So I got inspired by Achas Veachas to finally get around and finish my trip report from my trip to Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks from last June. This was a photography trip with a friend, so it wasn't your typical vacation. That means that we skipped out on most of the touristy stuff, on top of not having a standard schedule. Every day was up at 3-4 for sunrise and morning shoots, napping in the car for 2-3 hours, afternoon and sunset shoots, then astrophotography until 1 or 2. Back to the hotel for a two hour nap, and up again for sunrise.... However, I think there's still a fair amount of info here for the normal traveler, so here goes. (I've posted some of these pictures in this thread already, but I'll repost them here where they belong. Click on any picture to see a full-resolution version. If you click through, click on the location name (under the picture) to see a map with the exactly where it was taken.)
We timed this trip very carefully. We wanted to go during the shoulder season so it wouldn't be overloaded with tourists, but still have decent weather as we were going to be outdoors 100% of the time. We chose June mainly due to the fact that there would still be snow on the mountains, and also because of the increased wildlife activity due to the babies being born in spring. In a way September is prettier due to the aspens turning gold and all, but the snow on the mountains was more important to us. We also timed the trip for the week right after National Park Week, so that many people would have taken advantage of the free entrance then and won't override the parks when we were there.
Since this was a photography trip, we were planning on focusing (Get it? Focusing!
) mostly on the Tetons, and spend only one day in Yellowstone. This worked out pretty well, but I really regret not spending more time in Yellowstone. Not so much for photography, but for seeing
more of it. For everyone going on a normal trip I'd recommend the opposite of what we did - spend most of your time in Yellowstone and a day or two max (including at least one sunrise) in the Tetons. There's far more to see and do in Yellowstone than the Tetons.Day 1:
We flew into SLC, which is about 5 hours away from Teton Village, where we were based out of. We chose SLC due to points availability and scheduling - the latest flight out of JAC (which is the closest airport) was about 12 noon, while we were able to fly out of SLC close to midnight. This gave us good couple of hours more in the Tetons.
Other airport options are IDA, COD, and BIL. If the tickets and timing woks out, JAC is by far the most convenient. The airport is actually located in Grand Teton NP itself, and is considered one of the most beautiful landings in the world (sit on the right coming in, and on the left leaving). IDA is about 2 hours away, and you'll take the Teton Pass to get in, again ending up in the Tetons. COD is also about 2 hours away, but you'll end up in Yellowstone instead (east entrance). BIL will also take you to Yellowstone first, but through the remote and wild (wolves!) northeast side. An added benefit is that you'll be taking the Beartooth Highway to get in, and that's considered the most beautiful road in the lower 48.
At the Hertz lot there wasn't too much of a selection in the GoldChioce area, but our only real need was an SUV with a relatively high clearance, so we grabbed a Chevy Captiva with 200 miles on it. We stopped in WalMart to stock up on stuff, but we hardly found anything kosher. We did get stink eye from some locals, though
. We also needed to pick up bear spray, which we couldn't find there either. In hindsight we should have gone to the gun department (that's where we found it in Anchorage), but we didn't think of it.
We took the I-15 through Idaho on the way up, which is considered the fastest but also the least scenic route. Dunno about that - it was pretty darn beautiful the entire way up. You drive along the Wasatch range through Utah, cross into Idaho and pass farms with huge center-pivot irrigation systems (quite interesting to see them up close, after only seeing them from planes before), and then back into beautiful mountains.
Approaching the Tetons from the Idaho side:
Center-pivot irrigated fields from the air:
Doing this route will take you over the Teton Pass and into Wyoming. It's a beautiful road, and quite scary at times. The grade on the way down is so steep that every mile or so there's a runaway truck ramp going almost 45 degrees up to stop out of control trucks who’ve lost their brakes. The crazy thing about them is that they're on the other side of the road
- meaning that you could be going up the pass and suddenly have an out of control truck barreling straight at you in your
Video screen grab of one of the ramps:
It was snowing when we got to the top, so we stopped at the lookout for a bit and waited it out. There's a picnic area with a fabulous view of the valley. While we were we met a German guy who had just biked up the pass. He was biking from NY to LA and was quite relieved about the fact that it's mostly downhill from here
The pass ends in Teton Village, where we were staying. About 5 minutes south is Jackson, which is the main town in the area. Most people call Jackson "Jackson Hole", which is wrong wrong WRONG!!! (I have geographic OCD - don't mind me
). Jackson Hole is a geographic term for the entire area to the immediate west of the Tetons themselves - a sort of depression compared to the area around it. Being the largest town in the physical Jackson Hole, they called it Jackson.
We rented a condo through HomeAway, and were extremely happy. The place was nice and the price was nicer. We didn't get to see the Tetons much the first night due to a blizzard up in the mountains. Thankfully it was just a light snowfall in the valley which only left a dusting and was gone by morning. Day 2:
The first day we were up at 3 and headed to Schwabacher Landing to shoot the sunrise. This is one of the most spectacular sunrise spots in the world and is a must see for anyone, not just crazy photographers waking up at 3. I don't care if you're there with 17 kids or if your wife flat-out refuses to get out of bed - it would be absolutely criminal to go to the Tetons and not see the sunrise from Schwabacher Landing. It's the most amazing sight. The sunlight hits the tip of the Grand Teton, moves over to the next peaks, then explodes all over the mountains and the rising fog. There's a thin sheet of mist rising from the Snake River at your feet, while the birds and ducks serenade you.
The parking lot is at the end of Schwabacher Landing Rd., which is just off the main park road. Right past the lot is Upper Schwabacher Landing, and five minutes down the path is Lower Schwabacher Landing (there'll be a bench at the end of the path). The upper landing has a more majestic view - it's more 'open'. You see most of the Teton Range, and more of the willow flats around the river. The lower landing is more intimate and photogenic - you're in the woods, and you only see the main peaks. But while not as majestic, it's prettier - the peaks are perfectly framed by trees, and all this is reflected in the perfectly still beaver pond in the river. Most of the year you have time to get there about 15-30 minutes after the listed sunrise time, during to a ridge to the east blocking the sun.
We spent a couple of hours there, from before sunrise till early morning. After that we davened shachris in the parking lot.
Waiting in the dark:
The first rays of the sun kiss the very tip of Grand Teton:
As the sun gets higher the mountains start to glow:
Some 20 minutes later:
A shachris like no other in the parking lot:
After Schwabacher Landing we headed to the Antelope Flats area, which includes Mormon Row. This is a small collection of old ruins from a Mormon settlement from the early 1900s. This is the site of the Moulton Barn, know as the most photographed barn in the world. We specifically didn't go to shoot the barn, since with only 4 sunrises we didn't want to waste one on this, since that's about the only time to get a great shot of it. We now headed there to hopefully meet up with the bison herd which frequents that area.
When we got to Antelope Flats we saw the bison herd off in the distance, so we got our gear and decided to hike across the prairie to meet up with them. Slowly but surely the herd made its way closer to us, and we kept on backing back up in order to keep a safe distance from them (more people are killed or hurt in the area by bison than by all other animals combined. They say that a bison is 2000 pounds of bad temper, and man is that accurate). Eventually they forced us back into our car, after which they proceeded to make their slow and merry way across the road.
My friend fording a great and mighty river on the way to the herd:
Bison on Antelope Flats:
Mother and baby:
After that we headed back to our condo for a short nap, after which we went to shoot the sunset over Jenny Lake. We hiked down from the parking lot to a tiny 'beach' - basically an outcropping with barely any room to set up our tripods. Sunset ended up being an absolute bust - there were no colors in the sky, and the sun was a no-show. The lake is a beautiful location though.
Jenny Lake sunset with Cascade Canyon in the background:
Our plan was to shoot star trails later on, but it was getting pretty cloudy. Instead of wasting our time we decided to get some sleep - we were exhausted, having hardly slept the last two nights. We prepared our gear for the next morning, and set our alarms for 3 again, when we would head out to shoot sunrise over Oxbow Bend.