Grand Teton National Park: Day 4
August 18, 2011

Adamant in my search for a beautiful sunrise, I woke once again at 5:00 AM and immediately left for the park. The previous sunrise was inadequate in its deficiency of clouds and I knew the scenery could offer more. I reached the first turnout by first light. Small white clouds were the only objects illuminated at this time, but paired with the relative location of the sun, they offered a unique opportunity to see an opposite contrast of dark mountains backdropped with a light sky. The near freezing temperature made my stay short.

I moved quickly to the Snake River Overlook to catch the actual sunrise. With Ansel Adam's famous photograph in mind once again, I set up near the other early morning photographers. Due to the tree cover, most of the overlook was visually blocked. For over half an hour, I waited and depressed the shutter in constant time intervals. Colors upon the steep Teton mountains were ephemeral making the selection of the best picture difficult. As the morning popped into being, the orange glow crawled down the mountain, over the trees and toward Snake River. By the end of the sunrise, the color was more evenly diffused over the landscape and shadows were cast between peaks. As I looked about me, I noticed traces of the early morning still apparent. The wind softly and constantly brushed over the landscape, mist still lingered in the cooler shade of hillside and birds had not awoken to fill the air with sweet songs.

Some animals rose early, since robins made it clear that the early bird catches the worm. I returned to the trail at Christian Pond to see if I could improve my photographs of the tree swallows. As I walked, the Uinta ground squirrels greeted me but there were no swallows to be seen. I continued up the path looking to see if some sparrows could make my hike worth it. A chipping sparrow caught my attention, but a second later a distressed robin signaled the approach a predator. Less than twenty feet away was a coyote, staring at me with its ears pointed up. It pranced lightly and silently across the sagebrush, and disappeared a few seconds later. With that, and the appearance of two sparrows, I headed out.

Cattleman's Bridge Site was close by and I soon arrived to wait under ominous clouds. The mosquitoes were out, but soon it rained and the heavy rain drops sent them hiding. The usual residents appeared again, with the juvenile bald eagle and osprey in the trees across the river. I waited, but only the osprey came out to hunt, and it soon flew to another spot along the river. I sat on the river's edge observing an American white pelican and a common merganser floating down the river together. It seemed like an odd combination, but they coexisted without squabbling.

Soon a double-crested cormorant joined the party. It looked around and then dove into the water. I started to remember all the images I had seen of cormorants fishing, and wondered if I would see something similar and maybe even photograph it. Just then, it popped out of the water with a giant fish in its grasp. The fish splashed about as the cormorant attempted to swallow it. As if it could not get any more exciting, out of the corner of the camera frame I saw the pelican rushing toward the cormorant. Noticing the impending danger, the cormorant began its takeoff along the water with the fish only partially swallowed. A split second later, the pelican reached the cormorant and closed its beak over the cormorant's head. It did not look pretty, and I was unsure how the cormorant dealt with such an uncomfortable encounter. I stopped photographing and watched the cormorant pop up a few feet from the pelican and adjust the fish within its throat. It notified the pelican of the discomfort and then took off back to the nesting grounds at Oxbow Bend.

I was excited and anxious to see if these photographs turned out, but I had to wait until I could download them. I stayed longer in hopes of seeing something else exciting and later moved further down the river. I heard the "peep" of a sandpiper and turned my attention to the rocky banks of the river behind me. An adult spotted sandpiper waved its tail in an effort to distract me from its nest that I had unknowingly encroached upon. The bird was small and difficult to discern from the rocks and plants next to the trail where it had nested.

Watching birds eat made me think of food as well. No restaurants were near, so I headed south to Signal Mountain Lodge in search a good meal. While I ate, I kept my eyes on the barn swallows flapping about right outside the window. After finishing lunch, I went to the deck and tried to photograph their rapid flight patterns. Even with the best opportunity in front of me, the result was only mildly successful.

The clouds were puffy and contrasty, and thus several stops were made on the road back. I checked out Deadman's Bar, a river access point, to see if wildlife chose this as a preferred spot as well. Unfortunately, there was little there except for signs explaining the dangerous waters ahead.

Sunshine had warmed the park, and it was already getting late, with respect to my early waking. I felt content with the day and thought to stop at Moose Junction to see the visitor center and small village before going back. A crowd of people on the bridge signaled something interesting. Upon crossing the bridge, I saw an adult moose grazing on the riverbank. I watched from afar as the moose chomped down leaves. Now and then it stared at me while it happily chewed its lunch, presenting something more or less like a smile.

It was the best day of the trip, and I was finished by the early afternoon.