Jackson Hole, Wyoming – one of my favourite towns in the world.
I say “town”, rather than “city”, as while it has the population and designation of the latter, this amazing little place still manages to exude that feeling of a classic American wild-west town from years gone by.
Nestled to the south of Grand Teton National Park and its mountain range which spans for miles to the north towards Yellowstone, the views here are quite incredible. With harsh winters and warm summers, you really do get a sense of seasonality, the whole time being situated 6,500ft up.
A fantastic ski resort through the winter, for the rest of the year Jackson Hole retains its charm as “the last of the old west”, with its town festivals, historic buildings, traditional saloons and country music – plus a fine selection of cowboy boot and hat fitters in every direction.
Having not been in town for a couple of years now, landing back into the crisp mountain air of Wyoming felt great (in part, at least, as it meant we were released from the hideousness which is American Airlines’ domestic “service”!).
A fun little go-around due to a wind shift on landing meant great views of the Teton Range in both directions. And on arrival, I have to thank the Springhill Suites for sticking their pictures to the wall at a similar angle to that of a plane taking off, allowing the feeling of flight to continue for just that little bit longer too….
That said – it was a refreshing (if a little sad) change from the last hotel I visited in Jackson Hole – which was either modelled on, or not updated since, the 1930’s!
I did say it was a little trapped in the past, didn’t I?
With my mini hotel review over, let’s get back to the reason I was in town once again – to capture two stunning locations just north of where we were. Last time, I spent 4 mornings trying to capture sunrise over the T A Moulton Barn on Mormon Row with mixed success.
While one of my final shots of that trip was of a truly spectacular sunrise cloud formation, I wanted to see if we could get even more variety over this iconic wooden barn during this visit.
Looking back at the last time I was in town, a little over 2 years ago now, I have to say things felt very different. It’s still the same town, with the same traditions I’ve learned of during my time there, but something just didn’t feel right.
Places and lookouts which were once a haven of solitude and reflection had become full to the brim of people, and it wasn’t long before the reason became very clear…
Sadly, news of this amazing little corner of the world has spread to the Chinese tour group operators – as their buses churn, one after the other, through town and on to the National Park, delivering drive-by-social-media-snappers en-mass with all the peacefulness and serenity of a 3,000 strong brass band.
With that in mind, I worry for Jackson’s future – and its ability to remain as “the last of the old west” when faced with such forces.
- Good for the local economy? Well, people say so, I’m really not convinced.
- Good for nature, wildlife and our planet, as they grab as many “souvenirs” from the wilderness as they can see, ignoring all signposts and leaving destruction behind in every step? No, most definitely not.
Off the beaten track, there are still huge pockets of nature that can be explored in the peace and quiet – don’t worry – but I do fear for what might happen long-term if these early signs of what’s to come are any form of reference.
Heading north towards Yellowstone National Park, you’ll quickly come to Oxbow Bend – looking out over Mount Moran, named after the American western frontier landscape artist, Thomas Moran. Rising 6,000ft above Jackson Lake, from this direction it’s probably the most distinctive feature in view…
Unfortunately, on such grey days, even with the stunning reflections in the water and the views from Jackson Lake Lodge, the weather couldn’t quite deliver that “wow” image I’d hoped for at this location. Definitely an “iPhone day”, as I call them, but still fantastic to be out in the mountains and fresh air…
So back to the Teton Range we go – and this particular part of the river which has impressed, encouraged, frustrated and fascinated me over the years. With each shot I take in this location, a completely different mood is captured – from approaching torrential storms, to calm sunny afternoons, to stunning pink skies in the morning after a fiery sunset the night before.
Sure, there are still those grey days where I haven’t clicked even once – but they’re far outweighed by the sheer awesomeness of the view across to the Grand Teton mountain range from our little riverbank below. And boy, when I say different moods…
That’s an October sunset – I wasn’t entirely happy with the shot itself, as the water held a lot of floating debris and plant material at this time of year, but just look at that sky!
Talking of skies, how about a dark and stormy spring evening, the clouds building across Grand Teton itself while still allowing the sun’s rays to shine through just before hitting the horizon:
And then, of course, there’s “the shot” – the shot I’d pictured for a long time here. Despite my many attempts to capture the feeling of calm that you get the second you arrive at this location (aside from the odd duck-fight in the water below), I’d never managed to get lucky with the right mix of colours, reflections and clouds while shooting. Until this morning, that is:
Shot on the Phase One IQ4/150MP at 151 megapixels with their tack-sharp 35mm Blue-Ring XF lens, this image will always bring me straight back to that feeling I get when I’m stood at that very spot. A balance of calm, cool, spring morning air, coupled with the warmth of the sunlight that’s just beginning to hit the mountain range and light up the sky above.
With the reflections so fleeting in nature (thanks, ducks…!) this was a risky 2 minute exposure that paid off. I have shorter captures, but there’s something important in my mind about showing the movement of the morning clouds above in scenes such as these – like a painting in the sky.
So, what to do on a day like that, to celebrate getting the shot? Why, you head across to the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar to sit and enjoy a can of Jenny Lake Lager while sat on a row of saddles with your friends, of course…
And with all that excitement being too much for one night, it was back to the early morning starts to capture location number 2 in this amazing little town : Mormon Row.
Wyoming has done a great job of protecting some of the most iconic old wooden barns I’ve had the good fortune to see while travelling around the USA. Few can claim more fame than the T A Moulton barn and John Moulton barn, located either side of Mormon Row.
From their arrival in the 1890’s, I doubt the owners of the 27 homesteads which make up this historic district had any idea their buildings would be the subject of hotel murals and fine art prints for centuries to come – but what a stunning view they settled on to construct them at the time. A view that helped ensure this district was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1997.
While the, arguably, more often photographed barn is the T A Moulton homestead (above), the John Moulton ranch and barn further to the north sits in an equally impressive scene during each day’s sunrise.
And while a very different shape, there’s something just as charming about this structure. Plus, you get the added excitement in the early morning as the bison in the surrounding fields want to come and see what you’re doing… in the shadows… all alone… as they look straight at you… and breathe… heavily… yeah…
That said, there’s a reason people flock to the T A Moulton barn across the road – and there was a reason I would continue to do so as well. It’s just iconic. It’s isolated, it’s simple, it’s pure, and it sits in such a location that means I will be eternally jealous of those who lived here before.
My image from a few years back at sunrise had delivered the crazy fire in the sky at sunrise (earlier on in this post), but one of the most frustrating things about shooting this location in the morning is the frequent display of amazing colour behind me, while everyone focuses on the barn and the mountains to the west.
So it was time to mix it up a little – and shoot this so-called “sunrise location” in the evening, just to see…
At first, this looked like an impossible challenge. A spiky mountain range (so, no line of horizon) coupled with the bright sun falling directly behind them means the brightest part of the image is just above the ridge, rendering most graduated filters redundant.
A Center-GND might have helped, but you’d also be taking out even more of the light from the top of the silhouetted barn at the same time. I resigned myself to the fact that this shot was only ever going to work after the sun had physically set. I can tell you, it’s a long 45 minute wait for the sun to finally hit the horizon when you’re not entirely sure it’ll be worth it…
Oh, but it was.
As the sky darkened down, the balance of exposure fell right back into place. With a soft GND on the front of the camera, we were back on track, and just in time for the final wisps of colour to ignite in the sky above.
Many people wonder why I take so many iPhone shots – and the answer is two-fold:
- So I have a record of what I saw at the time, unedited, raw (although, granted, the iPhone’s processing does some funny things to landscape images sometimes!) – for people to see that really was what was there.
- (More importantly), so I have a reference when we load these huge files up from the 151 megapixel digital back, allowing me to ensure we use the right settings to match what nature intended us to see.
So when somebody asks – “was the sky really that colour?”
While I can’t answer for other peoples’ images, for my own part, I can indeed – categorically – say “yes”.
And what an explosion of colour it was.
Somehow, standing out there next to an old wooden barn took me right back to the first impression I had of this corner of the USA. It’s stunning. It’s rustic. It’s raw. It’s old-time America with an added twist of pure mountain air.
The big tourist buses may now be well and truly inbound, which does ring some alarm bells, but to me – Jackson Hole (and Grand Teton National Park) will always hold that special place in my memories as an amazing little town in which I just want to spend more and more time.
So, Reiffer’s final thoughts on this trip – and we’re going to dedicate this edition to the food of the USA:
- No, America, a “sandwich” is NOT meant to be 2ft long and heavy enough to weigh down my tripod in a storm.
- No, Coca-Cola, please do not keep adding more and more weird flavours to what is (or was) a perfectly acceptable drink before you messed with it.
- No, Cuba, in my painful experience of eating around 10 of them in different parts of the country, you do NOT have the best cuban sandwiches – the Pearl Street Market deli in Jackson Hole does.
- No, Scotty, while your 9″ meat sticks have an “interesting” texture and flavour, we’re going to have to stick them on the list of foods which have an “acquired taste”.
And a bonus episode – “food items that American Airlines thought were a good idea, but really don’t work on a plane”:
- Pies – leave them to the Aussies, New Zealanders and Brits to flavour and construct – these attempts were a complete fail.
- Ice Cream – Doesn’t work when served at -20ºC if you’re no longer allowed to bring a pick-axe onboard for security reasons.
- Cheeseburgers – On a plane. No. Just no. No, no, no, no, no.
And on that note, that’s all folks – Enjoy your adventures, wherever you are!