Driving along Jackson Lake in the late afternoon was just spectacular. The aspens in the Tetons were reflecting autumn at its finest. This was what I came for. That and maybe that damn moose under the bridge if heís still there. But the day was late so I thought I might take advantage of the last light and check out the Oxbow or Snake River Overlook to end the day. I got sidetracked by a couple of eagles high overhead being harassed by a considerable number of smaller birds. Most likely they had stolen something and were paying a price for it, as was I with the fading light. They were too high to shoot but these types of adventures are still fun to watch and hopefully a sign that my wildlife encounters would continue. The Oxbow was crowded beyond belief with photographers so I just roamed around for awhile shooting a couple of reflections across the river but decided there wasnít room to find a suitable place to shoot the mountains. Besides, the skies were not great and thereís always tomorrow so I thought Iíd use the dusk to hunt for elk along the park road and stop for the night at Jenny Lake. There were no Elk and there were no empty sites so back up the road I ventured to Signal Mountain. Again, no luck and I was tired and hungry so I headed for the Gros Venture. There are always vacant sites left at Gros Venture this time of year, and if not Iíll just keep going into the forest. Besides, Iíd be close to the bridge and if that moose was still there Iíd catch him first thing in the morning and then move on for the color.
What surprises the morning held. Two bulls and a cow right across the river from my camp. This is nuts. They were in the trees and I donít recall ever hearing of a couple bulls getting along during the rut with a cow. They were munchiní willows and all seemed to be getting along famously. The sun was slightly behind them illuminating the willows, but the thickets obscured good shots and the moose would have most of the light to the wrong side. However, I thought this worthy of a little waiting as one of the bulls had butterfly antlers and they were gradually moving toward the edges of the willows. This could be really good if they moved out of the willows and moved a bit downstream in the river bottom. After about 10 minutes, a couple other photographers noticed me and joined in for the fun. A few minutes later our numbers had grown to about a dozen. Once it seemed the bulls were about to clear the willows, a lady went running into the river bottom to get a closer shot, spooking the moose back into the willows. #@%&*$%#@^$%@#!!!! I had a couple of fair shots but figured it wasnít meant to be and Iíd come back later for another look. It was time to check out the bridge.
When I turned the corner at Moose Junction I realized right away I was in luck. There were cars parked along the roadway on both sides of the road for two or three hundred feet on each bridge approach. I figured it was too cold for these people to be swimming so it must be that moose. I parked at the end of the line, grabbed a couple cameras and hurried on down the roadway toward the bridge. A herd of people occupied the Northeast bank so there was no question where I was going. There he was about 15 feet away from the cut bank we were all standing on. Across a braid in the stream he was lying down in the grass with the cow and calf a little further back and slightly hidden. We were all uncomfortably close but there was a ranger and he seemed unconcerned. Iím not certain if any of those people understood how easy it would have been for that bull to climb the cut slope but possibly he was used to all the people and they him and the ranger felt there wasnít much chance for encounters after this long a time. But on the other hand, animals are wild and people are stupid. I can tell you from personal experience that my most dangerous situations with wildlife occurred when I felt I was in a very safe situation. The bull didnít seem to be too interested in roaming around, and it seemed safe he would still be there later, so I decided to drive the road and see if anything else was around for late morning. It was a good day for shooting. There were intermittent showers, great skies and sun shining through at opportune times. These are the times to be chasing the light as these are the times we can get lucky.
I toured the Jenny Lake Loop and had another cow and calf cross in front of me and a single black bear a few hundred feet later. I didnít get pics but at this point Iím muttering to myself and half delirious because it was still morning and Iíd seen eight (8) moose and three were bulls. Now the bull at the river was not as big as advertised but none the less he was big and a fine specimen with pretty good antlers having three long extended spikes where you would expect paddles for antlers of that size. So I thought Iíd head back and pay him another visit. By the time I arrived at the bridge he was getting to his feet. He moved around for about five minutes or so giving us some pretty good shots and then set back down. Again, I just couldnít believe how lucky I had been with the timing.
I hadnít had any luck with the bears from the stories along the park road so I thought Iíd set out to explore a bit down the Wilson Road. Itís a narrow track not much suitable for pulling off and difficult to park along even when you find a place. The roadway slopes are topographically challenged. I passed through a traffic jam about a mile down the road and questioned my decision to come this way. It took 30 minutes to clear the jam but it had been caused by a bear. I was disappointed I hadnít seen that bear, but after all, what could I expect after seeing 8 moose. Opps! Make that ten. A half mile down the road stood another bull with a cow half hidden over through the willows. Moose paradise I thought to myself. Where have they been all the other years Iíve been here? I found a place to park, walked back along the road, and took a few photos but these animals were a bit more shy and heading off into the thicker willows. A few photographers decided to follow out through the slop and the bogs but following moose into that type of environment is not only difficult, itís stupid and hazardous. Moose are huge, unpredictable and dangerous when cornered or if molested during the rut. So I chickened out and headed back down the road, thinking itís about time to visit my favorite color locations. I would visit these moose again later as I would the ones at the bridge and the ones at the campground if they all stuck around. As I headed up the highway to one of my sites, I stopped in at Schwabacher Road to visit the reflection pond and nose around a bit. Youíll never guess what I found at the river. Another moose.
Iím not certain what I expected for the rest of my time in the Tetons. I had seen eleven moose my first day. I spent the second day photographing the color with glorious skies. The third day I saw four bears in trees eating the hackberries. Yes, four of them, and some other fine shots of the moose at the bridge, colors in trees, and a fiery sunset through heavy smoke from controlled burns on the backside of the mountains in Idaho.
After a night of wheezing in the heavy smoke it was time to take a break, so off I went to visit some friends from Phoenix who have a second home near the south edge of the park. While driving through the golf course, the biggest moose I had ever seen crossed the road before me and ran between two houses onto a fairway. I drove down to where I could get access to the fairway and got a few shots before he wandered off in the other direction.