January was cold. We were in the heart of a historically cold and precipitous winter. The sun by this point had become a legend, forgotten behind the clouds that never seemed to lift from the valley, constantly dropping more and more snow as they had done since late November. Despite the Vitamin D deficiency the area was experiencing, along with the psychological aspects of not seeing direct sunlight for three months, I still made attempts to get out and shoot the remarkably unique landscapes. In the nine winters I had spent here, I had never seen some areas so smoothly rounded out from the amount of snow they had received. One such area was Blacktail Butte where in a typical winter, the wind and occasional warmth would wipe the southern slopes clean of snow. This winter, the entire area was solid white, with the exception of the bare trees still sticking out, along with any wildlife trying to find some form of food. Such was the case here with a cow moose and her calf wandering a bleak and lonely white landscape.
To read more about that winter, check out my blog post on the intensity of the winter of 2016-2017.
My wife and I were beginning to feel the affects of a lack of sunlight, and we wanted a fix. We packed our bags and made a last minute escape to Moab, Utah for sunshine and hiking. We spent the majority of our time exploring Arches, free from crowds and traffic, and filled with the sunlight we had been craving. Though a few clouds appeared on one day, it didn’t deter us from having a wonderful escape. In addition, it also provided for a dramatic sunset while we were poking around the Turret Arch area.
You can read more about our escape to Moab here.
Though snow was still falling in March, as is typically the case, the freeze had finally lifted and for the first time in over three months, the temperatures crested 20 degrees F. The incoming and outgoing storms created some wonderful shows as they crashed through the Teton Mountains.
With the snow finally melting, the elk began their annual migration out of the National Elk Refuge and into Grand Teton National Park. All along the Gros Ventre River is an excellent place to find them seeking out their desired routes north. Of course April can still produce any sort of weather, so another snowfall is generally likely at some point during the month. These elk found themselves in the midst of a late winter storm during the northern migration.
Spring is prime grizzly bear time in Jackson Hole. One of the famous sows that’s captured the spotlight with 399 and her daughter 610, is a bear that had been untagged until this year, known simply as Blondie for her beautiful blonde coat. Despite being visible to the public for years, she had never emerged with any cubs. Fortunately, this year changed that as she greeted tourists and locals alike with two adorable cubs. One of my favorite shots of her though came as she was alone, allowing me to shamelessly anthropomorphize her reaction to hearing that grizzly bears would be delisted that year from the Endangered Species List. It’s a tragic irony Blondie faced this year, finally having cubs to raise, only to discover they already have targets on their backs.
My wife and I enjoy road trips, much like kids enjoy sugar. Once the snow was melted and roads were opening more, we decided to take a weekend road trip out to the Cody area to see the wild horses. We didn’t see too many mustangs, sadly, but that was made up for. That night, after heading to bed in camp, the northern lights put on a glimmering show in the sky, treating her to her first aurora experience. Having been woken up by a freak rain storm in the middle of the night, and being on roads that would leave us trapped in rain, we packed up well before sunrise and headed back toward Yellowstone. Before we got there however, a young alpha pair of wolves was patrolling their territory, allowing us to easily follow them and photograph them. Though a magical and wonderfully serendipitous experience, I was also very concerned that they weren’t shy at all. I can only hope after this season’s hunts that they were able to return to their pups to take care of them.
You can read more about the whole weekend, including the northern lights and Bighorn Basin, in this blog post about our Cody getaway.
By July, the snow still hadn’t yet melted out of some of the more easily accessible areas of the Teton Mountains, including the North Fork of Cascade Canyon. Regardless, I was still ready to get into them, and my wife was interested in making her first backpacking trip. There was enough snow melted from the lower elevations from the North Fork, but it did make accessing Lake Solitude a little tricky, which we ultimately passed on. That night we listened to a violent thunderstorm rip through to the south of us, but fortunately left us alone. One of my favorite memories from the trip though came before we even reached the North Fork, where she was simply enjoying a peaceful section of Cascade Creek.
You can read more about the historic snow runoff here.
In August, there was a total solar eclipse that passed right over Grand Teton National Park. The experience was literally indescribable and completely justified all the hype that had been building for it. My wife and I are now plotting our next visit to totality.
Check out my more in-depth experience watching the eclipse here.
I was finally married to my best friend in September, who I had only met after returning from the Arizona Trail in the spring of 2016. With less than two years of knowing each other, I was ready to start my life with her. After our wedding, we decided not to do a full honeymoon, but decided instead to take a mini-moon up to Acadia National Park, both of us discovering it for the first time. This came on our first day out, where we welcomed the fog and moody weather as a way to help silence the chaos that had been building over the prior week.
After returning from our wedding, we hiked out to one of our favorite places, Phelps Lake. With fall still hanging on in the area, we were able to catch a good sampling of the colors that were still lining the trail and the lake itself. The weather in fall also always helps to accentuate the beauty falling off of the Teton Mountains.
The snow came early in the Tetons, covering many of the trails I typically still like to enjoy into the late fall. However a popular one that I like to visit that stays open throughout the year is the Taggart Lake Trail. In conjunction with the Valley Trail, a loop can actually be made around the south side of the lake, something I had never done before. With the snow pack still light enough to hike over, I explored this new-to-me route and was treated to some spectacular views of the Grand Teton. With a fresh coating of snow on it and daylight fading around its summit, it made for a very majestically winter icon.
I returned to black and white for December after watching a dramatic fog clearing from the Teton peaks. It left a thin veil for a short while as it cleared and lifted, and with the lower peaks still shrouded in cloud cover, I knew the lit peaks would look perfect in a black and white process.