I had no idea just how much my life would be shaken up through 2014. It all started much the same way as 2013. I was frequently showshoeing up Blacktail Butte in the frigid dead of winter to see what new tracks awaited me, and if any critters would be out while I was.
On an especially windy day, I was exploring late in the day and noticed on the other side of the butte a lone bull elk, likely noticing me as well. With the wind howling over the Teton Mountains behind him in late afternoon light, I knew I’d have at least a decent black and white image. The wind and snow blowing off the Tetons came out beautifully and the ridgeline and the mountains in the background did a great job of dwarfing such a majestic animal.
February saw a number of white-out blizzards storm through Jackson Hole. I was driving home to Kelly from Jackson during one in particular where the wind-blown snow and the intense dumping of much more created almost zero visibility conditions. With no shoulder to park on and no certainty of anyone in front or behind me, I made several quick stops in the road before heading home. I caught some nice black and whites from that day, but this one in particular stood out from the rest. The snow that stuck to the smoothed, dead cottonwood trunk created an uncanny sketched look, which still confuses people who see it in print. It was another addition to a renewed interest I was finding in black and white photography.
Though technically early in the season, many people were beginning to hope for bear sightings as early as March, myself being one of them. I made a few trips up to the Oxbow Bend area eager to be the first to find a great grizzly out on the prowl for some much needed nourishment. Though I struck out in March, I was still able to come away with this bald eagle at Oxbow Bend, captured in flight above a break in the water. The simplicity of the shot and gracefulness of the eagle made for a nice black and white.
With April came the emergence of several bears, though one in particular captured the hearts of everyone in Jackson: Grizzly Bear #760. He was one of the first out and frequented many areas near the road, causing many to suspect that he was related to Grizzly Bear #399 or her daughter, #610. Early in the season, he was noticeably afraid of the water, an unfortunate circumstance since here he was lingering near an elk carcass submerged in a creek surging with snow melt. He was never able to pull it up and eventually moved on, though never too far from the public eye. He quickly became a very loved bear and many would argue that he seemed to enjoy the attention.
Unfortunately, that was his last spring. After simply loitering near a residential area, he was relocated to completely unfamiliar territory on the other side of Yellowstone National Park, where he was almost immediately put down by the Wyoming Game & Fish for reasons that still have not been made clear. Naturally, this caused an uproar in many locals as they demanded a satisfactory explanation, something everyone impatiently waits to hear. It was a tragic end to a loved bear that did absolutely nothing wrong. His only “crime” was showing how easy it is for humans and predators to coexist peacefully. DNA tests eventually did confirm that he was an offspring of 399.
In many ways, it’s quite tragic how many of Grizzly Bear #399’s offspring have either been put down or killed. Yet she continues to thrive and is still the most beloved bear in the area.
One day in May, I was simply on my way home from Jackson when I noticed a car pulled over on the road. I had assumed it was just a moose given the specific area, but when I looked back to make sure, I saw a grizzly bear with two cubs! Sure enough, it was 399 herself. I wasn’t at all prepared in terms of the clothes I was wearing to stand out in a wet snow storm for multiple hours photographing bears. The above freezing temperatures combined with a persistent snow would certainly leave me soaked and frigid with hypothermia, plus I was only about 10 more minutes from home. So, like a wise photographer, I jumped out and began shooting. It was only a matter of minutes before she climbed up on a small ridge and shook off the accumulating snow from her back. Had I driven home, I would have missed it.
Snow was melting and the mountains were calling! I made several short backpacking trips throughout June, a couple of times accompanied by my new girlfriend who was just as eager as I was about getting away from the roadsides and into higher elevations. Along with her, the night sky was also beginning to take a higher priority in my life. With nights being so short though, night photography was hard to come by, especially while trying to work full time. Regardless, I still was able to capture my tent under the Milky Way on a short backpacking trip near my home in Kelly.
July was when I noticed many priorities and interests shifting in myself. In a short time, I was fed up with the drama that occurred whenever a bear appeared by the road. Likewise, I wasn’t inspired to shoot the same photos that dozens of other people were also shooting. I had moved to Jackson years ago to hike the backcountry and still hadn’t done as much as I had hoped. At the same time, I was advancing in dark sky efforts and had by this time gotten a few interviews that I had begun to assemble into a short film. I also had purchased some astrophotography gear that I was beginning to feel more comfortable with now that nights were getting longer again. In between it all I was trying to work a full-time job as a wildlife safari guide.
This all contributed to me having a very stressful and confusing July. As a result, I didn’t capture much photography other than on the safaris, from which this pronghorn is from.
It wasn’t until August that I finally got over the learning curve of astrophotography with the gear I was using. The first successful image I captured was of the Trifid and Lagoon Nebulae, aka, M20 and M8, respectively. The next few images I captured thereafter came out significantly better than anything I was getting prior. I was shooting as much as I could, but also learning quite a bit of what not to do in the process.
It was also this month that the short documentary film I was working on began to consume me. I had to finish it before the fall, and so I cut my hours at work quite a bit to make sure I would have it done before starting a more ambitious project in the fall.
September became even busier than I could have guessed. I was hard at work getting my short film done as quickly as possible, and also found out that I would be giving a TEDxJacksonHole talk the next month, so the vast majority of the days were spent preparing and rehearsing, or working on the film. At night, if conditions were right, I would set up the astrophotography gear and gradually become more familiar and knowledgeable about the processes required to capture a nice deep space object.
The North America Nebula was one of my nicer ones from another month that saw limited shooting.
In October, I successfully gave my TEDxJacksonHole talk. The next week, I finished my short film, and then the very next day, left for the southwest. It was only my first morning on the trip when I captured this shot. Having driven through southern Wyoming along Highway 191 many times, I had always thought it was be a great place to camp for a night. Something about the vast open distances and remote high desert landscapes had always seemed alluring. I finally got the chance on my first night out. The sunrise that I woke up to did not disappoint and ensured that I would return one day, though next time getting much farther from the highway.
Though not as relaxing as I would have liked, the trip was a success. I gathered interviews from many different people and perspectives and was ready to return home as temperatures began to drop around the southwest. Before heading home though, I was called on an errand for Wyoming Stargazing while in Sedona, Arizona. The executive director had just bought the 20″ telescope that one of my interviewees was selling, and I was to make a quick detour to Santa Fe to pick it up. Along the way, I stopped off at El Malpais National Monument for what turned out to be an outstanding sunset! My only complaint was the ranger at the Visitor Center who had nothing good to say about the area, which was a shame considering how unique and interesting the geology of the landscape is there.
I spent much of December settling back in and not getting out as much as I would have liked. I made a trip up to Moran earlier in the month to pick up a few things from a friend that lives there. I got there shortly before sunset and decided to kill a little time by going for a quick walk along the dam. To my surprise, Jackson Lake still had not frozen over due to the unseasonably warm temperatures the area was receiving at the time. Shortly after parking, the low sun began to light the backs of the storm clouds that were hanging on the Teton Mountains. The calm water created a perfect reflection as a single duck flew from nearby the dam to a quieter location in the distance. It was probably one of the moodiest winter scenes I’ve ever witnessed.
Reclaiming the Night – Preserving the Dark Skies of Jackson Hole
I’ve always had a fondness for the film industry and movie-making. With the technology now readily available in nearly every camera, I finally had the tools to make my own film, but finding a subject for such a project always seemed daunting and out of reach. It wasn’t until I became more involved in dark sky efforts here in Jackson that the subject all of a sudden seemed so obvious. I wasn’t wondering anymore if I could do it, I simply had to do it. Inspiration and ideas were flowing and I was desperate to make it happen.
I began collecting interviews from people that I thought would give good insight and offer a valuable perspective for the finished product. I spent much of the latter part of the summer editing it together and finding the right progression and timing, where I discovered exactly why good editing takes so much time. The plus side was that I loved the entire process of it.
Once I had most of the film finished though, I ran into a significant problem. There was no music. It wasn’t in my budget to hire someone, which I would have liked to have done locally, nor could I have even afforded to license tracks off the internet. With no other alternative, I downloaded a free (to try) digital audio workstation (DAW) called Reaper and tried to make my own music for the film with absolutely no experience in music production. To my surprise, the friends that I showed rough cuts with some music incorporated to was very positive. I also didn’t mention that it was mine until after they watched it to make sure I was getting honest feedback. I scored the rest of the film, made some final tweaks, and after uploading it, set out on a road trip to start shooting a feature-length documentary.
TEDxJacksonHole – Restoring the Night Sky For a Healthier Future
I attended TEDxJacksonHole in 2013 and thought how much fun it would be to give a talk that was important, original, and relevant. With no idea at the time what my talk would have been on, I let the idea go and didn’t think much of it. When nominations for speakers for 2014 were announced, I was deeply involved in dark sky efforts in Jackson Hole and knew right away that that would be a great fit to the Imagine theme that they had announced.
After an adventurous weekend in the Wind River Mountains with my girlfriend, I came back to town to find out that I had just enough time to get the forms filled in before the deadline. I rehearsed and refined my talk all of September and into October with the help of two different coaches, as well as my girlfriend’s invaluable insight. The day finally arrived, and I gave the talk above.