Twelve Favorite Photos from 2016


Ambient Sunrise Light on Tetons

Deep in winter’s freeze in January, I headed out at first light to hike one of Grand Teton National Park’s most popular summer trails, Taggart Lake. In the dead of winter, however, only a few locals and brave tourists explore beyond the parking lot. Before sunrise, no one is there. I had the whole area to myself for the entire morning. And yet one of my favorite shots was from when I barely even started snowshoeing in. The iconic Teton Mountains rose up above a familiar scene, but in lighting I wasn’t used to seeing, roughly an hour before sunrise. It was the dawn glow reflecting on the mountains themselves, imprinting a wonderful January memory.


Gros Ventre River in Winter Snow Storm

By February, I had committed to accomplishing a major life goal that I failed the previous year: hiking the Arizona Trail (AZT). As a result, I spent most of my time outdoors walking with a weighted backpack around a loop in the neighborhood. It was accessible from right out of my door, had elevation change, and the mileage could easily be increased. For the most part, this kept me away from my usual outdoor excursions, but every now and then I would get in a snowshoe hike, such as the above photo from the Gros Ventre River. An easy escape was into the nearby Gros Ventre Campground where I would snowshoe back to the river.


Moon in Twilight Sunset

In March I was in Arizona getting everything ready to thru-hike the Arizona Trail. Toward mid-March I hit the trail running (so to speak) and in just a few days was in the amazingly gorgeous Canelo Hills. On my last night before my first checkpoint, I was fortunate enough to witness one of the best sunsets I saw on the entire trail, the tail end of it captured above.


Aspen Grove in Snow Storm

Throughout the month of April I was hiking through the state of Arizona. My hiking legs kicked in mid-March while on the AZT and from then on, I never looked back. Starting March 9th, it took the remainder of April and a day into May to complete the 800-mile trail. The weather was as erratic as the scenery itself. Sky islands, deserts, mountains, barren rock, and forests were just a few of the different environments I went through. For the most part, the weather was very good. Things took a dramatic turn, however, when I reached the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Snow came in and it came in heavy. I met a thru-biker who was waiting out the storm on the front porch of a yet-to-be-occupied cabin for Grand Canyon National Park’s upcoming summer season. We chatted and discussed our options when I leaned out and snapped this shot. This photo was a turning point. It was the first time I was forced off the trail, and left me with the decision to either skip 30 miles, or head back the next day down a closed highway and hope the snow had melted and the weather cleared. Despite extraordinary scenery in the Grand Canyon and the rest of the state of Arizona, this photo always stuck out to me. Read up on that day on my AZT blog here and find out if I went back and finished the entire trail.


Hiker Approaching Slot Canyon

I was off the Arizona Trail and spent the first week of May (and then some) playing around northern Arizona and southern Utah. Still in the habit of not checking weather, I went into Wire Pass to start scoping out some of the area’s famous slot canyons. I was blown away by the narrowness of this and other slots and eagerly sought out more. The above photo captured exactly how I was feeling. I commonly felt as though as I was standing in front of a giant sandstone gorge, no larger than my body. It was, at times, both exciting and intimidating, but having just come off the AZT, I was eager for more adventure. Upon reaching Buckskin Gulch, I opted not to chance the weather and head back.


Sunrise on the Teton Mountains

After over two months of adventuring in the southwest, there was nothing quite like seeing sunrise on the Teton Mountains once again. It was fulfilling, refreshing, and appreciated more than ever. There’s really not much more to say about this one.


Hiker on Peak 9943

After nearly eight years in the Jackson Hole area, it was about time I finally ascended a peak in the Teton Mountains. I had settled into a cozy place in Driggs, Idaho, on the west side of the Teton Mountains, where I began exploring the trail system on that side much more. I made frequent use of the trails at Grand Targhee Ski Resort, so it was only a matter of time I connected the Bannock Trail to Peak 9943. Of course since it was on the way, the actual first peak I summited was Mary’s Nipple. The above shot, however, was taken from Peak 9943, just a short distance east of Mary’s.


Boundary Fire and Light Pollution

With forest fires blazing all over the area, I drove into Yellowstone National Park one night via the West Entrance. To the north of the Madison River along the main road, the Boundary Fire burned and lit the bottoms of clouds. (When there isn’t any light pollution, the bottoms of clouds are normally black.) I began to get a few shots of it, noticing that the white light pollution from West Yellowstone, Montana created an interesting contrast. Combined with the last light of twilight behind the clouds, it made for a colorful and vibrant night scene above the Madison River.


Black Bear in Bushes

Much of the summer I spent happily hiking with my girlfriend back on the east side of the Tetons. One of our go-to hikes was to Phelps Lake. As fall began to sneak in, berries began to ripen and bears began to search the bushes for them. Along the Moose-Wilson Road, hoards of tourists crowd the roads hoping for a glimpse of a black bear. Should one appear, the small and narrow road becomes a Wal-Mart parking lot. Off the road, though, a bear can be enjoyed in its natural element, not distracted by noise, commotion, and dozens of cameras. In the beginning of the month, we were fortunate enough to see one along the trail and sat down and watched the creature enjoy its meal in the calmness of the natural environment.


Blue Hen Falls and Fall Leaves

In mid-October, my girlfriend and I hit the road to head across the country to two different spots on the East Coast. I had never driven across the country, nor had I ever been to the northeast, so I was excited to see all the different changing scenery along the roadsides. In a completely new environment, we stopped into Cuyahoga Valley National Park in eastern Ohio. We did a quick hike to Blue Hen Falls and are both eagerly wanting to get back to see more of the area. Though I also have many favorites from other parts of the trip, this truly felt like I was in a new place and seeing something far beyond anything I had ever seen.


Fall Colors Abstract

On our way back from the trip, we were able to pass through Great Smokey Mountains National Park, another first for me. Once on the Tennessee side, the fall colors were still on full display, much to our delight. Though eager to get home, the infinite possibilities in the abstracts kept us stopping the car repeatedly.


Bull Moose Pair at Sunrise

December is one of my favorite months for wildlife. Elk and bison are still staggering into the National Elk Refuge, and moose are all over Antelope Flats. Such was the case early one morning when my girlfriend and I headed out on a sunrise drive around the Antelope Flats Loop. As the sun poked through clouds and lit up the Tetons, we happened to be near a pair of bull moose up for their morning breakfasts. The silhouette against the warm light was a welcome sign back to the winter that had begun pounding the valley and mountains.

3 thoughts on “Twelve Favorite Photos from 2016”

  1. Pingback: 2016 in Review: Sharing Top Work from My Peers | Max Waugh

  2. Mike fantastic photos as always. Thanks for taking part in my year end “Best Photos of the Year” blog project. Always a pleasure to see your photos each year. I hope you have a great 2017 and with some luck we’ll cross paths soon!

    1. Thanks, Jim! Always honored to be a part it and to see what everybody comes away with. I’m definitely missing California so hopefully we can swing out that way, which you’ll definitely know about it we do. Have a great 2017!

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