The annual vacation to Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks is the cornerstone trip of the year for me and Chanthee. It is typically a big family trip where my father and brothers join us. Unfortunately, my father had to bail and one of my siblings got "called" to work at the last minute and the big event became just Chanthee and me. As we already had tickets to Salt Lake City, and honestly, we really wanted to go, we decided to go anyway...and to do this a bit differently than in prior years.
The big change for us this year is that we camped in the Parks. Staying in Jackson, while fun, is really just a convenience for the rest of the family who consider the Buckrail Lodge (the totally awesome place where we normally stay) to be "camping out." We stayed most of the week in the Gros Ventre Campground, about 11 miles North of Jackson Hole. Two nights we stayed in Yellowstone National Park at the Madison Camp Ground.
Camping has many upsides. The predominant one is sleep. The campgrounds are a 1/2 hour closer to Grand Teton's iconic sunrise locations. This means that we are able to get a bit more sack time than if we were based out of Jackson. The other big advantage of camping is that it is much less expensive. We saved hundreds of dollars by camping out over the course of the week.
On the two mornings we were in Yellowstone, the benefits of camping for us was even more evident. As most of the park's facilities were closed at the time we were out there, camping was - by far - the best way of getting to specific locations, such as the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. It would have been an automatic "forget about it" from Jackson Hole. I am so glad that we went, too. The pre-dawn colors were really nice. I used a 2 stop hard ND Grad filter from Singh Ray to get the exposure properly. I am pretty pleased that my technique is getting good enough that I don't see the ND lines. :P
Chanthee and I have a Kelty 4 Season tent that we have been using for the last few years. It seals really well and keeps us pretty dry. However, Grand Teton is much colder at that time of year than we are used to. Most mornings, the temperature was in the 30s when we would wake up (not bad). However, on two occasions the temperature had dropped into the mid-20s. The moral of the story? In addition to having a good bag, make sure you have a good sleeping bag liner. We purchased two fleece liners that made a huge difference in our sleeping (and waking) comfort. The blanket that we would have normally used on top of our sleeping bags for additional warmth was put underneath us as most cold actually comes from the ground.
The only problem with camping in the parks is the relatively limited amount of shower facilities. For example, Gros Ventre does not have any showers at all. Your choices are either to drive to Jackson or to drive to Colter Bay. We chose the drive to Jackson as we figured we could grab a quick breakfast after the morning's photographic opportunities were over. There are two primary choices, the Anvil (6 bucks) and the Jackson Rec Center (7 bucks). Both are absurdly expensive. However, if you decide that you absolutely need a shower, break out the extra shekel and go to the Rec Center. It gets you a full day pass to the entire facility. Also, and probably more importantly, the Rec Center's facilities are significantly newer and better maintained then the Anvil's.
The rest of the trip was our typical fare. Sunrise was about 6:45 AM, so we were normally up at about 4:30 AM and gone by 5 AM. As always, some of the iconic locations require that you be there really early. For example, Schwabacher's Landing is always a gamble as the prime location really has room for only about 3 or 4 tripods...even though there are routinely 20 or 30 people camped on the peninsula. One morning, we got there at 5:30 AM and were completely crowded out so we left to photograph the barns.
The following shot was taken North of the Mormon Row near Kelly. Pardon the fact that the Tetons look like they are spilling out of the frame. It is the natural orientation of the area. I decided to not compromise between the frame and the mountains to make the mountains look straighter (and the frame crooked). This shot was also different because I was using the camera's internal High Dynamic Range settings (HDR). Generally I don't think that HDR images straight from camera are as good yet as what can be produced with some good filters and technique. However, there are always exceptions to the rule (I am working on a separate article on this issue).
We decided to get up at 3:30 AM the next day in order to be there before anyone else. Of course, the smoke in the Teton's was quite problematic. This year, there were fires in Idaho, Washington and Jackson that had been causing horrible haze in front of the Tetons. As a result, many of our sunrise and sunset shots were essentially a wash. However, if you don't go and pull the trigger, all you can guarantee is that you get nothing. We decided that the best way to photograph this was to de-emphasize the Tetons a bit and try to put more foreground in front of them. I was so incredibly pleased when we left Schwbacher's and ran into this moose cow eating in front of the mountains.
It is, by no means, a perfect landscape photograph. The composition, while good, is not perfect. However, getting a critter in front of the iconic mountains gives the photograph context. Don't get me wrong, I love heads-on portraits, but those sorts of shots could easily be done at a zoo. In this situation, I was photographing again with a Singh Ray 2 Stop Hard Graduated ND filter in order to keep the mountains and the sky in proper exposure while photographing the moose.
Given the poor climate conditions, the rest of the trip was spent trying to capture whatever we could. As I mentioned earlier, I am really working to put the 'critter in context.' I was fortunate to be able to get this shot of the bison heading down a hill en mass on my way back to the campground after a sunrise. I used a warming filter (again, Singh Ray) to give this shot a bit of contrast and warmth. It has become one of my favorite filters under the right circumstances.
The trip ended with a visit from our friends, Jeff and Heather, who came to visit us from near Salt Lake City. While we initially went to shoot the moonrise over the barns, we wound up taking some shots of them. Here is one that I am really quite pleased with. FYI, the moon was dropped it from another image. I sometimes forget how much fun it can be to include people in a landscape photograph.
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