WHERE: Grand Teton National Park near Jackson Lake Damn
WHEN: May 2014
WHO: Bear #399 and Cub
This past spring I spent one night in Grand Teton National Park to catch the sunrise before heading down to Dinosaur National Monument in Utah/Colorado. Now, before we get to the morning of the above image let me give you a little back-story…
The previous evening I stayed in Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone, and realized it would be a bit much to first drive three hours to catch a sunrise in the Tetons, and then drive another eight hours to get to Vernal, Utah. I decided to call down to the Colter Bay Cabins in the Tetons, hoping they had a room for the night (iffy, being it was Memorial weekend). Lo and behold, to my surprise a room was available, and it was even in my budget!
The new plan was to shoot Old Faithful erupting at sunset, then drive two hours to Colter Bay and be in the Tetons for sunrise. However, sunset turned into Old Faithful erupting during a passing storm, and it rained cats and dogs the entire evening! I hoped the morning would be clear or my sunrise goals were shot.
I arrived at Colter Bay around 11:30 p.m. with a 5:30 a.m. sunrise ahead of me. As soon as I got the essentials out of my vehicle I tried to get some rest, but of course was too amped up from my shoot earlier. Needless to say, it didn’t feel like I’d been sleeping long when the iPhone was telling me it was time to get up. It was was 4:45 a.m. I 'll be honest, I wanted to stay in bed. I was quite tired from the previous night and when I looked out the window I could not see any sign of the sky, just gray clouds. So I laid there, 99% sure I was going to say “Screw it!” and get more sleep… but then a little voice said if you don't get up you are going to miss it. Miss what I did not know, but as always the competitive side of me couldn't let other photographers grab the shot while I was wasting my morning in bed! So I got up, grabbed my clothes, pulled on a hat and out the door I went.
As I pulled out of Colter Bay I looked to the sky and realized that what I thought was clouds was actually fog, and heavy fog at that. Which meant: no mountains, no trees, no blue sky, no white puffy clouds, no sunrise shot. I contemplated my next step when I noticed what looked to be part of a peak at the southern end of the park. Could I get there in time? Where would I shoot? So many choices to make and the decision had to be made in seconds. I took a gamble and raced off down the main park road to hopefully find a spot and catch the sunrise. I had not been to the park since 2006, except for a quick drive through in 2011, so being that it was 2014 I had no idea where I was going to end up. The good news was my gamble paid off and the mountains were there! But the sun was rising fast. I quickly pulled into the first turnout I could find. It would not have been my first choice but I made do and created this panoramic. It wasn't the image I had set out to create, but it was still a beautiful moment.
During the course of shooting the above scene the unthinkable happened. My camera started flashing “Card Error!” I had never had this happen before and started to panic. Thankfully I was able to keep myself together and simply took the card out, stuck in a new one and finished up my shot. I should have kept on heading down the road but all I could think about was my card. Did my SD card just crash? Had all previous 500 images been erased? Panic began to set in again so I got in the Fiesta and raced back to my room. Even though my laptop was not fast enough to handle processing my files, I could at least transfer them and have peace of mind that I had copies.
I was just five minutes away from my cabin. I had just started to cross the Jackson Lake Damn when I saw a few cars pulled over. Being the good tourist/photographer that I am, I pulled over too. At first I could not see what all the fuss was about… but then, there it was, a Grizzly; in fact, it was the first bear I had ever seen in the Tetons. I was beyond excited and then became more excited when I found out she was a mom and had what looked to be two little cubs! I soon forgot all about my card problems and grabbed the BIG lens.
I didn’t expect to get the best shots since the sage they were situated in was very tall, and the bears were very interested in eating the short green grass. I took a few shots and then moved my car to a different location. It seemed she was going to head my direction! I saw mom and cubs head straight for my car. But… sadly the new location was not working. All three of the bears were now perfectly hidden in the sage. Then all of a sudden, mamma bear popped up! I thought, “This is it, the money shot!” She was looking to the left… then turned her back to me. My heart sank instantly. Really? Why me? My first grizzly and this happens…. wait a minute…
Next thing I know a cub popped up right next to mom! I was able to get one frame with them standing with their backs perfectly facing me – got to love those fuzzy ears. After that the moment was over; the grizzlies headed deeper in and the ranger showed up and stopped us from following along.