Flight: Spring in Jackson, Jackson Lake, Grand Teton

Greetings from New Seattle (Alpine, WY)! We are caught in an anomalous weather pattern, resulting in nearly nonstop overcast and intermittent rain, practically for weeks. I had a window last week to go up, so I dropped everything and went while the sun was out.

I really, really wanted to get up to Yellowstone, though the forecast was for 40% chance of thunderstorms later in the day, with small hail being a risk. Something didn’t feel right, as Yellowstone is really, really big with basically nowhere to land, surrounded by mountains. Getting trapped in there with weather would be deadly. Instead, I decided to hit up the greater Jackson Hole area, including a swipe at Grand Teton. Spring has finally shown up, so it was time to capture it before summer comes and changes it all again. The route of flight was the Snake River Canyon, Hoback River Canyon, up over the Snake River at the bottom of the valley, then over Jackson proper, the Elk Preserve, the border of the Gros Ventre Wilderness, up to Grand Teton, Jackson Lake (border of Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park), back to Grand Teton, then over the Snake River Range home.

I purchased a new lens. My mainstay has been in service since 2009, before getting involved with taking pictures from the air. It has been having problems, so before I sent it off for service, I got another lens. Instead of 18mm to 200mm, I purchased a 10mm to 18mm lens, which allows super wide-angle photos. It is also a very crisp lens, and you can see that in the photos. They have a superior light balance and a crisper contrast. Contrary to popular belief, it is not the camera that matters so much, it’s the lens. I am limited to a maximum of 14mm to 15mm wide angle, as anything wider gets the airframe on both sides. Even still, the results are very pleasant.

My fears about thunderstorms were accurate. As I flew about 70% of the fuel tank down, I turned around at the Tetons to go home. There was a wall of black hiding behind the Snake River Range. Fiddlesticks. I refreshed radar on the iPad, and the thunderstorms were basically coming over the airport in Alpine and heading toward where I was. Based on cell trend, it was a close decision, and I opted to head west toward Idaho, cross the Snake River Range in a tight canyon/pass, and circle over the lake until the storm moved. The plan worked, and I landed in a light rain shower, in the sun, with a mere 4mph wind after the storm passed. I had a handheld radio in the cockpit for the first time ever (that would be since 1996 with this airplane!) and it was relieving to hear automated weather observations and to have Jackson Hole Airport as a backup, as it has a tower requiring radio communications. While it damages my brand as a backward rogue individualist pilot, I will shortly be getting a proper radio installation, which is a safety and convenience feature and I must say, I am looking forward to it.

Snake River near Snake River Sporting Club, Teton Range on Horizon

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Ridge between Hoback Junction and Bondurant, Jackson Hole in right background
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Snake River, Southern Jackson Hole
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Just west of Jackson, WY – looking North
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Elk Preserve, Teton Range in Background
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Elk Preserve at the border of the Gros Ventre Wilderness
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Grand Teton National Park – I will be coming back to these aspens in fall
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Grand Teton – Sagebrush in the flatlands
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Snake River, Looking South, Grand Teton National Park
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Jenny Lake – Grand Teton National Park
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Jackson Lake – Looking North toward Yellowstone (thunderheads brewing)
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Jackson Lake, with Tetons in the Background (looking W)
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The Tetons, Hiding in the clouds
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Looking down from Teton Range toward Jackson Lake
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Tetons – I still can’t get over how enormous those rocks are
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Teton Village, WY & Jackson Hole Ski Area (Left)
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Flight: Textured Farm Fields

For years I have wondered if farmers have a clue the kind of art they are creating year after year. I first discovered the phenomenon in western Lincoln County, North Carolina, of all places, not a place one would expect to find a shred of art. Flying back from the North Carolina mountains, I saw some amazing patterns in the fields as farmers plowed part of the field, following the contour of the land, though not all of it. They were not doing something random, it was clearly part of an agricultural process, and following the contour of the land had to do with elevation and storm water runoff.

The thing was, when I zoomed in on it, eliminating all other distractions, the photographs were incredible. For almost four years, I have been photographing fields this way all over America, particularly in North Carolina, Virginia, Arkansas, Kansas, Colorado, Kentucky, Missouri, Nebraska, and now Wyoming and Idaho. I have some upcoming flights where I will traverse the states of Idaho and Washington, and I will complement my work with a style of field heretofore nonexistent in my collection.

Recently, I took an evening flight in the northern part of the Star Valley. I have been going up in the airplane as much as possible around sunset, working on an assortment of sunset perspectives, and instead discovered a velvet texture on the ground just over the border in Idaho. You can see the velvet in the first image, and then some of the following ones are my close-up style on them. Even the waterways used to channel drainage are a thing of unwitting beauty, farmers being caretakers of a gallery of art only visible from above.

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Flights: Foul yet Beautiful Weather

For those halfway observant, it is likely evident that I prefer sharp blue skies with crystal clear air for aerial photos. Well, that has not been happening here at the Idaho/Wyoming border in the month of May. Coincident to my humidified photogenic malaise, climatological norms indicate that May receives the most precipitation on average. You know what they say: “make hay while the sun shines.” Well, that might not quite work here. How about “go flying anyway even though the weather is crap and it might be barely legal.” The photos turned out quite amazing anyway, thanks to a sizable storm smacking eastern Wyoming and Colorado, providing an embankment of clouds that spilled majestically over the Salt River Range. This is an amalgam of short flights flirting with malfeasant weather over multiple days.

Snake River Range, with Palisade Reservoir to the Left
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Palisade Reservoir
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Alpine, WY – Looking down the runway
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Caribou Range, ID
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Snake River Canyon – The weather invites a flight up the canyon
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Snake River Range descending into the Snake River Canyon
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Southern Slope of Ferry Peak
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Greys River
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Ferry Peak – Taken from 10,000′
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Salt River Range, Clouds Spilling into the Star Valley
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Rime Ice on the Trees (that is not snow) – Supercooled droplets from clouds smacking the trees
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Alpine, WY with Palisade Reservoir, taken from the Salt River Range, looking NW
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Flight: Jackson Hole, WY & Grand Teton National Park

So a day after promising to get more “adventurous” in a few weeks, I decided to go fly around a 13,770’ peak in Grand Teton National Park. Flying up the Snake River Valley and into Jackson Hole (JH is the greater valley, Jackson is the town), it was quite beautiful. The Snake will make for some fun on-the-ground adventures this summer.

Jackson itself was quite nice, a view obtained from the top of Snow King Ski Resort, followed by the National Elk Preserve, a beautiful flat valley filled with pasturelands reserved for lots of wild animals. I had intended to just get some photos of Grand Teton National Park from a distance and then head home, though when I got there, I had to get closer. I can only say that the mountains are beyond words, they remind me of photos of the Himalayas, uncanny vertical peaks with glaciers on their flanks. It is even more remarkable that Grand Teton itself is shorter than any of the 58 peaks over 14,000 feet that appeared in my Colorado book, though blows them all away in severity and majesty.

I crossed the Teton Range south of the Tetons themselves (the range is sizable), finding them entombed in lots and lots of snow. Crossing SE of Driggs, ID, I came down the Teton Valley in Idaho, the Snake River Range, and then deposited into the Swan Valley NW of Palisade Reservoir.

The flight ranks top notch in my adventures as far as beauty per mile, and I look forward to many more up in that area. Did I mention that I will be doing two books: one on Grand Teton National Park and another on Yellowstone, both from the air? I am going to catch them in all 4 seasons, so you’ll have to wait until early 2016. Don’t worry, a handful of more books are about to be published before the official arrival of summer. Its also worth mentioning that its still Spring, making it not necessarily an ideal time of year for all of these pictures. It only gets better when the leaves come out, when they change, and when the snow covers the entire valley.

Southern Jackson Hole – Snake River, with Grand Teton in the Distance

Southern Jackson Hole – Snake River, with Teton Pass in the Distant Left

Jackson Hole – Snake River, with Grand Teton in the Distance

Jackson, WY, Taken from above Snow King Ski Resort, National Elk Refuge to the right, and Grand Teton National Park to the distant left

Grand Teton National Park

Some nut job skied down this thing (note ski turns from the peak down the middle)

The Tetons

Grand Teton (left 13,770′), with the rest of the Park and range looking north

Grand Teton, from the south looking north
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Swan Valley, ID – Snake River Range to the Left, Palisade Reservoir in the Distance
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