Photographing a Rainy Morning in Jackson Hole

Returning Horses

This past summer, much of my inspiration shifted from the Jackson Hole valley floor to much higher elevations found up in the mountains. While the higher elevations had always been significant motivation for me, this past season saw that motivation become much more pronounced, weening my inspiration away from the roadsides. In addition, there’s also my upcoming TEDxJacksonHole talk and completing my short film on light pollution, both of which demanded a large chunk of my time, forcing me to drastically reduce my work with Jackson Hole Wildlife Safaris. However, though my days are limited at the moment, I had a recent trip with exceptional opportunities found throughout the valley with a delightful pair of other photographers.

We were off well before sunrise in a downpour that showed no signs of letting up. Rather than stopping at a sunrise mainstay, I continued north, hoping for a break in the rain. As the rain began to lighten up around Elk Ranch south of Moran, we noticed some horses from the Moosehead Ranch had gotten free and were trotting along the highway. Though interesting, there wasn’t much of a great shot, so we continued up the highway a bit as the sun was just beginning to peak through a small hole in the clouds to the east. We soon found ourselves in a small bubble of no precipitation surrounded by rain, prompting me to tell my two guests to keep an eye out for a rainbow. It was only a matter of seconds before the arc of a rainbow appeared majestically to the west. This would have been plenty for us, but the tone for the day was set when one horse, still on the property of Moosehead Ranch was calling out to its freed companions, who began to walk past our car. Hearing the cries of their friend, they crossed the highway, and went to greet their trapped comrade, confused how he was left behind. As they approached the fence, they went directly under the rainbow, creating a dramatic scene of homecoming, glowing with golden light.

Bull Elk in Meadow

That would have been enough for us that day, but in just getting started, we continued past the views of Oxbow Bend, where the magic had already faded, and into Cattleman’s Bridge Road to shoot some fall aspen trees. We had the area all to ourselves as the reds, oranges, yellows, and greens created a new composition with each step in any direction. Perfectly happy with the situation, the scene got dramatically better as an elk bugle came from only a hundred yards away. I looked over and saw a cow elk’s head peering over the shoulder-high grass directly at me. I was too slow to capture her, but not the bull that was in focused pursuit. They ran across the open field toward the aspens, where he followed her movements left and right, and ultimately into the aspens, leaving us – and us alone – with the gift of their presence.

Mule Deer Bucks Sparring

As we rounded by Signal Mountain, a couple of mule deer bucks had attracted a few cars as they intermittently put on a sparring show in between food breaks. Despite a bit of rain, we stopped to watch them for a bit as the occasional bout entertained the few humans that had braved the soggy weather.

Fall Aspen Leaves Abstract

Our day finally ended along the Moose-Wilson Road, which, having been closed due to grizzly bear activity, literally opened up right in front of us, allowing us to be the first public car to travel southbound in weeks. The fall colors along the road were exploding and offered all kinds of opportunities and unique compositions as the diverse colors of the aspens mixed with the muted transitions of the service berry bushes. With the rain having subsided, the droplets left on each leaf also created wonderful macro potential.

It was quite the day the morning to be out in Grand Teton National Park. Let that be your lesson the next time you wake up early and rain is telling you to sleep in.

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