Seeing Wyoming and Montana for the First Time!
I had not yet been to either Wyoming or Montana until this past summer and I can honestly say the trip changed my life. If you read my first blog post then you know that Alaska is where I discovered my passion for photography, in a place with rugged beauty it is hard to not be inspired. I did not realize until this last trip that I had forgotten what it truly feels like to be in awe of the natural world around me. To say I was re inspired would be putting it lightly, I was invigorated, feeling a force of energy and passion that I didn't know was still there.
Flying into Jackson is a special moment all by itself, as the plane begins its descent you can look out the window and see the jagged peaks start to emerge. Unfortunately for us there was some wildfire activity in the northwest which did hinder our views slightly. Nevertheless it was still spectacular to see such intense looking peaks in the distance. I was reminded of the mountains I would draw as a kid, essentially triangles sticking out of the ground. One of my first thoughts when seeing them was "can I climb them?".
We did not have a rental car waiting for us because my parents decided that they wanted to buy a car, site unseen, use it on the trip, and then drive it back home to Florida. Yeah we're not your average family. Their reason for doing this was that my mom's car was on its last leg and there had recently been a shortage of rental cars, making it hard to reserve one. So my mom made a deal with my dad. If he can find her dream car (2006 white Land Cruiser) in Jackson then we can get it. He was found one minutes later.
As we drive away from the airport in a car that we now own we get to take a look at the vast beautiful land that we will now be in for about a week. The wide open fields leading up to some of the most breathtaking mountains I have ever seen seem to go on forever. I am still in awe of this far out landscape that is so different then the one I am used to. There is no ocean nearby and I can't see any sandy beaches. I couldn't be happier.
We make our way to our Airbnb after checking out the town of Jackson and enjoying some of its local cuisine. After unpacking our bags and getting settled in we decide to go take a walk and stretch our legs. Within five minutes of walking we come across a full size moose. None of us had ever seen one before in real life and this was as real as it gets. We stood there enamored by its poise and power as it calmly meandered around, finding food to eat and then eventually lying down in some shade. It was a surreal moment to have only been there a day and already come across such an incredible animal.
That night we got to experience something I can honestly say I never thought I would get the chance to see. A rodeo. This was the real deal. We got to watch cowboys do what they do best and it was such a show. It was pretty cool to be sitting there with so many people all cheering and getting excited for something that is definitely out of the norm.
The rest of the night was spent getting ready for the next day which for me entailed learning all of the photo hot spots that I would want to hit while there. One of which was the famous Snake River overlook. This was one of Ansel Adams most famous shots. Which meant I had to check it out. Afterwards we stopped by the famous barn, which I of course had to get some pictures of as well.
Fortunately my parents were down to wake up early in the morning. I think it was around 4:30, and the drive was about 30 minutes. The feeling of the cool air the moment you opened up the doors was incredible. Especially after having spent a summer in Florida where a cool day was 90 degrees. One of the best feelings when arriving at a famous lookout is not seeing a single person. Now in hindsight it might be because of the smoke from the fires but it was still epic to have the whole spot to ourselves. I did not get the shot I was hoping for but I did walk away with a couple that I liked. Photographing nature can be tough and mother nature always wins!
Later that day we had a bike ride planned, and by bike ride I mean riding about 60 miles. Fortunately we were using e bikes which gave us pedal assist and meant we weren't completely dead by the end of it. On this bike ride we got to see a wide range of places which was truly incredible. Over the years I have no doubt that the length of the ride will get longer, by the time you're reading this it could have doubled.
The next day we started off early so that we could catch a boat which would take us across a lake so that we could hike to another lake (lake Solitude) which would end up being a 14 mile hike. Fortunately we made it onto the first boat which meant we were some of the first people on the trail. Everything was going according to plan except for the fact that it began to rain when we were on the trail. Luckily it didn't rain hard and was just enough to keep us cool. As we began our ascent we were greeted with a beautiful sunrise that cascaded a warm glow over the lake beneath us.
The trail stopped going up as we began to get into the valley, surrounded by peaks on either side. This was one of the best parts about the trail. We made our way over rocks, grass, going through forests and up steps. We even saw a moose hanging out in the middle of a pond on a patch of grass.
Our morale began to dip as we trudged along, we had done some miscalculations and came to the conclusion that we had a few extra miles to go which we hadn’t counted on. Trying to stay positive though we pushed on and eventually made our way to the top. It was well worth it. The lake was stunning as well as the peaks surrounding it. I was lucky enough to get a cool reflection shot when I went down to the waters edge which I am still proud of.
After eating some peanut butter and English muffin sandwiches we got situated and began our descent. The journey down was not a fast one due to having to be more cautious with our footing and make sure we didn’t fall or twist an ankle. Thankfully we made it back down and everyone’s ankles were fantastic. We were exhausted though, and even more so after waiting in line for 30 mins to get back on the boat and go across the lake.
The next day we continued our journey to Yellowstone National Park, a place revered for its rich history and abundant wildlife. We were fortunate enough to have a guide drive us around the park and give us some local knowledge on the park. We got to see everything from old faithful, to bison at every turn, moose, huge waterfalls, and even a wolf. It was such an amazing experience to get to see so much.
We spend the night in the lodge that is right next to old faithful and while the smell of sulfur wasn't the most appealing thing to smell in the morning it was still pretty cool to be able to walk outside and witness something that is so spectacular
The next location on our journey was Montana, Glacier National Park in particular. Before going to the park though we stopped by Bozeman. A place none of us had ever been before and all that we knew about it was that it had a big college there (Montana State). Little did we know that it would be one of the coolest towns we had seen in awhile. This place was epic, so many cool outdoor shops, tons of great food options (we ate at Jam and it was phenomenal). Unfortunately we were trying to get to Glacier at a certain time so we couldn't hang around too long but in the short time we had there I can definitely say it's a cool place to be.
After walking around a little we were back in the car and on our way to the national park. We had almost an hour drive ahead of us which wasn't the best drive due to the high amounts of smoke so the visibility was lacking. It left us wondering if we would be calling the trip short and it didnt get our hopes up too high.
Which sometimes is good because I know that I myself make things out to be better than they really are which can lead to disappointment. But fortunately after you read this you’ll know that this wasn't the case.
After driving many hours and sitting for almost an hour on a gravel road in the middle of nowhere waiting to get into the park we finally made it inside. For a little background info you should know we had not yet seen a bear and we had been really hoping to but apparently Glacier National Park was the place to see them. So we had our hopes up but still we made sure not to have our expectations too high.
So after checking into the lodge we are heading back to the car to get our luggage and get situated in the rooms and as we come back we see a group of people huddled up staring up at the side of the mountain and as we get closer we realize they are pointing at a bear! So it's day 1 and we have already seen a bear, Glacier National Park was off to a great start.
So after getting pretty excited about already seeing a bear we decided to go on a hike around the lake and check everything out for a little before settling in for the night. We made our way along the lake that the lodge was on and got to see a little taste of the beauty that is Glacier National park.
That night I planned to wake up early, I think it was before 5 am, and get some sunrise shots of the mountain and lake at the base of the lodge. It is one of the most iconic photo spots in glacier and one of the few that you don’t have to hike 10+ miles for.
So I got everything ready that night and went to bed excited about what the next day would offer and the hope of scoring a great shot.
The alarm clock goes off, I get up and start gathering my things and while everyone else is sleeping I make my way down the stairs and out of the lodge and take the 15 steps to the water's edge and begin to find the best angle and place to set up my tripod. After a few minutes I settle on a spot and begin to take some test shots to make sure everything is squared away.
After waiting for a little bit the sun begins to rise behind me and slightly light up the peak of the distant mountain which is exactly what I wanted. I began to take picture after picture, trying to capture the beauty of this moment that was only being witnessed by myself and a few other fellow photographers. Fortunately I came away with a few that I was happy with. My personal rule or goal when it comes to landscape photography is that as long as I get one that I am happy with then I consider it a good shoot.
So after feeling good about the shots I pack up my gear and go back to meet my family, you know taking those 15 steps to get back inside the warm cozy lodge. When I got up to them we decided on what we were going to do that day. The first objective was to hike to the Ptarmigan tunnel and then if we are still feeling good we wanted to go to iceberg lake.
If all went according to plan we would be doing quite a few miles, it would not be 15 steps, it would be 15 miles.
So we drove about 3 minutes to the trailhead and got everything ready and started our trek. Right from the start we could tell it was going to be epic, the trail was very exposed and we could see so much in front of us which is not always the case if you are hiking in the woods. Within 20 minutes of the hike one of the coolest experiences happened.
We were all minding our own business hiking along the trail when my mom all of the sudden yelled `` Bear! Bear!! We all instantly look back to see a grizzly bear 10 yards behind us on the trail following us. My dad begins to yell at the bear, which is the recommended protocol, and fortunately he had no interest in us. He was grazing the ground looking around looking for berries and after a little yelling he made his way up and off the trail without a care in the world. That wasn’t even the best part though.
We all recover and catch our breaths and proceed to make our way on the trail feeling pretty good after getting to witness such a cool moment. The photographer in me though was somewhat disappointed because I wasn’t able to get any shots because it all happened too fast. Little did I know that my luck was about to turn.
So as we make the turn we see a grizzly bear cub wander onto the trail and as we all know, where there's a cub there's a mom, and they are not to be messed with. So we all stop in our tracks and wait to see what happens next and not 5 seconds later a momma bear makes her way across the trail and goes off the trail with her cub and one more cub following close behind her.
When I was ready, I started taking pictures like a mad man trying to capture this amazing encounter. Fortunately I got some shots that I was pretty stoked about and it ended up being a perfect encounter as well, we did not disturb them and they didn’t disturb us.
The bears went their way and we went ours, and we were now even more excited than before.
The rest of the hike was spectacular, the last mile or two in particular was so special. We could see the top from a good way back which is something motivating or disappointing. This time it was motivating. The bottom had a somewhat big lake and huge rocks everywhere with giant switchbacks that led up to the top where the tunnel was.
When I made it to the switchbacks I got so excited I began to run up them, having never felt more alive. I look to my left and I see a group of sheep hanging out on the rocks looking at me wondering what the heck I was doing. This just made me more amped, I smiled to myself and continued to charge up this mountain, camera in hand, stopping every so often to grab a shot from a new perspective.
Getting to the top of this mountain was one of the best feelings of my life which is why the picture from there is by far one of my most favorites ever. Not because of the colors or quality of the image but because of the reminder that it brings to me and the feelings I had while I was taking are something I cannot replicate.
After we all were on the top we made our way through the tunnel to check out the view on the other side and it was epic as well. There was a beautiful lake in the distance and while we were admiring it we saw a marmot, which I enjoyed because I had never seen one of those either.
All of us now feeling on top of the world we make the plan to carry on and go to iceberg lake. We make our way off the mountain and get back down to where the trail forked and we go towards the lake. I will admit it felt a lot further and it was harder than I expected it to be. Having already hiked 7 or 8 miles might be a factor in that lol. Let's also not forget we are from Florida, the land of no elevation.
Nevertheless we make our way to the lake that we hope will be worth it. While on the trail we see a huge moose sunbathing in the middle of a field. Naturally I pull out my camera and start snapping pics.
After feeling satisfied with the pictures I hustle to meet up with my family who went on ahead towards the lake. And after a little bit we find ourselves at a lake made from the melting of ice. We all iced our feet in the water and just sat by the edge and enjoyed a moment of peace. After a few minutes of recovery we decide it is time to make our way back to the car and call it a day.
Fortunately the hike back was pretty painless and seemed to go by faster then the way out. There were no bear sightings so we did not have any distractions and were able to move efficiently through the trail. By this time it was the afternoon which meant the bugs were out. So if you were on that trail you would have seen the Haynes family running through the woods swatting at flies attacking from all fronts. It looked like a scene out of a chevy chase movie.
Eventually we did make it back, and besides the bugs it was absolutely epic. I still think about that hike and how it was one of the best days I have ever had in the wilderness.
During the rest of the time in Glacier National Park we spent hiking, kayaking, and exploring. Seeing moose, sheep, bear, marmots, and others was one of the many highlights of getting to stay there. It will always remain a very special place to me and I am so fortunate to have gone and gotten to see it with my family.
Much like how Alaska changed my life and helped me discover my passion for photography, this trip out west re ignited the spark that I truly believe helped set the wheels in motion for me to pursue it more deeply as a career.