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Best of the Tetons

May 4, 2008

May Day at the Old Patriarch Tree

The interior road in Grand Teton National Park closes at midnight on October 31st and doesn’t reopen for vehicle traffic until May 1st of the next year. The closure affects some of the popular areas like String Lake, Leigh Lake, Jenny Lake, Lupine Meadows, Signal Mountain, and in this case—The Old Patriarch Tree.

Patriarch PineconeI try to hike out and  photograph it several times a year. Anytime I can add snow into the formula, I know I can capture images with a unique look and feel compared to the images most people get during the “normal season”. The iconic tree is a half or three quarters of a mile off the road, so not that many people ever see it, nor take pictures of the scene.

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May 4, 2008

May 4, 2008

In many years since 2008, I’ve hiked out on, or around, May 1st for a chance to include snow capped mountains and snow on the ground. Some years require snow shoes. It’s always a gamble getting up before first light. As with any time of the year, the mountains can be socked in with clouds, fog, or storms. I know if I want the shots, I have to gamble some sleep and gasoline! For anyone feeling at least a bit nostalgic about the disappearing winter snow, or for anyone wanting to get a feel of winter, this area of the park offers chances to see and capture “the moment” during the first few days of May.

In August of 2013, I created this Feature Post: Revisiting an Old Friend: The Old Patriarch Tree. It includes more photos, a map to the tree, and more information.

The images below document a few “May Days” (or close to May 1st) since 2008.

Old Patriarch May1, 2009

May 1, 2009

May 2, 2010

May 2, 2010

May 1, 2011

May 1, 2011. Too many clouds!

May 2, 2011

May 2, 2011

String Lake Parking Lot May 1, 2014

May 1, 2014

This was taken at the String Lake parking area on the 1st. I had intentions of going out to the Patriarch, but backed off with no clouds in the sky. In some years, String Lake is frozen solid on the 1st, but not this year!

Old Patriarch

May 5, 2015

2015 was an usually different year! Looking back in my Lightroom catalog, it’s easy to document 2012 was similar in many areas of the valley. I didn’t hike out in early May that year.

My wife and I have lived here at least 29 years. In most years, snow is still covering the ground next to the base of the mountains for a week or two after the 1st of May. For a few of the images above, I was able to hike out to the tree “over” the frozen snow. In those years, I made great time to and from the tree, walking over the tops of the thigh high sagebrush. During those years, I seldom see a single animal in the area. Large game animals, predators, and birds stay behind the snow line until most of it melts. It’d be an understatement simply suggesting “Each year is different”. Some years are drastically different!

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Comments (3)

  1. I hiked out to Patriarch Tree on Wednesday May 3rd and it was a tough hike. Not because of deep snow (the frozen snow was about 4 or 5″) but by the time I got out there and starter walking back I was really sweating in the sun; I had been in the park since 6:00 and still had a vest and coat on. Patriarch looked the same but Ithe shots I took were with a 70-200 telephoto since I was following an idea passed along to me by my mentor 🙂 It is always worth the hike at least once a year. Lazy Randy

  2. Randy, I typically head out there early in May, sometimes hiking out on snow shoes and sometimes on dry land. I usually take a 70-200mm lens and a 24-70mm lens. It’s a cool shoot!

  3. Vance Carruth

    Mike, I haven’t been out to the Old Patriarch in many years now, glad to see that the old tree still remains pretty much the way I remember it. I’ll have to make the hike out there this summer to see it again! Thanks for reminding me that this is one of the iconic images any photographer hopes to capture in the Tetons! Continue sharing your love for the Tetons through your photography…it is very much appreciated! Vance

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