So I’ll start with our family vacation to Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. This wasn’t the first of our trips – over the past couple years I’ve also been to Yosemite, Denali, Glacier Bay, the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Zion, Carlsbad Caverns, White Sands (National Monument), as well as others that I either don’t remember or forgot to mention. However, due to a hard drive crash a couple years ago, I lost any photos I had of these places, so I’ll begin with the Tetons.
Just a note: This trip was back in the summer of 2010, so I don’t remember all the details.
We landed probably mid to late day at Jackson Hole airport. I remember looking out to window on the flight and being completely awestruck by the mountain ranges we flew over. It seemed like there were a million mountains and all were 10 times the size of what I was used to seeing. After flying over all mountains for some time, we made a 90 degree turn and were suddenly in a huge valley. Down this valley we went passing over seemingly thousands of rivers and tributaries, until we came upon the airport. After landing, we stepped out onto the tarmac (even though Jackson Hole is a big tourist area, its airport is incredibly small, so there were no jetways); even the view from here was spectacular. Mountains surrounded us and jutted thousands of feet into the air from the valley floor. I had never seen anything like it; where I’m from, “mountains” are only a few hundred feet high and gradually rise to their peaks.
We left the airport, got our car, and drove to our resort in the town of Jackson Hole. I really liked the town; it was small, but nice, and was right next to some great ski resorts, which is always a plus to me.
Jackson Hole and Grand Teton National Park
I don’t remember the exact chronological order of the things that took place on this trip, but I think our first activity was a fly fishing tour in the Snake River (see Image 1). Three of us had never fly fished before (my dad does), so first, we had to learn the technique. After a while, we all got pretty good at casting, although we weren’t having very much luck catching anything. I actually don’t remember if we caught anything all day, but the trip was still a lot of fun because it was a beautiful day and we were surrounded by amazing scenery.
The next day (or it might have actually been the same day), we got up early to go on a guided photography trip around Grand Teton National Park. It was a great way to get familiar with the area and get some photos at the same time (see Images 2, 3).
Our next activity was to explore region a little more on our own. We took a chairlift to the top of the Jackson Hole ski resort and saw why it’s considered to have some of the toughest skiing in the US; it looked like half the runs were black diamonds, some of which seemed like cliffs. Although it looked intimidating, I hope to make it back someday and try the skiing out for myself. At the top, we saw hang gliders taking off from the edge of the ski slopes (see Image 4). That’s when you know the runs are steep.
On our last day at the Tetons (before the return trip), we took a boat across Jenny Lake to do some hiking around the Teton Range. We took probably the narrowest and rockiest major trail I’ve ever been on up to a point above the lake. Sorry to sound like a broken record, but the views were once again spectacular (Image 5, 6). This park still stands as my all-time favorite, and it may stay that way forever. Although not a large national park by any means, the scenery is just incredible. That day, we left the park, but took one final stop before heading to Yellowstone (Image 7).
Yellowstone National Park
The best word I can come up with to describe Yellowstone National Park is unique, although that doesn’t do it justice. I have no idea if there is anywhere else quite like it on Earth.
The first thing we did was go to see Old Faithful. Honestly, I was more astounded by the sheer number of people that came to watch than the geyser itself (Image 8). Not that the geyser wasn’t great, but I think it gets built up a little too much, and the area seemed kind of Disney-ish to me. It is obviously the main attraction in one of the most visited national parks, so there’s a ton of people and cars, as well as a huge resort right next to it. In all honesty, if I were to visit Yellowstone again, I wouldn’t have to go see it.
To me, the coolest attraction of Yellowstone was the Grand Prismatic Spring (Image 9). We took a hike up a really steep hill – it wasn’t really a marked trail – to get the best view. Close up, I don’t think you get to see the incredible color spectrum quite as well. Also, you don’t have to deal with the heat and sulfur smell of the steam coming off the spring. Nobody ever mentioned to me that the entire park smells like eggs, but seriously, be prepared. If you get on the wrong side of the wind, get ready to be blasted by humid, smelly steam. On one hike we took, we walked basically right over some hot springs, and of course, I was downwind when a gust of wind came through. I got nailed by a ton of rank air. Luckily, I was prepared and held my breath, and being the photographer I am, what thought would go through my mind other than “Get the shot!” So, against all odds, I pulled up my camera, removed the lens cap, and snapped one of my personal favorite photos (Image 10). Is this shot going to win any contests? I surely hope not, but I can’t help but laugh a little every time I look at it. On this same hike, we came across a geyser I liked more than Old Faithful (Image 11). There was nobody else around, we were able to get within a few feet of it, and it went off every 10 minutes or so. Sure, the sheer amount of water is much less impressive, but I guess it’s all about what your expectations are.
For our last trip in Yellowstone, we went to see the Lower and Upper Yellowstone Falls. The Lower Falls (Image 12) were impressively large and powerful. At the park, they have a 328 step stairway that leads you down to a viewpoint that is surprisingly close to the falls. In addition, you can drive to the other side of the falls and take a short hike that leads you right to the falls edge (you can see people standing there in the picture). The view down from this balcony is imposing, as millions of gallons of water drop over 300 feet. The Upper Falls are not nearly as large or impressive, but are still worth a trip to see.
Return trip to Jackson Hole
We left Yellowstone and drove back to Jackson Hole for a night or two before our flight home. Our last night there started as a dreary and stormy day, but we decided to head back to the same place we started on the photography excursion to get one last look at the Tetons. All the sudden, on our way there, the weather started to clear up, and it looked like there would be some interesting light with the setting sun and lifting storm clouds. My brother and I ran down the path to set up our cameras and see what would happen. It was still raining some when we got to the viewpoint, but soon it cleared up and we did get some very unique light from the setting sun behind the mountains (Image 13). My parents made it down the trail a few minutes after us, and I believe it was my mom who turned around and pointed out the extraordinary light behind us (Image 14). The last bit of sunlight shone on the rain clouds that had passed and the combination provided almost a faux Aurora Borealis look. I learned a lesson about photography that day: never get too engrossed in one subject before exploring your surroundings; you never know what could be behind you. To this day, I always make sure to turn around every once in a while when out taking photos, and I always turn a full circle around and scan my surroundings before setting up a shot.
Overall, this was one of my favorite trips and I hope to go back and visit both of these parks again someday.