Grand Tetons National Park – The Mountains

The Tetons glow red as they are front lit by the sun at dawn, Grand Teton National Park
The Tetons glow red as they are front lit by the sun at dawn, Grand Teton National Park

For my second post from my recent trip to Grand Teton National Park, I’ll focus on what I had considered the main attraction before the trip – the mountains. What was not expected however was being greeted by thick smoke from several nearby forest fires. On my first day in the park, the mountains were obscured by a dull gray haze that was so thick, you could barely make out the outline of the peaks.

Storm clouds drift high above the Tetons, Grand Teton National Park
Storm clouds drift high above the Tetons, Grand Teton National Park

Luckily however, some wet weather and (better yet) wind came through the valley, and helped clear things up a bit. In fact, I was excited to see the wet weather move in not just to help in clearing out the smoke, but because storms (and the clouds they bring) really help create drama. One of the worst things a landscape photographer can see in the forecast is clear blue skies.

I managed to visit all of the famous views of the Tetons while I was there. Though I usually shy away from such places, any self-respecting photographer should have these shots in his portfolio. After all, there is a reason they have become famous views!

The Tetons are reflected in the Snake River at Schwabacher's Landing, Grand Teton National Park
The Tetons are reflected in the Snake River at Schwabacher’s Landing, Grand Teton National Park

Even with the wind and weather moving through, we had several very foggy mornings. It was nice to see the smoke dissipating (fog generally looks “cleaner” than smoke), but at times the thick fog obscured both the view and the sun rising behind us. However, as the old saying goes, work with what ya got, and on one morning, I was able to use the fog to my advantage, adding a layer of separation to an otherwise straight forward sunrise shot.

A fog bank moves in front of the Grand Tetons as the rising sun illuminates the sheer peaks, Grand Teton National Park
A fog bank moves in front of the Grand Tetons as the rising sun illuminates the sheer peaks, Grand Teton National Park

Probably the most iconic spot in the park is Oxbow Bend, where the Snake River pools into a large area, allowing for still water and insane reflections. I was there on two mornings, and both times I didn’t even stop the car. The first attempt saw that familiar smoky haze, and in the second we were greeted by dense fog. And yet both times there were close to 100 photographers lined up waiting for sunrise. To this day I still don’t know what they expected to shoot in that weather, but I guess you have to respect their commitment? Meanwhile I was off to better spots for that weather.

Eventually I did get to photograph Oxbow Bend, this time around 10 in the morning. Usually I’m done for the morning by this time, but the fog was just starting the clear out. Luckily the trees along the shoreline were blazing with yellow, which juxtaposed the late morning blue of the mountains beyond. Some day I’ll have to make it back here for sunrise – I’ll be sure to sharpen my elbows first.

The fall colors of Aspen contrast the blue hues of the Tetons, Grand Teton National Park
The fall colors of Aspen contrast the blue hues of the Tetons, Grand Teton National Park

As amazing as the Tetons were to see in person, I began to realize by the mid point in my trip that the real stars of the show (beyond the numerous wildlife) were the fall colors and the trees that wore them. But that will have to remain for another post….