There's no such thing as a National Park I don't like. Each one is a treasure with unique charms. That said, I do have a favorite: Grand Teton. The Great Grey FaceA long lens compresses this scene, framing Mount Moran with brilliant autumn color below and a stormy sky above. (Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming)
It's not number one on my hit parade because I live nearby; it claimed that position long before I moved to the Intermountain West. The first time I laid eyes on the park it reeled me in.
Love at first sight? "Awestruck at first sight" is probably more accurate.
It's definitely not the kind of landscape I knew in my youth. As a product of the American Midwest, I had no experience with mountains. When I was growing up, kids in Northern Illinois went to Wilmot "Mountain" in Wisconsin to ski (960 feet). My family didn't travel much; when we did hit the road it usually meant heading out to Nebraska to see relatives. Not exactly alpine territory.
The heartland has many lovely features and I have great fondness for that part of the country, but (meaning no disrespect to Wilmot) mountains aren't among its signature sights.
As an adult I started spending a lot of time in Colorado both for business and pleasure; I got acquainted with the Rockies. Denver. Steamboat Springs. Vail. Pike's Peak. The Rampart Range. Durango. Later I was introduced to the Appalachians. If you know me even just a little bit, you know how I feel about New Hampshire's White Mountains. Love, love, love.
But none of that prepared me for my first glimpse of Grand Teton National Park - where the mountains reach out and smack you in the face. In a good way!
The youngest range in the Rockies - and some of the youngest mountains in the world - the Tetons are rugged and not yet finished growing; the fault line lies at the base of the mountains with Jackson Hole on the other side. There are no foothills and absolutely no visual obstructions. Standing on the valley floor, you can look straight up to the peaks. More than 30 of them top 11,000 feet.
Though they span only about 40 miles, the Tetons are arguably one of the most recognizable mountain ranges on the planet.
So of course, everybody loves Grand Teton, right? It's the tallest mountain in the range and the star of the show. After all, the park is named for it. But as far as the Teton Peaks go, while the Grand is most definitely gorgeously grand, it's not my favorite.
I've got a soft spot for Mount Moran.
Maybe it's not as flashy, but I think Moran is a looker. It's also a bit of a loner. Towering above Jackson Lake at the north end of the range, it stands by itself (in a manner of speaking). It features several active glaciers, one of which is clearly visible on its east face. If you're unfamiliar with the park, the photo above will provide a point of reference. That's Mount Moran at the far right of the frame. It's about a 30 minute drive from the general vicinity of Grand Teton to Moran Junction.
Certainly the Grand and the Cathedral Group are beautiful; how can you not want to spend time around them? I've made lots of photographs featuring Grand Teton, Mount Owen, Teewinot and their immediate neighbors.
Still, given the choice, I'd rather hang out with Moran.
Part of the attraction might be that I prefer the north end of the park: Elk Flats, Willow Flats, Oxbow Bend, Pilgrim Creek, Jackson Lake. Notwithstanding the throngs of people you're likely to find at Oxbow waiting for sunrise on an autumn morning, it seems easier to get away from the crowds in the north. (You can also quickly escape from there to some pretty spectacular places not that far outside the park.)
Depending on the time of year or time of day it's not unusual to find wonderful little pockets where I'm nearly alone. Or am I? There's always magnificent Moran, standing watch over it all. Including me.
AwakeningBright autumn foliage punctuates the Willow Flats landscape at daybreak while the twilight wedge tints the sky pink. With temperatures below freezing, steam rises above distant Jackson Lake as Mount Moran waits for the sun to rise and warm its face. (Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming)
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