The Man Behind the Mountain

November 05, 2020  •  Leave a Comment

Majestic MoranMajestic MoranMount Moran dominates the Teton range above Jackson Lake. As the sun begins to set, a ray of light breaks through partial overcast to touch the mountain's face. (Teton Range, Wyoming) Towering over Jackson Lake, Mount Moran dominates the northern end of Grand Teton National Park. Standing at 12,605 feet, several active glaciers cling to its face. 

The mountain was named for Thomas Moran, renowned for his paintings of the American West.

Moran was one of dozens of acclaimed artists who were part of a 19th century American movement known as the Hudson River School. (Interestingly, quite a few of them - including Moran - were born in Europe.) Characterized by realism and detail, their landscapes initially focused not only on the Hudson River Valley but also nearby areas such as the Adirondacks and New Hampshire's White Mountains. The school expanded later to include other locales, including the American West.

How's that for a little bit of serendipity? Via the Hudson School, two of my favorite peaks have common ties. I can look at Mount Moran and give a nod to my beloved Mount Washington nearly 2,500 miles away.

You may be wondering what brought Thomas Moran to the wild, wild, west in the first place. 

Based in Philadelphia and already well-known by mid-century, he was asked to join the 1871 Hayden expedition into the Greater Yellowstone wilderness...and the rest, as they say, is history. His paintings and sketches of the region (along with photographs made by fellow survey member William Henry Jackson) greatly influenced those back in Washington, D.C. The following year, Yellowstone National Park was officially created by President Grant with legislation that protected more than two million acres - the first such park in the world.

Moran made many trips to the west following that, and some twenty years later returned again to the Yellowstone region - sketching prolifically the entire time.

As far as I know, he never painted the mountain that bears his name. 

Mount Moran and I have become well acquainted over the past few years. I enjoy hiking down to the edge of the Snake River in the darkness well before dawn, finding a little spot to sit along the shore, and stargazing until I can just begin to see Moran's outlines. Out of the blackness the mountain appears, until finally its face is lit by the rising sun.

Not a bad way to start the day.

Diaphanous DreamDiaphanous DreamLingering fog creates an ethereal scene around Mount Moran and the surrounding landscape. (Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming)



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