Summer 2008 Trip: Day 33 – Grand Teton National Park

I think the most humbling moment of my vacation occurred this morning. I suppose that’s what shooting the sunrise at the Tetons next to a guy who is going to expose an 8″ x 10″ sheet of Velvia will do. Frankly, I can’t imagine having the patience to shoot on a piece of film that costs $10. And that’s after you compose upside down and reversed. Eric (the photographer from Colorado that I met yesterday showed up for sunrise and brought his camera along, (and not his Holga this time). He took two shots the entire sunrise; I must have shot 50 and I’m certain another guy down our little line shot over 200 (for some reason he was using continuous (which doesn’t make sense unless he was bracketing).

I finished up the sunrise with a trip back north, towards my campsite, hoping to spot some animals to shoot along the way. Unfortunately, I only shot a couple of bison, and I have plenty of pictures of them. Got to my campsite and took a 2 hour nap (getting up for sunrise every morning is wearing on me.

After I “checked-out” of the campsite, I hit the road south, there were still a few places I wanted to go but hadn’t made it to yet. I made the drive up Signal Mountain and wasn’t terribly impressed with what I found; that’s probably because I don’t find the geography of the rest of the park nearly as exciting as the mountains themselves.

Back down the mountain I drove, heading towards Lupine Meadows which, to my disappoint, is really just a trailhead to a few lakes. But I hit the trails anyways and was rewarded with a very photogenic squirrel shelling a nut along with an elk herd. So all wasn’t lost on that trip.

Next stop was the airport to pick up Sarah, an friend of mine who is accompanying me on the next leg of my trip (I’ll be dropping her off on my way home). My timing was impeccable, I entered the terminal just as she was coming out of the ramp. We headed into Jackson in search of somewhere to buy a couple groceries and things, thankfully we were able to track down a K-mart in the phone book (no Walmart here apparently). Then off to a western wear store where I admired Stetson hats and belt buckles. (Watch out Scott, I’m going to attempt to find a comically large belt buckle so that I can outdo you next time we see each other. Hopefully it won’t be so large that I won’t be able to sit down.)

Since she was tired from her flight and I was tired simply from traveling, we pitched our tent on some Forest Service land outside of the park around 7:30pm. A little wandering, checking out the lake we were by and now it’s time to call it a night. There’s a sunrise in the morning to shoot.

Picture 2

Travel Distance: 110 miles

Summer 2008 Trip: Day 32 – Grand Teton National Park

Woke up at an ungodly hour this morning… 4:45am I believe in order to get to Jenny Lake to shoot the sunrise. I barely made it, guess I should have planned a bit better and paid more attention to how long it took me to go in. After sunrise there, I hit my secondary location, an old barn along Mormon Row, the area that a group of Mormon settlers established homesteads on. Unfortunately for me, there was a group of about 15 photographers there doing some sort of organized group shoot and they went in close to the barn for portraits just as I was setting up to use the entire barn as a photo element.

Oh well, I switched gears and got to work, by the time my new concept was executed, they’d moved on down the road to the next building and I shot my first idea. Time will tell which will come out better. I did a bit of tooling around, looking for moose, but finding only bison. Dropped by the Visitor’s Center again and watched their movie, dumped photos onto my external hard drive and finished the book I was reading. Nothing terribly exciting this morning.

This afternoon, I met another photographer (from Colorado) named Eric at a turnout down a side road. He’d been shooting the carcass of what I believe was a mule deer with the Tetons as a backdrop with his medium format camera (think big, heavy and the image you see is upside down and reversed). He was a pretty cool guy, and we parted ways only to run into each other at the next stop up the road. We ended up going on a bit of a hike to pass some time as the 2pm sun was too harsh for any really good photos here. He pointed out a good place for a morning photo and we’ll probably run into each other at sunrise.

By this point it was early evening, so I headed north to get a campsite for the night (I’ve been getting sore from sleeping in the Jeep) and set up camp, cooked some dinner and repacked the Jeep a bit more efficiently. I tooled around until sunset and then headed south, timing my morning drive and now I’m sitting in a parking lot waiting for the stars to come out so I can do some star trails with the Tetons as a background and hopefully have it pretty well reflected in the small lake I’ll be on the shore of. [Scratch that, the shoot is canceled for tonight due to some cloud cover that rolled in.]

Oh, and another lovely tidbit, I got some text messaging spam earlier tonight. Guess I get to call Alltel and complain so they won’t bill for receiving it. Talk about the stupidest thing ever – being billed to receive messages. It’s not like I can say, “I only want to be able to receive them from these people; those are the ones I’m willing to pay for.”

Day 32 - Teton National Park

Travel Distance: 75 miles

Summer 2008 Trip: Day 31 – Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks

I slept in until the oh so glorious hour of 7am. Wait, what’s that? 7am? I must be getting up too early on a regular basis.

In keeping with a leisurely morning, sneaking into the Old Faithful Inn for a shower was in the cards, followed by a buffet breakfast (Hey, I ran out of pop tarts a few days ago and dried knock-off Cheerios were getting old.)

There were a couple places left in Yellowstone that I wanted to see, mainly because they were on the way to a couple waterfalls, and we all know how much I love taking photos of waterfalls. So, I started my morning by finding a couple of elk carcasses that were pretty well chewed up alongside the road to my first stop. Yeah, I have pictures, but I couldn’t quite figure out how to make the carcasses look… interesting. Sure, they were cool to see, but how do I translate that into a photograph? Perhaps I should have grabbed my 50mm f/1.8 lens and used a narrow depth of field to capture just parts of the carcass at a time; I’ll have to stop by and see if it’s still there on my way to Glacier.

Not a whole lot going on the rest of the day; geysers, mud pots, fumaroles, hot springs, canyons and waterfalls. There is one thing that stuck with me though. Almost everyone has probably seen the Discovery Channel’s (or maybe it’s one of the other “educational” channels’) show on how Yellowstone is a super-volcano that could blow up at any time and destroy the world as we know it. I’ve always thought, “What a bunch of bunk; no way it could happen, especially not without warning.” I’ve begun to take the concept a little more seriously since spending a few days in the park.

Now, hear me out before you call me loony. A good portion of Yellowstone is actually the caldera of a volcano (you know, the part at the top of the cone that the lava always spews from in the movies). Not only that, but it’s active. Seriously, it is. You can’t really appreciate that fact until you visit Yellowstone; when you’re walking along and all of a sudden you pass a hole in the ground which is venting steam and hissing like a punctured cylinder of propane. And that’s sitting next to a hole in the ground that’s spewing 4,000 gallons of steaming water a minute into one of the nearby rivers. Now, picture yourself in a field full of these types of features. It brings the scenario home, that’s for sure.

A number of the Yellowstone features were created when earthquakes struck the area. Geysers that had died came back to life, new mudpots formed, other features stopped erupting. What happens if an earthquake hits and causes the perfect storm of events that leads to an eruption? Features that currently vent pressure have their “plumbing” turned off. That pressure has to go somewhere.

Anyways, that was my big thought for the day. My afternoon wasn’t too exciting, some laundry, some shopping (I picked up a bottle of Moose Drool Beer as a souvenir). And this evening I headed back south to the Tetons in order to find my sunrise spot. Right now, I’m camped out in the back of my Jeep in an area I’m probably not supposed to be because I don’t want to pay $20 for a spot of land large enough to pitch my tent on; though I might tomorrow night just so I can shower.

Plans for tomorrow: sunrise shots, I’ve got two locations planned and a nike around Lake Jenny.

Day 31 - Yellowstone to Grand Teton National Park

Travel Distance: 150 miles

Summer 2008 Trip: Day 30 – Yellowstone National Park

Well, for the first time since the Badlands at the beginning of my trip I’ve managed to get sunburned. It was entirely my fault today, I went for a hike around 11am and forgot to put sunscreen on first. My arms and legs are a nice rosy shade of red that should fade within a couple days. At least it will keep me warm at night though. Gotta look at the bright side, eh?

I went for a sunrise stroll through the geysers that are near Old Faithful; something on the order of 4 miles or so of trails (though that number includes a good bit of ground I covered twice so I could get back to my car. I managed to get the perfect shot that was in my head when I set out this morning; sunlight streaming through the steam of a geyser silhouetting a tree. With that mission accomplished, I showered for the first time in 3 days. (Don’t worry, I’ve been taking what the army refers to as “field showers.” Think, Wet Naps.)

Looking at my map, I realized I wasn’t too far from Mystic Falls. So, I drove the couple miles to its trailhead at Biscuit Basin and followed the trail, heading for the overlook first. (Of course, my hike involved switchbacks and several hundred feet of elevation gain, but what else is new?) Talk about a waste of time and energy. The overlook is probably at least half a mile away from the falls, and it took me a couple minutes to even figure out where the falls were. Not my idea of an overlook.

So, I humped it back down the hill (bigger than most hills we have in Michigan) and made my way to the falls, where I could take some proper pictures. Of course, by this point, the sun wasn’t cooperating, but I’ve learned to take it as it comes.

When I was hiking through the geyser area this morning, I noticed a sign saying that Riverside Geyser was due to erupt in the early afternoon. I had no idea how big it would be, but the structure of the geyser was interesting and it’s location along the river nearly idyllic, so after grabbing a liter of water (something I forgot on my earlier hike) I walked the mile or so down the trail to the geyser to find a small crowd already formed.

While I waited the hour or so before the geyser actually erupted, I got to talking with another photographer there, a girl who works in a salmon fishery on a remote island in Alaska. (Have I ever mentioned before that almost everyone I meet knows someone who either teaches in Alaska or moved to Alaska.) Her mother was taking her on vacation around the lower 48 in hopes of convincing her to move back. Anyways, she gave me some pointers about places to visit in the park and I hope to check them out tomorrow. Needless to say, the geyser erupted, it was pretty and I have pictures.

Then came what I am convinced most people think I’m a nutter for doing. I pulled into a picnic area, read for half an hour and took a couple hour nap. (I can just see people coming by, seeing me asleep in the front seat of the Jeep and wondering why I’d come all this way just to nap in the early evening. Oh well, I’m willing to bet they’re not up at sunrise.) I’ve done stuff like this before, I love heading out into the woods with a book, that’s part of the reason why I hunt.

I finished the evening off with a trip to Kepler Cascades (a series of short waterfalls) and sunset at the Great Prismatic Spring, where I think I came out with some decent shots.

I also emptied another 4 gigabytes of photos onto my laptop today, bringing the total for Yellowstone to 7.5 gigs of photos. I think somewhere between here and Glacier I’m going to have to hole up in a hotel room as early as they’ll let me check in and spend a whole afternoon and night processing photos…

Travel Distance: ~30 miles, 10 of it on foot Continue reading

Summer 2008 Trip: Day 29 – Yellowstone National Park

I made it out to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River this morning for some sunrise photos. Sadly, the sky was pretty cloudy, so I only had patchy light to shoot by. Regardless, I’ve got some shots and we’ll see how well they pan out.

I followed up my sunrise photos with a trip to the lower falls of the Yellowstone River, down a short little trail called, “Uncle Tom’s Trail.” Well, it was short in a horizontal direction. Since it descended 3/4 of the way into a canyon over 300 feet deep, the vertical ascent coming out was something other than easy. It was one of the most impressive waterfalls I’ve been to though. Shoshone Falls in Idaho was prettier, but a large part of that was due to the intricacy of Shoshone; the falls on the Yellowstone River flow through relatively small openings, while Shoshone is made up of several large falls going over a fairly large cliff.

About the time I got back to the car, it started to rain again (it actually rained off and on earlier in the morning as well,which I waited out by doing a bit of reading). Once it let up, the sun came out for a bit and I headed south on the loop road hoping to spot some wildlife. My first stop (for some mallard ducks) came up empty and left me with a pair of muddy pants. So, I headed back up the road a little ways and was rewarded with a heron who wanted to pose for me.

After schlepping my gear back to the car, I headed a bit further south to the Mud Volcano area, where instead of thermal vents and geysers, the soil and acidity of the gases have turned what in other areas of the park are founts of water into boiling pits of mud. Kind of cool, very smelly and not particularly photogenic, but I got some shots in anyways and we’ll see what turns out.

I headed a bit further south, found a nice turnout and took a rather satisfying 2.5 hour nap parked by the side of the road (I found that if I shuffle things around, I can actually shove enough stuff out of the way in the back to pick up the rear passenger seat and recline the driver’s seat). I woke up around 3 in the afternoon and after making a lunch of Ritz crackers and cereal bars, I paid a visit to Fisherman’s Bridge.

At one point, Fisherman’s Bridge was a very popular fishing spot until the Park Service found out that the overfishing was destroying the Cutthroat Trout supply of the river. My civil engineering friends will be interested to know that the bridge is made of wood with a layer of asphalt covering it. (I know because hunks of the asphalt are missing in some places.) I was quite excited to find that there was a whole… flock (is that the right word) of pelicans on the water along with a trail running off the side of the bridge that let me walk a ways along the water to get close enough for some decent pictures. Coming back to the bridge, I took a side trip down to the Visitor’s Center at Fisherman’s Bridge and was actually semi-impressed with this one.

(To be honest, I’ve been rather unimpressed with the Visitor Centers that I’ve seen in Yellowstone, Old Faithful especially. Coming from other parks, there just isn’t that much information in the Visitor Centers; in fact, the one at Grand Teton dwarfs Yellowstone by a wide margin).

I hoofed it back to the car, found out how the showers and laundry facilities work (I’m a clutz, I got chocolate on one pair of pants while traveling and I’d muddied up another pair earlier in the day – probably take care of that Saturday) and popped into the general store there. Now I know where they keep all the memorabilia at Yellowstone; unlike other parks, most of the stuff isn’t in the Visitor Center store, but in the General Store instead.

The rest of my night hasn’t been too interesting really. I finished Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco, started another book and took a few short hikes looking for wildlife. Not much found, but I did manage a shot of a couple goslings that I think I can work with.

And now, a little bit of thinking I did earlier, which means you can save yourself a few minutes by not reading:

It struck me earlier, as I was attempting to fall asleep at a pullout along the road that loops through Yellowstone that the park road is significantly more busy than any road I’ve lived on before (excluding the highway by my parents house when the road is blocked a little ways up for the Fourth of July parade). It seems odd to get in your car, drive for hours and hours, to sit in a traffic jam hundreds (if not thousands of miles) from home so that you can at least due it among trees and geysers that explode every once in a while.

Aren’t these parks supposed to be about solitude and communing with nature? Instead, people hop in the cars, or their RVs (Why does anyone need a private bus?) and drive around a 130 mile stretch of road with all the other people from the city, leaving their cars only when they need to take a picture that they can’t hang out the car window and get. Not to mention that when you do actually go on a hike, it’s from an established trailhead with a giant parking lot with 100 of your closest friends you’ll never see again as soon as you step back into your car. I suppose that with 1,000 miles of backcountry trails, if you’re willing to walk a few miles away from the road you can escape a lot of that though. I don’t think many of the city slickers are really into that kind of “adventure.” With camping only allowed in backcountry sites though, you’re likely to have company for the night.

I don’t know, maybe I’m just really missing the Keweenaw, where you can go out for a day and never see another soul quite easily. Sure, the ground doesn’t explode in founts of water there, and there’s no three or four hundred foot canyon running through the middle of it, but by god, you experience nature and you leave having gained an appreciation of it. Hopefully Alaska can provide me with some of that feeling. At this point though, I’m seriously considering coming back through the U.P. so I can spend a little more time in the Keweenaw, I’ll just need someone willing to put me up.

Ah well, I’ve got to get to bed, sunrise comes early and I have a little ways left to drive tonight so I can get to my morning shoot location.

P.S. Does anyone know if you really have to refrigerate jelly after you open it? I bought a squeeze thing of Smucker’s at the General store for sandwiches and will be disappointed if I have to eat 38 sandwiches tomorrow morning before it warms up just so I don’t waste it.

Picture 2

Travel Distance: 53 miles