When it comes to photography destinations, there are a lot of places on my list. Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park have always been two of them. Luckily they are butted right next to each other making a trip to both extremely easy and accessible. With winter still lingering in June in my home town of Lake Tahoe, I decided to hop in my car for a good old fashioned American road trip.
Buffalo graze in a field at dusk in Yellowstone National Park
I must admit there wasn’t much planning that went into this adventure. A good friend of mine and photographer ,Brad Beck, was already planning a trip to the area and asked me if I wanted to meet up with him. So a few weeks later, I did.
Beforehand, I did as much research as possible on what photographic opportunities to prepare for. One thing I knew going into the project was that the area had just experienced a record winter. I assumed most of the backcountry access would be difficult or impossible in many areas of the parks. When I arrived this assumption proved correct. Not only was the high country in both parks still completely buried but there was still snow in the forecast and the weather windows looked like they would be tricky.
A rainbow is created by the mist coming from Hidden Falls in Grand Teton National Park
After meeting up with Brad we began to formulate a plan to maximize the amount of images we would come away with. This began with a lot of scouting. Scouting is one of the most important aspects in landscape, travel and adventure photography. It involves a lot of driving, hiking, climbing etc… to find that perfect angle in the perfect location. After that, all you need is Mother Nature to cooperate and everything goes off without a hitch. Sometimes you get lucky but most of the time you don’t. When the weather, light and location appear to be lining up, it is really nice to have a good idea of what and where you will be shooting.
The first day we drove and hiked all over both parks and developed a good plan for the days to come. The next day we left camp at 4:00 am to photograph sunrise. From this point on we were shooting and scouting at least twelve hours a day. The middle of the day was always reserved for a well deserved cat nap while the sun was too high to make any appealing images.
The trip progressed and weather continually moved in and out creating brief windows of spectacular light. One such instance was an afternoon shooting at the Snake River Overlook (made famous by Ansel Adams). It was one of the highlights of the trip.
By the end of the third day the brief windows of light had been replaced by bad weather and it didn’t look like it was going to let up. Earlier that day Brad and I went our separate ways in Yellowstone National Park with plans to meet up in the afternoon. Unfortunately the cell reception was so bad, this proved impossible and that was the last time I saw Brad on the trip.
Later that evening I was in Lower Geyser Basin. The weather continued to get worse and there was an inch of snow on my car and the clouds were so thick I couldn’t see more than twenty feet in front of me. Just when I was about to completely give up hope, the weather began to break. A magnificent sunset began to develop on the horizon. In the distance I noticed the Clepsydra Geyser erupting. I quickly grabbed my gear and sprinted to a good vantage point. I wasn't sure how long the light would last and I had to work fast. Instead of fading, the light continued to get better. I shot over fifty frames pressing the shutter until it was pitch black. It was one of those moments I live for as a photographer. Mother Nature put on a spectacular show and I feel so lucky to have been there to capture it.
The next morning I awoke to more bad weather and was able to acquire an extended forecast. It didn’t look promising. I had a decision to make. Sit in awful weather for the next few days and hope something would break, or simply be happy with what was in the bag and begin my journey home. I opted for the latter. I knew I had squeezed every opportunity out of the trip and didn’t want to waste time hoping for something better that would, more than likely, never come.
As I sit in my office in Lake Tahoe writing this I know I made the right call. It turns out the forecast held and any more opportunities to create great images would have been few and far between. Sometimes you just have to know when to say when.
What follows is a sampling of images from a wonderful trip to some of the most beautiful country I have ever seen. I will surely return. Enjoy!
The Tetons reflect in Schwabacher's Landing in Grand Teton National Park
An old barn in Mormon Row in Grand Teton National Park
Photographer Brad Beck looks out over Grand Teton National Park from Grand View Point
A ranching fence in Grand Teton National Park in late afternoon light
A large field of wildflowers with Grand Teton National Park in the background
A detail of the Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park
A detail of Emerald Pool in the Black Sand Basin area of Yellowstone National Park
The Mammoth Hot Springs located in Yellowstone National Park
Lower Yellowstone Falls cascades into the valley below in Yellowstone National Park
Dead lodgepole pine trees are silhouetted and reflected at sunset in the Lower Geyser Basin of Yellowstone National Park
A baby buffalo follows its mother in Yellowstone National Park
Steam is illuminated from Castle Geyser at sunrise in Yellowstone National Park
A detail of the Morning Glory Pool in Yellowstone National Park
Chromatic Spring on a stormy day in Yellowstone National Park
Self Portrait at the Clepsydra Geyser at sunset in Yellowstone National Park