For many of us the Tetons are everything mountains should be. They’re big, they’re rugged, they’re filled with wildlife that could eat you and they take your breath away the first time you see them. Hell, I’ve seen them dozens of times and my heart still skips a beat every time they come into view which frankly doesn’t happen often enough. I spent the first two weeks of June wandering around those mountains on what was supposed to have been a very active, very productive photography trip. On the first day of the trip I developed a cough. I spent the next two weeks hacking away like a 3 pack a day smoker, losing sleep at night thanks to coughing fits that even the strongest over the counter cough medicine couldn’t cure. Upon returning home I went to the doctor, who informed me that the reason for my terrible cough was a full-blown case of bronchitis.
On top of contracting bronchitis, the weather in the Tetons was less than desirable. It rained and rained and rained. It rained so much, in fact, that it caused excessive snowmelt in the high country. Excessive snowmelt combined with excessive rain creates flooding. The Snake River and all it’s tributaries were raging like I’d never seen before. Undeterred by bronchitis, flooding, overcast skies and incessant rain, I struck out on a few mornings with high hopes that something dramatic would happen during a lull in the storm. And, one morning – it did.
That fateful morning I was headed to Oxbow Bend to photograph the classic sunrise scene we’re all uber-familiar with after seeing thousands of photos of this iconic location. There were stars in the sky, something I hadn’t seen for several days. Oh yes, something magical was going to happen! As I drove along the road toward Oxbow Bend I noticed fog building in the valley below the peaks, which were also visible for the first time since I arrived in Jackson. I found a spot along the side of the road with a majestic view of Mt. Moran towering over a meadow filled with willows and aspen trees. I decided to forego Oxbow Bend for an opportunity to photograph something totally unique, if the conditions persisted. Fortunately, luck was on my side.
As the sun rose it illuminated the broad slopes of Mt. Moran’s hulking shoulders lording over the meadow that was filling fast with statuesque elk. Fog drifted in and out of the willows and began to rise, veiling the peak in a thin layer of translucent clouds. As I stood there car after car pulled up and parked, and soon there were at least a dozen other photographers working this amazing scene alongside me. It was the kind of morning I would trade a week worth of blue skies for, and for a few hours I almost forgot about my cough, my aching head, the oh-dark-thirty start and the persistent nasty weather.
I spent 6 hours photographing the ever-changing conditions from several different locations. I only called it quits when my stomach reminded me that nourishment was necessary to keep my body moving and my mind semi-sharp. Almost all of my images from the trip were made that morning as the overcast skies and spitting rain closed in again later in the afternoon. Still, I feel fortunate to have witnessed such a dynamic display of weather and light mixed with a little bit of magic in one of my favorite places on the planet. If it takes suffering through bronchitis for the opportunity to photograph those conditions again – bring on the cough…and the antibiotics!
I’ll share more images from the trip soon in the “New Images” gallery on my website. Until then, I’d love to hear about your best experiences photographing dynamic conditions in one of your favorite places. Leave a comment so we can all enjoy your story!