2014-09 WA/OR/ID/WY/MT 3/4
Day 12/Saturday/September 20:
I am glad we gave our tent camping neighbors firewood as it was cold last night. We broke camp (easy to do with a truck camper) and drove south to the Tetons. One of my bucket list photography locations is Oxbow Bend along the Snake River. There is guaranteed to be a crowd of photographers waiting for the early light to hit the Tetons above the glowing gold of the aspens groves. Anyone can photograph here; access is anywhere you park along the roadside. I knew we wouldn’t arrive in time for the early morning light so we drove along Jackson Lake taking our time, stopping at Moose Falls.
The Flagg Ranch Visitor Center was closed for the season (I wanted info on dispersed camping) so we drove on to scout out a camping spot for the night. While we were taking a bathroom break at a picnic area near Fonda Point/Lizard Creek Campground, we met a Four Wheel Camper owner from Idaho. He advised us to travel down the Pacific Creek Road to boon dock on USFS land. I had circled it on our benchmark Wyoming map as a place to check out. He confirmed that it was a decent place.
Since it was along the way, we joined the hordes along Oxbow Bend. We managed to snag a place to park along the road among the large RVs and tour busses. It was a clear, cloudless day showcasing the brilliant blues and golds. I scouted the area for a spot to shoot from in the early dawn as it would be dark when we came to shoot tomorrow or the next day.
Just a short drive south from Oxbow Bend was the turn east onto Pacific Creek Road. We drove on a paved road for a time then past the turn for private residences. After the turn to the left, it became an easy graded gravel road where we encountered another Four Wheel Camper on a truck with FWC graphics. He was in a hurry but waved to us. We didn’t drive all the way in but decided that this would be fine for a night or two.
We backtracked out to visit Two Ocean Lake reached by taking the first fork before the road continues back to the highway. Parking was at a premium here and we just squeezed in. It is a lovely lake but too many people spoiled what could be solitude. There were trails that you could explore here and at Emma Matilda Lake but there were bears in the area and Toller was not allowed on the trails. We headed back to the main road, stopping along a pullover to eat lunch.
It was still early so we decided to visit Mormon Row and the famous Moulton Barn where, in 2010 I was fortunate to photograph a double rainbow behind the iconic structure. I found a good place to plant my tripod for a morning shot (Tetons are primarily for early risers as the range is lit up with the first rays at dawn). A quick look at our map showed that Flats Road was a good candidate for boon docking. We drove past a huge mega-mansion that displayed larger than life bronze figures of a Native American on a horse that was pawing the air and several men in a canoe hitting rapids at an angle. Very stunning and very expensive.
I wasn’t sure if we were within park boundaries but we saw some folks camping off the road so decided this would be a good spot amongst groves of aspens with a million dollar view of the Teton Range. After supper, I searched for the perfect backlit aspen images and found one near our campsite. We watched the sun set behind the Tetons and fell asleep under the clear night skies.
Day 13/Sunday/September 21:
If you want to photograph that special predawn light, you have to arise early. We broke camp quickly then headed the short distance toward the Moulton Barn. There were already several photographers there and I set up my gear at the spot I had chosen yesterday. Funny that we all chose to be at an angle to the building rather than directly in front. Just our artists’ eyes that line up the perfect framing.
The clouds were lovely but the more dramatic ones were outside of my ideal composition. I had to go really wide to include them. The light didn’t hit the front of the barn as I wanted but just to be there was exciting. My company was a great group of other photographers who were glad to be there, too. I met a guy whose brother’s blog I follow. He was a fine photographer in his own right. I have his card somewhere. Usually, I am the lone female but there was one other this morning. I don’t think she really knew what she was doing as she was asking many questions. This is poor etiquette as you never interrupt someone shooting during peak light.
Since we were near the Gros Ventre area, we drove south on Mormon Row to its intersection with Gros Ventre Road. This scenic road will bring you through the Gros Ventre Slide area. In 1925 a huge rock slide tumbled down the north face of Sheep Mountain, across the Gros Ventre River and uphill for 300 feet. This created a large dam across the river which, in 1927, partially failed causing a flood which destroyed the town of Kelly downstream. There is an overlook above Lower Slide Lake where you can see the slide area. This lake also has the Atherton Creek campground.
Driving on, we came to the red hills. I remember that the area was prettier in the spring when the green fields contrast more deeply with the red of the hills. Still, it is lovely and the complementary color scheme is stunning. We passed by several campgrounds (Red Hills and Crystal Creek). There was a beautiful ranch property along the banks across the river.
The road continued but we decided to quit early to check out River Road, a 4×4 road that parallels the Snake River. We started driving it but it hadn’t been graded for some time and washboards really bother my husband’s back. We returned to Teton Park Road. Since we were close to Jackson and getting low on fuel, we went on into town to get fuel and a few groceries at the Albertsons.
Returning from Jackson, we headed up the highway to the Pacific Creek Road to camp for the night. There were a few vehicles parked off the road but they weren’t very private and we weren’t desperate yet. We found a rutted road that led to a clearing. There were several horses tethered and one who was in a portable corral. We saw the FWC guy from Idaho and talked about places to explore. There was a very nice spot down by Pacific Creek which was occupied. We settled for a place off the muddy road near some cottonwoods but not too close. We call them widow makers back home. Early to bed for early we shall rise in the morning to grab a spot at Oxbow Bend.
Day 14/Monday/September 22:
It was a dark and stormy morning, but photographers are ever hopeful for a break in the clouds or a stray shaft of light. What I previewed from this morning didn’t excite me. I only had time to process the 5 stars during the week we returned home before our next epic trip to the Southwest. I mainly shot reflections of the aspens in the water as the Tetons didn’t want to come out to play. While waiting for some drama, I met a gal who took her photography seriously. Three camera bodies, all Nikon, one set up on remote firing every few seconds. She had just quit her job as one of mayor deBlasio’s staff photographers because, as she said, she was tired of podium shots. We had quite a bit in common (Nikons, suspicious of Adobe CC, etc.) but I didn’t get her card.
We drove north to explore a gravel road to the river where there used to be a cattleman’s bridge before the area became a national park (interesting history of the conflict between ranchers, conservationists and the Rockefellers). I shot a few reflections then we moved on.
I wanted to photograph Schwalbacher’s Pond so we drove down to the parking area. I shot a few reflections near the trailhead but soon the rain dampened any further attempts. It was a nice place for a lunch as not many people ventured down here except for serious photographers who were probably here much earlier for the classic shot.
Antelope Flats was just down the highway so we headed east. The clouds and sun were playing peekaboo with the aspens and cottonwoods in the Antelope Flats Road area. The lighting was dramatic for afternoon photography so we parked off the road so I could mingle with buffalo. Not really, they are powerful animals and you do not want to get in their way. They are faster than you think so I kept a watchful eye on them and the light.
Soon, it was time to return to Pacific Creek Road for the night. The light was fading and storm clouds were brewing. Returning, I saw some really dramatic lighting at the parking lot just before Oxbow so we pulled to shoot some of the more dramatic shots of our trip. The aspens obligingly lit up, the Tetons were dark brooding hulks and the clouds were ominously black, grey and navy. This is what I love about photography: the suspense, the drama, the beautiful locations, and the surprising compositions you can find just off the highway. I was joined by an Asian couple who stood right next to me when there was plenty of room many yards on either side of me. Maybe it is the culture or maybe they thought I looked like I knew what I was doing. They were shooting wide, I was shooting long.
We drove to Pacific Creek Road just a short jaunt away and parked next to the sign that marked the USFS/NP boundary. As good as any, we thought. This is bear country so we kept our bear spray handy. Toller was quiet all night so we didn’t need to worry but it still pays to be “bear aware”.
Day 15/Tuesday/September 23:
We were up early to return to Oxbow Bend, in the dark. As we approached the target area, we could see photographers’ head lamps which made it easier to find. When it is dark in the Tetons, it is dark. They sky looked promising so I set up at “my” spot. The clouds over the Tetons began to color up and I believe there may be some keepers in amongst some duds. I broke my split neutral density filter and don’t own enough flash card capacity to set my camera up for HDR (3-9 shots of the same scene in ½ to 1 stop increments). At least I have Nik’s HDR Effex Pro which will do tone mapping with a single exposure and balance out the highlights/shadows.
Sadly, we left the Tetons and headed into Jackson for fuel, this time stopping at Smith’s for groceries then we were on our way to the Green River Lakes area north of Pinedale. We followed 26/89/189/191 south to Hoback Junction where we turned southeast on 189/191. This highway passes through Hoback Canyon which has a nice campground between the Hoback River and the highway. We may return for photographic possibilities.
When we plan for trips, I, the planner/navigator, look carefully for POI and geologic features that may be interesting to explore and photograph. One such feature I wanted to check out in Wyoming on this route was the Open Door on Granite Creek Road (USFS Road 30500). Also, Granite Hot Springs and Granite Falls might prove worth the drive and a place to camp. We started up the road but signs at the beginning indicated the hot springs were closed. We drove on anyway but the road deteriorated so we stopped to have a snack and return to the highway. In the winter it is a Snopark.
We passed through ranch country and trophy homes and the town of Bondurant. Just before the Green River at Daniel Junction, 191/189 divides and we drove east on 191 toward 352, the road that would take us to the Green River Lakes area. We drove by by small towns like Cora and ranches like the Flying U and Circle S and The Place and Green River Guest Ranch, closed and for sale. The aspens were in their prime glowing red and gold against the blue sky.
352 eventually changes from paved to gravel as it enters the Bridger Teton National Forest becoming USFS Road 650. It follows the Green River until its headwaters at Green River Lakes. The road is rough in places and graded in others. I will tell you now, the long drive drive is worth it. There is an official campground along the way, Whiskey Grove but there are also many places to disperse camp.
Waiting for us at the end of the road was the Green River Lakes campground. It had just officially closed for the season so was free. We were one of two campers there plus the camp host who was leaving the next day. The light was fading fast so I grabbed my equipment and headed down to the shore. I discovered this place from the cover of a book on camping in Wyoming. Squaretop Mountain is reflected in the lake along with White Rock (I think that’a the name). If the lake is clear of any ripples, the reflection is stunning. It is an evening shot as the fading light highlights the peaks.
While I was shooting, a fisher in his canoe came toward shore. He asked if he was bothering my shots and I replied, no way, you add to the images. He obliged by casting his line as he paddled back and forth across the lake. I shot some photos of his catch with his P&S (it was too damaged to release, the fish, not the camera) and we chatted awhile. Nice guy who lives in Colorado and loves to fish. I did send the images I shot of him after we returned home.
Tired, but happy, I walked up to the camper, ate dinner and fell promptly asleep.