Wyoming Day 5 (Sunrise + Stars Over the Grand Tetons)

I woke up really early this morning. I didn’t wake up at 4:45 because I couldn’t sleep (far from it). I got up because this would be the one and only day I would drag myself out of bed to catch the sunrise. Up here in the north, the sun rises and so early and goes down so dang late. There’s just no time to sleep and so much to do. Let me tell you though, it was worth it!

This morning was very cold. Near freezing in fact. The car said 36° at the coldest of the morning. Fortunately, I had on my winter coat and gloves and was all set. We left the hotel just after 5 AM and made our way north on Moose-Wilson Road. We saw many elk on the side of the road. I think we snuck up on many of them since the Prius is so quiet. You could see their golden glowing eyes before actually seeing them. After getting back out to Highway 89, we drove a couple miles and turned off the road to Schwabacher’s Landing, a famous spot down on the Snake River known for it’s beaver ponds and excellent sunrise photos. The Grand Tetons are built for sunrise photos. They are in the west and so when the sun comes up over the horizon on the east it paints the tops of the mountain range with this pink light that just looks incredible. They don’t call sunrise light the golden hour for nothing. This beautiful light though only lasts 5 minutes or less, so you better be ready when it comes up and quick before it disappears as quickly as it came.

First, just a peak of pink light…

Then slowly, a bit more…

Until, BAM! It hits. Beautiful orange light on the Tetons!

And, just like that… It’s gone.

When we got to Schwabacher’s there were only a few cars there. When we left, it was full of photographers, some too late to capture sunrise. And thanks to a tip from Jeff Clow, we went to the parking lot instead of the lower landing where everyone else was. The pictures definitely looked better from where I was than the other end which had less water.

After spending about half an hour at Schwabacher’s Landing, we moved about 10 miles down the street to Oxbow Bend. Oxbow bend is this unique bend in Snake River that has a nice open spot for pictures of the Tetons and moose and other wildlife. When we arrived, another photographer that I had saw at Schwabacher’s was there. “Curious seeing you here” he told me. lol. Stranger yet was running into Albert Barg and Jeff Weisberg of Marc-Martin Publishing. I had met them the previous day at Jenny Lake. Jeff was the one that suggested we try Mangy Moose since we were staying in Teton Village at the Snake River Lodge. It turns out the two are commercial photographers who travel the country photographing National Parks and their work is exhibited and sold in the various visitor’s centers at the parks. Where can I get a job like that? 😀

They don’t call it Oxbow Bend for nothing!

After I had gotten all the shots I was going to get, we went back to Jackson Village but stopped by at the famous Snake River Overlook Grand Teton’s Craig Thomas Visitor’s Center. It is this really cool looking building with a large courtyard and this large glass rotunda like enclosure on the side of the building. Inside are lots of exhibits and information about wildlife, the Tetons, hiking, and the history of mountain-climbing on the Tetons. They also have these river screen TVs on the floor that you can walk on. Fancy! One of the donors  on the list was Harrison Ford. The travel book says that you may see him eating in Jackson because he has a house and loves the area.

Snake River Overlook
This spot was made famous by Ansel Adams who took this photograph back in 1942

Ansel Adam’s. See the likeness? 😀 For such a famous photo, how did he get away with it being crooked? Ok, maybe his is a little bit better. But he had less trees blocking him!

Next, it was time for breakfast. When we got back, half the rooms were still asleep judging from the paper and “do not disturb signs” outside the doors. Lazys! It was the usual breakfast buffet. I didn’t think I would get tired of it, but I did. It gets old fast (hence, no picture). Who would’ve thought, the same old, same old. And today, the service was pretty bad. They weren’t even busy but just couldn’t seem to clear everyone’s plates and take drink orders fast enough. I hope it gets better tomorrow, it’s our last day of breakfast here at gamefish anyway.

After breakfast, we wanted to go hiking, but also finish touring the surrounding area so that tomorrow, our last full day, we could take it easy and not have to go anywhere. Our first destination was Gros Ventre Road. It was supposed to be this very pretty area. Instead of turning off left to Gros Ventre, we went right to see what was on the west side. It’s a new housing development and large golf and tennis place. The new houses going up are really nice and are several million-dollar homes. Many of the homes are made out of wood, have gigantic windows facing the mountains, and huge 2-3 acre lots.

Next, we turned off and headed to Spring Creek Ranch which is actually on top of its own mountain. The area has the ranch hotel, but also some houses. This was one of the hotels we were considering, but we found a better deal at Snake River Lodge and it turned out to be a better hotel and location anyway. Spring Creek Ranch is a nice little hotel, but it’s much more spread out and not much to do on the mountain. Plus, it’s further from everything, which also means driving up and down the mountain every time. They do have a nice view of the Tetons though.

Coming back down the mountain, we circled through Jackson and went to the other end of Gros Ventre. As soon as we turned off, we saw a buffalo crossing ahead. Further down the road we made our way to Kelly, a small town on the map. Small is an understatement for Kelly. It’s just like a few buildings and we made a U-turn and went back to Gros Ventre and then to Mormon Row, a famous historical site where I guess Mormons used to settle. The first stop we made here was at one of the barns. We thought we were at THE famous Moulton Barn, but it turns out we weren’t. Either way, we photographed the one that was in our book, and it was quite lame to say the least. I’m sure it was partly due to the lighting, but it was just a barn. At least throw some water in there to make things interesting. There were some Japanese tourists that actually drove up and seemed very underwhelmed. They pulled out their cameras with zoom lenses, snap, snap, snap, and took off without even stopping and turning off the car. In our defense, we got out walked around, but just didn’t see anything that interesting.

One of the barns on Mormon Row

After Mormon Row, we finished out the loop with Antelope Flats. It’s an area with a bunch of pretty flowers and a wide-open view of the Tetons. Again, the lighting was pretty bad, but it looked better than a barn. After a few pictures there, we went back to the park and stopped to get gas and eat lunch at Dornan‘s. After pulling out, we saw a bunch of people gathered over the Snake River Bridge leading into the park. This can only mean two things. In Yellowstone, a bear, and a in the Tetons, a moose! Driving across the river, we saw the large bull moose and made the requisite stop and photo. These animals on the side of the road are surprisingly not all that exciting. They frequently just mind their own business and couldn’t care less who was watching.

Going back to the park, we happened across a small bull male moose. It was just sitting in the middle of Snake River eating leaves. He attracted a large crowd. People were parked up and down the bridge and along the banks trying to get the best view. Again, I didn’t have my long lens, but the lighting was terrible. No excuse for this really bad picture though…

After driving into the park, we made the decision to hike from along String Lake to Leigh Lake, a recommended short hike in our book. These two lakes are two of many along the Tetons. They were created tens of thousands of years ago by receding glaciers. They leave these large valleys and hills where water settles, resulting in many clear hidden lakes. As with Jenny and Taggart, these two were extremely clear. This one had a bunch of people swimming and canoeing. On the trail to Leigh, we were stopped by a park ranger who informed us that because of a relatively small 14 acre fire, that the trail Leigh was closed. They were collecting water out of Leigh to put out the fire with a helicopter and a bucket and didn’t want a swinging bucket to take out any hikers in the area. That’s considerate.

So, after reaching the end of String, we turned around and made our way back to the car. By this time it was already 6PM and time for dinner. Told you, time flies. We decided on this Chinese restaurant. I don’t know why I would want Chinese all the way out in Wyoming, but I thought it would be worth a try since the Thai restaurant the first night was good. We ordered broccoli with chicken and some black bean beef dish. The beef dish came out sizzling and smoking out of the kitchen like they were fajitas. The beef was a bit chewy, but the pepper sauce was quite tasty. The broccoli was a bit raw tasting (sour) and the chicken was plain. As far as Chinese restaurants go, it was your very average, run-of-the-mill chop suey restaurant. Nothing to really write home about (just on your blog ;)). Oh yeah, and they charge for rice! $2/bowl. Who does that? It’s not like you’re in Hong Kong or anything…

After dinner it was about 8 something and not quite dark. This would be good because there was one more thing I wanted to do tonight. In my great infinite wisdom, I wanted to go shoot star pictures but left this to the last possible day (tomorrow wouldn’t give time to pack, sleep, and get up at 4 AM on Friday to go to the airport). A day I had already woken up at 4:45 to catch the sunrise no less.

Well, I had planned on getting 2 hours of darkness to capture some nice star trails, but only managed to get an hour’s worth because I was too tired and wasn’t going to sit around waiting for the pictures to finish taking. It was also getting quite cold outside. It’s interesting, when I was setting up my camera, it was kinda cool but there were thousands of large menacing mosquitoes everywhere. Later in the evening, it got cold, and they all thankfully went away. Anyways, so I set up my camera to take a picture every 30 seconds and then merged all the pictures to create a single image of trailing stars. This effect is caused by the earth’s rotation. It’s the same reasoning behind why the sun and moon move through the day and night. In the center of the picture is Polaris, better known as the North Star. It’s not true north, but is good enough and has little rotation.

My setup with the intervolometer taking a picture every 30 seconds, now we wait ….. for 3 hours! 😮

Oh hey, the moon’s up!

Milky Way Galaxy

I started at about 9ish and I think, but it didn’t get dark till much later at like 10 or so, so I didn’t get as many as I wanted, but it turned out alright when stacked!

That concludes the longest day (five)!

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