Page One, Chapter One

January 04, 2024  •  Leave a Comment

Some years ago I read an article written by a landscape photographer who shared his family's tradition of spending New Year's morning out in nature somewhere, watching the first day of January as it unfolded.

His idea struck a chord. I'm not a fan of New Year's Eve; even as a child it made me melancholy. New Year's Day suffers from guilt by association. This suggestion of beginning the new year "out there" in the natural world seemed like a good way to put a positive spin on the occasion. Thus began my own custom of being at the New Hampshire seashore in the darkness before dawn each January 1st to await the coming of the sun. 

The camera came with me, of course, although it wasn't so much about making a photograph. After all, sometimes it was overcast or the tide was high. It was the experience that mattered; if I walked away with an image it was icing on the cake. 

It's been challenging to continue this New Year's tradition out here in the wild, wild west, where my preference is to kick things off in the company of the Tetons. I'm not picky - I'll take them from either side! Road conditions, however, sometimes make it impossible. Last year on New Year's Eve, for example, all highways were closed between where I live in Eastern Idaho and both the Teton Valley and Jackson due to heavy snowfall along with blowing and drifting snow. Whoops. No Tetons for me.

This time around the forecast looked great: dry. The only issue was my nagging sinus infection which arrived in mid-December and settled in for the long haul. Though I hadn't done much more than sleep and cough for a few weeks, Wyoming was calling my name. Heading over there on December 31st was either going to be really stupid or just what the doctor ordered. 

After scouting conditions in Grand Teton National Park Sunday afternoon for my shoot there on New Year's morning, I went back to Jackson that evening to photograph the torchlight parade and fireworks at Snow King Mountain (aka the "Town Hill"): the oldest ski area in Wyoming.

Fireworks are one of the rare times I'll make a composite photograph. Fireworks plus a torchlight parade? Double bonus! 

If you've never been to one of these, the parade comes first, followed by the fireworks show. Skiers are all safely off the mountain and gathered at the base well before the first blast. It's fun to visually combine the two events, though, into a single image.

On New Year's morning I entered the park a little more than an hour before sunrise. The weather app had predicted fog, and I could see a heavy band of it as I drove north. There were some clouds to the east, but nothing much over the mountains. It probably wasn't going to be a colorful sunrise, but you never know. 

Suddenly, the mountains disappeared from view. I wasn't particularly interested in being stuck in the middle of dense fog, but the only way to tell whether or not the location I'd selected would need to be jettisoned was to keep driving. Eventually I came out on the other side of it and just like that it was completely clear. It was also quite cold: six below zero.

It was obvious the fog had drifted through this part of the valley, too, because hoarfrost covered everything. The temperature inversion created beautiful conditions.

The area I'd chosen to begin the day is near a few stands of cottonwoods which were now dressed in stunning winter white. That mostly empty sky over the Tetons no longer mattered because the trees were going to be the star of the show and I could begin shooting right away. All I had to do was hike a little further than originally anticipated to get closer to them.

I made the photograph below about 45 minutes prior to sunrise. The image at the top of the post features another grouping of trees with a pastel backdrop created by the twilight wedge just before the sun came up.

I thought you might like to see the first rays of light warming the faces of the Cathedral Peaks on the first day of the year so I took the record shot below to share with you. As you can see, the sky was bland - but that was unimportant. It was the being there and witnessing it that mattered.

I watched until the mountains were completely bathed with sunlight, then raced back to the car and over to Antelope Flats to see if I could capture more cottonwoods decorated in white before the sun rose too high in the sky.

Next, I ventured south toward the Gros Ventre River and was right back in the middle of dense fog. Part of me wanted to hang around and make more photographs, but I figured I'd be pushing my luck with the sinus infection. Reluctantly, I called it quits.

Happy New Year, indeed. A magical morning in Grand Teton National Park.

Odds and Ends

As of January 1, Antelope Flats Road was still open. Since I've lived here I don't recall being able to drive to the barns after mid-December. I suspect this may change soon, with many consecutive days of what they're saying might be fairly substantial snow on the way. 

Sleigh rides onto the Elk Refuge are actually wagon rides currently, also due to light snow accumulation on the valley floor.

Wildlife experts say the fact that it's been an easy winter thus far has been favorable for the animals, especially after last year's brutal conditions which decimated the pronghorn and mule deer populations. Winter 2022-2023 was the deadliest on record for migratory pronghorn.

Reservoirs are still in very good shape, although the changing weather pattern this week with more snow on the way is welcome.


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