By the Numbers
Just like that March is here and along with it come thoughts of spring. Then again maybe you're way past that. Spring might have already arrived where you live. Here in Teton Country it's "meet the new boss, same as the old boss." March isn't much different from February, especially during the first half of the month. The past few days have been an exception with a little mild spell but everyone knows Old Man Winter isn't going anywhere just yet.
There have been quite a few numbers in the local news over the past week, many of which relate to the landscape:
February was one of the coldest Jackson Hole has experienced in 30 years. The story on the Idaho side of the Tetons was similar. There have been many frigid nights with quite a few plunging to double-digits below zero. February is normally cold but these temperatures have been, shall we say, unusually enthusiastic.
It wasn't just cold last month - it was also very dry: the least-snowy February for the Teton Range since 1991. 31 years ago. Snowpack in the mountains is an anemic 78%. The town of Jackson is also below average at 44.7 inches of snow so far this winter (the average is roughly 65 inches).
A little bit of snow is forecast for this weekend. More than a little would be great.
Jackson Lake Dam in Grand Teton National Park is only 21% full. That's the water supply for Idaho farmers in the Snake River basin. Teton County, Wyoming is in severe-to-extreme drought. Teton County, Idaho is in moderate-to-severe drought.
"Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow."
We could use a March miracle.
KaleidoscopicThe best way to appreciate Grand Prismatic Spring is from the air - where both its otherworldy appearance and immense size are apparent. Note the man on the walkway...though only a speck from the sky, he casts a long shadow.
On a cheerier note, Yellowstone celebrated its 150th birthday on March 1st. In 1872 there were no national parks; the concept was unprecedented. Yosemite had already been designated for protection from development in 1864, but as a state park. Yellowstone may well have become a state park, too, but because it extended into three territories and two of them were quarreling at the time, the feds stepped in and the rest is history.
Yellowstone is a weird and wonderful supervolcano that could blow at any minute! Just kidding. Or maybe not.
Within the park you'll find a wide variety of vegetation and habitats, from near-desert to sub-alpine. Of course there are the thermal features - including the world's largest concentration of steam vents, geysers, mud pots and hot springs. And don't forget the wildlife who call the place home. Nothing says Yellowstone like a bison traffic jam.
At more than two million acres, the place is huge. (It's not the largest park in the Lower 48, though: Death Valley easily eclipses it.) Oddly, those 3,500 square miles can still sometimes feel claustrophobic: nearly 5 million visitors passed through YNP's gates in 2021. It was the busiest year on record. Like many parks maybe it's being loved a little bit too much.
Stylish ExitA beautiful sunset fills the sky over the historic John Moulton homestead with fiery color. As there was a herd of bison not too far away, tourists bypassed this stunning scene in favor of the animals - leaving it to be admired in solitude.
Grand Teton National Park had a birthday last week, too. The original designation only protected the Teton Range and some of the lakes surrounding them: it took another twenty-odd years before the park we now know was established. But it all began 93 years ago on February 26, 1929 with Calvin Coolidge's pen.
GTNP is 485 square miles of jaw-dropping beauty. The parkway/recreation area which connects it to Yellowstone adds an additional 24,000 acres. It's home to arguably the most recognizable mountain range on earth but there's much more to love if you take the time to get to know the place.
This one is just for fun and won't make the local news, but Monday is 307 day in Wyoming (March 7 - 3/07 - area code 307).
Wyoming is annoyingly windy. (Do a search for "Wyoming wind sock." Funny and almost accurate!) It's arid. It's cold. Winters are even colder.
But Wyoming is also home to some amazingly beautiful scenery and I'm lucky enough to live within the shadow of its two national parks. Crown jewels. Cheers to the Cowboy State.
About the Photographs
1) It was -16F when I entered GTNP on this morning. After wrapping up my sunrise shoot I went over to the Kelly Warm Springs to see if any bison were hanging around. There were perhaps a dozen of them enjoying an early breakfast, including this little youngster - all covered with frost.
2) I had the pleasure of photographing Grand Prismatic Spring from the air early one morning a few years ago. This is not at all what I had in mind when leaving for the airport. The plan that day was to photograph the Teton Range at sunrise, but a lightning-caused wildfire had filled Jackson Hole with smoke overnight. The Idaho side was mostly free of haze but when I got to the top of the Teton pass I could smell it. Uh oh. Rather than scrub the shoot we hoped to outfly the poor visibility by heading to Grand Prismatic. I'm sure you're not surprised to learn that renting a plane and pilot for an hour of flight time is exponentially more expensive in Jackson than Laconia, New Hampshire (another airport my camera and I are familiar with). Flying to Yellowstone guarantees you'll exceed the one hour mark. Tick tock. It was a huge gamble but I got lucky.
3) Generally speaking, Grand Teton National Park isn't great for sunsets but sometimes it'll surprise you. This was one of those evenings. Even more amazing was the fact that I was the only one anywhere near the John Moulton barn. There was a herd of bison less than a mile down the road so the few cars that raced by were on a mission to see the animals; nobody even looked to see what was happening in the sky to the west.
4) Another aerial shoot from out of Jackson Hole airport, this one timed for sunset. That's the western face of the Grand on the right side of the frame. It had been a lovely early spring day down below but as you can see the landscape was still mostly snow-covered. Once we gained enough altitude the pilot and I were surprised to encounter a huge blanket of clouds on the other side of the Tetons. Not only did it look like it might end up obscuring the western horizon and therefore the sunset (it did), but the cloud bank was also climbing. We were able to make two passes while there was still some warm light and before the peaks mostly disappeared from sight.
Keywords: bison, Grand Prismatic Spring, Grand Teton National Park, John Moulton barn, Tetons, Wyoming, Yellowstone National Park
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