Tetons — Snake River

Rethought Nov 28, 2009. 9:47PM Cen­tral time. Bowl­ing Green, KY

Revis­it­ed Nov 27th, 2009 8:05 PM Cen­tral Time New­burgh Indi­ana

Writ­ten some­time before August 7, 2009 8:31:46 PM MDT Seen some­time before 5:17pm August 7, 2009 Jack­son Hole, Wyoming.

I saw the Grand Tetons today. I don’t think I’ve see any­thing as impres­sive in maybe ten years. I rank it up there with The Grand Canyon and The David. So it’s awe­some. I think it’s more awe­some than the Rock­ies or the Andes because although it’s small­er than both, you are look­ing at an entire range of moun­tains. You can see where they jut out from the land and reach up to the tip tops all snow cov­ered and kissed but not smoth­ered by the clouds. I thinks it’s the most fun I’ve had so far on this trip but then I real­ize I might be able to find the exact spot where Ansel Adams took his tear­ful­ly awe inspir­ing pho­to “Teton and Snake Riv­er.”

So I sud­den­ly become obsessed with find­ing the exact tri­pod-indent­ed spot and I google and learn that he took it some­where near the “Snake Riv­er over­look” off High­way 191. With map in hand, we find the over­look and I get out, ready to shoot the exact POV pho­to­graph­ic shot but there’s some­thing wrong. Com­par­ing my shots, I soon under­stand that the over­look is much high­er in ele­va­tion than where he took famous pho­to. I look down the hill and spot a road and a truck dri­ving on it so we back­track on the high­way to a sign that states it has Snake riv­er access, called Deadman’s Bar. We dri­ve down the road and soon come to the end. It’s a boat launch for peo­ple who are raft­ing down the Snake Riv­er. This is not Adam’s spot. You can bare­ly see the moun­tain from here; it’s cov­ered by the high ris­ing riv­er bank on the oth­er side. But there is anoth­er access road blocked by a locked gait. I rea­son it must lead back to and below the over­look where I will take my pho­to. I take Mac with me1 and we march down the road and it’s far­ther than I thought, but Mac keeps up well for being force-marched and almost three (it’s one day before his third birth­day.)

Soon we start see­ing some­thing we hadn’t seen in all our time we spent in Yel­low­stone: Wildlife.2 We see chip­munks, mar­mots and oth­er rodents scram­bling and birds tak­ing flight. I point out the wildlife to Mac as we keep speed-walk­ing down the road, pass­ing some bath­room facil­i­ties and trash­cans that appear to have long been in dis­use, but have bright­ly coloured pic­tographs indi­cat­ing that food should be secure­ly thrown away so as to not feed the wildlife. The pic­to­graph that gets the most atten­tion is of a bear track in alarm­ing­ly bright yel­low and it occurs to me that we are tramp­ing down a road­way that isn’t being used much if any and that we are sup­posed to be in the wilder­ness and sud­den­ly I hal­lu­ci­nate the head­lines: Ore­gon fam­i­ly on way to Ken­tucky gets eat­en by bears by stu­pid­ly going into unpop­u­lat­ed area.

I start get­ting ner­vous but as I do I notice I can see both the Tetons and the Snake riv­er now and it becomes clear that I’m almost there. So I try to hur­ry Mac along, who has all this time been trail­ing me, stop­ping to pick up rocks and flow­ers and point­ing out ants. I reach the bend in the riv­er —that sin­u­ous bend in the pho­to­graph where hav­ing gone from right to left at the bot­tom of The Pic­ture, the riv­er now takes a a slow right­ward turn and trav­els up towards the moun­tain. I am right there, right at that bend in the pho­to that I can see in my mind: The Spot. But the river­side is cov­ered by boul­ders which would be hard for me to climb and impos­si­ble for Mac, so I take some pho­tos know­ing I was this close to get­ting the shot.3

But for a few sec­onds I think I can keep­ing going, I can ford the boul­ders while car­ry­ing Mac and get to The Spot and get The Shot, but of course I can’t. I can­not go on. I have to think about Mac and the fact that this feels exact­ly like the kind of sce­nario in movies where the audi­ence is slap­ping their heads in dis­be­lief and scream­ing at the movie to “get out!” So I leave with­out The Shot and by this time have spooked myself quite a bit and rush to grab Mac and we start walk­ing out quick­ly. There is noth­ing creepi­er than look­ing into dense for­est and see­ing noth­ing and Mac sens­es this. I start telling him every­thing is just fine and not to stop or look back and, even­tu­al­ly, I place him on my shoul­ders and we skedad­dle the hell out of there and meet Jenn who is won­der­ing where the hell we’ve been all this time.

This gets me think­ing about real­i­ty. The pho­to by Ansel Adams at times feels more real than see­ing the Tetons in real life where­as when we tried to see the Grand Pris­mat­ic Spring, our view was obscured by all the steam from the hot spring which made see­ing the pho­to of it in the guide book feel like an LSD trip. I won­der if I had found The Spot where Ansel took his pho­to, would I be able to see the Real Thing or just “see” the pho­tos super­im­posed over the real thing, thus obscur­ing the actu­al thing I want­ed to see, i.e the thing I was inspired to see by the pho­to is now irrev­o­ca­bly dis­placed by that pho­to, it now being the thing keep­ing me from see­ing the real live moun­tain in front of me. My head hurts. I’m going to bed.

Adden­dum: I have since learned that Adam’s Spot doesn’t exit, if it every did except for the brief move­ment when he trig­gered his camera’s shut­ter. The trees have con­tin­ued to grow and so nei­ther the riv­er or the Tetons can be tru­ly seen, if such a thing is pos­si­ble.

  1. This seemed like a good idea at the time. I am con­fi­dent it just a stroll past some trees and that a three year old can sure­ly keep up []
  2. That’s not strict­ly true; we did see a few, hulk­ing Bison that were being giv­en a police escort as they crossed a road in the park. []
  3. At least I know I’ll be back, armed with knowl­edge, maps, ther­mal imag­ing scans, a recon­nais­sance team, small and large arms and maybe a BMP-3 []