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First Light

August Daily Updates for GTNP and JH Area:

A monthly journal of daily weather reports, road reports, wildlife reports and tidbits. Subscribe by entering your email address in the boxes on the right and you’ll get a notice when I add more reports.

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August 31, 2013
The big news for today is the presence of smoke. When I walked out to check my truck before bed last night, it was clear. I could see the big dipper north of town resting horizontally over the horizon. This morning, I immediately noticed lots of lavender, rose, magenta, and orange in the sky. I stopped along the Elk Refuge fence to take a few photos towards Sleeping Indian.  I pulled over at one of the fishing pullouts to get the shot. There were lots of yellow warning signs about a variety of issues, but one was a Grizzly Bear warning. I was there before sunrise and the gate was locked.

With the unique sky, I drove to the Moulton Barn on Mormon Row. There were lots of tourists and photographers set up waiting for first light. Lots more were rolling in as I left. Bison were on both sides of Mormon Row road and shooting into the rising sun was worth stopping and tying.  I found several bull moose along the Gros Ventre, including my first one of the year starting to strip his velvet.

On the way home, I looked towards Sleeping Indian mountain across the Elk Refuge. I could see it, but it was just a faint gray silhouette in the layers of smoke and mountains. As of about noon, skies are mostly blue again with a much less defined film of smoke.

Moosing Around

Moosing Around: Nikon D800, Nikon 200-400mm, ISO 1600, F/4,  1/50th of a second

August 30, 2013
Another nice morning in the Tetons, but then it isn’t often we get a “bad” one! I was out the door at 6:00 am and back home a little after 9:00 am. That’s about typical for this time of the year. The moose bed down, the elk slide back in to the darker forests, and the light starts to get bright. We had a cool, but pleasant morning. It was clear in the beginning, then light puffy clouds formed over and behind the mountains. I found a couple of moose along the Gros Ventre, then saw half a dozen American Kestrels along Mormon Row when going to the barns. There was a Swainson’s Hawk at the top of a dead cottonwood, too. I photographed a tolerant one on a fence post a week or two ago. Bison were along Antelope Flats road, east of the Mormon Row barns.

Tidbits: We had a few rain showers in the past week. Mormon Row road is muddy but passable. Road construction is still going on downtown, west of the square. Traffic is flowing reasonably well through it except at about 5:pm to 6:pm. I use Spring Gulch Road sometimes, but the speed limit is only 35 mph and they patrol it fairly often. If you haven’t been to the Tetons in a while, the park service and highway department lowered the night time speed limit to 45 mph. You have to leave a little earlier to get to places like Oxbow Bend if you are in town. The town will be busy for the Labor Day weekend. Old Bill’s Fun Run is next weekend.

Sunrise Over Jackson Hole

Sunrise Over Jackson Hole : Nikon D4, ISO 400, 1/160th Second, F/6.3, Handheld

August 29, 2013
WOW! We had a killer sunrise today. This shot was taken along the Gros Ventre River just as the first light was beginning to hit the valley. I had to scramble to find some workable compositions along the river bottom. There were a few lightning bolts, but I was away from the truck and didn’t even consider there’d be lightning. Besides, this whole thing unfolded within a few minutes and it was over just as fast. The keeper image from the batch will probably be one I zoomed in a little more than this one. If I had been a little more prepared, I would used the D800 with the 24-70mm lens. That camera was mounted on the 200-400. I grabbed the D4 which had a 28-300 mm lens on it. Normally, I use that combination when I am just walking around looking and searching. I like the all around capabilities of those two paired up.

Yesterday, I had an unusually slow day. It would have been easy to turn off the alarm clock and roll back over, but I went ahead and headed out. It seems Mother Nature likes to pay off after a slow day. Sometimes it works the other way around. Besides the sunrise shots, I also captured a few rainbow images and a few moose images. There were still hints of a rainbow, so I headed to the barns for a few shots. There were a few bison on Antelope Flats road but I opted to take a few shots at the barns that I plan on using as a “how-to” for this blog site.

Oh yes, I was set up taking photos of the top of the Grand over the South end of Blacktail Butte. The lower flats were lit up, but a triangle of Blacktail was in shadows and the Grand had some heartbreakingly pretty light and clouds. I had the camera set with a 3 second shutter delay while on the tripod for this kind of scenic image, as I often do. The light and clouds were changing fairly fast so I shot maybe twenty images. In the middle of them, there was a herd of antelope run across the rim of the first butte and then down onto the flats. That happened in only a few seconds and they were out of the composition. After I realized what I had just witnessed, I reviewed the images and sure enough, I got one with the herd in the light of the early sunrise against the dark, shadowed mountain. They are tiny in the image, but they are there! I made a post earlier titled Serendipity Happens! I could probably add this story to it, but you can read the rest by using the link. MJ

Choke Cherries

Choke Cherries : Nikon D800, Nikon 200-400 at 340mm, ISO 500, F/7.1, 1/160th Second on a Tripod, VR Off

August 28, 2013
This might have been a good day to turn the alarm clock off and go back to sleep! There were low, gray clouds to start the morning, with mist and a light rain mixed in at times. I found a few moose, but none I could photograph. I drove over to the Moose-Wilson Road just to check it out again. I didn’t see any moose in the ponds—nor bears anywhere. People were out looking, of course. With the overcast skies, I went ahead and took a few more shots of the changing leaves and berry bushes along the road. You never know when something interesting will appear when you are not really looking for it. Cedar Waxwings can be heard and occasionally seen in the area, feeding on all of the berries.

For the photographers, I shot this image with a Nikon 200-400 mm lens. I love that lens! It can focus on a subject at just under five feet from 200-400 mm. For this shot, I was at only 340mm at roughly five feet away. The other 60 mm could have brought this subject in even more. So, I can use it as a semi macro lens and still be ready to go into wildlife mode in only seconds.

Black Hawthorne Leaves

Black Hawthorne Leaves

This isn’t a great image by any means, but I thought it might be fun to post here today. This photo is of a clump of changing leaves on a Black Hawthorne bush on the Moose-Wilson Road. Notice the long thorn in the upper left. They don’t seem to bother the black bears when they are climbing around in the trees. The Moose-Wilson road is a “cozy” little side road in Grand Teton National Park. Maybe I should just call it extremely narrow and very tight with passing cars that always seem to be in a hurry to get somewhere. In fact, RVs and trailers can’t even go down it. Today, I was set up with my tripod aimed into the greenery when a little sports car drove by and stopped beside me. The well dressed, pretty lady with a big, pretty smile looked up at me and asked me what I was photographing. I am sure she wanted me to point out a black bear, or a lynx, or maybe a mountain lion.  I pointed towards the trees and said, “Berries”. It took an instant for her to process my response, then her smile dropped just a tiny bit and she looked at the leaves and berries. She looked back and said, “Thanks” as she drove off. I am sure she was thinking I must have a pathetic little life.

While out, I stopped at Dornan’s for an iced tea. A moose has been sighted there off and on this year and commonly in the past few years, so it was worth the little detour. No moose there today. I checked the gas prices on the pumps. It is $3.99 per gallon for self-serv unleaded. In town, it is holding steady at $3.82 at several stations. On the way home, the fog and clouds cleared. It is partly cloudy as I write this in the mid-afternoon. All, I got were berry shots this morning—along with a lasting memory of a lady puzzled by my choice of subjects!

Yesterday afternoon, I walked a couple of miles of the river bottom along the Gros Ventre. I found a cow and calf and later one young bull. As always, some days are better than others!

Afternoon Update: Mountain Lion Sighting in the town of Jackson.

Washakie Crossing

Washakie Crossing: Nikon D800, Nikon 200-400 at 400. ISO 1250, F/6.3, 1/200th Second. Tripod: VR OFF

August 27, 2013
Talk about a mixed bag of weather today! I got up at 4:00 am and looked outside. There were beautiful puffy clouds lit up by the half moon so I decided to be out early—wearing my “landscape hat”. I went to the Chapel of the Transfiguration where I did a little light painting before sunlight. I managed to capture a couple of nice, unique images there. I hung around for sunrise. It was okay, but I never got the explosion of light due to the cloud cover in the east. Despite the lack of color, I had some very interesting wavy low clouds behind the cross at the Chapel. I am anxious to process them. I shot several of those as stitched panos, so they take a little extra work.

Last Sunday, I was at the Chapel in mid-morning light doing some test shots. I was trying out a few new angles (new to me anyway). There were lots of people going into the church, the light was getting awfully bright and there were almost no clouds. Recon shots! Today, I knew exactly where I wanted to set up the camera. It was still dark when I drove up and began setting up. Trying to do careful compositions in the dark is not too easy, so my Sunday morning time paid off.

After the shots at the Chapel, I jumped into the truck and headed to the Gros Ventre Road.  I drove up just in time to catch one of the big bulls crossing the river. Had to change to my “wildlife hat”—with little time to think about it. Luckily, I had “zeroed out” my camera at the Chapel and was ready to shoot.

By the time I made it home, it was much clearer all around. It’s 3:30 pm here now. We had a band of thunder clouds come through town, dropping some more rain on us. It’s much calmer, but still very dreary and gray. I think it was Will Rogers that said if you don’t like the weather, just wait a while.

The Jackson Hole Daily printed an article today about Grizzly sow 399 and her three cubs being on the National Elk Refuge recently, polishing off some of the gut piles from the Bison hunt. It could be a precursor for what will be happening in the fall when the “Elk Reduction Program” (Elk Hunt) is scheduled to be held in parts of the Gros Ventre river bottom. I never saw the bears, though I saw a bear jam one afternoon at the GV bridge and had a few rumored sightings. Land south of the Gros Ventre river is part of the National Elk Refuge and off limits to anyone except refuge officials and hunters with the proper permits and licenses. (That’s short for: photographers can’t go there) The newspaper suggested the bears have left the area. Here’s a link to the article.

Moorning Moose

Morning Moose : Nikon D800, Nikon 200-400mm on a tripod at roughly 200mm. VR off. ISO 2500, 1/125th second, F/5: August 26, 2013

August 26, 2013
It was cloudy all morning with only a few breaks in the clouds. The Tetons were covered up, so I usually look for something else to photograph. I cruised the Gros Ventre River and caught a bull moose in the edge of the sagebrush. There are lots of tour groups out early now.

Mountain Ash trees are filling with the bright orange berries. The leaves are still green.

When at home, I saw a late season female Broad-tailed hummingbird on the feeder. Most of them have headed south already.

Sunday Services

Sunday Services at the Chapel of the Transfiguration : Nikon D800, Nikon 28-300 mm. No tripod. 44mm. VR ON. ISO 500, 1/2000 Second, F/7.1: August 25, 2013

August 25, 2013
Founder’s Day in Grand Teton National Park! Free admission through the gates today. We had a little more rain last night, but no fog this morning. Clouds looked good as I was driving out of town, but they cleared over the Tetons before I made it to the Gros Ventre Junction. Check out It Takes Two to Tango: Teton Sunrises for more information.

There was a bull moose at the pullout along the Gros Ventre river this morning. I found a different one, but he went down almost as soon as I found him. Some days are better than others! The bigger herd of bison moved back to the area closer to the Mormon Row barns this morning. I drove over to the Moose/Wilson road. It was very quiet. I got a nice botany lesson from a friend, so I now know the difference between Black Hawthorne and Service Berry trees. The Choke Cherry bushes are the most colorful there right now. The other two she identified for me were Snow Berries and Rose Hip. I drove by the Chapel this morning. Sunday church services were just about to begin.

It is bluebird clear here today as of mid-morning. I saw the weather report for the week and it looks like there could be thunderstorms on about every day for the next week. Gasoline is still holding steady at $2.82 per gallon for self-serve Unleaded at numerous stations.

Moose Calves

Moose Calves : Nikon D800 on a tripod. Nikon 200-400 mm. VR OFF, 200mm ISO 1250, 1/200th second, F/5.6 : August 24, 2013

August 24, 2013
Following a slow, steady rain last night, we had a thick layer of fog in the valley most of the morning. That happens regularly unless it is still raining or unless there is a steady wind all night. The Tetons were socked in with fog and clouds. It is partly cloudy in the middle of the day with some smoke filtering in from regional wildfires. I got a few shots of some young moose calves and a cow moose. The big herd of bison must still be on the butte north of the Gros Ventre Road, but there was a good sized herd at the far East end of Antelope Flats Road. I didn’t go down the Moose/Wilson road, but I got reports telling me it is crowded with cars, rangers, tourists, and photographers hoping to see a bear.

Fall Berries

Fall Choke Cherries : Nikon D4, Nikon 200-400mm on a tripod at roughly 310mm. VR off. ISO 125, 1/400th Second, F/5.6 : August 18, 2013

August 23, 2013
It was warmer this morning. There were a few nice clouds early, but it cleared quickly. On my trip out, I didn’t see any bison, but I didn’t go that far. Moose were seen at the pullout along the Gros Ventre. I walked a good section of the Gros Ventre and finally found a nice bull. As far as I know, there were no nesting owls in the campground this year. No traces of  smoke from the Idaho fires so far this morning. I saw a few hawks along the GV road. In town, I saw a few crows molting. I see a few Black-head Grosbeaks around the bird feeders.

Feeding Moose

Feeding Moose : Nikon D4, Nikon 200-400mm on a tripod at  400mm. VR off. ISO 500, 1/320th second, F/10: August 21, 2013

Evening Follow-Up: By around 4:00 pm, it got cloudy. At around 7:00 pm, we started getting a nice, slow, soaking rain. I can’t even remember the last time we had a good rain like this. I didn’t see any lightning, nor hear any thunder. It’s the best kind of rain to help soak the valley and take some pressure off potential tender box conditions.

Weather: Chilly Mornings Mid-40s to High 70’s with chances of isolated thunderstorms
Gasoline: In town Unleaded/Self-Serve $2.82

Sunrise August 22

Sunrise : Nikon D800, Nikon 24-70mm handheld at roughly 70 mm. ISO 100, 1/25th second, F/8: August 22, 2013: Along Gros Ventre Road

August 22, 2013
It was chilly here this morning. In fact, it was the first day I’ve seen frost on the car windows. Great sunrise! The full moon was in play for a while, too. Skies were filled with nice cloud formations, but with very little smoke residue. Mid-40s for morning temps and projected to be in the upper 70s by evening with some thundershowers possible. Bison were harder to find today. I believe most are on the bench east of the highway and north of the Gros Ventre road. Moose can usually be seen at the pullouts along the Gros Ventre river in early morning and late evenings. They are still in velvet. Berries are thick on the Moose/Wilson road, along with a thick cluster of tourists, rangers, and photographers. Antelope can be seen in the hayfields north of Kelly. Leaves are beginning to change to pea yellow in many areas. Wildflowers are thinning. The road crews appear to be finished chip sealing the loop around Blacktail Butte from the highway to Kelly, north to Antelope Flats Road and back to the highway. In the Town of Jackson, road crews began working on a new section of road west of the Town Square.

Weather: Chilly Mornings Mid-40s to Lows 80’s with chances of thunderstorms
Gasoline: In town Unleaded/Self-Serve $2.82

Thin Curtain of Smoke

Thin Curtain of Smoke: Nikon D800, Nikon 28-300mm handheld at roughly 135 mm. VR ON. ISO 100, 1/200th second, F/8: August 19, 2013: North of Kelly





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Comments (8)

  1. enjoy the updates ! hoping to be there in a month!

  2. Great site. I lways look forward to your photos. Headed toward Jackson on October 02 for two weeks. Yellowstone,Tetons & Antelope Island. Our 13th. year in a row making this trip. Never seem to get tired of the trip.Love the Tetons & Yellowstone. No autumn here in Florida so we go west to get the autumn. Never disappoints.

  3. Hi Gary and Gary,
    The Oxbow usually peaks around the 4th of October. Of course, it can be a day or two on either side. This blog is VERY NEW, so anything you can do to help me promote it would be appreciated. I write it for both photographers and regular tourists, so hopefully many people will benefit from the information. Cheers!

  4. Jackie Ireland

    Great website and beautiful pictures.
    Thanks for taking the time to put up this website.

  5. Rick

    Nice work. Thanks for the new reports. I will be checking in quite regular as our trip approaches. I like your practical approach of shooting what nature gives you at a given time. Great work.

  6. Hi Rick,
    I don’t get out every day, but I like to cash in on living here in the northern Rockies as much as I can. Living here for 26 years gives me some unique, up-close perspectives on the area, and I am happy to share them.

  7. Oscar Nunez

    Hello again, Mike. That’s an impressive rack on the bull moose (8/26/13). Do you know if the moose in GTNP are of the same sub-species as the ones up in Yellowstone (I believe the sub-species is called Shiras) where they’re a little smaller than the moose seen in Alaska or elsewhere? The one in your picture looks plenty of big to me…beautiful animal and a nice shot. Thanks!

  8. Hi Oscar,
    I am fairly sure all of the moose in Wyoming are the Shiras sub-species. It’d be easy to research, of course. I leave that kind of stuff for the thinkers using the other side of the brain! I’ve seen several nice bulls so far this year. They still have a good week of growth left on many of them.

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