On the heels of my Yellowstone Wildlife Safari trip, we greeted a new group of guests to Jackson, Wyoming, for our Grand Teton National Park trip. The weather is unsettled but promises to improve as the week goes on. It didn’t take too long.
On the first morning of the trip, we head out to Schwabacher Landing. Here a beaver pond impounds a creek and creates a mirror-like sheen that reflects the various phases of sunrise on the mountains and trees pristinely on the water’s surface. The whole scene unfolds slowly but is worth the wait. The mountains glow golden in the early morning sun and the pace of shooting is frantic. There are now clouds in the sky and the light gets bright quickly, so our ‘golden hour’ is only about thirty minutes to get the most attractive light.
We slip upstream to get another view of the mountains but are distracted by a beautiful Barrow’s Goldeneye who’s wooing a female. The two swim around on the mountain stream in beautiful light while we photograph them from mere feet away.
While we sit at the stream’s edge, a mallard flies in and an American wigeon flies past. Meanwhile, birds flit around in the firs around us, and surprisingly, this trip became a top-notch birding trip.
Before we leave, we watch several Uinta ground squirrels scurry through the sage, and a quick drive through the park reveals a great overlook of Mount Moran reflecting in Jackson Lake.
For lunch, we head back to Jackson to visit the many photo galleries and learn from the visual acumen of others who’ve photographed this area. We meet back at the visitor’s center and are delighted to see the number of birds in a small wetland adjacent to where we’d parked. So in an unplanned shoot, we photograph a cinnamon teal drake preening and courting a hen. In the trees, redwing blackbirds, magpies, and yellow-throated warblers flit about. It is an unpacked and unplanned shoot but the image possibilities are grand.
After an early dinner, we head out to the National Elk Refuge to see what was stirring in the prairies. Upon first arriving we spot a band of female bighorn sheep on the side of a mesa while another band of males bedded in a grass field adjacent to the mesa. We spend some time with the sheep before driving deeper into the refuge. There we discovered some pronghorn bucks close to the road and being in good light, they are a delight to photograph.
With the evening drawing to a close we headed back to Jackson but along the way, we found that the mature male bighorns were on their feet and headed to the mesa. It was a great opportunity for some incredible, eye-level pictures of the mountain-bound mammal.
When the second day dawned, we were standing in the cold at the historic Mormon Row. Undoubtedly, these are the most photographed barns ever and we are here to interpret our version of the iconic mountain scene. There is a crowd here but it’s not too bad.
Once the barn shoot is over we head into the park’s interior to look for bears. We don’t have to look long. Near the Jackson Lake Dam, a sub-adult grizzly feeds amongst the willows. At first, he is a ways out but soon he makes his way back across the road and passes right in front of our group. It was an exhilarating moment.
Heading into town for lunch, we make one last stop and find a marmot sitting happily in the rocks just right outside the vehicle’s windows. He’s almost too close but we all make do and get some remarkable photographs on an incredible rodent.
After lunch, we head to a nearby conference room and occupy the early afternoon with some Lightroom instruction. Each of the participants tells us a best use practice for Lightroom and it becomes two hours of sharing photo tips and tricks. Soon, dinner follows and we are back out in the field.
Headed back to the refuge we immediately see the bighorns again but pass them up because they are far off. Our patience is soon rewarded as a Swainson’s hawk is perched on a gate. For several minutes we take pictures of the beautiful raptor as he suns himself on a beautiful spring afternoon.
Further in the refuge, we see another pronghorn and some ground squirrels but it seemed like the whole world stopped when one of the guests simply said, “BADGER!”
He was hunting in the grass and ignored us while we snapped photo after photo of his exploits. Just as soon as we saw him, he disappeared so we drove around some more.
On our short jaunt, we see a red-tailed hawk perched on a rock as well as a lark sparrow. Leaving the refuge, the sheep provided us some incredible silhouette opportunities as they stood on top of the mesa.
With the last hours of the day waning, we head out to the Snake River overlook for a sunset shot of the mountains.
What a day!
Come Monday we head back out to Schwabacher Landing for just the wildlife photography opportunities. When we park, the location already delivers as a barn swallow sits right outside our window and poses for photos.
Down on the beaver pond, a hen goldeneye leads her newly hatched babies around the small pond and shows them the lessons they need to learn to navigate a wild and dangerous world. Her clutch is enormous and the babies are comical as they swim and dive in an attempt to mimic mom.
We stop to photograph a few mallards before we head to the park’s interior. This morning the wildlife is scant in the park proper but we do see a pair of swans and various other birds. Therefore, we head to town for lunch and another afternoon of classroom learning.
After dinner, we take one more foray into the National Elk Refuge and birds are the rule. We see horned larks, Swainson’s hawks, and perhaps one of the most animated western meadowlarks I’ve seen. As the sun sets over the mountains one more night, it has been another satisfying day.
At the request of the group, we spend our last morning of the trip on the beaver ponds at Schwabacher Landing. This place is so beautiful, returning day after day will yield different scenes – each one as equally as beautiful as the next. The mountains seem to sparkle in the early morning light and the reflections are immaculate. This place is hard to leave.
On our trip back to town we look for moose but pronghorns, foxes, and wildflowers that just bloomed catch our attention. While we didn’t see any moose, the morning ended perfectly: beautiful scenes coupled with great wildlife made this an incredible all-around trip.
If you’ve read any Texas-based magazines over the past twenty-five years chances are you’ve seen some of Russell’s photos or read some of his words. Since 1989, he has been traveling the state telling authentic Texas stories with his camera and his words – both written and spoken.
A graduate of Dodd City High School and East Texas State University, Russell was an ag science teacher in Childress, Texas for 16 years where he was named Texas Agriscience Teacher of the Year on three occasions.
After leaving that career in 2009, he continued to photograph, write, and speak about his experiences and the people he meets and in 2010, he began delving into television production. His first documentary film, Bois d’Arc Goodbye was filmed entirely in Fannin County and chronicled he and his brother Bubba’s canoe journey as they traversed the creek before a lake forever changes the landscape. The film aired three times to a prime-time, national audience.
Recently he’s worked with such celebrities as the Robertson Family from Duck Dynasty television show, T. Boone Pickens, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Pat Green, and Tracy Lawrence, but he insists that regular people are his favorite subjects.
Currently, Russell lives in the country north of Childress, Texas with his wife Kristy and their two children Bailee and Ryan but still manages to spend a considerable amount of time near his boyhood home north of Dodd City.
You can see Russell’s work and portfolio on his webpage at www.russellgraves.com