Pilot Knobs and Teewinots

They were once called the Pilot Knobs because fur trappers from a hundred miles around oriented themselves using these shark-tooth mountains. Long before that, an unknown tribe built the 'Enclosure,' a radiating dish of monolithic slabs impossibly arranged on a spire just shy of the tallest peak, where warriors or medicine men would climb to and meditate or seek spiritual orientation.

All of us here still orient to these mountains like the trappers, and like the Indians before them. I lamented that I would eventually get used to the Tetons. Surely they would fade into the doldrums of everyday life. Not so. Every time it's like seeing these mountains for the first time
Some days the top of the Grand is a stone's throw away. It's the way the light catches every fleck of mica. Its because i'm feeling invincible and euphoric. Other days its seems to be in a faraway dimension. It's the way the light shrouds the highest reaches. Its because i'm feeling humble and conquered. Every experience out here happens in the attention of the Tetons. Everything is mapped and cataloged onto the mountains such that every view is an orientation and reorientation. 

This particular view is the punctuation mark of many of my seasons. Trucking up to this rounded hilltop with a picnic and a bottle of wine, looking down at wolves rolling around in the meadows below. Barking Sandhill Cranes echo off the hills over a mirror-still ranch reservoir, cutting through a thick silence dusted with singing cicadas and whistling sagebrush.

My first grizzly is out in that meadow somewhere. Mom was foraging on gopher caches, trying to provide for her two cubs as summer was running out of steam. The two cubs stood on their hind legs to inspect and harass a pair of cranes that towered over them. The next year I canoed to that island with a friend shortly before she moved away. Many people here are as ephemeral as these short seasons. 

Photographers come here every hour of every day. I took this in October 2011, and this shot hasn't been possible since. In October 2012, wildfires throughout the Rockies rudely dumped smoke into the valley all Autumn, obscuring visibility of the mountains entirely. In October 2013, the aspens never turned this bright,and the rain clouds never lifted off the peaks. Outdoor photography is 90% about showing up. Again and again and again. 


Here, elk and horses, bison and cattle share pastures, bridging the gap between wildlife and livestock management. One summer day, we photographed pronghorn here all morning then walked up to the fence and hand-fed grass to the horses. One winter day, we went on a beautiful cross-country ski to a secluded lake where a coyote howled and howled from shore. We were awarded with this view on the return trip.

On the shortest days of the year, its best to just accept the long nights. The full moon illuminates the frost on grandfather cottonwoods before setting behind Buck Mountain. This is near the most popular summer destination in the park in the summer. I had never photographed here for that reason. I came here alone early one morning last week. The moon was blinding, and the snowy grass sparkled.


Comments

  1. Wow. Amazing photos Sean, thanks for sharing.

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  2. Sean, Thank you for taking us on this beautiful journey through the seasons. Happy Holidays!

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