Day 2 – Wednesday – September 28, 2016

General Thoughts

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Day 2 – September 28, 2016 – Anniversary Day

Woke up early this morning and still had the headache along with some blood shot eyes. Another cloudless day with a crescent moon rising at first light. Headed to Starbucks for some “real” coffee to stay alert and go with the cranberry scones and happened to see a photo book there on Wyoming’s Red Desert by Paul Ng. It turns out there are some desert areas that rival the southwest, including Killpecker Dunes right around Rock Springs. It made me think that I might not go all the way to Glacier; it’s over 6 hours each way, a lot of driving for only to weeks. But we’ll see as the trip progresses. Anyway, I think the Starbucks knocked out the headache, because by 10am it was gone!! Very happy about that.
Headed up 191 toward Teton and had about an hour of driving with nothing but wide open spaces for as far as the eye can see until I started following the Hogback River down a steep canyon that included some huge burned out areas. After about 3 hours, got into Jackson expecting to see the Tetons, but they were nowhere to be found. Drove out of Jackson and still nothing. Finally after climbing out of the valley, there they were…Bang!!! It’s not like you see them off in the distance and continually get closer, they just pop out.
Scouted out Schwabacker’s Landing (photo at top) which lived up to the hype as the premier morning location, but even at noon it was pretty good with lots of foreground, framing trees and reflections. Using a really wide lens makes the mountains look a bit small, but a 35mm (full frame) makes them loom quite a bit. Checked out the Snake River Overlook, the famous S-curve in the river, but 1/2 the “S” is blocked now by trees. Oxbow Bend Overlook seems to be another great morning spot from what others have told me today. But, just like Schwabacher’s, you have to get there early for your spot, and even more so at Schwabacher’s since there are limited “great spots”. I’m afraid that the morning light may be pretty flat since the range runs north/south. For late afternoon, I shot around Oxbow Bend with lots of golden aspens and cottonwood trees at peak. Then as the sun drifted down behind the peaks, I went to the south end of Willow Flats Overlook. A huge flat swath of willows and a few trees backlit by the setting sun…simply beautiful. From there, you have a completely unobstructed view of the entire Teton range. It just begs for a panorama. I may try that in the later morning tomorrow. The light should be at a good angle on the mountains, including Mt. Moran, from there. Added to that scene, you could hear rutting elk way off in the distance, mere specks in this giant landscape of gold flats and blue mountains. I tried some panoramas and zoomed in on a few trees that were together in the vast ocean of gold. I kept shooting even after we were all in shade because the same backlit scenes looked differently evenly lit. Got a camp site, just thinking it would be a good idea, but may not even use it, depending on how much I shoot tonight. Will attempt some Milky Ways and light painting of the Chapel of the Transformation near the Moose entrance. Then a few hours of sleep before I stake my claim at Schwabacher’s.
First impressions is that Teton is mostly a grand landscape place. All these national parks are incredible and it would be great to spend several seasons of a few weeks for each park, but that would entail a lifetime of full time photography. You just hope for the right conditions when you’re there and try to make the most of what does occur.

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Day One – Tuesday – Sept 27, 2016

General Thoughts

Several months ago, I had been waffling back and forth for several weeks whether or not to take a journey like the one I begin today, I finally decided to pull the trigger when I discovered a way to rent an SUV (my home for two weeks) at a reasonable cost. I also spent quite a bit of time narrowing down where I wanted the trip to take place. I decided to contact Denis, the photographer I traveled with for a week on the 2014 trip, to see if he was up to doing it again. It turns out that he was driving home from spending five weeks on the road photographing the northwest and it would be too soon for him to head back out on the road for another trip. His wife would kill him! So I had to decide where I wanted to go. The options were narrowed down to three; fly into:

1. San Francisco – head north along the coast through Oregon and come back more inland eventually across the Sierras into Yosemite and back to SF.

2. El Paso – it turns out it’s very close to White Sands, which I’ve wanted to visit for a long time, work my way up through New Mexico into CO for the aspens and swing west into the desert again, or

3. Denver and head up to Grand Teton, Yellowstone and maybe Glacier. I haven’t been up that way since 1978 and had never gone to Glacier which I always wanted to see.

Denver seemed like a good idea since it would be a different environment from the several trips into the desert I’ve taken over the years, although the desert weather always seemed to be good and it always seemed to rain when I went into the mountains. But renting an SUV for two weeks at the Denver airport was rediculous!! Over $1300!! Add airfare and it approaches two grand even before I drive a single mile. But I made a discovery, if I rent the same car from the same rental company not at the airport, but in Denver itself, the price drops precipitously to about $550!! Now it’s less than $1K!! Just grab Uber to bring me downtown, AND I can drop off the car at the airport when I’m done without any penalty; it was a no-brainer.

So all the research was done (almost 30 Pages worth) on these three national parks, gathering detailed maps and photos, discovering some current fires, road and area closures in Yellowstone, consulted the photographer’s epheremis and loads of google maps, various destination possibilities in the surrounding areas, driving times, and so many other references, packed and headed out on an adventure that I can only hope would come close to the experience I had on the month long trip in 2014.

The planeride to Denver was good and on time, except for a 15 minute delay getting a gate. Had a little trouble using Uber for the first time (not a surprise considering my lack of intersphere talents), but met a great lady to take me into town for the rental. By the time we got there we were friends and she gave me a big hug when she left. A great way to start the trip. Ended up with a Ford Flex which was perfect with a bench seat instead of the gas-guzzling, monstrous Expedition with captain’s chairs they had planned to give me. So it will be my home for the next two weeks. Drove to Rock Springs, WY and discovered along the way that you can see 50 miles in every direction without seeing a single tree!! This is Big Sky country to say the least. There were more trucks on the highway than cars and speedlimit was 75 with 80 in a few spots, drove over the continental divide at 7000-ft. just past the Flying J gas station (with the only tree anywhere in view) and as I got close to Rock Springs, the white hot sun was setting and I was driving right into it, being blinded. Checked into Motel 6 and first room had no heat, so changed rooms, headed to McDonalds for the usual chicken sandwhich and wi-fi, then over to Walmart for supplies including $40 (ouch) worth of bear spray, only because everyone said I should carry it and I want to return home without a big chunk of me missing. Then onto Home Depot for a piece of masonite to bridge the gap in the floor of the SUV, shower and it was already 1am eastern time.

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Flying J Travel Plaza, WY

One thing I was hoping I would not experience that I always seem to do on these trips, is a nagging headache. It seems to build after getting off the plane and gets worse as the day progresses. I took Tylenol which didn’t help much, but if the past is any indication, it usually goes away by the third day. Hopefully sooner. Anyway, looking forward to some Starbucks (yes, they have one) and Orah’s cranberry scones for breakfast in the morning.

 

Two Years

General Thoughts

Mesa Arch at Sunrise — Canyonlands National Park, UT © jj raia — from the 2014 trip

It’s hard to believe that two years have gone by since this blog was first started. It’s original purpose was simply to provide a means to more easily record a “journal” of my month long trip out west in the autumn of 2014 since in all prior years of much shorter trips, journals were handwritten each day the old fashion way: with pen and paper; a tedious process at best. By being able to more easily type and to put it up on the web every few days when I had internet access, it also allowed my family to follow along on the adventure. But I have to admit, it was a bit boring as each day I usually recorded locations of where I photographed and how I managed to find them, some people I met and other information I might utilize or pass along to others who may visit the same areas in the future. Beginning on September 27th, it will revert back to that format of a daily “diary” for a few weeks (only two this time) when I head out to visit some national parks I haven’t been to since 1978 and a few places I’ve never been to before.

Right now, I’m spending a lot of time doing my research of possible photographic locations, pictures of those places, drive times between them, road closures, campgrounds, places where showers are available, sun and moon rise/set times, and a whole host of information gathered from the internet, books and travel guides. Generally, there is no itinerary except the dates of my flight’s arrival and departure, just winging it as I go. As is usually the case, I have booked a room for my first night, because of the long travel day, noting that there is a Walmart close by to get my supplies and a Home Depot in case I need some wood to level out the floor of the SUV I rent. I may also plan for a hotel on the night of the second presidential debate although it will begin at 7pm Mountain Time which is just around sunset, so that might not work out very well. A lot will depend on the weather, but I do bring a set up for using an umbrella if it rains lightly, however windy downpours usually means finding a place with internet access to “hang around” for several hours or travel to the next location if not blocked by snow as it was in 1978. I am hoping for some snow though.

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Final Sunrise at Shoshone Point, Grand Canyon — from the 2014 trip

So, little by little, I’m building up my informational looseleaf (20-pages so far) which I bring along for easy reference in making decisions about what’s available to shoot and when to shoot it at each location, drive times and distances to the next possible place; basically everything I might need to make decisions about what to do as the trip progresses. The looseleaf used to have all the paper in which I wrote my journal as well, but now it’s all done on the iPad.
If this trip is one-tenth as great as my 2014 trip was, I will be thankful. I’ve always felt it was such a rewarding, almost life-changing experience, I’ve been reluctant to do another for fear of disappointment in comparison to the high bar that trip left in it’s wake. Photographically, it was pretty successful in that as Jim Richardson, a National Geographic photographer, once said:

“To be a better photographer, stand in front of better stuff!”

And boy!…was he right because I stood in front of some incredible places and I hope to do so again. This time I will pack a laptop and hopefully be able to work on a few images that may be worthy of posting, so it won’t be just iPhone shots as it was last time. So, if you’d like to follow along, prepare to be bored and if you like, spread the boredom by telling some other folks who might be interested. This way there might be more than the three people who followed two years ago. Posts may be sporadic and days may be combined as internet access will not be available everywhere and there may be many hours of driving between locations; it’s a big country out there.