KEEPING IT REAL AND LIVING LIFE TO THE FULLEST
A Westward Adventure Part I
In the summer of 2011 my old friend Gary Lougher and I reconnected through facebook and began reminiscing and talking about the old times, past memories, where lifes path had taken us, our careers and our families. Gary and I have known each other since childhood. Gary’s parents and my parents were friends and used to drag us kids around everywhere in the late ’60′s and 70′s. In fact, I think we even hung out in a crib together as infants while our parents hung out. Through our teen years and after high school our differences, goals and associations took us in opposite directions. I believe however that we always had a common bond and a connection with respect to issues that our families shared and especially our dads. There was always some sort of “missing piece” in both our lives that we could deeply connect with and respect in each other. It was easy to talk to Gary. We saw a lot of ourselves in each other.
What started out as a question of me asking Gary if he was going to try to come home in the summer for a class reunion, as we both graduated from Sayre Area High School in 1986, ended in a plan to go out West to visit another classmate that had moved to Wyoming after high school and now owned and operated a hunting outfitters business. Gary and I had both agreed that we needed some time and space to just think and breath. I was begining to get serious about my photography after years of creativity and different ventures with music and art. Gary, in the meantime was looking to find an outlet to expand his creative writing skills and his life coaching interest. Gary had inspired me through some friendly coaching and reminded me of something I knew all too well but always seemed to forget. “Life is way too short not to take risks and pursue your dreams”. So after I confronted my fear of flying, my fear of spending money that I didn’t think I had to spend on such a trip and my fear of leaving my family for a week to sleep out in a tent in the Rocky Mountains with Grizzly Bears roaming the wild, it was on. We started planning what would be a week long trip backpacking and roughing it through Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons. Gary would write and I would photograph our adventure, our thoughts and our journey of self discovery, freedom and authenticity. Thats when the idea for the book “The Power of Authenticity” began to emerge.
The last time I flew was in 1991 and I was never a fan. Twenty years later I found myself nervously boarding a plane again, this time out of Binghamton, NY to Dulles Airport in DC then finally to Denver Airport where I met up with Gary. I was sitting at the bar drinking a Denver microbrew and texting Gary. The next thing I knew he was practically running down the terminal as he was late. I hadn’t seen him in years but it was as if not a day had passed. We laughed, shook hands, he had a soda while I finished my pale ale and then we both hopped on a little puddle jumper with four other passengers and headed to the very small Sheridan, Wyoming airport. After arriving in Sheridan we called Brian and recieved directions to his home. He was off working on his ranch but told us to make ourselves at home as he would be there in a few hours. We packed the rental car and drove to Brian’s beautiful log home adorned with dozens of trophy bucks, sheep, antelope and antlers of all sorts. That first night we stayed at Brian’s place. He showed us around Sheridan, took us to his ranch and we went to dinner. This was the first time I can say I ever tried bison. The bison burger, I must admit, was one of the best burgers I ever had. After getting back to Brian’s and loading up the rental car with all our camping gear, tent, sleeping bags and food, we finally crashed late but got up early and decided to take the scenic drive to Yellowstone through the Big Horn Mountains. WOW was my first impression.
I swear we could have easily spent our entire week in the Big Horn mountains. Having only previously ventured as far West as Chicago, my eyes and soul were not prepared for the visions that I would experience out West. What I had seen in Sheridan, the ranch, the wild open spaces, the massive mule deer standing right next to the road and now these massive, sprawling ancient mountains with views and vistas as far as the eye could see, massive rock outcroppings, mountain streams and waterfalls would not compare to what we would encounter and see over the course of the next week. We were driving straight into Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Tetons via the Big Horn Mountains and the Shoshone National Forrest. I had never experienced such grand and beautiful natural wonders. I certainly felt small and miniscule.
One of our first actual views of Yellowstone was the Northeastern side of Yellowstone Lake. We had finally arrived at our destination, Yellowstone National Park. We did not even seem to mind or notice the long drive to our first campsite which was at the very far Western end of the lake at Grant Village. After our first night at Grant, we decided to take a day and drive to the Tetons, return to Grant Village for the night and head north to a campsite near the canyon. We had surveyed our maps and guides, and had determined that other than the Grand Tetons, there was not much in lower Yellowstone that we would be interested in photographing or writing about. I will however, always remember seeing Yellowstone Lake for the very first time and how long it actually took to drive around it.
Gary and I set our alarms for 3 a.m. after finally crawling into our tent around 10 p.m. We had spent the first day in the park driving, mapping out locations, and setting up our itenerary for the week. However we were both so excited I don’t think either one of us slept much at all that first night. Our plan was to get up early to catch the sunrise on the Grand Tetons and head over to the famous Oxbow bend and Schwabacher Landing as well as Mormon Row. Gary was not overly familiar with these very iconic locations that every photographer dreams of shooting at least once in his or her lifetime, but he was more than willing to accomodate my creative and childlike giddiness and awe when it came to shooting these famous locations. He was quite patient with me and many times while I was setting up my shot or scouting a location, he would just relax and take it in or journal and take little notes that would later be used in our book “The Power of Authenticity”. One thing was for sure, it couldn’t get any more real that when we were staring at that golden sunrise when it began to slowly but surely light up the Grand Tetons the way it had for millions of years. Here we were, two small specks in the universe, watching in amazement as this awesome spectacle unfolded right before our eyes.
Gary and I trekked out to our location at Schwabachers Landing while it was still dark out and yes, the thought of a rogue grizzly was always in the back of my mind but I reminded myself of such things as that the odds of winning the lottery or the odds of getting struck by lighting were about the same as the odds of getting mauled by a grizzly. I could have been wrong in my mode of thinking and rationalizing my situation, however, it allowed me to manage my anxiety and focus on getting the shot. We spent the good part of an hour at Schwabachers as the sun gradually illuminated the entire massive peaks that rose before us. Before we bid farewell to the first real shoot of our trip we noticed several other photographers were starting to converge near us with their cameras and tripods. I am proud to say that we were the early birds and were definitely the first ones on the spot at Schwabachers that morning. Next on the list was Mormon Row.
While we were at Mormon Row many other tourists, latecomers and photographers started arriving and meandering around and it began to get difficult to get in all the shots that I would have liked to due to the crowds. The sun was also starting to rise in the sky which made for some dificult landscape photography. High dynamic range (HDR) photography requires in many instances shooting long exposures during the bracketing sequence and this can be quite challenging with even the slightest of movement, especially people moving in and out of the frame. I felt, however, that I had grabbed the shots I wanted and was satisfied with the shoot at Mormon Row and the photos of the rustic barns and landscape with the cool fences, horses and the mighty Tetons including Mt. Moran in the distance. Gary and I spent the rest of the day exploring all the cool little shops, stores, restaurants and tourists traps in Jackson Hole. I was able to pick up some nice sweatshirts and trinkets for my girls back home. We grabbed some lunch including some outstanding local elk and bison jerky. We also found a nice camera store on Main Street where we were able to kill some time. I was considering purchasing another ND filter for my 70-200mm lens; but this being a tourist town, the prices were jacked way too high for my taste. With it getting late afternoon and the sun now starting to settle again, we headed North back toward our campsite. There was one more gem in store for us on our way back to Grant Village. We decided to take as many scenic routes as we could find while driving and one of those led us to my favorite location of our entire trip. The water was cool and crystal clear with the Tetons reflecting off the water that was as still as glass. The colors were amazing, the smell was clean and fresh, the sound was peaceful and calm. We found Jenny Lake. A gem indeed.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but our stop at Jenny Lake on that first night of our weeklong adventure would turn out to leave the most lasting and peaceful impression on me. I told Gary that if we were ever travel to Yellowstone again we would most definitely make Jenny Lake our base camp. As it turns out, there are many photo opportunities and exiting activities to participate in at Jenny Lake alone, including kayaking, camping, hiking, canoeing, fishing, swimming and more. It was, at least for me, the most beautiful and picturesque location that we visited during our trip to Wyoming and Yellowstone. It was my favorite place to photograph and many of my Jenny Lake photos are among my personal favorites. Due to an ironic twist of fate, I suppose, one of my favorite memories while at Jenny Lake was wading out knee deep in the crisp clear water in my five dollar rubber crocs that I had purchased back in Sheridan before we even left for Yellowstone. I had purchased an awesome pair of expensive Columbia hiking boots back home as I knew there would be much hiking involved during our trip. As it turns out, those expensive boots needed some major breaking in. I put them on for the first time while at Brian’s place and wore them that first night when Brian took us to his ranch and around town. By morning my feet were aching and raw and I was not a happy camper. So before we began our drive through the Big Horn’s, I insisted that Gary find the nearest Walmart in town so I could get a comfortable pair of shoes as the only footwear I brought with me were those new stiff boots and an old pair of sandals that I wore on the plane. Those five dollar crocs were on my feet for the duration of our time in Yellowstone. I was glad I had them at Jenny Lake.
After not getting much sleep the previous night and waking up at 3 a.m. for the Schwabachers shoot, we were both quite exhausted and ready to just get back to camp and relax. We drove North back to our campsite at Grant Village and made a plan to return to Oxbow bend and the Snake River overlook the following day before relocating to Canyon campground later that evening. We passed several herds of elk and bison that appeared more abundant and active in the evening hours. We stopped on a few occasions just to simply watch the animals as well as to grab a few shots. We thought it funny when we came upon a stray bison walking alone down the center yellow line in the road as if returning home from a long days work, as we were. He moved out of the way for us as we approached him from the rear and did not seem phased at all by our staring and me sticking a lens out of the car window at him.
After arriving at our campsite late and having a few snacks, we briefly discussed our agenda for the next day including hitting the Snake River overlook and Oxbow bend as well as finalizing our plan to relocate our camp to Northern Yellowstone near the Canyon area for the remainder of our stay in the park. We crawled into our sleeping bags, set our alarms and bid farwell to our first full day in Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Tetons. Seeing the stars in night sky in the Rocky Mountains was simply the icing on the cake following an amazing day of companionship, hiking and taking photographs. I couldn’t wait for tomorrow.
TO BE CONTINUED
This entry was posted on Wednesday, April 11th, 2012 at 9:39 pm
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Tags: authenticity, grand tetons, hdr, jenny lake, landscape, landscape photography, mormon row, motivation, old faithful, outdoor photography, oxbow bend, schwabacher landing, snake river, wyoming, yellowstone, yellowstone national park
Posted in: adventures