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The National Elk Refuge & Miller Butte:

A Mecca for Winter Wildlife Photography.

Ram in the HeadlightsLocated on the north edge of the Town of Jackson, the National Elk Refuge offers unique wildlife viewing opportunities during the winter months. By almost all standards, visitor access to the refuge is very limited. Of the 24,700 acres, visitors are confined to 10 feet either side of roughly four miles of roadway during the winter. Visitors are asked to park only in designated pullouts, of which there are currently very few. Work on the roadway is scheduled for the summer of 2015, including adding additional pullouts and expanding the sizes of several of the existing pullouts. Along the highway, visitors are told to pull off the highway only in one of the three or four designated pullouts and are told NOT to cross the bike path and approach the fence. I guess I could identify the issues above as the “negatives” at the refuge. It’s a refuge, not a park!

The positives far outweigh the inconveniences of limited parking, limited access, and narrow (sometimes slick) roads. The positives, of course, are the animals you might see there. The short list would include elk, bighorn sheep, pronghorns, and bison for the prey animals. Predators and scavengers would include wolves, coyotes, mountain lions, foxes, and a variety of raptors and birds. You might not expect to see all of the animals in these lists on a single drive-thru, but you “could” see several of them. That’s the beauty! You simply never know what you might find there from hour to hour, day to day, week to week or month to month. I often go back two and three times in a day!

Update Dec. 2015: Over the summer months of 2015, the National Elk Refuge reworked the roadway and added a generous number of pull-outs along Miller Butte. Additional improvements include better drainage along the roadway. As before, the Refuge reminds people to park only in the pull-outs and insists people NOT let the Bighorns lick the salt and chemicals off their vehicles. You might also find some useful information in this document: Refuge Road Wildlife Viewing Guide.

Summer and Winter: Two worlds.

National Elk Refuge

During the summer months, the National Elk Refuge could appear barren of animals. In a nutshell, you will likely travel “through” the Refuge on your way “to” something else. A few additional roads allow access to areas of the National Forest, such as Curtis Canyon and hiking trails to Goodwin Lake, Sheep Mountain, Mount Jackson and so forth. As in the winter, visitors are confined to a few feet either side of the roadways as they pass through the Refuge. Crews plant and irrigate fields on the refuge for forage for wintering elk, bison, and now pronghorns.

Flat Creek on the National Elk Refuge

Fly fishing is allowed in a section along the highway from August 1st to October 31st, but only fishermen with licenses and gear are permitted to be on the refuge. In the late fall, hunting is allowed for elk and bison in some areas. Otherwise, regular tourists cannot mingle off the roadways. Elk and most of the game animals will have moved off the refuge and into their summer ranges, leaving the range mostly uninhabited. Small critters like ground squirrels, voles, gophers, and chipmonks may be taken by Northern Harriers, Red-tailed hawks, Burrowing Owls, American Kestrels, Eagles and so forth.

National Elk Refuge

By late November, snows in the high country start pushing some of the large game animals to the Refuge. I start looking for Bighorn Sheep around Miller Butte on Thanksgiving. Elk start filtering in around the same time, but the big herds typically show up later. Predators and Scavengers follow the prey animals. I’ve seen wolves on the National Elk Refuge, but I’ve never seen them up close. Whether you see them or not, just know they are around! Wolves and other predators follow the prey animals out of the refuge in the Spring. Kills by the wolves, along with natural winter deaths, bring in the smaller scavengers of fur and feather. Mountain Lions have been observed on the Refuge over the years.

Bighorns and the Beginning of Winter

The Chase

Around Thanksgiving, I start cruising the Refuge watching for the first of the Bighorn Sheep. Early snows prod them to move out of the high country and onto the slopes of Miller Butte. By the first week of December, I expect to see reasonable numbers of both ewes and rams. The rut usually begins around the middle of December and continues until the middle of January. This page from Best of the Tetons contains quite a bit more information and lots of photos: Bighorns of Miller Butte. The page has a map showing the roads and pullouts along Miller Butte.

Elk

Mass of Elk

Elk migrate from long distances, including Yellowstone, to winter at the National Elk Refuge. I overheard a biologist say there are roughly 5,500 elk on the refuge with additional elk around the edges. You can check the refuge’s official site for more specifics: National Elk Refuge. When driving out onto the Refuge, expect to see mostly cows and calves. The big bulls seldom hang close to the roadways, but you still might see one mixed in. For the best view of wintering elk, consider taking the sleigh ride. Sleigh Ride on the National Elk Refuge: It might be the best deal in town! Bulls can occasionally be seen on the ridge line of Miller Butte. Wolves on the refuge can greatly impact where the elk and other animals are grazing on any particular day.

Bison

Bison Herd

Traditionally, the wintering bison hang in the northeast section of the Refuge and are not visible to the winter tourists. Occasionally, a heard will move to the southern section and even south of the road. Wildlife officials may haze them back off the road for the safety of tourists, hikers, bikers, and photographers. They are quick and dangerous! Watch for them in the last mile of the winter road section.

Pronghorns

Elk and Pronghorns

During the winter months, Pronghorns traditionally move from the Teton valley to areas south of here—such as Big Piney, Daniel, and Marbleton. Over the past few winters, a small herd began staying in the valley. Now that herd seems to be growing in size. I counted over 45 recently along the roadway near Miller Butte. They also appear to be becoming more tolerant of the passing vehicles, hikers, and bikers.

Mule Deer

Hillside Mule Deer

Hillside Mule Deer: I’ve seen a few mule deer actually inside the fence in the National Elk Refuge, but most are along the road and hillside West of the highway. Other than some of the commercial businesses along the road, the National Elk Refuge owns much of the land. Deer and Elk can be seen grazing along either side of the road early in the mornings and on the hillside after first light. You may also see some of them by making the drive up to the National Museum of Wildlife Art.

Wolves

Wolves

Recently, the newspaper reported two packs of wolves roaming the National Elk Refuge and making kills. I’ve seen them on the hillsides before and was able to hear them howl, but I’ve never been there as they chase game into close proximity to the roads. Maybe I will be in the right spot at the right time and capture some of it.

Coyotes

Coyote

Coyotes are more common on the National Elk Refuge. Most stay off the roads and scavenge on winter kills or feed on the leftovers from a wolf kill.

Foxes

Red Fox

Red Foxes aren’t that common on the Refuge, but I’ve seen them several times just south of the Miller House.

Otters

River Otter

River Otters occasionally cruise Flat Creek in search of small fish. I’ve photographed them on numerous occasions from the observation platform just north of the visitor’s center.

Swans

Squabble

Trumpeter Swans and an occasional Tundra Swan can often be seen along Flat Creek. Check out this Feature Post: Trumpeter Swans: A Family of Swans Along Flat Creek in the Summer of 2014. During the winter, much of Flat Creek can freeze over for short periods, but the Swans and other waterfowl quickly return when sections of the waterway open up again. Flat Creek runs through much of the National Elk Refuge.

Eagles

Golden Eagle

Bald Eagles and Golden Eagles can be seen on the National Elk Refuge at any time of the year, but are more plentiful during the winter months. Winter kills bring in the scavengers of all kinds. Watch for Ravens swarming, then look for nearby eagles, foxes, coyotes and magpies. During the winter months, watch for Rough-legged hawks hovering around the valley floor. In the summer, watch for Red-tailed Hawks and Northern Harriers. I’ve seen photos of Burrowing Owls taken on the Refuge.

Scenic Opportunities

Miller House with Fog Bank

The Historic old Miller House sits in the middle of the National Elk Refuge. It always makes a good subject for photography. The house and areas immediately surrounding it are closed to human activity during the winter months.

National Elk Refuge

Sleeping Indian (AKA Sheep Mountain) rests on the far east side of the valley. Check out this earlier Feature Post for more locations: Sleeping Indian: A Lesser Photographed JH Icon

Scenic Comments: I typically don’t go to the National Elk Refuge “thinking landscapes”. Wildlife is usually higher on my priorities. If the light is hitting the Miller House or Sleeping Indian in a special way, I will always stop to photograph it. Access is limited, as I mentioned earlier, so we must shoot only from the roadways. A couple of distracting power lines run through the refuge and the angles are just not designed for photographers, especially while on the Refuge Road. From the highway, many more possibilities are available to viewers and photographers. On the North side, the National Elk Refuge and Grand Teton National Park are separated by the Gros Ventre River. Visitors can roam the north side of the river, but cannot cross the river to the Refuge side.

Curtis Canyon

On May 1st, the roads into the interior of the Refuge open back up, allowing people to cross into the National Forests. On that morning, the road is packed with antler hunters heading into the wilds outside the refuge. Additional photographic opportunities can be found by driving up the Curtis Canyon Road.

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Critters

Maybe they don’t have the “mass” of the large game animals and predators, but they are equally fun and equally challenging to photograph!

This page contains photos of some of the smaller mammals found in the Jackson Hole valley and Grand Teton National Park. With few exceptions, I don’t go out looking for the critters. Instead, I am usually out taking photos of something else when I catch a glimpse of something moving nearby.

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Short-tailed Weasel or Ermine

I’ve only see a few Weasels or Ermine while out in the valley. They are elusive and seem to always be on the move. This page contains lots of facts about them. Weasel (Short Tailed) or (Ermine) . There are possibly some Long-tailed Weasels in the valley.

Weasel

Weasel: I photographed this Weasel along the Gros Ventre while searching for moose. I’ve seen photos others took inside the Gros Ventre campground. Other photographers have been known to capture images of them along the road on the National Elk Refuge, though I haven’t been so lucky.

Ermine

Ermine: Needless to say, seeing a small white mammal in an ocean of white snow is not an easy task! This one happened to run across the top of the snow along the Snake River south of Hoback Junction. I’ve seen them on numerous occasions along Spring Gulch Road, but I have never been able to capture one in my camera. A few years ago, I caught a glimpse of one running across my back yard. I’d love to get thousands more photos of them!

Great Gray and Ermine

Great Gray Owl and Ermine: I’ll take that back. I captured this shot of a Short-tailed Weasel (Ermine in winter) along Spring Gulch Road, but only after the Great Gray captured it first.

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Coyotes

You might find a coyote about anywhere in the valley at any time of the year. They are leery of humans as they are shot as pests outside the park.

Coyote

Coyote: Occasionally, a coyote will stop long enough to get a few shots. I photographed quite a few of them in the National Elk Refuge, along Mormon Row, and at Elk Flats.

Coyote Pups

Coyote Pups: During the past couple of years, coyote raised a litter of pups under one of the buildings along Mormon Row. These two were close to the Moose Visitor’s Center.

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Wolves

Despite the fact there are numerous packs of wolves in Grand Teton National Park, I seldom see them and almost never get to photograph them.

Wolf

Wolf and Coyote: Knowing wolves are near the top of the food chain, I was hesitant to include them on this page, but I thought this photo merited the inclusion. This large black wolf was milling around on the east side of the park. The Coyotes were amazingly brave around him—possibly trying to lure him away from their den. Watch for Wolves along the Snake River, around Willow Flats and Oxbow Bend, and near Uhl Hill on the east side of the park. Some are seen in the Buffalo Fork river bottom and housing areas.

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Porcupines

A lot of farmers kills porcupines on sight. They strip the bark and kill trees and can cause a lot of damage. Inside the Park, they are protected.

Porcupine

Porcupine: I photographed this Porcupine along the East Boundary Road a few years back. It seemed out of place with no trees anywhere near.

Porcupine

Porcupine: This Porcupine had been killing a valley resident’s trees next to his house on West Gros Ventre Butte. A friend of the homeowner trapped the animal. I went with the trapper to release it along the base of the mountain north of Wilson. We had expected it to move slowly out of the trap and get into the closest clump of trees, but instead, it took off like a thoroughbred racehorse coming out of the gate.

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Badgers

Watch for badgers anywhere there are Uinta Ground Squirrels and soft dirt. A few dig holes around the Gros Ventre Campground and around the Mormon Row barns.

Badgers

Badgers: I photographed these along Mormon Row a few years back. I also seen them in the pastures near Elk Flats and near the Kelly Warm Springs.

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Red Squirrels

Most of my shots of Red Squirrels were taken in my back yard. One has been building nests and stashing food there for years. However, they are commonly seen in almost all wooded parts of the valley. At certain times of the year, Red Squirrels harvest cones from the various Spruce and Pine trees.

Red Squirrel

Red Squirrel. This mother was moving her six babies from one hole to another.

Baby Red Squirrel

Baby Red Squirrel: A few weeks later, the youngsters came out and explored their surroundings before being run off by the mother.

Jumping Red Squirrel

Jumping Red Squirrel: One of the advantages of having a resident Squirrel is being able to get shots like this. I put peanuts in a tree trunk for her. She’d go back and forth getting the peanut and returning to her nesting cavities. I set up with a couple of strobes for some high speed-sync action. She’s an athlete, but she doesn’t wear Nike shoes!

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River Otters

River Otters can be found in about any of the valley’s waterways. But, that’s easier to say than it is to actually find them and photograph them. They are constantly on the move and can travel large distances in search of fresh food sources…fish!

Otter Family

Otter Family: I photographed this family a few years ago along Flat Creek. Another group is often photographed on the snow near Oxbow Bend and around the Jackson Lake Dam. I’ve photographed them along the Gros Ventre River and along Pacific Creek.

River Otters with Catch

River Otters with their catch:

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Muskrats

These critters are quite a bit smaller than otters, but are often found in the same areas.

Muskrat

Muskrat: I photographed this Muskrat from the observation platform along Flat Creek.

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Chipmunks

This might be a “least Chipmunk”, but actually, I believe there are at least three species of Chipmunks in the area. They are common in almost all parts of the valley. Watch for them in the tops of the sagebrush and scavenging for food and seeds around campgrounds and pullouts.

Chipmonk

Chipmunk: I photographed this one along the Gros Ventre river as it heads out of the Park and into the Slide Lake area. Again, they are common everywhere.

Chipmonk

Chipmunk: I took this photo along the Moose-Wilson road a few years ago. Black Hawthorne berries attract a variety of animals including Black Bears and Grizzly Bears, along with many species of birds.

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Yellow-bellied Marmots

Marmots are fairly common in the Jackson Hole valley. Watch for them in rock piles along the road.

Yellow-bellied Marmot

Yellow-bellied Marmot: They spend much of their day sunning on the rocks. They are quick to hide if a hawk or predator is in the area. A good place to find them is in the rocks at the National Museum of Wildlife Art. They hibernate in the winter.

Yellow-bellied Marmot

Yellow-bellied Marmot: Occasionally, you’ll find a Marmot in a large tree trunk. This one was near Pilgrim Creek in GTNP. Obviously, they are difficult to spot.

Yellow-bellied Marmot

Yellow-bellied Marmot: As far as I know, this is still a Yellow-bellied Marmot. I’ve seen a few pockets of the dark ones in the valley. This one was photographed at White Grass Ranch a few years ago. I went back to photograph them again, only to be told the Park Service trapped them out and moved them to another undisclosed location in the park. They were interfering with preservation efforts. Another group  of dark Marmots can sometimes be seen at the base of the mountain near the Cascade Canyon and Hidden Falls boat ramp.

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Red Foxes

These sly little critters inhabit much of the valley, but are not always easy to find or photograph.

Red Fox

Red Fox: A few years ago, Red Foxes were plentiful in the Wilson area. This one is “mousing”.

Red Fox

Red Fox: They can be very agile while chasing their prey. I’ve watched them capture a mouse or vole, then bury it, mark their spot, and continue hunting. On the way back to the den, especially when they have kits, they gather them up and carry a large mouthful of food to their young.

RedFoxSnowBank_Mar24

Red Fox: I prefer Winter for photographing Foxes while their fur is long and full. I photographed this one in the north end of the Park. Lots of people photographed a Red Fox in Karns Meadows a few years back. Some can be seen along the fence lines around Kelly. Check out this earlier Feature Post showing more of this Fox. Red Fox: A Spring Vixen

Red Fox

Red Fox: By late spring, Foxes begin to shed some of their winter coats. While this one might look like a black fox or a silver fox, they are still Red Foxes and will have a white tip on their tail. I photographed this in the pastures in Wilson.

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Uinta Ground Squirrels:

Uinta Ground Squirrels are plentiful throughout the sage flats of Jackson Hole. Hawks, owls and other raptors feed on them, along with Badgers, Foxes, and Coyotes. Interestingly, they spend roughly eight months of the year underground or hibernating.

Uinta Ground Squirrels

Baby Uinta Ground Squirrels:  You can see them on almost any summer day around the Mormon Row barns.

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Pikas

Pikas are usually found in the higher elevations. Watch for them in rock piles gathering clumps of grass and vegetation.

Pika

Pika: I photographed this little Pika on my way up to Cascade Canyon: One of the Teton’s Many Gems

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Beavers

The American Fur Traders came to Jackson Hole to trap beavers during the time span of 1825-1840. They could have effectively trapped the entire population in a year or two. Populations of beavers are now well recovered. Watch for beavers in the river bottoms and see more images on this Feature Post: Beavers of Schwabacher Landing

Beaver

Beaver:  I photographed this beaver at Schwabacher Landing. They can also be seen along the Gros Ventre river and Pacific Creek.

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Ground Squirrels

There are a few different species of Ground Squirrels in Jackson Hole. At slightly higher elevations watch for Golden-mantled Ground Squirrels.

Ground Squirrel

Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel: These are larger than the Chimpmonks found in the valley. I photographed this one near Inspiration Point on my Cascade Canyon: One of the Teton’s Many Gems hike.

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Raccoons

Raccoons are mostly nocturnal feeders. They are not native to the region, but have moved in and are thriving.  While fly fishing, I saw a family of Raccoons working their way along the bank of the Snake River.

Raccoon

Raccoon: I photographed this Raccoon in my back yard one night after our dog ran it up a tree. They come around looking for leftover bird feed.

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Pine Marten

I have so little experience with Pine Martens…here’s a link with more info: Pine Martin | Wilderness Classroom

Pine Marten

Pine Marten: I took this photo of an elusive little Pine Marten while waiting for a mother Moose and Calf to stand up near Taggart Lake Trailhead. I’ve seen them on the road going into the Laurence S. Rockefeller Preserve, but didn’t get shots. For a while, a Pine Marten was hanging around the parking area a the Pacific Creek boat launch near Moran Junction.

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Others?

Oh yes! There are lots of others! This guide will give you a much longer list of animals in GTNP: Mammal-Finding Guide via the Grand Teton National Park web site. There are mice, voles, shrews, bats, rabbits, wolverines, ferrets, woodrats, gophers, and the list goes on! As I have the opportunity, I spin my camera around and try to capture them.

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September Daily Updates for GTNP and JH Area (2013):

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 posts.

Daily Updates Archives: ~
2017: Nov: | Oct: | Sept: | Aug: | July: | June: | May:Apr:Mar: | Feb: Jan: |
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2013: Dec: | Nov: Oct: | Sept: | Aug:

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Daily Updates and Photos

Note: This page was edited on August 31, 2014 to arrange the postings in chronological order.

Bull Moose

Bull Moose with Velvet and White Spots: Nikon D800, 200-400mm lens, ISO 1250, F/5.6, 1/100th Second, Tripod, VR OFF

September 1, 2013 Wow! It’s September already. The morning was definitely cooler today and as I write this note just before 2:00 pm, it is only 66°F. More leaves are changing to pea green and a few beginning to turn yellow. Still, everything looks about on schedule and it is starting to actually feel like Fall is on the doorsteps. With clear skies, I usually look for animals first. Today, I found a few moose. All of them still had their velvet, but it is definitely time to see more of them beginning to scrape it off. If you check the post from yesterday on the August Daily Updates, you can see a photo or two one starting to scrape. The moose in this photo has white spots all over the lower half of his body. At first, I thought he’d been in some sappy bushes but the white spots are actually white fur. I’ve seen this bull for several years—and this is the first year for the white spots. In case you are wondering, I can tell these bulls apart by their antlers, scars, cuts, and their dewlap. This one has only a bit of a goatee, instead of the normal length dewlap. Their antlers usually grow back very similar to the previous years.  He is definitely a big boy this year. If you like moose, you will probably enjoy seeing the moose images at Teton Images! I’ll be adding a bunch of new 2013 moose images there very soon, too. Check back! Along the river, I also saw a Kingfisher and a couple of American Goldfinches. Bluebirds are still fairly common, however the males are not as bright now.

Flag and Tetons

A Grand Old Flag

A friend was in town, so we drove over to Dornan’s Chuckwagon for the morning breakfast. They told me they’d still be open for a couple more weeks. The Dornan’s store opens at 8:00 am. A bull moose hangs in that area and along the river under the Snake River Bridge. I believe most of the hummingbirds that hang around Dornans has left for the season. While in the area, I drove down the Moose-Wilson road to the Death Canyon road and turned around.A few more leaves are turning red on the Black Hawthorne bushes. Berries are fairly thick this year. I didn’t see much, but it was already mid-morning by then. A few bears have been seen off and on. There is some smoke today, but nothing like yesterday. I am unaware of fires too close. I added the link, Wyoming Active Fire Information, on Helpful Area Links a while back if you ever want to check for fire activity. The Grand Old Flag shot give you an idea of today’s smoke. Lastly, tomorrow is the last day of the Shootout on the Jackson Town Square for this year. Better hurry!

— Here’s a link to the August Daily Updates if you missed them.

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Two bull moose

Two Bull Moose on Labor Day

September 2, 2013
Today’s outing: It’s Labor Day, so I stayed out longer than normal. We had overcast skies and some light rain during the middle of the day. I found moose early, then located the bison on Antelope Flats road. The early morning moose were good. All of the bulls I found still had velvet. Once it started raining, I headed to the Moose/Wilson road to see if I could photograph leaves and berries with drops of water hanging from them. In the process, I managed to finally photograph a black bear and saw another one just down the road. While leaving the Moose headquarters area, I crossed the Snake River bridge. A bull moose was along the river just below the bridge. I almost headed home, but thought I’d check the moose one more time on the Gros Ventre. I found them and had a good afternoon. I got a report the bull moose I photographed yesterday now has white, cleaned-off antlers. He was with a cow along the ridge at the viewing pullout along the Gros Ventre. When I went by, it was raining fairly hard, so I will just take his word for it. Another big bull has been hanging around there, too.

Soaked Black Bear

Soaked Black Bear

Today’s weather: It was a weird weather day today. It was overcast all morning, but even those clouds had a milky layer of smoke mixed in. The mountains were barely visible through all of it. By mid-morning, it started a light drizzle and finally into some light rain. I was soaked by the time I got home. The sun broke through for maybe 30 minutes, then clouded over one more time and started raining again. I took that as my signal to finally head home and try to get this post finished. I mentioned it was warmer today to friend. He said the morning temps were 20° warmer today. Right now, at 3:50 pm, it is only 61° F with thick clouds.

Dripping Leaf

Dripping Leaf

Foliage Report: Except for a few random trees and some specific shrubs, most of the valley is still green. Things are changing, however!

Fogged Glass

Fogged glass

 

For photographers:
When I got out of the truck this morning, my D800 gave me a notice I didn’t have any cards in it. It turns out they were sitting on my desk at home. I hate it when that happens! Luckily, I had extra cards. While out in the changing weather, I had to fight the drizzle and rain, plus fogging on my glasses, lenses and viewfinder. Today, it started out cool, but when the sun came out for a few minutes, the front glass on my lens fogged up. When I exhaled with my face next to the camera, the viewfinder window would fog up. With all the rain, my glasses were also wet and fogged over half the day. The Fogged Glass image is an example showing what the fogging can do to an image. It happens fairly quickly, too. I didn’t read the weather report before heading out or I would have taken the extra protective clear glass for the front of my 200-400 mm lens. Normally, I take a small dry chamois with me and it does a pretty good job of cleaning off rain drops, but after a while, you can get a layer of metallic fog and that can require some Windex or commercial glass cleaner. I run across this issue again in during the winter with the snow flakes and variable weather conditions.

Local News: A few days ago, a mountain lion was reported here in town. The police and game and fish issued warnings and even closed some of the bike paths. Today’s news says they lifted the closure and warnings. The newspaper also sated GTNP will close the gravel portion of the Moose-Wilson road for a day for another round of dust abatement. I’ll confirm the dates and times, but it seems like the closure starts during the night on Wednesday.

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Gros Ventre Sunrise

Gros Ventre Sunrise

September 3, 2013Today’s outing: Headed out at 6:00 am and saw the sliver of a moon over the Eastern mountains. I was tempted to find a nice spot but went ahead and headed north. After a rain, Flat Creek and the Snake River are natural fog generating machines the next morning. We had thick fog today, but when I was heading out on the Gros Ventre, there was a magically lit scene of the eastern mountains with the river below . The fog had mostly cleared over that stretch of the river. I stopped and got quite a few shots before it got too bright and before the fog rolled back in. The moose I found were not in great places today and all bedded down quickly, so I took a quick spin up Mormon Row and found bison in lifting fog and with mystical lighting. I had to get back to town early today, but I had a nice experience for a short two hour trip.

Approaching Bison Bull in the Fog

Approaching Bison Bull in the Fog

Today’s Weather: Foggy! It was comfortably warm however. When I passed by one of the bank clocks, it read 58° at 8:30 am. As I write this post, I can see patches of blue sky out my window. For the people still out, lifting fog can offer some great landscape opportunities as the Tetons begin to show through them!Foliage Report: Even in one day, the leaves on the cottonwoods along the Gros Ventre shifted to a yellowish cast in many of them.  Some are showing distinct patches of yellow. With the truncated trip today, I didn’t get to check anywhere else. If you’ve never been to my web site, check out this portfolio page: Mike Jackson’s Teton Images . I think it will give you an idea of the variety of subject matter I get to see here in Jackson Hole. Sign up for the email notification to know when I add a new page. Lots of them are coming!

Road Closure: The JH Daily reports the unpaved portion of the Moose-Wilson road will close at 4: am on Wednesday and is scheduled to reopen by 8:00 am on Thursday. The closure is allow the crews to apply a new layer of magnesium chloride on the road for dust abatement.

Evening Follow Up: I went with my wife to Idaho Falls today. We had a noon appointment, so I had to hurry the morning report. Idaho Falls (about 90 miles west of Jackson) had a huge thunderstorm blow through and it apparently crossed into Wyoming and on into the Jackson Hole area. We saw lightning on most of our trip back home. I meant to mention the Cedar Wax Wings I saw and heard on the Moose-Wilson road, along with the report of the elk beginning to bugle in the mornings. I saw Osprey on many of the nests as we drove towards Idaho Falls. Aspen trees between Jackson and Wilson have a shift towards fall colors, but far from peak. As we drove up the pass, we finally cleared the morning fog and could look down on the layer below.

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Sunrise Clouds Over Blacktail Butte

Sunrise Clouds Over Blacktail Butte

September 4, 2013 Today’s Outing: I was up and out early. Landscape shots looked promising, but I like to see the tops of the Tetons for most shots in that direction. For more on this topic, check out “It Takes Two to Tango: Teton Sunrises“. I saw a friend this morning who said photography at the barns was fantastic. If you are interested in seeing some panoramic images of the Tetons, Click Here!

With the bull moose ready to start stripping their velvet, I bailed on the landscape opportunities and looked for moose along the Gros Ventre river. I found eight of them today. All of the bulls I saw still had velvet. For visitors and photographers, my number one suggestion for seeing moose is to be out before the sun comes up. You can often see them along the edges of the cottonwoods and in the sagebrush, but they move back into cover as soon as the sun starts warming things up. If you miss that opportunity to locate them, it can be much harder to find any at all. And, once they bed down for the morning, it gets even harder or close to impossible. And remember, there is a 25 yard minimum viewing distance on moose. If you are simply viewing them, there is no need to be closer and if you are shooting with a point and shoot camera, please understand you shouldn’t be expecting to get face or torso shots.

Bull Moose In Shade

Bull Moose In Shade

I picked this photo of a resting bull moose for the daily reports because it shows some interesting details of this bull. First, he doesn’t have much of a dewlap under his bell. Second, he has quite a few white spots. They look like spots, but they are actually small strands of white fur. I don’t have any biological explanation to divulge, just empirical evidence a biologist might be interested in seeing. Lastly, this bull was doing some light sparring with another equal sized bull on Saturday. They don’t usually spar like that until after they shed their velvet, but you can see scratches in the velvet in this one from the exchange.

For Photographers: I chose to expose for the moose in this shot—blowing out some of the background. I photographed it both ways of course. I tend to like the abstract background in this version. The bulls usually bed down in the shade, so this is a common scene. As the sun moves across the sky, they will often light up temporarily if you wait long enough. I didn’t think that was going to happen today, but I came back to the spot several times just to see if it would. There were quite a few clouds, so I waited until one passed in front of the sun to get an evenly lit shot without the brighter background. I have lots of images of resting moose, but it is not too common to get one bedded down without some twigs or grass in front of their face.

Elvis Eye 2011 and 2013

Elvis Eye 2011 and 2013

Tough Luck for Elvis: One of the biggest bulls along the Gros Ventre has been called Elvis for several years. In the latter parts of the rut of 2011, Elvis had a nasty cut near his right eye. I took lots of photos of him, but deleted most of the ones if the bad eye was showing. At one time, it was a mess, with white foam running from it, but as the season progressed, it seemed to be better. Last year, none of us noticed it being a problem at all. I shot the bottom image of these two this morning along the Gros Ventre river. He was out before sunrise, so the ISO was high and this is a tight crop, but you can see how his eye is now mostly white. Who knows if he has any vision at all in it, but it will probably hinder his ability to see a competitor on that side if he gets into a fight. This bull has a cut in his ear, making it fairly easy to confirm him as the bull from a previous year, but his big antlers are another giveaway. Most of the other bulls give him plenty of room, but apparently one challenged him in 2011. The tines on these big moose are efficient weapons. I am always amazed more of them don’t lose eyes. Elvis has been a regular at the big pullout along the Gros Ventre river for the past few weeks.

Anthropomorphism : I had to look that one up. It is a term for giving a human name to an animal or object. Some people don’t like the practice, but it certainly helps identify them quickly among people using the same names.

Weather: The forecast was for temps in the mid ’50s to the mid ’70s with clouds, early patchy fog and some isolated afternoon thunderstorms. A perfect day!….except for the topper clouds on the peaks of the Tetons. No smoke today.

Foliage: On a scale of 1 t0 10, we are still in the 2 range most places. Things are shifting, but not really in what most people would call Fall mode yet.

Prescribed Burns: The Teton Interagency Fire site has this information about the 2013 Prescribed Burn Areas. One is scheduled for the Fall along Lozier Hill and Pacific Creek area. Hopefully, it won’t ruin the foliage season around Oxbow Bend for the fall visitors and photographers. Area Tidbits: Downtown construction is still in progress. Traffic is down after Labor Day, so it is not quite as congested. Gasoline is still around $3.82 for unleaded, self-serv around town. The unpaved portion of Moose-Wilson road is closed today. Should be open in the morning after 8:00 am, but anyone going over it will probably have sludge to wash off later in the day.

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September 5, 2013 Today’s Outing:It is about 35 miles from the town of Jackson to Moran Junction. I often look out my window early in the morning and see stars, thinking skies are clear. Other times, I might not see a single star, indicating it is probably cloudy. But, it is almost impossible to know the actual weather in the northern or middle part of the park. Even if you check the web cams scattered around the valley, the darkness of the hour will not give you much information. So, you suit up and get out on the field!

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Clouds were thick in the east today, some of which turned bright red and orange, but the same clouds prohibited the early light from hitting the Tetons. Check out: It Takes Two to Tango: Teton Sunrises for more info. I was at the Chapel of the Transfiguration this morning as the first light hit. Some of those shots might turn out well, but I need to spend some time with them. The two images in the slideshow above were taken from the very same spot and essentially at the same time. I aimed towards the East, took the shot, and then aimed West for the second one. You’d think they were from two different days! I drove along Antelope Flats road to the intersection at Mormon Row. There were dozens of cars parked there, and lots of photographers all set up very close to the barns. Check out: Distance and Scale Relationships in the Tetons (and elsewhere) for more info. I think they were all too close, but hey, they are probably happy! I turned south on Mormon Row and saw another fairly large group of people at the Thomas Moulton barn. It was dark and gray at that time and most people were just standing around with their hands in their pockets, waiting for better light. Bison were mostly south today in two groups. One group was in the pastures near the south end of Mormon Row and the others were along the Gros Ventre road. When I went by, none were very close.

Cow Crossing River

Cow Crossing River

Over the span of the morning, I found nine moose and heard of three bulls I didn’t see. I also heard a report of the bull at the Snake River bridge at Moose Junction has stripped most of his velvet. Today, there was one single cow moose hovering around three bulls, but they didn’t seem to have any interest in her. She crossed the river, but none of the bulls followed her. That won’t be the case in a week or two! I saw an American Kestrel along Mormon Row, but it was too dark to think much about trying to take pictures of him. I also heard reports that most of the elk have rubbed their velvet and are starting to fight for cows. It’d probably be a good time to be a Lupine Meadows very early in the morning. By the time I was heading home, a band of clouds were starting to fill in over the Tetons and it became even more gray as I entered town.

Evening Follow-Up: The Jackson Hole Fall Arts Festival begins today and runs for the next ten days. The town is beginning to fill with artists and photographers already! Click the link here to go to the site for schedules and events. Tomorrow, my fishing buddy and I are planning a fly fishing trip down the South Fork (of the Snake River) in Idaho, so I probably won’t be adding an update until much later in the evening. We’ll be going over Teton Pass, so at least some of the information will be about this side of the mountains.

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Mike and the Eagle

Mike and the Eagle

September 6, 2013
Going Fly Fishing Today!  We are heading over to the South Fork of the Snake River for a day long float and fly fishing trip. I’ll take the camera along and maybe post a couple tonight. We go over Teton Pass and Pine Creek Pass to get there, so I will report a little on the status of the foliage between here and there. The Snake River starts out in the southern section of Yellowstone, though there appears to be somewhat of a battle on exactly which little trickle of a stream is the actual headwater. It “snakes” its way through Teton valley and into the canyon. The Snake River merges with the Gray’s River and Salt River at Alpine, WY. In Idaho, it merges with the North Fork of the Snake and later with the Columbia river, and then on out to the ocean.

I am including a photo from a fishing trip we made to the same area in 2006. We came across an injured eagle on the side of the river—on an isolated island. I took lots of photos of him and then  decided to see if he’d let me help him. He was amazingly calm once I touched him. We called the Highway Patrol from the river. They called the Idaho Fish and Game and a ranger met us at the takeout. He told me they had been looking for him for a couple of days. My friend, Dave Brackett, snapped this shot of me at the takeout while we were waiting for the ranger. It is a classic shot, for sure, but the one I’d love to have had was with me sitting in the front of the boat with the eagle, my friend rowing and his big German Shepherd in the back of the boat. We got some very strange looks as we drifted by other fishermen!

South Fork Fishing

South Fork Fishing

Late Night Follow-Up: Let’s see. Yes, I caught some fish, and it was a great time out on the river. It was slow fishing until after a 30 minute afternoon thunderstorm ran us off the river. After that, fish started to bite. On the way over, I kept an eye on the aspens and cottonwoods. If I had been saying foliage is a TWO on a scale of One to Ten, I’d probably move it up to a THREE. It varies, but there are more with at least some yellow on a hillside. There are still a few wildflowers along the pass, but not something to make you want to drive up there to see them. There are quite a few Mountain Ash trees with lots of orange berries along the road. Leaves are still bright green on them.

Fall Creek, Idaho

Fall Creek, near Swan Valley, ID. Nikon D4 with a 28-300 mm VR lens. 1/13th Second, F/10

This waterfall feeds into the South Fork from a tiny little creek aptly called Fall Creek. It’s near Swan Valley, Idaho. It might have a name, but I didn’t see one on the Google Map I searched. You can drive to within only a few feet of the brink of the falls and walk to it, but it is tough to get much of a shot from the edge. This is the first time I’ve ever really tried to photograph it from the river. I hand held this shot with VR ON at 1/13th of a second. I shot quite a few at various speeds. This one happened to be fairly sharp. The slow shutter speed lets the water have a velvety look. At 1/125th of a second, the water was essentially frozen.

It was raining when we returned back to Jackson after our fishing  trip to Idaho. We need the rain! Tomorrow morning, I should be back in Grand Teton National Park to see how the moose are doing.

Oh yes, if you like what you are seeing and the direction I am heading with this blog site, please mention it on your favorite forums, bulletin boards, news feeds and social media sites. I need a little help to jump start the site and get the word out to the people that might enjoy the information. It’s easy to remember. BestoftheTetons.com Thanks in advance!

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Typical Barn Morning in GTNP

Typical Barn Morning in GTNP

September 7, 2013Today’s Outing: It rained off and on all night and was cloudy with a little drizzle and light rain early. After waiting out the cloud cover, I ended up at the barns for the morning sunrise. There were plenty of people out, including a tour bus full of tourists. Bison were behind the barns, and they seemed to get the attention of quite a few of them. I included this photo to give a more accurate view of what we normally see here all summer. I outlasted them and got a few shots with better light and with no tourists. Later, I walked about a mile of the Gros Ventre River bottom and didn’t see a single moose. They typically bed down just after the first light, so spending so long at the barns probably jeopardized my chances of finding moose today. Reports from yesterday say the bulls in the area still had their velvet. While walking around, I stopped to take a few shots of the rain soaked leaves and berries.

Rose Hip With Rain Drops

Rose Hip With Rain Drops

I heard reports of Grizzly sow 399 being separated from her cubs. I drove around just to see if I might get lucky and see either her or the cubs. I stopped to take a photo of the hillside on Blacktail Butte. The third image was shot with a telephoto lens through a lot of morning haze or humid air. It shows a section of the hillside with foliage slightly advanced compared to most of most other areas I’ve seen so far. As of around noon time, much of the early clouds have lifted and we have only partly cloudy skies, but the weather reports call for additional isolated thunderstorms.

Blacktail Hillside

Blacktail Hillside

Prescribed Burn in GTNP: Greg Norrell reported his conversation on Yellowstone.net. A ranger at the Teton Interagency Fire site told him the Matilda fire would occur between 9/18 and 9/30 if they opt to go ahead with it. 2013 Prescribed Burn Areas

Jackson Hole Activities for Today: Lots going on here today. Downtown is buzzing with people.

  • Fall Arts Festival : Multiple events today and all week. Click the Link for more details
  • Old Bill’s Fun Run for Charities
  • Jackson Hole One Fly
  • LoToJa Classic bike race
  • Wild West Skateboard Contest Series 2013
Corey at Skate Contest

Corey Jackson at Wild West Skateboard Contest

Satellite Passes in Grand Teton National Park: The Park Service doesn’t advertise it, but there is a nice perk at GTNP you might want to know about. Each year, we buy our yearly park pass for GTNP & Yellowstone. It costs $80 for the year, but you can also buy GTNP Satellite Passes at the same time for only $5 each. I buy the primary pass for myself since I am more likely to be using it in Yellowstone. My wife and youngest kid each get a $5 pass, good only in GTNP. Each of the satellite passes get date stamped to match the primary pass, so they are all good for a full year.

 

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Bull Moose Thrashing in the Willows in Grand Teton National Park

Bull Moose Thrashing: Click the image to see a short video clip

September 8, 2013Today’s Outing: It was a tough call today when heading out. The clouds looked very promising, but I had visions of finding a couple of the bull moose trying to strip their velvet. Quick executive decision at the GV intersection—head down the Gros Ventre road! It would have been a winner if I had gone to a scenic spot, too, but I found one of the bull moose thrashing against some willows early in the morning. I got quite a few nice shots of him with the camera, then switched it over to video and did a few clips while he was so animated. The video clip was shot with a Nikon D800 on a tripod with a Nikon 200-400mm lens at 65 yards. Click the still image to see the 30 second video clip.

Sunrise Sept. 8

Sunrise Sept 8

The sunrise shot was taken with the same camera and lens. I shot it through the trees while waiting for the bull moose to come off the sage flats. It is easy to see how other people at the various scenic locations might have been treated to a spectacular sunrise. At the time I had to make the call this morning, I figured I’d have more chances for sunrises and very few chances to get shots of a moose stripping his velvet. Later in the morning, I found a bull with bloody antlers and only tassels of velvet hanging from the base of the antlers. He apparently scraped the bulk of it last night or early this morning.

Wildlife Update: Yesterday, I heard a reliable report that the Grizzly Sow #399 had been separated from her three cubs. This morning, people were seeing them with spotting scopes back together.

Velvet Tassels

Velvet Tassels

 

Foliage: Things are moving towards foliage season. Right now, I’d say we are at a 3 on a scale of 1 to 10 for the bulk of the valley I have seen.  Some areas or stands of trees are a little farther along.

Weather: Wonderful! Seasonably cool. Light breeze. Patchy clouds. PERFECT!

Today’s Activities : Fall Arts Festival : Multiple events today and all week. Click the Link for more details. My wife and I went downtown to the Taste of the Tetons event. It gets better and bigger every year. The second day of the JH One Fly is going on today on the local river, too.

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September 9, 2013 Today’s Outing: The morning started out foggy. In fact, it was still foggy when I drove back into town at 8:30 am. But, at the Gros Ventre junction just a few miles north of town, it was fairly clear. Fog rolled in and out of the river bottom, creating some unique shooting opportunities. I drove on up the GV road a ways and could see the Tetons were capped with clouds, so I didn’t consider going with landscapes today.  I had considered trying to get above the fog bank by driving up Shadow Mountain or one of the other hills. Maybe another day. But, the lesson you might learn is not to think the weather you see in town is the same as the weather out on the flats and in the Park.

Admiring The Rack

Admiring The Rack : Nikon D800 with 200-400mm lens, ISO 1250, 1/40th Second, F/6.3

I found the same two moose again today and had another good day photographing them. I got quite a few shots with the gold, filtered morning light. Overhead, I had a Bald Eagle, Belted Kingfisher and a flock of Canada Geese in their hallmark V formation  heading towards town. I heard Cedar Wax wings off and on all morning. I try to get back home early on Mondays to take care of business.

Foliage: Things are moving towards foliage season. Right now, I’d say we are at a 3 on a scale of 1 to 10 for the bulk of the valley I have seen.  Some areas or stands of trees are a little farther along.

Today’s Activities : Fall Arts Festival : Multiple events today and all week. Click the Link for more details.

Teton Village Gondola View

Teton Village Gondola View

Late Day Updates and Tidbits: I met my wife at Teton Village and we rode the Gondola to the top of the mountain. The ride is free after 4:30 PM. The restaurant is open with finger food on the deck most of the summer, but signs said tomorrow is the last day of the season. Beautiful views from up there. After making it to the bottom, I headed on up through the gate on the south end of the Moose/Wilson road portion of the Park. There weren’t too many trees or stands of trees looking too “Fall like” yet. I got to see a black bear, but he was gone by the time I parked in a legal spot and made it back to the spot. Along Antelope Flats road, I saw an antelope and lots of tourists at the barns. The only handful of bison I saw were south of the barns in the green fields. After the recent rains, Mormon Row road was muddy in spots. The clinging clouds from this morning finally cleared off the peaks after 4:00 pm. By the time I made the last part of the loop, it was getting fairly dark. I saw four moose along the Gros Ventre. All of the bulls had already cleaned their velvet from their antlers so it appears that chapter of the fall season is about over. Next weekend is a big one for the Fall Arts Festival. Lots of artists and photographers show up towards the weekend. I find that period quite hectic for photography and often go to less traveled areas of the park— or even a trip down the canyon. There is a crescent moon tonight.

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September 10, 2013 Today’s Outing: Clouds looked interesting, so I headed another direction today. I was hoping to catch a few elk—which I did—but they were a long ways from the road and without much light. In a nutshell, I made the trip up the Inner Loop Road (technically called the Teton Park Road) to Oxbow Bend, and then back to town via Highway 89/191. I checked the mileage today. From town to the Visitor’s Center at Moose is 13 miles. From town to Oxbow Bend is roughly 34 miles whether you go on the inner road or down the highway. I’ve lived here 27 years and never checked it to see if one direction was closer than the other. Now I know!

Clouds were good in the east, so I concentrated on them. While driving out, I could see a sliver of a cloud at the peak of the Grand. The cloud grew quickly and covered the peak. I call them “cappers”, but that’s nothing official. “Clingers” are okay, as long as they don’t cover the top of the Grand! I found some elk way off the road near Timbered Island. I shot some images with them against the sunrise, but at that distance and at 1600 ISO, I wasn’t expecting too much. They are a nice record shot, if nothing else.

By the time I made it to Oxbow Bend, I had missed the early light, so I waited around to see how it looked when the sun finally hit the strip of trees at the West end of the bend. It was okay, but I have many better shots of it that scene. Foliage peak for that area is closer to October 2-4, so not many of the aspens have changed to any degree. There were a few aspens south of the dam that were a little ahead.  I thought about going back there, but wanted to do a straight loop to check the mileage. I didn’t get an accurate count, but with the vehicles I could count and estimate the ones in the east lot, I’d say there were 40 vehicles at Oxbow for the morning sunrise. It gets much busier as foliage gets closer to peak. The water level was still high at Oxbow Bend, but the level was terribly low in Jackson Lake. I don’t recall seeing it that low since they were working on the dam long ago. Water demands in Idaho are draining the lake. We are going to need a wet winter to fill it next year.

Wildlife: While making the early morning loop to Oxbow and home, I saw quite a few pronghorns (antelope). Several were near Lupine Meadows, across from the elk I saw at the north end of Timbered Island.  I saw quite a few elk out in the sage flats along the Inner Road while it was still mostly dark. I could hear some bulls bugling off and on. On the trip back towards town, I saw a good sized herd of bison and quite a few pronghorns at Elk Flats and lots of trail horses in the pastures north of Moosehead Ranch. In case anyone ever wondered, no, they are not wild horses! If you’d like to see some photos of some of Wyoming’s wild horses, CLICK HERE!

Cloud Cap on the Grand

Cloud Cap on the Grand

Mid-Morning Photography: Normally, I don’t take this shot but I pulled over to snap a couple of frames of the Grand covered with a cap cloud. This image was taken at about 8:30 am. For most tourists coming to this valley, that’s early! But unless there are some lingering morning clouds in the East or some kind of storm cloud developing over the Tetons, the shot looks flat and generally uninteresting. The shots you’d probably “really want” will require you to get up before first light and be ready when it happens. Then head to the Bunnery or Bubba’s for breakfast.

Late Evening Swan

Late Evening Swan

Afternoon Updates: On a quick drive out the Gros Ventre road, I found a fairly large herd of bison along the road just a mile or so East of the highway. They caused a mid-sized jam. Most were off the ridge or I might have stopped and tried to get them against the Teton peaks. I didn’t see any moose this afternoon, and it didn’t appear people at the pullouts were seeing them either.

Quarter Moon

Quarter Moon

On the way home, I stopped at the viewing platform near Flat Creek and found a pair of swans. There were no cygnets with them. The sun had already gone down behind the butte, but the light was still nice. I shot at ISO 1000 in the low light. There was a quarter moon showing occasionally between the clouds. I caught it for a few shots.

Morning Crossing

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September 11, 2013
Today’s Outing: Today, I was in the truck at 4:50 am and heading north out of town. Destination—The Chapel of the Transfiguration. It was clear, and last night’s quarter moon would have set several hours earlier. I did some shots at the Chapel with black skies and tons of stars, then adjusted settings and continued to shoot until just before the sun came up. The nice clouds had moved higher in the sky and it was fairly dull and plain afterwards. I think I got some shots I wanted out of the early morning effort, but it will take some extra time to process them.

Swainson's Hawk

Swainson’s Hawk along Mormon Row

I checked Blacktail Ponds overlook and saw one cow moose, but no bulls. From there, I made the loop by the barns where there flocks of tourists at both locations. I didn’t stop. On the road south, I found a cooperative Swainson’s Hawk on a fence post. I’ve seen him before, so it is worth watching for this beautiful mid-sized raptor. There were a few bison scattered in smaller herds out in the grassy areas.

Young Bull Scraping Velvet

Young Bull Scraping Velvet

Later, I found one young bull moose along the Gros Ventre. He had scraped most of his antlers either yesterday or overnight.  He still had a few remnants he was actively trying to remove. I am sure it will all be gone by the time I see him again. If you want to see more moose images, CLICK HERE!

Wildlife: While driving into the Moose Visitor’s Center area, I saw a fox working alongside the road. I could hear elk bugling West of the Chapel, probably along Windy Point. I mentioned the moose at Blacktail Ponds overlook and a few bison along Mormon Row. Hawks are still around, but when I headed out to Teton Village a few days ago, I didn’t see any Osprey left on the numerous nests. Maybe they were just out hunting, but I have a feeling they left. Eagles, hawks, swans, and geese are seen regularly. Cedar Waxwings are on the berry bushes all around. Last night, I heard people talking about large herds of elk in the String Lake and Jenny Lake area. Black bears are often seen on the Moose-Wilson road. Some are probably on the Huckleberries on Signal Mountain, but I haven’t been up.

Foliage: Spotty early color just about everywhere, but it is still early. There were a few stands of aspens on the south end of Blacktail Butte that were lime green. Some other trees appear to be turning brown instead of lime green and yellow.

Today’s Activities : Fall Arts Festival : Multiple events today and all week. Quick Draw is this weekend and it attracts a lot of people, artists and photographers. Click the Link for more details.

Weather: It was chilly this morning, but was perfect for the shots I was trying to get at the Chapel. There are lots of very light clouds everywhere this morning, but the weather reports call for good chances of afternoon thunderstorms. I’d have loved to stay out a lot longer today.

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September 12, 2013
Pre-Outing Comments:
It’s 5:45 am and I came upstairs to check emails. That’s usually a bad mistake because I get snagged at the desk and miss a sunrise. I checked the weather report just now and it is 58° F and will get to only 70° F today with clouds, rain, and possible thunder showers. I know I don’t have to hurry out today as it will be too dark to get any quality photos for a long time. I put up a big wind chime by my window and I can hear it occasionally trying to make music to start my morning already. I would be fairly certain I won’t see the Tetons, based on the weather report and no visible stars in the heavens as I look out into the blackness of morning. The wind chimes tell me water will be at least slightly ruffled if I find a pool.   It “might” be a good day to get back in bed and wait for impressive clouds to form later in the day? No…I’ll probably still head out.

So here’s “the plan” for a day like today. No need to hurry to get out. Bears look good with saturated light. Plants, trees,  shrubs and berries look good with dripping rain. I’m still hoping to get a moose—preferably a bull—in a still pond with rain drops breaking up the surface. The “pre-outing parameters”  make me think of going to the Moose/Wilson road. I might try going to the Windy Point overlook first to look for elk and listen to them bugle, then drop on down the Moose/Wilson road. I could always light paint the Chapel again, but I like to see the Grand in that shot. However, if I head north and it is foggy, I might go to the Chapel again to get a shot there I have never seen or photographed myself. I think it might look nice with the buck rail fence, entry, and layers of Chapels and trees. I have a longer, similar post called Where to Go and When to Be There , if you haven’t read it.

There are days I am totally happy coming home with only memories and no shots. That is more likely to happen if I am focused too hard on trying to get some sort of “wall hanger” shot and pass up all of the smaller, equally interesting shots. So, now my head’s on straight and I can see how it goes. The wind chimes have become more quiet as I write this early post. Check back!

I read a page on making a successful blog a few weeks ago. One of the suggestions was to make the blog personal and let people get to know the author. There is a lot of “first person, singular” (I) written in these posts. “I” hope it is okay? It would be easy to say “You need to go here or there”…or just “Go there”.

Oh yes, if you have this page bookmarked and are only coming to get the daily updates for September, keep an eye on the Recent Posts list in the right navigation bar. I just added a slideshow of images taken at the historic old Peach House at Mormon Row and another post about How to Become a Good Photographer. I hope you enjoy both of them!

True to form, I am still sitting here at the computer and I can see a little silhouette of the butte north of me. “I” better get out of here! “You”, please come back!

Facing Bison

Actual Trip Report 10:15 AM:
When I got to the Gros Ventre road junction, I abandoned my “penciled in” plans and headed up the Gros Ventre. The thickest clouds were over the Moose/Wilson road and the brightest light in the valley was coming in from the upper Gros Ventre area.  There were a couple of bison hiding in plain sight where most people look for moose. No moose there. I saw a couple of moose in the sage near the campground, but I didn’t stop. I found a herd of bison along Mormon Row and took the shot of the facing bison. A bleached out coyote crossed the road ahead of me and worked his way towards the bison. The Swainson’s Hawk was not on a post today.

Mule Deer Fawn

It was raining off and on all morning. There were far fewer tourists out early, but a few were braving the weather at the south barn. At Moose, I turned to go up the Moose/Wilson road and found a doe Mule Deer with two fawns of the year. At Sawmill Pond, a bull moose was bedded down on the far side of the pond. He didn’t get up while I was there. The ranger in the area let people know about a bear along the road farther south, so a lot of them left. I had to chuckle to myself at the time. I was wondering if he was actually wanting to let the people know about the  bears down the road or just get rid of half of the people trying to park all over the place! There were lots of Cedar Waxwings in the trees and bushes behind me at Sawmill Pond. I drove south on my way home and didn’t see the bears, nor any bear jams. There was an Osprey on a tree near the park ticket office, so I guess some are still around.

Sawmill Moose Resting

I don’t think I got any “wall hangers” today. It was overcast and windy, with occasional rain, just as predicted. But, I was out and ready to capture something. I spoke with a photographer who told me of two big bull elk near Jenny Lake. He said one had 54 cows in his harem and the other had 26. I saw a few of his shots on the back of his camera and they looked awfully nice.

Foliage Report: Another tick of the clock towards foliage season. The best color I saw was along Ditch Creek, which runs parallel to Antelope Flats road. Additional cottonwoods were ahead of the others along the Snake River at the Moose bridge. I mentioned some aspens seem to be turning brown this year. I saw a few more of them today. Some have yellowing leaves with black edges. Of course, most of the places I went today were in the south end of the park.

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September 13, 2013
Thanks!  Yesterday, Paul Martin added a link to this blog on his Facebook business page. Afterwards, I had a big surge in views and many signed up to follow the site. Welcome aboard! Paul operates Paul Martin’s Photo Safaris here in the Tetons. I see his beautiful Mercedes touring van regularly and get to talk with him almost every morning. He runs a top shelf operation and specializes in tours for photographers. There are many other tour operations in the valley, but I believe his tops the list for personal service and attention—and he is a great photographer. You’ll learn a lot, and get a great photo tour. Paul takes his clients out of the van to view the animals, but always at a safe and comfortable distance. He even has a couple of Nikon and Canon telephoto lenses he loans his touring clients, not to mention rain coats and a nice snack. I don’t plan on filling this blog with commercials, but I think this one is justified and it might be the perfect connection for many readers.

Murphy Barn in Fog Sept 13

Murphy Barn in Fog Sept 13

Today’s Outing: Fog!..either the star of the show or a show buster—depending on your perspective. If you read yesterday’s ramblings, I was thinking about heading to the Chapel of the Transfiguration if it gets foggy. I headed that direction, but when I got to the turnoff at Moose Junction, that area was not covered with fog.  I changed direction and went towards the barns on Antelope Flats road. I wanted some foreground subjects. (See Anatomy of a Teton Landscape.) There were quite a few people set up in the traditional spots, aiming at the barns and waiting for the thick cloud to clear in the east. But, to the north, there was decent color and fog behind the barns. I shot that direction with longer lenses. When I left, they were still in the same spot waiting for some light that probably didn’t happen until much later. I am not saying I am right, just to watch for other opportunities.

T. A. Moulton Barn with Fog

Thomas A. Moulton Barn with Fog

The Northernmost barn is called the Murphy Barn, or the Murphy Homestead. The middle barn, is the John Moulton Barn, and the south barn is the Thomas A. Moulton Barn.  If you hear someone say they photographed the Moulton Barn, it’d be a toss up knowing which one they were talking about.

Typically, people photograph the barns with their normal length lenses. I like to grab the big ones once in a while and shoot from a long distance. New compositions are possible, even if the Tetons are not part of the scene. Today, the Tetons were visible, but the thick clouds in the east made them look “uninteresting” (if that is actually possible). Again, it is worth looking around in other directions and for other subjects if the primary subject and scene is not cooperating!

Meadowlark Sept.13

Meadowlark Sept.13

There were several Antelope along Mormon Row road today, along with a joyful Meadowlark that let me photograph him and listen to his songs. I didn’t see any bison at all today, but then I didn’t go that far. Antelope bucks seem to be gathering up the random females in preparation for their rut. I followed Mormon Row until it his the Gros Ventre Road. I found an access point and walked about 3/4 mile of the Gros Ventre river bottom and found one single cow moose, plus one cow with two calves. I didn’t see any of the bigger bulls, though I got a report of three “moose” at the overlook pull-out. With their new racks freshly polished, I suppose they are going up and down the river bottom in search of females.

Cow in Cottonwoods Sept. 13

Cow in Cottonwoods Sept. 13

This shot of the moose in the cottonwoods should give you an idea of the status of the foliage season. Some plants and trees are already yellow, some still green and many of them in various stages of transition. That’s pretty much the pattern all over the valley. Once in a while, you’ll see a single tree in a clump of trees that is already “screaming” yellow.

JH Tidbits and Events:
Tomorrow is the Quick Draw and auction on the Town Square. It is always a busy time and worth checking out if you happen to be around. Also, the State High School Rodeo is happening at the rodeo grounds again this year. Normally, the local rodeo is difficult to photograph with the long shadows, late evening and night performances, but the event tomorrow will happening all day. I photographed some of it last year, and it was fun and challenging. I was able to set up right beside the fencing, so I could get unusual ground level access and angles.  Unleaded gas is still $3.82 all around. Traffic is still slowed at busy times of the day because of construction west of downtown.

Schwabacher Landing News: I have no idea if there is any real news there, but the Park Service has filled the lower parking lot with a pile of gravel to about 10 feet in height. You can see it easily from the highway. It’d be nice if they used the gravel to improve the road and open it for the fall foliage season.

Lightning Friday 13

Lightning Over the Barn

Late Evening Update: The clouds thickened and blackened late in the day. I mailed a package and headed out of town—generally in the direction of the dark skies. I ended up at the barns since it looked like the front was getting ready to roll right over the Tetons. I set up two cameras with lightning triggers and sat back in my lawn chair. I had a few chances, but only captured this one little bolt. This storm looked like it was loaded with possibilities, but never really kicked in.

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September 14, 2013


Today’s Outing: I was out early. Clouds looked good, but there was a “clinger” cloud on the peak of the Grand so I looked for something else. Even while hiking around looking for moose, I shot towards the peak of the grand as the clouds pulled back using a 200-400mm lens on a Nikon D800. A moose cow and calf crossed the river just before the first light hit them. A group of about six Common Mergansers were in the river but moved away from me. A young bull hung around until first light and let me get a few shots. I headed back towards town for the Quick Draw on the Town Square, but checked the overlook. A few moose were bedded down, but a beaver was still working on a new dam at the overlook. By the time I got the gear to the edge, he had moved on upstream, but I got a distant shot of him on the bank. As I made it to the highway, I saw a few vehicles along the highway. I pulled over and managed to get a few shots of three buck mule deer and a doe out in the sagebrush.  As I pulled into town, there was a pair of Trumpeter Swans in Flat Creek. Not a bad morning for wildlife!

I stopped downtown for the Quick Draw event on the town square. I got to talk with a few friends while watching the artists complete a painting or sculpture in 90 minutes. It is always fun to watch and the weather was perfect for the event. The Farmer’s Market was also going on around the square. The state High School Rodeo is being held at the rodeo grounds today.

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Togwotee Bears

Togwotee Bears

September 15, 2013
Today’s Excursion:
I called this one an excursion instead of an outing because it was a 200 mile round trip to Togwotee Pass. It gave me a chance to view the foliage along the way and hopefully find a grizzly bear or two. Mission accomplished! I found one grizzly sow with a single cub. It was raining most of the morning and into the mid-day, so I shot out of the window of the truck. The sow was constantly on the move, so I just moved the truck, turned it off and shot with VR on and over a bean bag in the window. This sow had a tracking collar, so some shots will either be deleted or possibly cloned if they are worth keeping and using. I left the collar on for one of these images.

Togwotee Sow and Cub

Togwotee Sow and Cub

While waiting around for bears to appear and driving up and down along the highway, I stopped at the campground to see the waterfalls there. Very impressive. It was raining while I was there, so I planned on going back for more shots after the rain. I went back, only to find the river had changed from a nice, rich green color to liquid mustard! Fishermen would say it was blown out. I’ll stop there again and hope to get the peaks in the background. I could see them faintly through the mist and rain at times.

Togwotee Leaves

Togwotee Leaves

As I was walking to the waterfalls during the first inspection trip, I saw a Whitetail doe and fawn. They are not common in the Teton valley, but I’ve seen a few. Also, while on the Togwotee trip, I saw several Red-tailed Hawks.

Meadow Road Pronghorns

Meadow Road Pronghorns

The meadows at Togwotee Pass were bright yellow. Aspens are not ready there. At that altitude, there aren’t a lot of willows or cottonwoods. Ground cover was also brightly colored in many places.

On the way up, I could see the top third of the Tetons covered with clouds. Not my favorite way of seeing the range! But, there were at least seven vehicles parked at Schwabacher Landing’s access point on the highway early this morning and five when I came back through about 1:30 pm. There were Pronghorns and Bison in the fields at Elk Flats as I passed by in both directions.

Moran Junction Aspens

Moran Junction Aspens

Foliage Report: The stand of aspens in the image with the Pronghorns is along the highway at a point just north of the airport. It’s an indication of what I am seeing here in the valley. In many places, it looks like trees are just about to make a final shift towards the fall colors. The areas around Triangle X, Moosehead Ranch, and Cunningham Cabin have aspens far ahead of most regions I have visited in the southern part of the park. There were numerous advanced stage aspens near Moran Junction. The Gros Ventre River bottom has made a considerable shift in the past few days. The Snake River river bottom is also turning, but a little behind the willows and cottonwoods in the Gros Ventre. The bottom line—you can now start finding color worth photographing in many areas, but overall, it is going to take a few more days and longer in some areas.

Schwabacher Gravel

Schwabacher Gravel

Schwabacher Landing?
Here’s a shot from this morning showing the gravel pile at Schwabacher Landing. The area is closed to vehicle and bike traffic this year, UNLESS something is about to happen?

 

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First Glow Sept. 16

First Glow Sept. 16

September 16, 2013
Today’s Outing:Another great morning! There was fog in town and in some areas of the valley, yet it was clear in others. I looked a little too long for moose and missed the Alpenglow period of the morning sunrise, but got set up on the East Boundary Road for a few panoramic images as the sun lit the mountain range. There was a big, low hanging cloud running most of the length of the valley and another low fog layer at the base of the mountains. This one was taken near Kelly and I took the rest closer to Ditch Creek a couple of miles north. I like a few more clouds over the mountains, but you don’t always get them.

Morning Fence Sept. 16

Morning Fence Sept. 16

I stopped at the barns on Mormon Row. If you are a fly fisherman, you’d know what I mean if I said we had a blanket hatch of blue-winged olives. Well, we had a blanket hatch of photographers at the barns today. I’d estimate a hundred of them! This is photo tour season here now and probably will be all throughout the foliage season. Today was a little different than most. Apparently, a big bus dropped them at one barn and  they had to walk to the other one when they were ready. It looked like a Crusade of some biblical or historical sort! They were all carrying tripods and camera bags instead of weapons, armor and flags! I took a few images after they scattered. I photographed this wet fence across from it.

Pronghorn Buck Sept.16

Pronghorn Buck Sept.16

After leaving the barns, I found some Pronghorns along Mormon Row. They are beginning their rut. The buck was walking along, smelling the ground, then doing the Flehmen Effect (lip curl) and moving to another spot. He was on the scent trail of a few doe Pronghorns that had passed through earlier. The bison normally in the area have gone A.W.O.L.! I only saw a lone bison all morning. Hawks, Ravens, and Bluebirds are still seen regularly. I saw a few more Osprey fledglings yesterday, so I guess I was wrong in an earlier post. I haven’t seen any of the larger bulls lately. Cows with calves have been seen more often than bulls or single cows.

Foliage will be essentially the same as yesterday’s report.  I drove along the East edge of GTNP to the base of Shadow Mountain. I am concerned for the aspens in the southern part of the park. Many of them appear to me to be turning brown or black instead of changing to yellow and gold. Cottonwoods and Willows still look normal this year.

If you’ve bookmarked just this page, you might have missed this new feature article: Where to Find Wildlife in the Tetons and JH Area:

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Mtn. Maple and Aspens Sept. 17

September 17, 2013
Today’s Outing: A year ago at this time, I drove down the Snake River Canyon to photograph the Mountain Maple trees. I can find this information by looking back at my Lightroom catalog. Last year, I went on the 16th and this year I went on the 17th. Close enough! Last year, it was great. This year, I was at least four days early, if not a week or more. I’ll probably drive down again in a few days, but I went ahead and cherry picked a few shots out of what I saw today. There was “some” good color, but not in the same abundance I hoped to see. Even the best patches were not quite as vivid red or maroon as they probably will be soon.

Mountain Maple TreeI left town before daylight and drove through parts of the canyon in pre-dawn light. On a trip from Jackson, the color normally starts about 26 miles from town. I drove another six miles before turning around to head back home. If it had been peak, I would have gone into Alpine Junction, then turn West towards Swan Valley in Idaho. Next trip! I also like to go up the McCoy Creek road, accessed just south of Alpine Junction. This is the first year in a while it hasn’t been too smoky down there. I had a slight haze today, but nothing like previous years.

SRCanyon1_Sept17On the way home, I watched the river bottom of the Snake River. Most of the cottonwoods are still in early stages of changing. Aspens in the canyon look “healthier” than the aspens I have been seeing in the south half of the GTNP. I don’t know if those are “sick” but they aren’t turning yellow. A biologist could probably give a technical analysis, but I am just a photographer!

Speaking of a biologist, I went to a presentation at the Arts Center last night as part of the JH Photo Club. Kurt F. Johnson was giving talking about what it took to get his new Field Guide to Yellowstone and GTNP published. Very interesting! I bought one of his books last night—signed of course! The link takes you Amazon where you can read more about it and order it if desired. It is for sale in the bookstores at both parks, too. I’ve only had time to flip through it, but it looks like it is a “must have” for anyone coming into the parks.

Lightning over the Moulton Barn Sept 17Late Evening Updates: Around lunch time, I heard rumbling. I thought someone was doing construction but it was thunder from an approaching storm. I grabbed the CF cards and drove just south of town hoping to capture lightning over a nice barn down there. The storm was coming in the wrong direction to get the barn, but I set up and got several nice bolts over the range of mountains in the West. Later in the evening, I thought I’d make a run out to Kelly and check on moose activity. There wasn’t any! More dark clouds started rolling in so I drove over to the barns on Mormon Row. I set up two cameras and two lightning triggers. We had a great lightning  storm show and the triggers were going off constantly. I got three good images with lightning bolts well placed in the scene, but I will wait to post them until after copyrights are obtained. This shot shows the remnants of a bolt. Clouds had covered the Grand, so I aimed at what I thought was going to be the area with the most activity.

Foliage Report: Unscientific! Just observation. On a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 being summer green and 10 being peak, I will give a three part number. The first one is an average of the least changed. The middle number is the overall average and the last number is the status of the most advanced trees in an area.

Gros Ventre river bottom: Cottonwoods 3-4-6, Willows 4-6-7, Aspens 2-3-4, Underbrush and Shrubs 4-5-6
Snake River river bottom: Cottonwoods 3-4-5, Willows 5-6-8, Aspens 2-3-4, Underbrush and Shrubs 4-5-6
Moran Junction area: Cottonwoods 3-4-5, Willows 5-6-8, Aspens 4-6-7, Underbrush and Shrubs 4-5-6
Shadow Mountain: Aspens turning brown instead of yellow: Some aspens are okay but are a low percentage that I could see
Snake River Canyon: Cottonwoods 3-4-5, Willows 5-6-8, Aspens 2-5-8, Underbrush and Shrubs 4-5-6 Mountain Maple 2-3-6

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First Snow Sept 18September 18, 2013
Today’s Outing: Snow in the high country! It was cloudy early, but when some of the clouds pulled back, we could see a new dusting of snow. I’d love to see it last all season, but it will probably melt off quickly. It would have been easy to roll back over and stay home today. It was rainy, dark,  and windy. I chose to go out anyway. I found one of the big bulls very early and waited for a little light to photograph him He bedded down not too long afterwards, so I only got a few images of him standing. I took a few more of him bedded down. I am fairly certain this is the bull some people call “Elvis”. I stayed quite a ways back from him, but I could tell his right eye is still not quite right.

Lazy Bull Moose Sept 18The shot of the top of the Grand was taken north of Moose Junction at the pullout for the “Climbing Rocks”. I had to wait for a slight clearing in the cloud cover to be able to get the shot for this post. Afterwards, I drove over to the barns. I took a few interesting images of the various barns with bands of light across the valley floor. The Grand stayed covered, so I didn’t shoot too much in that direction. With the wind, today might have been good for time lapse photography.

Aspens On Blacktail ButteOn the way back to town, I stopped to photograph the stand of trees on Blacktail Butte I’ve photographed a few times before. The aspens on the south end are looking good and turning yellow. The cottonwoods on the north end of Blacktail Butte are also getting close to peak. I’d post another Foliage Report here, but it’d be essentially same as the one I did last night for yesterday. I will probably add a “1” to each number tomorrow as things march towards peak.

As I finish this update a little after noon, it is mostly clear and blue overhead, but the top third of the mountains look like they are covered with clouds.

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Moon Set over Teton Range Sept. 19September 19, 2013
Today’s Outing: Late yesterday, I made a quick outing and found a couple of the nice bull moose. One was the same bull I found early in the day. He gave a good evening show for a lot of tourists and photographers. I asked one person how it went as we were walking back to the vehicles. He said, “Great…a once in a lifetime experience!”. I don’t think anyone saw the bulls this morning, based on asking a few questions when I stopped by the pullouts. Instead of trying to find moose today, I opted to go for landscapes. There was a full moon, so I headed to a spot to try to catch it going down over a mountain. I’d have had to be a lot farther north to get the moon setting over the Grand and I’d have had to been out a lot earlier.

Shadow Mtn View Over Morning Fog Sept. 19Fog was the story line again today. I talked with a couple of people who had walked down to Schwabacher Landing and got nothing but a white blanket of fog. As it turns out, I was heading to Shadow Mountain—both to photograph and also to get some sort of foliage report for this post. That turned out to be a good choice. The Teton range protruded out of the valley fog. I found a few places to add some foreground trees.  It’s easy to see how the people under the layer of fog were shut out this morning. I expected more of the snow to melt yesterday, so it was a pleasant surprise to see it on them today.

Barn With Fog Bank Sept. 19Back at the Barns: After the shot over the cloud and fog with the moon, fog filled into much of the valley, including the barns. When I drove by, there were only a few photographers. I shot liked seeing the top of the Grand over the barns, so I set up for a few shots at various distances. Fog rolled in again. I was tempted to head home, but stayed for a few more wide shots and a few panos. Some of those should be interesting, but will take more processing time.

Today’s Wildlife: I spent the morning in “landscape” mode. While driving out, I saw a herd of elk running north to Ditch Creek. They were in a hurry and it was still a little dark, so I didn’t get shots. There were several Pronghorns  in the sagebrush. On top of Shadow Mountain, I saw lots of Northern Flickers. Along Mormon Row, I saw lots of bluebirds. Elk are reported to be seen regularly in the morning and evenings in the Lupine Meadows area. I heard a few reports of a cow and calf moose along the Gros Ventre. Someone else mentioned seeing black bears on the Moose-Wilson road again, along with saying it was very congested. She said the rangers were making everyone keep moving and it was difficult to find a place to park. That’s typical for there this time of the year.

Shadow Mtn Fog Layer Sept. 19Shadow Mountain Foliage Report: Shadow Mountain runs north and south along the East side of the valley. There’s a forest service access road to the top. After all the recent rains, it was more muddy than usual, but I didn’t have any trouble getting up there. Many of the aspens along the bottom are turning brown. Half way up, there were some advanced stages of color. On my scale of 1-10, a few were at least 8 or 9 (with peak being 10). The bulk of them through the middle of the climb were probably 5 or 6. The trees at the top were behind by a considerable degree. The bulk of them were probably only 2 or 3. They also looked healthier than the ones on the bottom of the mountain. It will probably be another four or five days away for up there right now. It is still one of my favorite places to go in during the fall.

Tidbits: Gasoline $3.82 Unleaded Self Serv most places. The little store at Dornans will be open until November 4th, then close until after Thanksgiving. They open at 8:00 am. Big tours and workshops are showing up here as we get closer to peak foliage. It’s harder to get clean shots at the popular spots, but that is just the way it goes here in the fall. It was only 31°F here this morning. I need to dig out my gloves.

Photos: All of the daily report images from today were taken with a Nikon D800 and a 70-200mm lens with the aid of a Gitzo tripod, Arca-Swiss ball head, and a Wimberley Sidekick.

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Pink Sky Sept 20September 20, 2013
Today’s Outing: I think yesterday was “the” premium day for trying to capture the full moon, but I wasn’t paying attention and didn’t get out in time to be where I should have been. I went out today and was at the right place to get the moon over the Grand, but everything was bright by then. The weather report called for clear skies, and that’s exactly what we got. I like a few clouds, but then, I am slightly spoiled. On my way home today, I stopped at the barns where a lady told me she was happy to finally get clear skies after a few days of waiting.  Today, the best two places for the moon set would have been at Schwabacher Landing and on Shadow Mountains. I chose Shadow Mountain. When driving along Antelope Flats road, I could see long rows of cars at the “parking area” along the highway at Schwabacher. I had Shadow Mountain all to myself.

High Moon Sept 20As I made it to the top of the mountain, I jumped out and photographed the pink sky. There was more blue in it earlier—part of the Alpenglow period. The moon was still quite high in the sky, so I opted to just do a simple shot of the range. Normally, I like to put something in the foreground, but at that point on the ridge line, I didn’t have too many options. Light was just hitting the top of the Grand as I pulled up to the spot I wanted to be in today. The moon was still higher than I would have liked at that point. When the moon is still that high, there isn’t much to do but wait for it to drop. It always seems like a long wait. Finally, I shot a few panoramic images spanning from far to the left and then all the way to the north past Mt. Moran.

Ridge Line Moon Sept. 20As the moon neared the ridge line, I switched to the 200-400 lens and later to the 70-200 lens for a few shots. As the moon gets close to the edge of the mountain, it always appears to be moving fast. You don’t have a lot of time to get the shots at that point. All of the shots today were taken with a Nikon D800. Besides the two lenses I just mentioned, I used a Nikon 24-70 mm early on to be able to get the moon in the shots.

I should mention this to anyone interested. I was shooting from a high point on the far side of the valley. People down in the river bottom, such as Schwabacher Landing, would have seen the moon go down much earlier than me. They might have had richer light and deeper sky colors because it set sooner. In some cases, things work just the opposite. The moon can go down long before they hoped it would set, yet the person on the other side of the valley would still have maybe 30 minutes of shooting left. These won’t be my favorite shots I’ve taken from Shadow Mountain, with or without the moon. I posted them here today to illustrate how it really goes on any particular day. At least for my tastes, I would have loved a few clouds.

SRCanyon5_Sept17Foliage Report: It looks like the foliage is about a week late (or later) this year. Shadow Mountain was brighter today than yesterday, but it still has some near summer green trees. I got a report from a friend saying the Snake River Canyon has changed some since I was down there and is worth the trip. Trees around town are more yellow now, too. All around the valley, I see random patches of near peak trees, yet only half a mile away, trees are just beginning to shift.

Road Report: If you don’t need to go down Mormon Row road, I’d suggest waiting a few days. With the rains, there are about 30 puddles—all passable—but they are messy.

Wildlife Report: Since I was chasing the moon, I didn’t attempt to find much in the way of animals. I asked around at a couple of spots.  People saw a few moose along the Gros Ventre. I heard another report of moose somewhere near the highway and south of Antelope Flats road. People were stopped and looking north on Antelope Flats Road. That’s a bit unusual. Grizzly sow 399 and three cubs had been seen on the ridge not far from the road.  Sam Parks posted This photo of 399 on Yellowstone.net. I saw several antelope and one lone bison today.

BullMooseAgainstTetons1_Sept5Just in case you have this page bookmarked and are coming directly to it, I just added a new feature page showing a BUNCH of moose taken so far this year. Moose of Grand Teton National Park: 2013 . I am fairly sure you will enjoy the pictures there.

I heard from Chris Balmer at Perfect Light Camera & Supply. He added this blog to his Facebook pages and will be including it with his upcoming newsletter. It should help boost readership and followers here. I’ve been buying a lot of my camera gear from Chris over the past few years and will continue to do so in the future. He specializes in Nikon gear and knows the equipment very well. He’s an outstanding photographer, too. Check out his beautiful images on his site and visit his store in Idaho Falls if you are ever there! If you found this site through Chris, WELCOME ABOARD

 

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FogBankTriangleXSeptember 21, 2013
Sneak Preview: As I look over the weather report for Saturday, I think about what I wrote in an earlier feature post called Where to go and when to be there? There will be a gazillion people at Oxbow Bend and Schwabacher Landing for the morning sunrise. When I look over the morning weather report, it calls for 6 to 7 mile per hour winds. That will ruffle the water and ruin the mirror reflections you can sometimes get at those two locations. I’d look for other options if it is windy! Of course, sometimes we get weather forecasts with wind predicted, but it can still be calm for first light. Check out Where to go and when to be there?

OxbowUpperLotSep21Today’s Outing: As it turned out, wind was fairly calm this morning. That’s good for the people in the 15 vehicles I passed along the highway going north before the sun came up. I stopped at the buck rail fences in front of Triangle X Ranch and captured a few with the pinks and purples from the Alpenglow in the sky and a fog bank in the river bottom. Panoramic opportunities are good there, so I snapped off a few of them before heading on north. When I pulled up to Oxbow Bend, I expected to see large numbers of people, but most of them were packing up already. The water was only slightly disturbed, but the trees are still green at the bend and there were no clouds. The moon was way too high in the sky to be a player. The record photo here shows the color of the aspens in the upper parking lot.

ArizonaMeadowsSep21There are some meadows just to the north of where Arizona Creek crosses the road. I’ve always called it Arizona Meadows for lack of knowing an official name. The informational sign at the pullout talks about the Camas plants the Native Americans harvested to make flour. It seems like I heard it called Camas Meadows once, but I don’t see any name on the Park map. The meadow is 44 miles from downtown Jackson Hole, or roughly 10 miles north of Oxbow Bend.

Schwabacher Landing was probably good for the people willing to walk down this morning. In case you haven’t seen the information, the gate is locked at the top of the road along the highway, forcing people to park there instead of using the existing parking lots by the landing. You can walk down, and ride horses, but you cannot drive or ride a bike. No pets are allowed. The rest rooms at the bottom are also locked this year. Bear spray is advised, along with water and necessary toiletries. It takes about 20 minutes to hike down at a good pace. Here’s a previous feature post about Schwabacher Landing.

Foliage Report: The main reason I went out today was to check the foliage in the valley. Overall, I’d rate the entire valley as a 5 on a scale of 1 to 10. There are a lot more summer green trees than trees already in their prime colors. Regionally, there are zones  and groves of trees a little farther along. Willows are more yellow than cottonwoods. Cottonwoods in both Gros Ventre and Snake River river bottoms are averaging around a 5. The aspens on the hillsides above Oxbow are noticeably yellow now. Aspens in the Moran Junction and Cunningham Cabin are in advanced stages.

I spoke with a friend who’d driven down the Snake River Canyon towards Alpine Junction yesterday. He said he was disappointed in the color of the Mountain Maple down there this year. I was in the same area last week and it looked like it’d be better later, but maybe not. There is very little evidence of smoke from area fires. This is the first year in recent memory we haven’t had to deal with the smoke during the foliage season. Most of the snow from the storm has melted off.

Wildlife: There were Pronghorns and bison at Elk Flats. Horses, from Moose Head Ranch, were on the other side of the road. I saw a few elk on my drive today, too.

Tidbits: Today is the First Day of Fall, or the Fall Equinox.  Next Saturday is a “Free Admission” day in the parks. The Farmer’s Market is still going on in downtown Jackson. If you are in town and looking for a place for lunch, check out the Town Square Tavern. You’ll find a nice menu and you can view the wonderful photos by Steve Mattheis.  The Tavern is on the south side of the square downtown.

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Bull Moose Leaving River 1 Sept 22September 22, 2013
Today’s Outing: The skies were mostly cloudy, but I could see all of the Grand when I got to the valley floor just north of the Fish Hatchery. I turned onto the Gros Ventre Road, figuring I might see a moose or elk—or even a bear. I was also keeping an eye on the mountains and clouds in the East. If I saw a break in the clouds, I was going to try for landscapes. I found a nice bull moose, so I changed plans and stayed with him until he crossed the river. There wasn’t a lot of light, but a few of them were sharp enough to keep.

I drove around “the loop” through Kelly. When I saw the Teton Range light up, I headed to Antelope Flats road. By the time I got to the barns, some of the best light had disappeared off the mountains. I hung around for a little while in case there was another band of light. I heard from a friend there was a bear jam on the Moose-Wilson road, so I headed that direction only to find a big grizzly bear jam at the Antelope Flats intersection. I got there just in time to see 610 cross the highway and head into the river bottom near Ditch Creek.

The bear jams at Moose-Wilson road were gone by the time I got there. Robins were feeding on Black Hawthorne berries, but that was about it. Some of the bushes there are red now. The parking lot at the Lawrance Rockefeller Preserve was completely full—plus another five or six cars waiting in line to park. I passed through and headed home.

Foliage Report Sept 22: Unscientific! Just observation. On a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 being summer green and 10 being peak, I will give a three part number. The first one is an average of the least changed. The middle number is the overall average and the last number is the status of the most advanced trees in an area.

  • Gros Ventre river bottom: Cottonwoods 3-6-8, Willows 5-7-9, Aspens 3-5-6, Underbrush and Shrubs 5-6-7
  • Snake River river bottom: Cottonwoods 4-7-8, Willows 6-7-8, Aspens 2-3-5, Underbrush and Shrubs 4-5-6
  • Moran Junction area: Cottonwoods 4-5-6, Willows 6-7-8, Aspens 4-6-9, Underbrush and Shrubs 5-6-7
  • Shadow Mountain: Some lower Aspens turning brown instead of yellow:  Middle and Upper Aspens 5-6-7
  • Snake River Canyon (towards Alpine Jctn): Cottonwoods 5-6-8, Willows 5-6-8, Aspens 3-6-8, Underbrush and Shrubs 5-6-7 Mountain Maple 4-5-7
  • Oxbow Bend: Lower Aspens at the bend and at Upper Parking Lot 3-4-5, Aspens on the hillsides 4-7-8
  • Mormon Row: Cottonwoods 2-3-4, Aspens 2-3-4

In short, we are very much under way now! You can “find” color in lots of places now, but few areas are actually peak as a whole. Aspens above the Post Office on Snow King have changed a lot in the last couple of days. The cottonwoods along the Snake have been changing fast, especially south of Moose Junction.

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September 23, 2013
Today’s Outing: I was out early. It looked promising—with light clouds overhead. As I drove north, I could see thick clouds anchored over the Grand and surrounding high peaks. I abandoned any plans of doing landscapes with the lens pointed in that direction.  Instead, I combined my Nikon D4 and Nikon 28-300mm VR2 lens and started hiking the Gros Ventre river bottom with the “relatively light” setup.

GrosVentreRiverFirstLight_Sept23

Early light colors were very saturated this morning.

SunriseOverBlacktail_Sept23

The Grand and the Teton range is buried in the clouds in the upper right of this photo. I shot this looking north over Blacktail Butte.

GrosVentreRiverBottom_Sept23

This shot shows some of the willows and cottonwoods in the river bottom after light hit them. Aspens on the far hillside are just now beginning to turn. Cottonwoods are a little behind Willows in most places I’ve seen.

GastonInCottonwoods_Sept23

Altogether, I walked around 4 miles in the river bottom today. Thankfully, I didn’t have to carry my heavier tripod and lens the full distance. The long hike paid off when I found this big bull moose searching for a cow. I heard him “barking” long before I ever saw him.

GastonPortrait1_Sept23

This is one of my favorite bulls along the Gros Ventre. I’ve photographed him for about 6 years.

Foliage Report: I only made it to the little town of Kelly this morning, so I can’t add too much to the report from yesterday. Each day, we see slight changes.  A friend drove up to Oxbow today and let me know it looked like it will still be a week before prime at the stand of aspens on the West end of the “bend” along with the aspen stand at the upper parking lot.

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September 24, 2013

Wedding Trees Sunrise Sept24

Today’s Outing: Mother Nature paid off today! I suspect there are a lot of happy photographers roaming around the valley after a spectacular sunrise. My “happy meter” was definitely “dinging away”.

This morning, I could make out a few faint clouds forming over the Tetons in the almost black, pre-dawn light.  I headed to a place I haven’t been to for a while. The Wedding Trees are located 4.5 miles east of the Kelly Warm Springs junction. They are actually a couple of miles outside the east boundary of Grand Teton National Park in the Bridger-Teton National Forest. As I drove up to the little parking lot, I saw seven vehicles parked there. Dang! I figured it was part of one of the many photo workshops in the valley right now and I’d have to work around all of them if I wanted any shots. As it turned out, the people from the vehicles were all camping just to the side of the scene. None of them ever came of their tents while I was there. That’s understandable. It was cold and windy on that hillside. Cold…I needed my gloves but didn’t have them!  I have no idea what it was like at Schwabacher Landing or Oxbow Bend where you want it to be dead calm.

Grand Sunrise Sept 24

Many people get married at the Wedding Trees each year. The two old trees seem to reach out to touch each other. In fact, they now actually overlap each other slightly. Besides the weather, light, and clouds, there is always a bit of an additional gamble going there. It is possible to get to the spot and find a tent pitched in just the wrong spot. This image was taken standing essentially under the trees. This image has what I call a “clinger cloud”. Sometimes, they will in more and cover the entire peak. Other times, like today, the clinger blew off and reformed numerous times. All I  had to do was wait and try to catch it when I could see the peak of the Grand. This less traveled spot offers a great vista view of the valley.  It is a good place for panoramic images that span the valley to include Mt. Moran. Most of what I shot this morning were panoramic parts I will pick from and stitch into wide pano images later.

SunriseDiagonals_Sept24

The morning clouds hung around nicely for quite a while. I pulled over to take this shot as I was driving back into the Park. I liked the overlapping, woven diagonals of the ridgeline, clouds and peaks.

Wildlife and Foliage Reports: Today’s sunrise kept me busy until well after most moose are bedded down and the elk are way back into the shadows of the forest’s edge. I got a report the trees near the Mormon Row barns are still a long ways off peak. The willows and cottonwoods along the Gros Ventre river  are much more colorful than just a few days ago. Same for many of the aspens on the upper hillsides.

Note to Self: The weather reports call for much colder daytime temps for the next few days, including some snow. I need to find my gloves today!

Shooting Info: All of the images above were taken with a Nikon D800 and a Nikon 70-200mm lens on a tripod. I used the longer lens to make the Grand appear larger by moving back (and low) to shoot under the limbs. It is possible to photograph much closer to the trees, but doing so makes the mountains appear to be much smaller. If shooting stars overhead, a super wide angle works great, but the mountains become almost a non-player in the scene. Check out this feature post: Distance and Scale Relationships in the Tetons (and elsewhere)

For tips on catching the Fall Foliage, click Fall in the Tetons: Tips for viewing and photographing the premiere season!

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Bald Eagle Sept 24September 25, 2013
Today’s Outing: The weather report for this morning wasn’t too promising—but I went out anyway. It doesn’t happen too often, but I came home without ever taking a shot. You can always find “something” to photograph, but I just never saw a good opportunity. We had a calm morning, but it was dark and raining. I can usually handle a little drizzle, but full on rain is tougher to deal with and feel good about exposing gear to the weather. “Bad” weather can be “good” for unique photos, but I find it best to catch the front end of a storm or the clearing side of a storm. The middle period is always more challenging.

I was out early and headed up the Moose/Wilson road, entering from the south. It was still dark when I went through the entrance station. Leaves are brighter and more colorful along the road. Aspens and cottonwoods are looking much better at the Moose Visitor’s Center area and around the Chapel. From Moose Junction, I made the loop around to Kelly. There were a few foul weather photographers at both barns, but far fewer than a normal morning. Overall, my loop around Antelope Flats road was uneventful. I stopped at the big pullout on the Gros Ventre and took a much needed morning nap, with rain pounding the roof of my truck.

Wildlife: While today’s report is not as rosy as some, I saw a moose cow and calf near the Chapel of the Transfiguration and a herd of elk near Windy Point. It was too dark to think about trying to photograph them. I didn’t see any bison today. Along the Gros Ventre, I saw a moose cow and calf, a single cow, and a big bull with a couple of cows nearby. A Yellow-rumped warbler was working along the bank of the river. The beaver was not present today, but you can see he’s been busy working on a new dam just under the overlook. The eagle with this post was taken yesterday morning along the Gros Ventre. I see eagles, hawks, ravens, osprey, geese, and swans flying over fairly often.

Area Tidbits: The newspaper reported a few related stories during the past week. Since the bike path along the highway was completed, the section heading north out of town has been closed in October. Starting this year, that section will be open in October. The Farmer’s Market is now finished for the year. It has been growing steadily for several years. Today, the Park Service announced it will not open the Moose Visitor’s Center during the winter. Full Story.

Foliage Report Sept 25: Unscientific! Just observation. On a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 being summer green and 10 being peak, I will give a three part number. The first one is an average of the least changed. The middle number is the overall average and the last number is the status of the most advanced trees in an area.

  • Gros Ventre river bottom: Cottonwoods 6-7-9, Willows 6-8-10, Aspens 5-6-7, Underbrush and Shrubs 6-7-8
  • Snake River river bottom: Cottonwoods 6-7-8, Willows 6-7-9, Aspens 2-3-6, Underbrush and Shrubs 4-5-8
  • Moran Junction area: Cottonwoods 7-8-9, Willows 6-8-9, Aspens 6-8-9, Underbrush and Shrubs 5-6-9
  • Shadow Mountain: Some lower Aspens turning brown instead of yellow:  Middle and Upper Aspens 6-8-9
  • Snake River Canyon (towards Alpine Jctn): Cottonwoods 6-7-9, Willows 6-7-9, Aspens 4-7-9, Underbrush and Shrubs 5-6-9 Mountain Maple 4-5-9
  • Oxbow Bend: Lower Aspens at the bend and at Upper Parking Lot 4-6-7, Aspens on the hillsides 5-8-9
  • Mormon Row: Cottonwoods 3-4-5, Aspens 2-3-4

I haven’t been north in a few days, so I am using reports from others for some of these accounts.  The weather report suggests rain and snow for tonight and part of tomorrow. While it might make some short term photography tougher, having a nice blanket of snow on the mountains with foliage below should make it worth the hassles.

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September 26, 2013
Update from Yesterday: 
With all the rain, I came home early. I talked with a couple of people who stayed out yesterday. According to their reports, there was a time about 4:30 pm when the clouds lifted and they got great shots.

Foliage Sept 26

Today’s Outing: Let me start out by saying it was VERY GOOD today. Maybe it makes up for a slow day yesterday. I didn’t exit the park until close to 1:00 PM—which is unusual for me—but there was a lot going on. The morning started out with thick, low clouds. I could see some light at the north end of the valley, so I headed that direction. I figured I could get a good look at the foliage for a report here. Oxbow Bend had fewer people there than normal. The low clouds covered the entire mountain range, so photography at Oxbow was marginal. Wow! Things have changed since I was there last! It’s not peak yet, but certainly looks like Fall is upon us. As a matter of fact, the entire valley is now in the final glide path towards peak foliage. Another couple of days will make a big difference.

Three of the images above were taken at Oxbow. The upper left is a shot of some of the brightly colored shrubs along the road. Upper right is a stand of aspens in peak color near the Junction. The lower left was taken at the upper parking lot just to the east of the main parking lot at Oxbow. The aspens at the far west end of the “bend” are about the same color as the upper lot as of this morning. Things are beginning to pop there now! On the way back to town, it began snowing. I decided to head down the Moose/Wilson road and see if I could get snow on some of the bright leaves there…and you never know if you’ll see a moose or a bear.

Wildlife Sept 26

On the Moose/Wilson Road, I found the Moose cow and calf. I cruised the road, then headed over to the Chapel for a view of the aspens there. Another Moose cow and calf were along the road going into the Chapel. Aspens are not peak behind the Chapel but should be soon. Things looked too promising to leave, so I went back down the Moose/Wilson road and caught the Cinnamon Black Bear. I only got a few shots of it before he or she headed into the brush.

Black Bear In Tree Sept 26

Just south of the Cinnamon bear, I got lucky and found another Black Bear working the Black Hawthorne berries. He climbed several of the spruce trees and I finally got quite a few shots I have been wanting to get.

Great Gray Sept 26

As I headed south out of the Park, there was an “owl jam” near the Granite Canyon trailhead.  Nice to finally get a Great Gray in the lens this year!

Mountain Of Aspens Sept 26

This was taken just north of Teton Village on the Moose/Wilson Road with a Nikon D800 and a Nikon 200-400mm lens. The aspens might not be “peak” but you can see they are now looking very nice. Just to the north of that spot, many of the traditionally splendid stands of aspens were either brown or bare. That was the case for the aspens on the valley floor all the way to the Sawmill Pond area. Strange year!

Foliage Report Sept 26: Unscientific! Just observation. On a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 being summer green and 10 being peak, I will give a three part number. The first one is an average of the least changed. The middle number is the overall average and the last number is the status of the most advanced trees in an area.

  • Gros Ventre river bottom: Cottonwoods 6-7-9, Willows 6-8-10, Aspens 5-6-7, Underbrush and Shrubs 6-7-8
  • Snake River river bottom: Cottonwoods 6-7-8, Willows 6-7-9, Aspens 2-3-6, Underbrush and Shrubs 4-5-8
  • Moran Junction area: Cottonwoods 7-8-9, Willows 7-8-9, Aspens 6-8-9, Underbrush and Shrubs 5-6-9
  • Shadow Mountain: Some lower Aspens turning brown instead of yellow:  Middle and Upper Aspens 6-8-9
  • Snake River Canyon (towards Alpine Jctn): Cottonwoods 6-7-9, Willows 6-7-9, Aspens 4-7-9, Underbrush and Shrubs 5-6-9 Mountain Maple 4-5-9
  • Oxbow Bend: Lower Aspens at the bend and at Upper Parking Lot 4-6-7, Aspens on the hillsides 6-8-9
  • Mormon Row: Cottonwoods 3-4-5, Aspens 2-3-4

Cowboy On Ridge with Hat Aug16

Yesterday, during the rain, I spent some time to add images to Recent Western Images on my regular web site.  Many of them have Tetons in the background. Check it out if you have a few minutes!

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September 27, 2013
Today’s Outing: It was overcast this morning, with low clouds and occasional snow showers. I spent the morning along the Moose/Wilson Road—mainly because I had a good day there yesterday. By comparison, today was slow! The Wildlife Brigade vehicles were parked at a couple of the major spots, but they didn’t have anything to patrol either. I took some time to photograph some of the fall colors, hoping all the time a bear would stroll out of the woods or a moose would move into Sawmill Pond. Hopefully, tomorrow will be better!  With the heavy clouds, I doubt it was great at Schwabacher Landing, the Mormon Row Barns, Snake River Overlook, or Oxbow Bend either. These are days to try to find wildlife or shoot “down and small”. Check out Looking for Transitions: if you haven’t already seen it. We are definitely in a transitional period, and even more so with the snow.

Red Leaves Sept 27

There were some of the deepest reds I saw this morning, set off nicely by all of the green behind it. A little dripping water always helps!

Fall Foliage Sept 27

This image shows the variety of color along the Moose/Wilson road. The Black Hawthorne bushes are turning red now.

Red Branch Sept 27

More leaves with variegated colors of red and green.

Foliage With Snow Sept 27

Snow was falling, so I set up on the tripod and took this image with a 1/15th second exposure.

Wildlife: Hmmmmm. None today! I hear the elk are still active around the South Jenny Lake road.

Area Tidbits: Tomorrow is National Public Lands Day in many parks. Free Admission! Gasoline dropped by a dime per gallon this week…now down to $3.72 at many stations for self-serv unleaded.

Foliage Report Sept 27: Unscientific! Just observation. On a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 being summer green and 10 being peak, I will give a three part number. The first one is an average of the least changed. The middle number is the overall average and the last number is the status of the most advanced trees in an area.

  • Gros Ventre river bottom: Cottonwoods 6-7-10, Willows 6-8-10, Aspens 5-6-8, Underbrush and Shrubs 6-7-9
  • Snake River river bottom: Cottonwoods 6-7-9, Willows 6-7-10, Aspens 2-3-8, Underbrush and Shrubs 4-5-9
  • Moran Junction area: Cottonwoods 7-8-9, Willows 7-8-9, Aspens 6-8-10, Underbrush and Shrubs 5-6-9
  • Shadow Mountain: Some lower Aspens turning brown instead of yellow:  Middle and Upper Aspens 6-8-10
  • Snake River Canyon (towards Alpine Jctn): Cottonwoods 6-7-9, Willows 6-7-9, Aspens 4-7-10, Underbrush and Shrubs 5-6-9 Mountain Maple 4-5-9
  • Oxbow Bend: Lower Aspens at the bend and at Upper Parking Lot 4-7-8, Aspens on the hillsides 6-8-9
  • Mormon Row: Cottonwoods 3-4-5, Aspens 2-3-4
  • Moose/Wilson Road from the Death Canyon road area to South Entrance Station: Aspens in the valley floor turned brown and have mostly fallen. They are often some of the best late season aspens stands.

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September 28, 2013
Today’s Outing: Windy! Actually, it was cold and windy! We had low clouds in most of the valley and along the mountains until mid-morning to go with the wind. I checked the Gros Ventre for moose, then made the mistake of going up Mormon Row road. Mud puddles stack up end to end. I made it through, but it was slow and messy. There were a few Pronghorns, an American Kestrel, Robins, and a lot of Bluebirds along the road. By the time I made it to the barns, a couple of workshops were just closing down and moving on. Clouds were still thick. As I write this report at 3:00 pm, winds have lessened, clouds still cover the tops of the mountains, and skies are mostly cloudy.

Bull Moose Sept 28

At some point in mid-morning, a break in the clouds in the east let light finally hit the valley floor near the base of the mountains. When I made it to the Moose/Wilson Road, I found a nice bull moose courting a cow at the overlook.

Cinnamon Bear_Sept28
Just down the road, I found a nice sized Cinnamon colored Black Bear along the road and got a few shots.

Death Canyon Aspens

If you’ve read many of my earlier updates this month, you’d know I’ve mentioned some of the Aspens turning brown and leaves falling off long before they would in a normal year. This quick image was taken near the Death Canyon road along the Moose-Wilson Road. In most years, these are some of the prettiest late season aspens in the valley. Brown leaves are common in the valley floor between Death Canyon and the Entrance Station at the south end of the road. Brown trees are common on East and West Gros Ventre Buttes and Skyline subdivision between Jackson and Wilson. In the Park, brown and wind blown trees are at the base of Shadow Mountain. However, in most of the same areas, Aspen trees are yellow and changing normally on the hillsides.

Foliage Report Sept 28: Unscientific! Just observation. On a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 being summer green and 10 being peak, I will give a three part number. The first one is an average of the least changed. The middle number is the overall average and the last number is the status of the most advanced trees in an area.

  • Gros Ventre river bottom: Cottonwoods 6-7-10, Willows 6-8-10, Aspens 5-6-8, Underbrush and Shrubs 6-7-9
  • Snake River river bottom: Cottonwoods 6-7-9, Willows 6-7-10, Aspens 2-3-8, Underbrush and Shrubs 4-5-9
  • Moran Junction area: Cottonwoods 7-8-9, Willows 7-8-9, Aspens 6-8-10, Underbrush and Shrubs 5-6-9
  • Shadow Mountain: Some lower Aspens turning brown instead of yellow:  Middle and Upper Aspens 6-8-10
  • Snake River Canyon (towards Alpine Jctn): Cottonwoods 6-7-9, Willows 6-7-9, Aspens 4-7-10, Underbrush and Shrubs 5-6-9 Mountain Maple 4-5-9
  • Oxbow Bend: Lower Aspens at the bend and at Upper Parking Lot 4-7-8, Aspens on the hillsides 6-8-9
  • Mormon Row: Cottonwoods 3-4-5, Aspens 2-3-4
  • Moose/Wilson Road from the Death Canyon road area to South Entrance Station: Aspens in the valley floor turned brown and have mostly fallen. They are often some of the best late season aspens stands. Aspens on the hillsides are normal  colors 6-8-9.

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September 29, 2013
Today’s Outing: Care to take a guess where I went today? (Click either image to view it much larger)

Oxbow Photographers 2 Sept 29

Oxbow Photographers Sept 29

When I drove up to Oxbow Bend, there were dozens of people lined up along parking area, and lots more all the way to the bend in the road. Many more were along the lower shore line and quite a few were up on the hillside.

To be honest, Oxbow Bend was not on my “radar screen” this morning. I had heard my wind chimes, so I knew water wouldn’t be calm in many places in the valley.  No one would get the mirror reflections today.  I started out of town thinking of going to some place that didn’t have water for other landscape opportunities, however as I drove north, I could see a cloud developing over the top of the Grand. It was still fairly dark, but I could still see the cloud. That, along with the 19 cars I counted along the highway at Schwabacher Landing, eliminated a few of the options at Schwabacher and near Triangle X. Mt. Moran was still clear, so it kept driving. I received a call from a friend at Oxbow Bend telling me about the “zoo” at Oxbow. I figured I could get a few shots of all of the people lined up side by side at Oxbow for this update post.  I could just take my chances of getting a good shot there today. I was thinking of images with very  little water and mostly trees and mountains.  You never know if a small break in the clouds will light up the mountains or the row of aspens.

Colors at Oxbow are not at peak yet, but are still very pretty. None of them have fallen—so at least we have full stands of trees. It was worth the trip, but I don’t think I got shots today that are better than other images I already have from previous years. Today is the first day I’ve seen the mountains after the big snows this year. A lot of the parts for a great shot are in place, but they don’t always come together at the same time. That’s still part of the fun and attraction going back each year. I don’t shoot HDR much, but I did today. The lower sections were fairly dark so HDR gives me a few more options. I also shot most of them in three to four panoramic parts. Maybe one or two of them will actually work out.  The images below are quick edits of a few of the single shots from today. We never really got much light on the stand of trees at the bend, and when we did, the mountains were not as defined as in earlier periods. The weather reports for tomorrow are not too promising as I write this update.

Not long after I started this site, I wrote Where to go and when to be there? It has now moved off the front page, but I still consider it a valid post for days like today. Light, clouds and wind are three of the major factors I deal with when considering landscapes. The feature post might help you when considering where to go on the marginal mornings.

While I was at Oxbow, I met a lot of people already reading this blog. Several told me they read it every morning! It is wonderful and gratifying to meet everyone! Also, I bumped into Dave Black a couple of times over the weekend. He was in the area doing a workshop.  Dave is one of my favorite photographers—if not my #1 favorite. Check out his site and read over his Workshop at the Ranch posts. MJ

Oxbow Cormorant Sept 29

A couple of Cormorants were working in front of me when I first made it to the edge of the water. The misty cloud that had been covering the mountains was just beginning to lift. For this image, I focused on the bird and allowed a lot more water in the scene than many of the other images I shot today. With calm water, I would have been trying to capture the reflections.

Mt Moran Sept 29

I hung around long after most people left the area. There had been hints of light at times earlier, but it finally cleared just enough to light the entire mountain with dark, steel blue skies behind it. The image above was created from a three shot bracketed image and combined in Photoshop using their HDR software and ACR. I have Photomatix and NIK HDR software, but like this option most of the time for more realistic images. Earlier in the post, I mentioned shooting HDR and Pano Images. I developed two of them later in the day and both came out fairly nice.  With yesterday’s skies, both were definitely moody images.

I checked out the Moose/Wilson Road before driving home, but didn’t see any wildlife. It was still windy, with spitting rain at times.

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September 30, 2013

Pre-Outing: I am at my computer at 5:45 am checking on the weather reports for today. I doesn’t look too encouraging for this morning—especially for the people hoping to get the great fall foliage vista shots! It is damp, with threats of rain and thunderstorms. The wind ringing my wind chimes is supposed to increase to 29mph throughout the day. I’ll likely look for animals instead of foliage. If that’s the case, I don’t have to leave as early. If I left not, it’d be a good time to light paint barns, or at least details on barns and fences. I could also stay out late for light painting. Wind can also offer opportunities for artist shots of blurred leaves. Consider using rear curtain sync and pop a flash into bunch of leaves. You can capture the movement, then get a few leaves frozen and sharp! That’s probably going to be an upcoming feature post, but don’t tell anyone!

Today’s Outing: The weather forecast was accurate for today—windy and wet!

Morning JH Sept 30

The streets were wet and deserted early this morning.  I pulled over to Center Street and took this image looking south. I added the RFN-4 remote trigger, then walked out into the scene for a few additional shots.

Pronghorn Does _Sept 30

To start the day, I went to the Gros Ventre river, where I was lucky enough to watch one of the big bull moose cross just below the overlook. It was still fairly dark at the time. I didn’t carry the gear out into the drizzle, but it is always a nice experience to see one cross. He headed to a cow on the other side, but she had a calf and he lost interest quickly. The bull (Washakie) walked back into the thicker willows. From there, I headed towards Moose Junction, but saw this small herd of Pronghorns near the road. The buck was just behind them, but he wouldn’t fit into the shot with the does.

Black Bear in Treetop Sept 30

This small black bear was feeding on some Black Hawthorne berries along the Moose/Wilson Road.

Wind Blown Leaves Sept 30

On the way home, I stopped and took a few shots of leaves being blown by the stiff winds. I used a strobe to stop some of the movement. Needless to say, this is a different look for fall leaves. It’s a play on that old saying, “If life deals you a bunch of lemons, make lemonade”.

For the Photographers: Nikon D800 with a Nikon 24-70 mm lens, Gitzo Tripod, Arca-Swiss Ball Head, Nikon SB-910 Strobe, Nikon SU800 Controller, Radio Popper PX transmitter and Receiver. For this shot, I set my camera to fire in Rear Curtain Sync. This lets the ambient light record the movement of the leaves, then at the very end of the exposure, the strobe fires for a very brief period, effectively freezing the leaves. I chose a tree with good movement and fairly bright colors. I also picked on with a darker background. I shot this one with TTL but I’d certainly consider using manual settings in the strobe. I shot some with manual focus, but the leaves were blowing not only from left to right, but also towards me and away. Autofocus seemed to work better on this project.  I had the strobe set up to be hand held off the camera with the aid of the SU800 and Radio Poppers. You can see by the shadows I was holding slightly above and to the left side of the leaves for this photo. Also, I added the RFN-4 remote trigger so I could stand a little to the side and trigger the camera when the leaves looked like they would be passing in front of the lens. I shot a lot to get just a few keepers because it was almost impossible to fully anticipate the amount or direction of the wind. ISO 100, F/22, EV -2/3, 1/16th Second, Aperture Priority, Off Camera Strobe, Channel 1, +1 1/3 , Rear Curtain Sync. (Most Nikon cameras and strobes work with what they call the Creative Lighting System. For this shot, I might have been able to use the built in CLS Commander and strobe and not need the additional controllers, but since they were already set up, I used them!)

I added this shot and the details into this post, not necessarily to tell you what to photograph, but more to suggest ways of filling the down time when other things seem slow. The process would be exactly the same for capturing hummingbirds with their frozen wings. It’d work well with blowing grass or blowing flowers. Also, I didn’t do it, but I could have also added a few remote strobes this morning and frozen me as I walked across the street in the morning rain covered street. With rear curtain sync, I could have been blurred in the scene until the flash fired to freeze me! I’d have to be more prepared and maybe have a helper with me to keep people from driving over my equipment. There are a lot of possibilities!

Foliage Report: With the rain and wind, I stayed south today, so I can’t be too specific on conditions up north. Overall, it is probably similar to the full report from Saturday, but you can add in an extra number here and there to just about everything. Most of the Gros Ventre and the river bottom along the Snake River near Moose Junction is getting close to peak now. Hopefully, the wind won’t blow the current leaves off before we get a chance to photograph and view them.

Park Closures: I called the Park Headquarters a few minutes ago. IF the government shuts down, here’s what the offices told me: All gates will be locked and no one will be allowed to enter the park at any of the stations. We will be allowed to drive up and down Highway 89/191 and on through the park towards Dubois. That’s a state highway. As far as she could tell me, the road out to Kelly will be open because people live there and have to travel back and forth. All people in the campgrounds will have to leave within 48 hours. She didn’t know if they would be putting up barricades to keep people out of the pullouts along the highway. I asked if there would be info on the web site, but she said no one would be working to make web site updates or add info. Grand Teton National Park web site. She didn’t think they’d block access to the National Forests. She wasn’t sure if they’d be locking the gates at either end of Antelope Flats road since the Bed & Breakfast would still need access. She was very helpful, but it sounded like the Park Service was still working out the details. I asked about access at Moose to the river for the fishermen? Unknown…but there would be no one on duty to rescue boaters or climbers. I was trying to get a feel of whether we could still walk around in the park, but she could only say the Park would be officially “closed”.  Based on my conversation, there are just too many unknowns at the moment, but it doesn’t sound good for any visitor wanting to visit any of the National Parks unless a budget is passed today.

Remember, this is the last day of the month. Tomorrow, I will make a new October Updates page.

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