Eclipse August 21, 2017


Saturday, August 12, 2017: After a month of intensive preparations, we were finally off to Wyoming! The preceding month was a whirlwind, reading up on the area, learning eclipse shooting techniques and practicing, shooting the full moon and the sun with newly acquired solar filters and sun finders. Shortly after returning from Russia in early July, I signed on as a guest contributor to an online photography website, Photo Focus,  charting our preparations for shooting the eclipse. Although this added stress to the trip ramp-up , it also imposed some necessary discipline, forcing me to distill information from multiple sources. In addition to general eclipse e-books (the best, Alan Dyer’s comprehensive How to Photograph the Solar Eclipse), I read site specific resources, including Aaron Linsdau’s Jackson Hole Total Eclipse Guide, and Daryl Hunter’s Grand Teton Photography and Field Guide. At the airport, we were 16 lbs overweight, thanks to provisions (like squirrels secreting caches of acorns, we toted nuts, trail mix and dried bananas,  anticipating our eclipse day stakeout), 3 tripods and warm clothes for overnight temperatures down in the 40s. With creative rearrangement, we managed to avoid a $100 overweight charge. We had a full week, divided between Grand Teton and Yellowstone, to figure out where to be on eclipse day.

Grand teton sunset

After a mildly turbulent flight to Jackson, we landed to a hazy view of the Tetons.  Two summers before, the Tetons were completely obscured on arrival, thanks to wildfires burning in Washington.  Now, fires in Montana and British Columbia were the culprits, but it was mild by comparison and much improved compared with the prior week.  Our arrival began with a rude awakening, when we realized our Alamo rental car, booked online through Hotwire, was not actually in the airport, but 9 miles away, on the other side of Jackson. We weren’t sure there was a shuttle. Unable to find a number for the local branch, I called a national Alamo number, which still left the question open. It wasn’t even clear after inquiring of drivers of other rental car shuttles. We decided to take a cab, $40 to Jackson, but then held up after the driver told us that in fact there was a shuttle, as many as three an hour. However, it had already been 20 minutes, going on half an hour, without any sign of the shuttle. Eventually, we gave up, getting a ride with the cabdriver who told us there was a shuttle. Of course, as soon as we were pulling out of the airport, there was the shuttle. About the time we were debating whether to take a cab or wait longer for the no-show shuttle, Steve discovered he could not find his credit card, last seen as proof of our right to be in the American Airlines lounge in Phoenix. By this time, there was such a pile-up of people waiting for Alamo’s shuttle, we weren’t even sure we would have made it into the vehicle.

Going into Jackson was fine, as we wanted to go to the grocery store anyway. We picked up more snacks, gin, tonic, limes, all the basic necessities. On our way north, the light was pretty overlooking Flat Creek and the National Elk Refuge beyond, so we pulled off, dug equipment out and shot.

Grand Teton Flat Creek near Elk Refuge panorama

We stopped again at another pull-off overlooking the Tetons, drawn by shafts of light streaming through the canyons.

Grand Teton late afternoon with sunshafts

We only made two wrong turns on the way to Jackson Lake Lodge, making us a few minutes late for dinner at the Mural Room. Greg and Sarah had just ordered cocktails, so our timing was not far off. I enjoyed a lemonade, sage and ginger concoction, while Steve and Greg sampled local IPAs. Everyone enjoyed their entrées, Steve the pasta with wild game, me the scallop special on risotto with asparagus, Greg the local trout on fava bean and corn succotash, and Sarah the salmon. With four spoons, we shared a single scoop of huckleberry ice cream.

Steve and I were so late for dinner that we did not check in until after dinner. And then a bonafide miracle happened… we had booked the night before the eclipse in Yellowstone, as that was all that was available at the time we were booking (January) and nothing reasonable had become available in the meantime. I asked if by some miracle something had become available for the night before the eclipse, Sunday, August 20. To my amazement, the clerk from Michigan replied: ” Well, yes…  The good news…we have one room available, which can hold up to five people. The bad news… there’s a 20% surcharge for the eclipse and a three night minimum.”  After the ridiculous rates I had seen online and heard about, this sounded positively reasonable.  As it happened, Greg and Sarah were not leaving until the day following the eclipse and had a cancellable reservation.  With a little rearrangement in our planned stay later in the week in Yellowstone, it worked out perfectly: 5 nights at Jackson Lake Lodge in Grand Teton, 3 nights at Lake Yellowstone Hotel in Yellowstone, then 3 nights back at Jackson Lake Lodge.

We spent part of the evening trying to call the American lounge in Phoenix, figuring Steve slipped the credit card back into a pant’s pocket, then sat down and it slithered out onto the floor.  That probably is what happened, as the next day we received a volley of texts, emails and calls from the lounge saying they had found it.  By that time, we had cancelled it, since no one ever answered the only number we could find on the Internet for the lounge.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Steve and I both slept miserably, presumably due to the altitude. We had arranged a 5:50 am departure for sunrise, and Greg was right on time, knocking on our door in the dark. Sarah did not materialize. We headed down to Schwabacher’s landing, a photographic destination I had learned about from Daryl’s e-book. We had never managed to make it to this spot on our prior trip. Although the parking lot was nearly full, we found a spot. There were photographers, from casual to serious, lined up along the Snake River bank, looking hopefully toward the Tetons and their reflection in the still water. The heavy clouds at first did not seem too promising.

Schwabacher’s Landing at sunrise in Grand Teton, a photographer’s favorite

After taking a few shots, I remembered that Daryl had said in his book there were beaver ponds which could be accessed by a five minute walk up river. This section was much less populated. I joined a father and son pair of photographers who were positioned at the most beautiful spot, with reeds and grass clumps, staggered in a way to perfectly frame a snow-covered peak, and its reflection. The pond’s mirrorlike surface was occasionally rippled by ducks.  The light continued to improve.

Schwabacher’s Landing, a photographer’s favorite in Grand Teton

Eventually, after the light peaked, I headed back down the river to find Steve and Greg shooting in a thistle patch. I showed Steve what I had been getting and he wanted to see the site, so I walked back up river with him. He started to shoot where I had been. I looked around for another spot, but really didn’t find one. The father and son pair had mentioned that they had been there the previous afternoon and had a mother and baby moose pair feeding on the opposite bank. Just as I started to pack up and walk back down river towards Greg, Steve hissed, sotto voce, “moose!”.

Female moose in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming

There it was, on the opposite bank, a female, possibly the mother of the previous evening, just as the photographers I had been chatting with described. No calf was in sight. The moose was relaxed, busily feeding as a small group of us put our motor drives into overdrive. Greg arrived just in time to see the moose, but was armed only with a 12 mm lens,  his wildlife lens securely back in the cabin.

Back at Jackson Lake Lodge  mid morning, it was time for showering and breakfast. Greg was already in the refurbished-since-our-last-visit Pioneer Diner when we arrived. Sarah was finishing a run and joined us a few minutes later. Steve seemed to enjoy his corn beef hash breakfast the most. Greg and I had the mountain man breakfast, with local trout, which I enjoyed, but the burnt offering fried potatoes…not so much. I did like the multigrain toast and the reviews of the homemade strawberry jam were strong.

A midday nap revived me enough to head out south past Jenny Lake, where we stopped in to confirm our dinner reservation. We were able to find a parking spot at Jenny Lake Overlook, but most of the path down to the lake shore was blocked off. Rain chased us down the road to the trailhead for Taggart Lake.

We initially set off without tripods, but after pausing at a rushing stream with wildflowers, Greg and I doubled back to the car for the tripods.

Taggart Lake hike in Grand Teton

We heard from other hikers about a bear on the trail as we set off from the stream. Two years before, we’d been warned by Monica and Charley to always hike nosily, with bear bells and armed with pepper spray.  Bear bells seemed to have gone out of favor since our prior trip and we had no spray either. Is it smart to knowingly set off on a hike with a bear in the vicinity?  Maybe not, but the accounts we were hearing seemed more exciting than frightening.  The young bear was feeding along the noisy creek, the rushing water loud enough to drown out conversation.  A dozen or so hikers were strung out along the trail, watching the bear forage for berries in the bushes along the stream.  I kept an ear out and stole a few glances over my shoulder, lest its mother come to investigate, but the object of our attention didn’t even seem to notice us for several minutes.  Finally, it headed up toward the path and Steve, in better position in the front row of hikers, got the shot of it stealing a look at us. As it headed up the slope, I wondered aloud if it could ambush us if it wanted to. Greg reassured me: “They don’t run downhill well” (something about their geometry), while Sarah interjected: “He read it in Snopes!”.

Young bear, Taggart Lake trail, Grand Teton, Wyoming

The hike itself was beautiful and varied in scenery, and required just enough exertion to allow us earn our dinner back at Jackson Lake Lodge (elk short ribs with strawberries and a huckleberry mojito for me,  pork tenderloin for Steve and  bison for Greg).

Monday, August 14, 2017 began early,  in the dark. When we opened the door at 5:50 AM, Daryl was parked outside, his comfortable Esplanade loaded with coffee, waters, and snacks to take us through to afternoon. Greg soon appeared, with his gear, explaining that Sarah went to the lodge in search of coffee and water. We loaded up the truck and drove toward the lodge and then their cabin, but did not immediately find her. After a few go-rounds, we saw her in the headlights and off we went. Our first stop was our last trip’s favorite shooting spot, Oxbow Bend, just down the road from Jackson Lake Lodge. It was overcast and cloudy with a nice still reflection, but not much light to warm up the scene. From there, we headed south to the historic Cunningham Cabin, new to us. It is a lonely, slowly decaying wooden outpost in a vast sage plain, backed by the Tetons, an iconic sight. The skies overhead were moody, but it wasn’t terribly cold or windy. They were occasional cool raindrops and threats of more, but nothing too extreme. Daryl took Sarah in hand, getting her up to speed in the intricacies of ISO, aperture, shutter speed and shooting in manual. There were abundant, thorny and prickly pink thistles, an invasive non-native species, brightening up the grey green native vegetation.

Cunningham Cabin: The colorful thistles are non-native and problematic.

We took turns framing the Tetons within the cabin’s sole window. The windows once were only sealed against the elements with rawhide.

A great view of the Tetons from these pioneer cabins…the winters must have been endless and rugged…not much insulation in wood walls and only rawhide in the window openings!

Our next stop was our new favorite from yesterday morning, Schwabacher Landing. The Snake River was flat smooth and there was a gorgeous massing of clouds over the Tetons. From there, Daryl took us to another classic shooting site to which we’d never been, the Moulton barns.

A lonely landscape, homesteaded by early Mormon settlers, in Grand Teton National Park

Daryl suggested these nice foregrounds for iconic, weathered Moulton cabin in Grand Teton.

Historic Moulton barn in Grand Teton National Park

Arriving at Blacktail Pond’s overlook, where we went in search of a rumored mother moose and calf , another guide told Daryl there was a male elk along Gros Ventre Road.  A big rack trumps a female moose, at least photographically, so back into the vehicle we jumped. Unsuccessful, we headed back in search of the mother and calf pair, but no luck there either. However, later, driving down very scenic Moose – Wilson Road, sharp-eyed radiologist Steve spotted a pair of ears protruding from grasses along the roadside. This proved to be a moose, only a few yards away, hiding in plain sight. It was difficult to stop on this narrow, one lane each way road,  with few turnouts. Heading further south on the road, I spotted a second, even more well concealed pair of ears, which proved to be a second moose. This one was much further back from the road, and we really couldn’t stop, as cars were backing up behind us.

Steve’s sharp radiologist’s eyes picked out this moose hiding in plain sight along aptly named Moose-Wilson Road in Grand Teton.

We were able to get a few shots from the car with the windows were down, after Daryl turned around and we retraced our steps back north. Steve’s moose was still in exactly the same spot. Of course, our stopping attracted the attention of others, who were instantly out of their cars, clearly in defiance of the 25 yard rule.

Steve, Greg, and I drove down to Jackson for a delicious early dinner at the Sage Grill, inside the Rusty Parrot Hotel, not far from the main square, a recommendation from our good food and wine loving friend, Miles, who skies in Jackson every winter.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017: River rafting with Jackson Hole Whitewater

It was Sarah’s idea to do a river rafting trip down the Snake River. In the morning, we did the slower, scenic section which began near Jackson, traversing13 miles down the Snake River. We shared a smaller boat with a family from the Washington DC area, including two small and  cranky kids. Their whining didn’t spoil our enjoyment of the scenery and the wildlife sightings, as well as the history and commentary provided by our geologist guide, Charles. Bald eagles were perched in trees along the way, high overhead, a challenging shoot from a bobbing inflatable raft. Marmots warmed themselves on the sunny rocks alongside the river.

Marmot on the banks of the Snake River, near Jackson, Wyoming

After returning to the shop, we were provided with wetsuit booties and jackets for the second half of our rafting combo, 8 miles of intermittent whitewater further south of Jackson, on a stretch of the Snake River between Hoback and Alpine. We should have also taken them up on the provided Farmer John wetsuits, as it proved to be a very wet ride. We were again paired with a family, this one from Southern California, much more fun, with two nice teenage boys. No one went for a swim, either voluntarily or involuntarily, which was good, as we all ended up chilled to the bone just from being splashed.

After a turnaround back at the Lodge, including a very long hot shower, we regrouped in time to shoot a little on our way back south to Jackson for a late dinner at the Snake River Grill, another Miles-who-knows-food-and-wine recommendation. There were thick huddled clouds over the Tetons, but an occasional hole opened up with an illuminating God ray, a beautiful scene we admired and shot from Oxbow Bend.

A favorite beauty spot in Grand Teton: Oxbow Bend

Down at the riverfront, a river otter surprised me, swimming right by me.

River otter wake, Snake River, Grand Teton, Wyoming

Heading south, horses on a ranch compelled us to stop. While we were waiting out a transient rain squall and after pulling the gear from the car, the scene suddenly changed, with incredible light on the opposite side of the road, including a huge, arcing rainbow over golden fields and an intense, stormy blue sky.

We had a late dinner reservation, at 8:45. While we were en route, I received a text asking if we would like to move it to 8:15. I responded “yes, we are en route and we’d like to move our reservation up”. However, our shooting stops on the way made us late, arriving just in time for our original 8:45 reservation!

The restaurant clearly is very popular, as it was full to capacity. We had a delicious dinner, with a miniature brioche starter and giant beer battered onion rings, served on a railroad spike. Steve and I both had the wild game sizzling Korean rice bowl, both delicious and spicy!

Wednesday, August 16, 2017 was our first cloudless morning, colder, with a long swath of fog along the Snake River. We paused briefly at Oxbow Bend to assess its possibilities, before proceeding on to Schwabacher landing. The parking lot was near full, but we eeked out a space.

Duck, Schwabacher Landing, Grand Teton National Park

The best sighting of the morning were the ducks among the reeds in absolutely gorgeous golden light.

The afternoon was devoted to a scouting hike to Phelps Lake, assessing parking possibilities for eclipse day.  To say my planning for how to shoot this eclipse was comprehensive would not be an understatement. By far the toughest decision was exactly where to be. If we only wanted to shoot close-ups of the eclipse, any place with a level surface to set up a tripod would do.  But I envisioned a beautiful wide angle scene with the eclipsed sun, which meant I needed an attractive foreground.  A lake foreground would be pretty, and perhaps even offer an eclipse reflection.  In Grand Teton, the major possibilities aligned along the centerline of totality were Teton Village, the Jackson Hole Airport and Gros Ventre Road.  The closest lake, Phelps Lake, looked promising on the map.  To include the lake in the scene with the eclipse, we’d have to hike to opposite (west) shore.  The lake wasn’t huge (a plus since we’d be toting in gear-laddened backpacks and tripods) and wasn’t too long of a hike from one of several approaches (also good).  We had to factor in parking on the day of the eclipse, time to hike in AND out, and the fact that Steve and I were flying out at 4 pm after the eclipse, 3 hours after the second partial eclipse ended.  So we couldn’t tackle too ambitious of a hike or be too far away from the airport to pull this off.

On the map, there was a road coming off Moose-Wilson Road (narrow and no parking would be allowed on eclipse day, not that there is any to speak of) called Stewart Draw, which started out paved and morphed to dirt, leading to the Death Canyon trailhead. There were clumps of cars parked along the length of the road, and a parking lot at the trailhead.  This seemed promising, at least enough space to be able to park, albeit with mild potential for a bottleneck on egress.

A scrawny deer saw us off.  It was a steep, but doable, 1 mile climb up to Phelps Lake Overlook. The foliage was luxuriant with a gorgeous panoply of wildflowers.  The footing was easy and the trail steep enough to discourage crowds, all good so far.  We explored a few options for eclipse morning.  When we (me, Greg and Sarah) found ourselves at a small crescent of a sandy lakeshore beach, flat, with shade trees behind, we said “This is it!” Steve had peeled off and headed back ahead of us, so never saw our find.  Which is interesting foreshadowing, as he was never to make it there for eclipse morning either.  But I’m getting ahead of myself…

With our probing of the different west side options, it took us 2 hours up, but the trip back to the car was downhill mostly and only took 1 hour.  This could work-we had a plan!

Screeech! Pronghorn in golden light in a grassy Grand Teton field made us late for dinner!

Pronghorn (turns out, they are a type of sheep, not antelope) in a field of gold on our return brought us to a halt at the roadside, leading to a postponed dinner at Jackson Lake Lodge.  Greg and I had the salmon on couscous, Steve the wild game pasta bolognaise and Sarah the portobello mushroom.

After dinner, Greg, Sarah and I set up tripods on the terrace overlooking Jackson Lake to shoot the stars and the milky way over the Tetons. Greg and I stayed on after Sarah headed in, until we were chased away unceremoniously by the sprinklers springing to life suddenly, showering us and threatening our gear.

Thursday, August 17, 2017: North to Yellowstone

Steve, Greg and I headed south to shoot the sunrise, assessing and rejecting Oxbow Bend and Shwabacher’s Landing, before heading east on Antelope Flats Road and Mormon Row to Moulton Barn 2. There was a crowd there, but they were mostly crowded around the fence, leaving open the better oblique views with more attractive foregrounds that Daryl had shown us.

The rest of the morning was devoted to packing up and driving north to Yellowstone, where we reconvened in the afternoon at Lake Yellowstone Hotel. En route, Steve and I stopped at West Thumb Geyser Basin.  While Steve napped in the car, recovering from our sunrise shoot, I shot my way around the boardwalk overlooking Yellowstone Lake, the largest lake above 8000 feet elevation in North America.  West Thumb itself is a thumb-like projection from the lake, and is a caldera within the larger and older Yellowstone Caldera, which encompasses the central and southern sections of the park. West Thumb is thought to have formed after a violent eruption 174,000 years ago. The walk allows views of a colorful array of mudpots and bubbling pools. One of the many delights of Yellowstone is the amazing range of colors to be found, the work of heat loving thermophilic micro-organisms.The darker greens and browns signify cooler waters than the “hotter” tones of orange and yellow produced in warmer temperatures.  Clear blue water at close to boiling temperatures harbors fewer microorganisms.

After reconvening at the Lake Yellowstone Hotel, we headed north to the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, another of Yellowstone’s treasures which we had enjoyed two years earlier.  First stop on the south rim was Artist’s Point.  The trail to Uncle Tom’s Point was closed, so that wasn’t an option this year.  The late afternoon sun was glowing golden. Over on the North Rim, we zigged and zagged our way down to the thundering Brink of the Lower Falls.

Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, brink of the Lower Falls

Heading east toward Norris Geyser Basin, we saw a horrifying sight-a deer by the side of the road, staggering, in extremis, apparently recently struck.  We raced off looking for someone in authority to report this.

A herd of muledeer in soft, pastel, fading light prompted our next stop.  While we were by the side of the road, excitement stirred on the opposite side of the road, with a very far sighting of wolf “dots” in the distance.  Back in the car, heading south toward Old Faithful, an improbably tangerine sunset pulled us over onto the roadside, piling out in a hurry in a mad scramble to untangle tripods and set up while the amazing sunset lasted.

Not Photoshop, just an amazingly colorful August sunset in Yellowstone!

Arriving at the Old Faithful area, we didn’t have too long to wait until the next predicted eruption at 9:33 pm.  The skyward spume was set off by the last glow of the setting sun. We had a late, not so great, dinner there before piling back into the car for the hour drive home.  Steve managed to get the now comatous group back to the hotel safely near midnight, listening to hilariously drole David Sedaris to stay awake.

Friday, August 18, 2017

The morning came swiftly and darkly.  We were scheduled to spent the whole day with Daryl.  Rushing down the carpeted stairs of the hotel to our 5:50 am meeting in the lobby, tripod and camera backpack laden Steve slipped and sprained his ankle.  I was exhausted from being up until midnight the night before, and dozed in the vehicle between shooting stops.  We headed north first.  As on our prior trip, there was a thick curtain of fog concealing the Yellowstone River.  Arriving back at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, we alighted with tripods to shoot the morning sun lighting up the Lower Falls from the Grand View pull-out.

Grand Canyon of Yellowstone Lower Falls at sunrise

The few pink clouds left over from the fog soon dissipated, prompting us to move on to the northeast corner of the park and the Lamar Valley. Herds of bison brought the traffic to a standstill, picking their desultory way from one side of the road to the other.  This corridor is frequented by wolf watchers, a dedicated group.  Two ospreys nested high up in a tree, testing the limits of even our longest glass.

Bison roam freely in Yellowstone, often congregating in the Hayden and Lamar Valleys. This year, we saw them down in Grand Teton as well.

A bison family, with a “red dog” youngster leading the way, in Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley.

Doubling back west, from the Lamar Valley we shot across the top of Yellowstone to the northwest corner and  Mammoth Hot Springs.  This area is known for its beautiful and dynamic travertine terraces, formed as ancient ocean-deposited limestone in this area is dissolved by weak carbonic acid, resulting when hot water in the underlying thermal network combines with dissolved carbon dioxide.  Thermophiles again contribute to color variations in the terraces.

I enjoyed my lunch of a smoked salmon BLT at the Mammoth Hotel Dining Room, which appeared freshly refurbished.  Heading south after lunch, our next stop was along a stretch of river where sharp-eyed Daryl spotted a great blue heron.  Its tense body posture and statue-like stillness suggested it was stalking its next meal, which indeed it was. Quick-reflexed Steve got the shot of the heron and its prize fish, after a prolonged observation period.

Steve’s patience, aided by a fast motor drive on his new D500, was rewarded by capturing this egret claiming a spotted fish meal, In Yellowstone.

By that time, I had succumbed to the visual lure of a jewel-toned red dragonfly, which cooperatively landed nearby, again and again.  Our final stop was the splendidly colored Grand Prismatic, where we walked the boardwalk in shimmering late afternoon golden light.

Saturday, August 19, 2019 started with a much-needed make-up sleep, until 8 am.  We took our time packing up to head back south to Grand Teton and Jackson Lake Lodge.  We stopped, as Daryl had suggested, at Moose Falls, just on the Yellowstone side of the boundary between parks.

Moose Falls, near the southern entrance to Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Back at the Lodge, we lunched at the Blue Heron, where I loved my sous vide califlower plate, with couscous with almonds and mint, and a pulled pork sandwich for Steve.  Once we were installed in our shared accommodation, filled to bursting with us and all of our gear, Greg and I drove south to Jenny Lake.  By now it was pre-eclipse weekend and I wanted to get a sense of how crowded the park was. Were these predictions of an influx of 100,000 visitors to the area overblown?  We breezed down the Teton Park Road and easily found a parking spot in the torn-up, under reconstruction Jenny Lake Visitor Center parking lot.  Of course, it was late afternoon, when many would be heading in after a day on the lake.  We took the shuttle boat across the lake and hiked to Inspiration Point, where we “practiced” groupies/selfies, which are harder than they look!  A young woman on an outcropping seemed to defy the drop-off, doing handstands.

Hikers heading up to Inspiration Point, Jenny Lake, Grand Teton

Meanwhile, Steve, mildly sidelined by his ankle, although improving rapidly, went out to scout an alternate location for the eclipse, and shot the sunset at the Moulton Barns.   The rest of us had a final dinner at the Mural Room.

Sunday, August 20, 2017 (T minus one day until the Great Total Solar Eclipse)

Earlier in our trip, purusing a special eclipse edition newsletter from the Park, I saw a ranger-guided hike being offered at 9:30 AM to Phelps Lake from the Laurence Rockefeller Center, an alternate route to Lake Phelps.  To get to the opposite side of the lake for our eclipse beachhead, this would be a longer, but more level, hike, so this seemed a great way to scout it out, as well as to have access to a ranger for questions about eclipse day logistics.  Since it was limited to 10, I wasn’t optimistic about being able to sign up for 4 of the spots on eclipse weekend, but to my surprise, I received a return call and we were in!  We were advised to arrive before 9 AM to be certain of having a parking spot. We left around 8 AM, and cruised down south without hitting any significant traffic, a pleasant surprise. We arrived around 8:30, when the parking spaces were going fast, but could still be had. Apparently, the lot was full at 8:40, a full five minutes before their earliest record of 8:45 AM.

Our hike to the lake was a leisurely one, perfect for Steve, whose ankle was rapidly improving.  It was led by ranger Laura, a summertime resident of Grand Teton. She told us about the history of the preserve, how it was originally settled by a man named Sterling, as part of the Homestead Act. Later, it became one of the earliest dude ranches, owned by a man named Joy, and was known as JY Ranch. As a boy, Laurance Rockefeller vacationed there with his parents and the Rockefellers went on to buy the ranch and vacationed there over successive generations. Just as Laura had us gathered around her, saying that “hearing a snap could signify a bear is nearby”, Steve glanced over and saw a youngish bear foraging for berries a little distance away. Everyone caught a glimpse of it, but it quickly evaded us.

We stopped for lunch at on-the-way Signal Mountain lodge. Most of the tables were filled and it looked like it might be a wait, until Sarah maneuvered us into a table by nicely asking a couple at a 4-top to switch to a 2-top. In the afternoon, there was gear to clean, sort and organize, as Steve and I were leaving 3 hours after the eclipse and so would have to be packed to go to the airport when we departed in the dark on eclipse morning.

We had a late dinner reservation, 8:45 pm, at Jenny Lake Lodge, with San Diego friends, James and Jill, who had smartly booked back in November 2016.  When I first booked this late dinner hour, it was with an eye to making a long night shorter.  That is, we were rethinking our original plan to spend this night in Yellowstone.  Afraid we might get caught in stock-still traffic, even rising in the middle of the night, we were considering camping and even spending the night in our cars.  James and Jill had nicely offered logistical back-up (namely, bathroom access) should it come to this. Thankfully, our earlier-in-the-week-Jackson-Lake-Lodge-bonafide-miracle meant we weren’t homeless.  We were surprised to be informed Greg was underdressed.

I returned from the restroom to find a mild dress code kerfuffle in progress.  It turns out a collared shirt was required attire for men, and Greg was wearing a T shirt.  The gift shop had one Jenny Lake Lodge logo polo shirt on offer, which happened to fit Greg.  Initially, they offered the shirt at a discounted price, but they eventually comped it, after Greg pointed out we had stopped in earlier in the week to confirm our reservation and no one had mentioned the dress code.  Ironically, when James and Jill arrived a few minutes later, he was wearing a V-necked collarless sweater under a sport coat.  I guess collared sport coat is a collared shirt equivalent in this sartorial hierarchy.

It is a formal dining experience at night, a 5 -course meal ($92).  There was one unfortunate repercussion.  Although Sarah made the kitchen aware of her shellfish allergy, she developed her tell-tale bright red skin signs of exposure back in the cabin. Cross-contamination or maybe too close of proximity to the scallops Jill and I enjoyed?  Perhaps…this led her to take not one, but 2 Benadryls.  Despite a dose enough to knock out most camels (I suspect, judging by my reaction to one) and an initial conspicuous lack of movement when the alarm went off next morning at 4:30 am, she managed to rise and be more or less ready at the appointed departure time of 5 am.

I say more or less, because…when we arrived, pleasantly unimpeded by traffic, at the Rockefeller Center parking lot at 5:45 am and threw open the trunk of the car, she realized she left her camera bag back in the cabin.  There was no question of going back for it…we had a premium eclipse day  parking space.  Greg and I each had 2 complete camera set-ups, 2 tripods, miniature folding chairs and water bottles, so we were fully laden.  Steve had decided following my plan would lead to us missing our plane, and was concerned his sprained ankle, although rapidly improving, might slow down the speedy hike necessary after the eclipse.  He had come up with his own plan, to shoot at Jackson Hole Airport.

I’m happy to say that all of that planning (the most I have ever devoted to a single shoot) paid off. Doing the trip ourselves also proved to be surprisingly cost-effective ($6357 for 2 people, plus airfare), at least compared with the almost-double-that commercial trips  with Joseph Van Os Photo Safaries, which were booked solid with long waiting lists we when looked into it in January.  I’ve written up a complete account of eclipse day for Photo Focus , which can be accessed here:


Total solar eclipse of August 21, 2017, western shore of Phelps Lake, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming






















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3 thoughts on “Eclipse August 21, 2017

  1. Wonderful read, I wish I could remember detail as you do for when I try to write a post-trip article. Your photos are great and I’m glad you had a good trip to Jackson Hole.

  2. What gorgeous photos ! An important curator needs to organize an exhibition of your work! Many thanks for sharing all this , truly inspirational ! And lots of fun to read the accompanying narrative .

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