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Mormon Row in Winter

John Moulton Barn

On any given day of the summer and fall, hoards of tourists and photographers line up each morning to photograph the historic old barns and structures along Mormon Row in Grand Teton National Park. The two Moulton Barns have been labeled “The Most Photographed Barns in the World”. By early winter, most of the visitors are back in their cozy homes, but the barns are left to endure the brutal winter winds, ice and snow.

At some point each year, Antelope Flats Road gets barricaded for the winter season. It doesn’t mean there aren’t plentiful photographic opportunities—it just takes more effort and quite a few more layers of clothing!

Antelope Flats Closure

The Park Service plows Antelope Flats Road until at least the end of the Elk Hunt (Elk Reduction Program) which ends around the middle of December each year. Unlike some of the other park roads, Antelope Flats road has no specific closure date. The closure varies based on snowfall and snow drifts. I’ve driven down it at late as December 23rd. This year, unfortunately, it was locked for the season on December 15th, even though there appears to be only six or seven inches of snow on the road.

Mormon Row November 15th, 2014

Mormon Row November 15th, 2014: Each year is different here in the northern Rockies, as you can see in this November image. Snowplows kept Antelope Flats open for the hunt, but did not plow Mormon Row. The day after this photo, they put up barricades at the intersection.

Moulton Homestead December 16, 2014

Moulton Homestead December 16, 2014: I took this photo one year ago today. If I could drive there today, I’d suggest it looks essentially the same. Snow will continue to fall throughout the winter and eventually cover all of the sagebrush.

TA Moulton Barn December 23, 2013

TA Moulton Barn December 23, 2013: Notice the limited valley snow pack in 2013. The road closed immediately afterwards.

Winter Barn and Moon December11,2011

Winter Barn and Moon December 11, 2011: The December setting full moon drops behind the Tetons when at the Mormon Row barns. As I write this post, I know there will be another one in a few days, and that might tempt me to hike out.

Tips for hiking out to the barns in Winter:

  • Enter from the West side: It is only 3/4 mile to the Mormon Row intersection from the ample parking area. The hike is closer to 1.25 miles from the east. The hike from the intersection is roughly half a mile to the TA Moulton Barn and Chambers Homestead.
  • Dress Warmly: On many mornings, the temperatures hover around 0°F and can be as low as -30°F. I’d probably have second thoughts about making the hike if it happened to be windy.  I like to carry a few off the chemical hand warmers and put one in the palm of each glove. Toe warmers might be in order on some days. Remember, you’ll still have 30-45 minutes of hiking to get back to your vehicle, so be prepared to head back if you toes or fingers begin to hurt or go numb!
  • Hike, Snow Shoe, or Cross Country Ski: As the snow pack builds, hiking in becomes a challenge. As I write this post, the snow on the road is only about 6″-8″ deep, and there are still a few vehicle tracks. As the snow freezes, it can be possible to hike out atop a solid crust, but take a pair of snow shoes in case the snow warms and ceases to hold you up. Snow Shoes allow you to walk above the snow to some extent and Cross Country Skis let you glide across the layers of snow.
  • Take a Cell Phone: The valley floor of GTNP generally has good cell phone coverage. If you need help, you can always call 911 or Park Dispatch.
  • The Best Light: As always, the best and most dramatic light of the day is usually the first hour of pre-dawn and sunrise light. That means getting up early and allowing for hiking to the spots. That just happens to be the coldest time of the day! In other words, there can be a price to pay for those shots during the winter. You can also hike to the barns after the sun comes up and warms the area some, but the light is seldom as memorable.

The Park Service usually opens the gates to the area around the middle of March. That date, like the closing date, is not set. In 2015, the area opened earlier than most years.

Wagon Wheel

Wagon Wheel: Many people get bogged down trying to capture the iconic images of the two barns. Why not! They are beautiful when set in front of the magnificent Tetons. Still, if you are going to hike out, and if you are not frozen, take some time to look for some of the smaller details and textures. Other than the private area of the Bed and Breakfast, you can roam around any of the barns, structures, and buildings.

Summer crowds

Fall Crowds: If you hike out in the winter, you will likely be the only person around. After a fresh snowfall, you will have no tracks or human distractions to deal with. Since I live here, I tend to photograph at the barns right up to the closure, and then get back to them as soon as they open the gates. Still, I usually try to hike in a couple of times each winter.  The Shane Cabin area is accessible all winter without a hike. The Chapel of the Transfiguration is also open, but takes a hike to get to it. Other areas, like Schwabacher Landing is closed to human entry during the winter months.

 

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Comments (3)

  1. So beautiful. The snow really gives it an extra layer of color and texture.

  2. Your Winter Barn and Moon December 11, 2011 is outstanding. It certainly leads me to be willing to snowshoe out to Mormon Row for a sunrise sometime this winter. VERY nice shot.

  3. Mary, I hope you and Al are enjoying your winter in the Great Northwest! Thanks for checking in here once in a while. MJ

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