May 17 and 18, 2021
I spent a week on a solo trip to Grand Teton and Yellowstone this spring. I spent May 17 and the morning of May 18 in Grand Teton National Park. This was my fourth trip to the Greater Yellowstone Area since 2019, and even now when I see the photos I can only imagine what my next visit will have in store.
I awoke early in the morning of May 17 and left the Old Faithful Lodge to make my way south to Grand Teton National Park. Luckily for me I planned my trip just after all of the park roads had reopened. I spent so much time driving throughout the parks and enjoying the time to myself that I spent longer than I had before at the different scenic turnouts.
My first real stop was to the Colter Bay area of the park. I decided to embark on the Heron Pond-Swan Lake trail. I made sure that I had my bear spray easily accessible and my bear bell unleashed and ringing. Luckily for my health and sanity I did not see any bears on my hike. I did get a little turned around as I decided to take an overlook, which turned out not to overlook anything, come on! I walked an extra half mile to look at absolutely nothing and climbed over a dead tree. The hike was beautiful despite my unfortunate detour. It took me about an hour and a half and the weather was unbelievable.
After I left the Colter Bay Area I planned to make my way straight to the Jenny Lake Visitor Center. On the way at a junction in the park road there was a massive back up and dozens of vehicles parked along the roadway. If you have any doubt, when there are people stopped in Grand Teton or Yellowstone, you slow down and take note because 97% of the time you’re going to see wildlife. Another tip off that there was some type of exciting wildlife were the wildlife management park rangers keeping park-goers an appropriate distance away from the animals and making sure the cars kept moving. I did a slow drive down the road and there were 5 grizzly bears! FIVE! It was bear 399 (I found this out later from other visitors) and her four yearling cubs. They were just frolicking in the grass near the main park road. I swung a u-turn and made my way back and found a place to park, got out and joined the other visitors observing the antics of these magnificent animals, from a safe distance of course. After awhile the bear family made their way into the forest of scrub brush in the meadow and we lost site of them, since they were moving south, I decided to take my chances that they would keep moving that way and drove further down the road to another turn off to set up shop. I wasn’t the only photographer with this idea and soon the party moved to our new spot. We weren’t disappointed, the bear family emerged and was in the new area for at least an hour in which they were foraging and then frolicking and play fighting. It was like I was watching my own person National Geographic documentary. I drove south again to another turnout to see if they would keep coming, but it seemed they turned back, I decided to actually go to Jenny Lake and see some incredible scenery.
I didn’t spend much time at Jenny Lake because by the time I got to the visitor center and boat launch area it was almost 4PM. The boats were beginning to shut down and the visitor center was closing for the evening. I took some photos, but decided to head to my hotel for the evening in Jackson, WY.
In the three previous visits I took to Grand Teton in the past two years never once did I get up in time to see the sunrise hit those spectacular mountain vistas. I was determined on this trip to see the sun grace those peaks. I drove out to Schwabacher’s Landing and joined some other early risers to see if the mountains would change color. It seemed to take forever, but that was also probably because it was like 30 degrees outside and I was unprepared for the weather. I also kept moving because I didn’t rise early enough to beat out the other visitors for a prime viewing and photography location. When the sun did crest the horizon it was blocked by cloud cover, but eventually it hit the peaks and was so incredible and exactly what one hopes for when watching the sun come up, the only thing missing was a moose wading in the river.
On the way back to Yellowstone National Park I went back towards Jenny Lake so I could go to the overlook of Cascade Canyon before the boats created ripples on the glassy surface of the lake. Just past the main park entrance in the south there was a female moose in the marshes near the roadway, the one I was missing in my sunrise photos. I pulled over with a few other vehicles and took my sweet time taking pictures and watching her forage. Surprisingly other motorists must have thought that I was just hanging out on the side of the road and not watching an icon of the park because after the initial cars drove off not a single other automobile stopped to take a look at what I was gawking at. Oh well, more time for me to enjoy watching that awesome creature by myself. (I also saw an elk).
After seeing Jenny Lake, as expected, with not a single ripple on its surface (at least not ones created by boats). I made my way back to Yellowstone and to the conclusion of my trip!