Best of the Tetons

Buck Rail Fence

“Don’t it always seem to go? You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.”

Lyrics from “Big Yellow Taxi” by Joni Mitchell ~ 1970.

Moose-Wilson Status

Joni’s words seem to ring true lately. I spent quite a bit of time with the black bears along the Moose-Wilson road this year. There have been more in the area than some years. For maybe a week, photography was great. As of last Tuesday afternoon, we are prohibited from seeing and photographing them along the road. They are not gone, but the opportunity has been severely thwarted. The Park Service probably made a good call on it. And, it might reopen soon? Who knows? The Moose-Wilson Road and Black Bears – My Experiences

The challenge, and focus of this post, is to acknowledge “what you’ve got” while it is happening and get out and photograph it while it is there.

There are always yearly trends and cycles. Leaves turn color and drop in the fall. Snow falls and remains on the valley floor around Thanksgiving. Bison rut in August. Many babies are born in early June. Grass turns green and deciduous trees add new leaves in May (or so).

But there are always little gems that fit between the common phases. Many are short lived and often don’t repeat.

Great Gray Owl

Three or four young Great Gray Owls appeared along the Spring Gulch Road at about the same time the Government Shutdown closed the Parks. It was good…really good… for a week or so. The owls eventually moved off the roads and one of them was hit by a vehicle. They haven’t been back. Great Gray Owls of Fall

Foxes 2008

A few years ago, a family of foxes showed up only a few feet off a main road in downtown Jackson. It was great, and it lasted a couple of weeks. She hasn’t been back. Red Fox: A Spring Vixen

River Otters

River Otters have been seen in some years along Flat Creek near the Visitor’s Center. But, not every year.

Chaning Beaver Terrain

Beavers can dam an area, creating a new pond that kills a beautiful stand of trees. The same pond might create spectacular reflections and habitat for numerous animals. Yin Yang.

Beaver with Willows

Beavers of Schwabacher Landing

Pfeiffer Homestead, On Antelope Flats Road

Forest Fires can change a landscape within only hours. The historic Pfeiffer Homestead, On Antelope Flats Road, burned to the ground during a prairie fire.

Shane Cabin

Time, decay, and the elements are constantly wearing down man made structures. The Luther Taylor cabin (the Shane Cabin) is now classified as a “ruins” site, and if I understand it correctly, will be allowed to fall down. The Shane Cabins: Authentic Homestead in Grand Teton National Park

In 2017, you may find it will be illegal to lightpaint the barns and structures inside Grand Teton National Park. The use of “artificial light” may trigger the requirement to acquire a Commercial Photography Permit.

T.A. Moulton Barn

Al Pounian took this wonderful shot around 1964. While the barn is sill there, all of the other outbuildings and fencing are totally gone. Thankfully, some of the fencing and corrals at the John Moulton Barn, a half mile north, have been repaired or replaced in recent years. The “Missing” GTNP Farming and Ranching Photos:

Flat Creek in November

Some wildlife related opportunities have a weather twist to them. Swans migrate through Jackson Hole in mid-November and December. In some years, Flat Creek freezes solid and we miss many of our chances to photograph them taking off and landing. In 2014, a pair of Trumpeter Swans paraded their little cygnets in front of viewers most of the summer. We looked forward to them again this year, but none of their babies survived. Trumpeter Swans: A Family of Swans Along Flat Creek in the Summer of 2014


I used to get up at 4:00 am to be at this spot long before sunrise. During high water in Pilgrim Creek, this old gravel pit fills with water adds a few reflections on calm mornings. Around the middle of June, Purple Lupines begin springing up and can cover the ground like a blanket. This shot was taken at 5:40 am on July 1st, 2008. The patch of willows in the middle of the pond are now much taller, and are eliminating almost all reflections. I haven’t gone there early for this shot in years. Ansel Adams took his image at Snake River Overlook in 1942. At the time, the trees were much shorter, giving him a good of the bend of the Snake underneath. Since then, the trees have grown much taller and block views of the bend.

Moose Clan

Some species of animals are on the decline. One year, I found a herd of moose scattered in the sagebrush east of Blacktail Butte. I counted 28 antlered moose, plus plenty of cows and a few bulls that had already dropped their antlers. I haven’t seen those kinds of numbers since. Moose were much more common around Oxbow Bend than now. People saw moose in Yellowstone regularly in the early years, but many never see one on a trip through the park now. See: Montana, Wyoming investigate plummeting moose populations

Jenny Lake Trail

Other times, a governmental agency closes an area we’ve always used. We took it for granted. Sometimes, areas are closed to vehicles because of abuse or overuse, but either way, the vehicle access is gone. People can still hike in. There are several roads up the Gros Ventre that come to mind along with roads back to the Snake River in the South Park Feed Grounds. I have an old fishing guide book here somewhere that mentioned a good fishing spot called “First Creek”. It’s somewhere near the far north end of the Jackson Lake Dam, but that area is completely closed all human activity. I never got to fish it and never will! The photo above was taken at the top of the trail at Jenny Lake. The last time I was there, the trail was still closed, and it has been closed for at least a year. A piece of asphalt broke off, creating a potential hazard.

Kelly Warm Springs

Kelly Warm Springs: In 1927, the natural dam created by the Gros Ventre Slide gave way and flooded much of Kelly. “But, for uncertain reasons, Mud Springs (today’s Kelly Warm Springs) began producing more water after the Kelly flood. Settlers cut the Mormon Row Ditch to the springs and began irrigating dry lands.” See: Mormon Row Irrigation and the Kelly Warm Springs: Sometime starting in the 1940s, people began putting tropical fish into the warm pond and many of them flourished. Currently, there is a plan to poison the entire pond and ditch to rid it of the tropical fish. For many years, families and kids have gone there with buckets and nets, making a sport out of catching them. For better or worse, things will not be the same there soon.

Buck Rail Fence

Shrinking budgets can affect what we are seeing. The photogenic old buck rail fences across from Triangle X ranch showed up in many people’s portfolios, in magazines, and paintings. They have been replaced with less attractive barbed wire fences. Over the years we’ve lived here, many of the iconic old fences have been removed. Wild West in Jackson Hole: Cowboys, Wranglers and Horses

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Over the past 11 years, the spruce trees at Schwabacher Landing’s classic reflection pool have grown considerably. Even though the mountains are the same height, the larger trees are affecting the apparent scale of the Teton Range.

Get it While the Gettin’ is Good!

I could probably come up with another dozen or so examples, but you should get the idea. For the most part, the loss of the photographic opportunities are out of our control. Some are still available, but are slipping away fast. A few opportunities will be gone soon and future bloggers will be reminiscing about them. Occasionally, we get special windows of time to photograph bears, otters, owls, or newborn animals. Those times, to a photographer, are similar to a powder day to a skier or snowboarder or a Green Drake hatch to a fisherman. You have to “get it while the gettin’ is good!


As always, if you like what you see here, please click one of the social media icons below and Share the page with your friends. If you like what you see here and want to be informed when I add a new Feature Post, click the Subscribe button at the upper right and enter your email address.

Like This Post? Share It

Comments (5)

  1. What a thought provoking post! You are so right. I grew up close to Yosemite and often visited it. It’s now loved so much and the crowds are so large, they’ve had to close areas there too to protect and preserve it. The only way to see areas that I never thought would be closed to easy access is accessed mainly by tour bus. I wish I had taken more photos of it back then but only have a few black & whites. Thanks for keeping us informed. I hope to see you next week.

  2. Mike, The park dept (or someone agency) is renovating Mormon Row. I heard that the National Park Dept. is working to renovate historic districts in many National Parks and that they are “practicing” renovation skills in Grand Tetons. On a recent visit to Bar BC Ranch (on a gravel road about a mile east of the park road north of the Taggert Lakeparking area) I noticed a lot of renovation activity. Have you heard anything about the renovation inside the park, particularly Shane’s Cabin and Bar BC Ranch? I’d hate to see any of these historic sites lost.

  3. Another great post. I am so glad I went to the moose wilson road in time to get bear photos. It is sad when things change, whether it’s because of people, or natural causes. Like you say, get it while you can.

  4. Shane Cabin comments from the post: Time, decay, and the elements are constantly wearing down man made structures. The Luther Taylor cabin (the Shane Cabin) is now classified as a “ruins” site, and if I understand it correctly, will be allowed to fall down.
    Bar BC Dude Ranch:

    Mormon Row Preservation and Enhancement 2015:

  5. I should have known you would already have a post on the Bar BC Ranch. Looks like they have doing the up-grade for awhile. I hope they follow through. The Dude Ranches are an important part of the GTNP history. But I am very sorry to hear that the park is going to let Shane Cabin crumble into the ground. It is in very bad shape and could be dangerous. I better get a copy of the movie and see it soon, then take another trip to the cabin before it is gone.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *