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 []