and I decided to stop and await the chase as they were nearing us, and everyone got out and got some great shots of the action. We continued around Jenny Lake toward the reservoir and Jackson Lake Dam, and made a stop around Oxbow Bend, to photograph some of the last remnants of Aspen groves before their leaves fell. Phil and I walked the group through the groves, and helped them to get some shots of the white bark and yellow leaves. After everyone filled their cards with some awesome shots, and abstracts, we headed over to Schwabacher’s Landing, to see how the sunset would pan out. Once we arrived Phil and I showed the workshop participants some vantage points along the river, and saw some beavers travelling back and forth tending to their dams. A couple people followed me up river and we saw a moose crossing! A gentle female moose just happened to come right out of the woods, stop at the river and drink, before proceeding off along the river as the light faded! What an awesome first day!
With the weather turning, we chanced a sunrise out at Oxbow Bend for our morning shoot. The river bends ever so elegantly right in front of some glowing aspens, and Mount Moran of the Teton Range is a nice backdrop. Again, we got just a glimpse of some color, which was quite astounding, before the sun crept behind some clouds again. With the mountain range in danger of being covered up by the clouds, we headed over to Elk Ranch Flats to grab some shots of the trail horses with the Teton Range in the background. We all got some nice images, but the weather started to turn, so we headed back for an extended break while the weather sorted itself out.
After lunchtime we headed back into the park again though Moose-Wilson road, and we saw a moose! The weather really wasn’t interested in changing for us, but we proceeded to get everyone out, and work on compositions through the light rain to capture this female, who was more interested in feeding on the tall grass. She looked up at us enough for our group to grab some quick shots with her ears perked before we eventually had to call it a day as the rains started to come down. Phil and I hosted a post-processing session in the common area of our hotel, and while he worked alongside some individuals, I ran through some basic Lightroom workflow and developing while connected to one of the big screen TV's. Before long, everyone was getting hungry and we all went into town for some of that great food that Jackson is known for.
Today we tried our sunrise luck out at Shwabacher’s Landing. The stillness of the river and close proximity of the trees and the mountains makes it a perfect spot for a choice landscape shot. The light never really peered through the clouds, so we also spent some time working on some abstracts with the raindrops on the pines and the leaves. Phil and I decided to take the group back to antelope flats, and on up to the Gros Ventre River Ranch for some more horse photography. Before we could make our way up there, we spotted two huge bison coming out of the Kelly warm springs area, so we stopped and waited for them to cross the road. As we persuaded our group to retreat to the opposite sides of the van as the bison crossed up the hill, they all got some amazing shots of these two lumbering beasts as they stopped to wonder what we were doing. We eventually made our way up to the ranch and spent some time photographing the horses they keep there. Everyone got up close and personal, as the horses are always quite interested to see if we have anything for them. They are so inquisitive! We made a quick stop back at the Moulton barn for our customary group shot and started on our way back to town. BAM! Huge bull moose! Phil spotted this guy hiding in the cottonwoods along the main road, so we quickly parked and made our way down the banks to get some photos. We must have been one of the first to see him, because shortly after we started shooting, the scene turned crazy! About 40 cars saw us with lenses and stopped, and before long nearly a hundred people were out vying to get pictures with this big guy! Nice spotting Phil!
After a whirlwind morning, we only had enough time for a short break for some lunch before heading back into the park for one last hurrah! We decided to head up towards Signal Mountain, as some folks in the park had seen some bear activity there during our lunch. We didn’t see any bear, but a really beautiful 12 point deer let our entire group get some really nice shots of him through the thicket. Then we saw some grouse, funny looking turkey-like birds, before heading back down the mountain in search of more wildlife. As we came around Elk Ranch Flats again, a nice big herd of bison were in a long single-file line coming towards the buck and rail fence there, so we stopped and grabbed some more photos of them with that amazing Teton range in the background. From there we headed to our last stop, the old JP Cunningham cabin. We used the meandering buck and rail fence as a leading line in some compositions highlighting the mountains. Also the old cabin has some window holes, so framing the range through the cabin windows is a nice shot we experimented with. After goofing off there we all began to get hungry so we headed back into town, to let everyone get ready for a nice big farewell dinner at The Gun Barrel, which is an amazing steakhouse in Jackson. Luckily, even though a couple of our people were under the weather, we had everyone there for an amazing dinner and a proper send-off.
Phil and I really want to thank all of you for eagerness and willingness to learn, for putting your trust in us, and for a damn good time out in the mountains! Cheers everyone!
Until our next big adventure,
Scott, Phil and the rest of the Aperture Academy Team!
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