This summer’s adventure brought us to the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Park. We almost went back to Banff National Park for the third year in a row, but wildlife and landscape photos from 500px and flickr, as well as conversations with fellow travelers, convinced us that it might be worthwhile to explore the beautiful state of Wyoming. We were also aware that some of Hollywood’s western classic films, such as “Shane” and “Spencer’s Mountain,” had been filmed in the area. By April, we decided to make plans for our August adventure.
Table of Contents
1) Pre-Trip Preparations
As usual, I reflected on last year’s trip to determine what I might do differently this year. I decided to leave the teleconverters, fisheye lens, and flash at home. I rarely used them on past trips and they simply added more weight to my already heavy LowePro AW400 Trekker backpack. I also picked up an Eye-Fi Mobi 32GB wifi card for transferring photos from my Nikon D810 to my iPad and Samsung Galaxy S5. I am not a big fan of broadcasting our location to the world while we are away, but appreciated the opportunity to send an occasional moose close-up photo to friends and family from my D810.
I relied on Trip Advisor to find some credible wildlife tours and airplane excursions. It is not the only reference site I use, but I have found it very helpful to winnow down our various travel choices. I loaded a few Jackson Hole/Yellowstone ebooks onto my iPad before our trip. Although good references, travel-related ebooks cannot substitute for first-hand knowledge of the area and getting a feel for a locale.
2) The Land Of Moose
I used much of our travel time going over my new D810’s manual, getting acquainted with some of the new settings, and customizing my menu system to match that of my D800. I also reread that vacation classic, “How To Minimize Your Chances Of Being Eaten By A Grizzly Bear And Ruining Your Vacation!”
The Jackson Airport is small and has an appealing rustic atmosphere, distinctly different than what you find in airports such as Newark, LaGuardia or Kennedy. Within a few miles from the airport, we turned onto Moose Wilson Road. As we would come to discover, Moose Wilson Road is a popular mecca for wildlife. We had traveled approximately 2 miles when we saw a dozen cars in a parking lot and people looking down at a small pond in a valley – a sure sign that wildlife had been spotted. We pulled into an open parking spot and were told that a young moose feeding in the pond, but he had wandered off behind some bushes. Suddenly the moose jumped out of the brush into view, approximately 50 yards away. I was ready with my Nikon 80-400mm VR II lens and D810. I was able to get a few pictures as he stood up to his knees in the shallow water munching on some leaves. No doubt he was wondering why so many people were interested in watching him eat his evening meal. So far, so good – less than 10 minutes in the car and we already had seen one moose! We would soon find out that Jackson and moose are nearly synonymous.
3) The Town of Jackson
As you walk around the town of Jackson, it is hard not to imagine that you have been transported to another era, since many of the storefronts still have that late 1800’s look to them, even if they have adopted modern-day niceties such as indoor plumbing, telephone lines, and internet access. We visited the many shops and art galleries and purchased our obligatory can of bear spray, along with some gifts for friends and family. I even managed to convince Tanya that I was due for a new Stetson hat.
We made our way over to Albertson’s Supermarket to stock up on some food and other essentials for our 10 day stay. Later we relaxed and got ready for the next day’s 8 hour photography tour.
4) Wildlife Photography Tour
I always recommend taking some form of guided tour if you are new to an area. Nothing can substitute for traveling with someone who has first-hand knowledge of the geography and is familiar with the habits of the local wildlife. I had searched through a myriad of top-rated photography tour providers and read quite a few reviews on Trip Advisor. I narrowed the search down to a few of the more popular tour guides, and settled on Teton Science School. TSS had a great website, solid reviews, and reasonable rates. After speaking with one of its friendly representatives, I felt comfortable signing on for a tour.
5:00 AM rolled around a bit too quickly, but Tanya and I bounced out of bed and got ready for our 6:00 AM pickup. Paul, our guide, arrived promptly and offered us some fresh-baked blueberry muffins and coffee. As luck would have it, we were the only people that had signed on for the 8 hour tour that day. Paul turned out to be a serious amateur photographer and a good one at that, despite his being a diehard Canon enthusiast!
We started our morning back on Wilson Moose road. Within a few minutes, we came across a family of elk foraging on the brush and grasses. The light was pretty poor due to the overcast skies and time of day. I quickly found my D810/80-400mm VRII combo defaulting to ISO 12,800 with a shutter speed of 250 using the Auto ISO setting. I had no illusions that these would be great photos, but wanted to capture a few shots of the elk.
I love my Nikon 80-400mm VRII lens, but gained a new appreciation for the f/2.8 and f/4 400mm and 500mm lenses and their light gathering abilities. In the pre-dawn hours, their wider apertures would have enabled me to capture photos at much lower ISO values. Then again, I had to appreciate the fact that my 80-400mm was 5lbs lighter and nearly $9,400 cheaper than its more expensive brother, the 400mm f/2.8! Until National Geographic taps me for their professional wildlife team (NG?), the 80-400mm will have to suffice. It will be interesting to see how Sigma’s two new 150-600mm lenses compare to the Nikon 80-400mm VRII.
We stopped periodically to observe more elk and an occasional mule deer. After reaching the end of the Moose Wilson Road, we pulled into the parking lot of Dornan’s Restaurant & Market, a legend in the Jackson area. Just before arriving at the parking lot, we spotted a huge bull moose feeding behind the building. As we eagerly made our way around the side of the restaurant, the moose began walking in our direction. We were careful not to move too quickly and gave him plenty of room.
No matter how many pictures of moose you see, they can’t really give you a true appreciation for the size of these animals – they are massive! We were able to get some good close-ups as our moose sauntered by looking for some tree leaves to munch on. He was obviously comfortable with people and did not seem to care about us clicking away, the delivery trucks driving into the parking lot, or people entering and leaving the market. A young lady, walking up the road from the nearby cabins, remarked, “Oh, he is here every day!” and continued to walk right by the moose, as if he was the neighborhood dog.
Despite this lady’s nonchalant attitude, we stayed a comfortable distance from the moose. We were on the cusp of the “rut” or mating season and didn’t want to push our luck and be viewed as a threat to the moose’s turf.
We positioned ourselves to capture some additional shots if he headed down the path to the Snake River, where Paul thought he might be headed. Unfortunately the moose decided to wander off in the other direction, right through the backyard area of some cabins. Thus our brief moose encounter ended almost as quickly as it began, but not before we captured a variety of decent shots.
Paul took us to a number of notable wildlife areas in and around Grand Teton National Park. He was a virtual encyclopedia of information regarding the area, geology, wildlife, and the conservation efforts underway. We paused for a welcome picnic lunch at noon and then resumed our journey. By the end of the day, we had seen the following:
- 75 elk
- 1 bull moose
- 4 herds of pronghorn antelope
- 2 herds of bison
- 6 pelicans
- 1 cormorant
- 5 red tailed hawks
- 2 ospreys, one diving talons first to capture and fly off with a trout dinner
- 1 Western Tanager bird
- 1 wolf (viewed through a spotting scope)
- Some stunning landscape scenery enhanced by cirrus and cumulus clouds
If you are planning a trip to Jackson, and are not familiar with the area, I highly recommend spending a day with Paul or one of the other guides from the Teton Science School. It will help acquaint you with the area and give you some insights regarding current local wildlife habits that static ebooks alone cannot provide. You can then head out on your own during the remainder of your trip, much more confident in your travels and better equipped to allocate your time. You can find out more information regarding the TSS on their website.
5) Death Canyon
Despite our best attempts to get up at 5:00 AM the next morning, the appeal of the snooze button proved too tempting. After catching up on our sleep, we ate a leisurely breakfast and headed over to the Rockefeller Preserve, also just off of Moose Wilson Road. Since we arrived at approximately 10:45 AM, there was a 7 car waiting line for a parking slot. Following the “Thou Shall Not Wait In Line While On Vacation” rule, we opted to hike Death Canyon instead. We chose the 8 mile loop to the Rangers Cabin. After a rather moderate ascent up the trail, we were treated to a picturesque view of Phelps Lake.
Bright mid-afternoon sun in July and August wreaks havoc on photography, especially when you are in a thickly forested area. As of yet, camera sensor simply can’t handle the dynamic range of harsh sunlight and the deep shadows. Such conditions, however, are often ideal for infrared photography. An abundance of artistic cumulus and cirrus clouds can make IR shots even more interesting. Thus the D810 went back in the bag and the Kolari Vision infrared-converted Nikon D7100 IR camera and trusty 16-85mm lens assumed the lead role for much of the afternoon.
After admiring the view from the Phelps Lake Overlook, we descended down a steep hill toward the lake. In less than a mile, however, we began a fairly steep ascent consisting of a series of switchbacks through a mountain pass that featured a glacier-fed stream. We were eventually eye-level with snow patches on the opposite side of the mountain, which appeared to be in perpetual shadow. We kept asking people who were coming down the mountain how far the Rangers Cabin was, and getting answers such as, “It is just a short hike from here.” After a half what seemed like another hour of hiking, we began to doubt the existence of the Rangers Cabin and imagined that everyone was playing a cruel joke on us. Of course, it may be that as the ascent got steeper, our backpacks were slowing me down much more than thought!
As has happened previously while lugging a heavy backpack up rugged terrain, I found myself daydreaming of a full frame mirrorless camera and 16-500mm f/1.8 lens combination that weighed less than my Samsung Galaxy S5 phone. We finally did make it to the top, however, and enjoyed a quick snack and a much-needed rest before heading back down the mountain. The scenery was breathtaking and the combination of IR light and interesting cloud formations made for some interesting photo opportunities.
If infrared photos appeal to you, I strongly urge you to consider taking the plunge. IR enables you to take photos when the lighting conditions make visual light photography all but impossible. IR photography also allows you to create images that are rather surreal compared to their visual light counterparts. You can certainly start by purchasing an infrared filter, but I would suggest converting an older DSLR to IR, since it will allow you to shoot at normal shutter speeds.
6) “Calling Dr. Tom…” – Schwabacher’s Landing
Tom Redd, one of our fellow Photography Life writers, had been in Jackson the week before us with his wife. Tom was chockfull of advice and gave me some excellent pointers regarding places to shoot and the times to be there. He had captured some beautiful photos of the night sky during his visit. Unfortunately, I was not to have the same luck with my astrophotography, since the nights skies were often overcast. When they were clear a bright full moon lit up the sky thereby reducing the chances to get good star pictures.
We managed to ignore the temptation to push the snooze button and wake up at 5:00 AM and be out the door by 5:45 the next morning. Once again, we drove along Moose Wilson Road, in an attempt to find the elk herd and lone moose from the day before. Unfortunately, all the elk were high up on the mountain ridges, out of range for even a 400mm lens, and our moose was nowhere to be found. Tanya managed to spot a beautiful blue heron gazing into the rising sun.
After a quick stop at Dornan’s Restaurant, we proceeded to Schwabacher’s Landing, a few miles up route 89. This is probably one of the most photographed spots in Wyoming and for good reason: it offers a stunning view of the Grand Tetons and Snake River. We spent a good hour or so working this site from different angles. Schwabacher’s Landing is pure eye candy given the majestic mountains, idyllic forest and river basin, and the quality of light provided by the morning sun. A slight breeze occasionally caused ripples in the waters’ reflection, but I managed to get a few shots that showed a nearly mirror image reflection of the Grand Teton mountain range.
Tanya and I hiked along the Snake River from the lower portion of Schwabacher’s Landing since Tom had mentioned that it was a popular area for moose. Unfortunately, no one told the moose we were coming that morning so they apparently found some other site for their morning meal. We headed back toward Grand Teton Village on route 89 when I spotted a pronghorn antelope approximately 100 yard off the road in a field we had travelled two days before. We turned around and pulled off onto the dirt road leading to the field. I eased out of the car to capture a few shots from a distance before the pronghorn decided that she didn’t appreciate my company.
We drove for a while but had to turn back when we doubted our Ford Explorer’s ability to cross a small creek that covered a section of the road. As we drove back, I thought I spied another pronghorn in the same location where we had seen the first. What I thought was pronghorn antelope, however, turned out to be a coyote. He stuck around for a few shots but, like the pronghorn, didn’t seem appreciate my attention and quickly trotted out of view.
As I was turning to leave, I saw what I thought was another coyote in the grass. To my surprise, the coyote turned out to be a badger. He was ripping a wood pile apart, likely looking for mice, moles, or anything else that might prove to be a tasty meal. I slowly walked up to a wooden fence and rested my 80-400mm lens collar on a post. I patiently waited as the badger continued making his lunchtime hunting exercise.
The badger eventually started to work his way directly toward me, pausing once in a while in response to sound of my D810 clicking away. I thought I might have to retreat backwards, since badgers have a reputation for being vicious when startled. To my relief, he swerved to the right at the 30 foot mark. He apparently not being able to distinguish me from the fence post, but smart enough to know that fence posts didn’t make Nikon D810 shutter noises.
7) Mormon Row
We headed over to the famous Mormon Row barns that adorn the area known as Antelope Flats. Like Schwabacher’s Landing, Mormon Row is also one of the more popular photography sites, since it features a stunning view of the Grand Tetons in the background. It was now approximately 1:30 PM, and the light was less than ideal for visual light photography. Once again I pulled out the IR-converted D7100.
8) National Museum of Wildlife Art
While walking through Teton Village, we ran into a couple we had met on the plane. They had been to the museum that afternoon and suggested we stop by the NMWA if we had the opportunity. The NMWA features a staggering number of paintings, photos, sculptures, and artifacts from many of the most notable wildlife artists. It is a truly humbling experience to see so many stunning works of art, and ponder how these artists were able to translate the visions of their mind into paint, stone, glass, wood, and metal.
John Clymer, Carl Rungius, Alexander Pope, Rosa Bonheur, Robert Bateman, Greg Beecham, and Nick Brandt were our favorites. I immediately noticed Brandt’s work, since he photographs African wildlife using an infrared camera, and has been featured in a number of popular photography magazines. Rosa Bonheur was especially intriguing as she had an uncanny knack of depicting light and shadows thus making her paintings extremely realistic. The NMWA also has a film room featuring interviews with the artists.
You should plan on spending at least 3-4 hours at the museum. And don’t neglect taking a walk around the grounds of the museum as it features some stunning life-sized bronze sculptures of various animals. Once again, I relied on my IR DSLR to capture the beauty of these sculptures in the mid-day sun. If you are in the area, I highly recommend a visit to the NMWA museum. It is perhaps the best $12 you can spend in Jackson. You can learn more about the NMWA on their website.
9) Up, Up & Away In Driggs, ID
A helicopter or airplane tour is a great way to see the Grand Tetons from a different perspective. Unfortunately, no one currently offers helicopter rides in the area. No one currently offers airplane or helicopter tours of the Grand Tetons from the Jackson side of the mountain range. Thus we found ourselves at Teton Aviation, located in a small airport in Driggs, ID, about 45 minutes from Teton Village. The price for an hour plane tour of the Tetons was very reasonable, less than half of what we had spent for a 45 minute helicopter tour in Banff two years ago.
After a brief introduction to our pilot, Mark, we were on our way. It had been quite some time since I had been in a Cessna 172. I had begun working on my private pilot’s license in the late 1980s and completed my solo flight requirements. I had forgotten just how small these planes were! Mark and I were shoulder to shoulder with precious little room to spare. Tanya had the best seat in the house, having the backseat all to herself.
Mark turned out to be quite a guy, having a Ph.D from the University of Montana and working as a contractor for NASA. In his spare time, Mark hikes to the top of the Tetons (no insignificant feat!), loves to ski, and flies planes and gliders – quite the Renaissance Man! You can visit find out more information about Teton Aviation on their website.
If you planes are not your thing, consider visiting one of the major ski resorts in Jackson or Driggs. We took the lift at picturesque Targhee Ski resort, which brought us to an elevation of approximately 10,000 feet. There we were treated to a breathtaking view of the Grand Tetons.
After our plane ride, we made our way over to Grand Teton Distillery, a relatively new player in the potato vodka arena. We had a pleasant conversation with the couple that owned the distillery. They were surprised to find that we lived a few short miles from their main competitor in the potato vodka business, Boyd & Blair. Lee and Bill Beckett’s story represents the American Dream: a lawyer and doctor who, seeking to change their careers, decided to take a chance and start a new business. They have done very well and already expanding their plant capacity and distribution.
The town of Driggs turned out to be a very welcome surprise, offering some stunning scenery, a beautiful and historic downtown area, and wonderful atmosphere. This experience reminded us that some of life’s best adventures are not necessarily planned for and are rather serendipitous in nature.
Before arriving in Jackson, we thought we would be able to venture into Yellowstone for a series of daytrips. We quickly realized that this wasn’t quite as practical as we first thought. We attempted to find a hotel room in Yellowstone for one night. As we came to discover, only one company handles reservations for hotels within the Yellowstone Park: Xanterra. We went online but could not find any available rooms anywhere in the park. We decided to call their 800 number. As luck would have it, we found the only hotel room available in Yellowstone for the next night. We quickly reserved it.
The next morning, we arose at 4:00 AM so we could be on the road long before sunrise. We made pretty good time and entered Yellowstone Park before the staff manned the entrance stations. It was a beautiful morning. We stopped a number of times to take pictures of the sunrise against the Teton Mountain range.
Despite the popularity of Old Faithful, I have admit that it pales in comparison to other parts of the park. If we had to do it over again (Old Faithful Vistor Center Park Rangers stop reading here!), we would have driven right by Old Faithful and spent the time in other areas of Yellowstone. It is, after all, simply a mountain of hot water that shoots upwards of 200 feet or so every 90 minutes and lasts for a mere two minutes. Judging by the large crowds, however, it seems to be on everyone’s “must see” list.
We found the hot springs of Excelsior Geyser to be much more impressive, despite their stinking to the high heavens of sulfur. I couldn’t help but notice a bit of irony regarding the sulfur streams. I grew up in an eastern Pennsylvania mining town where such sulfur-laced streams are considered “pollution” and a blight on the local landscape. Similar looking and smelling streams in Yellowstone National Park, however, were listed as “natural wonders!”
Mammoth Hot Springs was one of the most amazing sights along our journey. We started hiking from the lower section when the skies quickly turned dark and a downpour ensued. The rain didn’t last too long, however, and the sun came out almost immediately. This produced the idyllic lighting conditions photographers crave – bright sunlight foregrounds framed by dark grayish-blue clouds.
We had considered heading up to Lamar Valley, well-known for its abundant wildlife, during the early evening hours, but road construction, rain, and the flood of tourists stopping traffic to photograph various animals put us hours behind our expected schedule. I quickly realized that I had grossly overestimated our average speed through the park. We passed through the small town of Mammoth Hot Springs, where apparently, a herd of elk regularly come out in the morning and late afternoon hours, to feast on grass and pose for pictures.
With daylight beginning to fade, we decided to head directly to our hotel at Lake Yellowstone. Along the way, we saw elk, mule deer, bison, and a grizzly off in the distance. It was a slow trek, since each animal sighting brought traffic to a complete standstill.
And in some places, there was not much of a berm along the road, and drifting off the road could easily result in your going over a cliff or down a treacherous gulley. This slowed traffic down considerably. In other sections, steep cliffs alongside, and in some cases, directly above the road had showered the road with loose rocks. As such, we were navigating at 10-15 mph in some areas of the park.
We finally made it to the Lake Yellowstone hotel by 9:30 PM. Considering the remoteness of the area, we were expecting very modest, perhaps even rustic, accommodations. We were pleasantly surprised to find a first class resort. We had planned on getting up at 4:00 AM once again and driving north to the Lamar Valley. Tanya was ready to go, but my body cried out for additional sleep. Thus we slept in, lounged around the lounge area, and had a delicious breakfast buffet. We then took a relaxing drive back to Jackson.
11) Visiting The Departed
What would a vacation be without visiting some of the historic graveyards of the area? Ok, so it is probably not everyone’s cup of tea, but as you may know from some of my previous articles, I always attempt to find some of historic resting areas. As I make my way among older headstones, my mind wanders back in time and I cannot help but be a bit more reflective by the end of my walk. My wife indulges this rather odd interest of mine, but not without giving me a few eye rolls!
I was able to locate and visit two cemeteries in the area: Aspen Hill and Elliot. Aspen Hill is in a rather odd location, between a popular ski resort chairlift and hotel. It is built into the side of the mountain and extremely steep in some areas. It is one of only two areas you can be buried in if you are from Jackson.
Elliot Cemetery is just outside of Wilson, a few miles from Jackson. Both featured some rather unique tombstones, interesting inscriptions, and evidence that some people had a sense of humor about death.
On this visit, I noticed that more than a few people lived some very long lives, particularly given the medical, sanitation, and environmental factors of their day. I was struck by how many people were born not long after the US Civil War and passed away the year I was born. Father Time marches on…
Apparently, I am not the only person that investigates old cemeteries. Check out this cheery news video!
12) A Few Notes On Photography Gear
Over the last few years, I have been pretty hard on Nikon in light of its D800 focus issue, the oil splattering D600, and the overpriced hipster-retro DF. I have to admit that Nikon has done an excellent job on the D810. With the D800, some of my lenses required fine tuning adjustments with values of 5 to 15. Thus far, none of my lenses have required any adjustment on the D810. The autofocus and buffer improvements really put the D810 in class of its own. It is not a pure “action” camera, but the latest improvements certainly make it more than adequate for just about anyone than other than a professional sports photographer.
I have also been extremely impressed with Sigma as of late. It continues to introduce one lens after another, each representing great performance and solid value. I recently purchased a Sigma 24-105mm f/4. I shot a number of test patterns comparing it to my Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8. Perhaps I am fortunate to have a remarkably good copy, but I found that my 24-105mm f/4 equaled, and in some cases, outperformed the venerable Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8. That is quite an accomplishment.
The Sigma 24-105mm doesn’t buy you much of a weight reduction, but it is a beautifully-built, solid lens that adds gives you another 35mm over the Nikon. I had a Nikon 24-120mm f/4, but sold it after finding that it didn’t perform much better than Nasim’s favorite lens, the Nikon 28-300mm (which, for the record, performs pretty well given its purpose!) in actual shooting conditions. Sigma’s 24-105mm f/4 is definitely a keeper. The company has significantly upped its game with respect to the performance, aesthetics, and value of its lens offerings, and it shows no signs of slowing down.
13) Lessons Learned
13.a) Be Realistic Regarding Your Equipment And Lens Selection
Over the past 5 years of adventure/photography vacations, I have continued to bring less equipment. My Sigma 24-105mm f/4 and Nikon 80-400mm VR II were on my D810 almost exclusively. If Nikon or Sigma figured out how to make an 18-70mm f/4 FX lens, I could probably skip bringing my Nikon 16-35mm and rely on two FX lenses for just about any vacation travel: an 18-70mm and an 80-400mm (or perhaps the new Sigma 150-600mm).
Although I love my Nikon D810 and FX lenses, there are times when I don’t believe the advantages of FX outweigh its serious weight disadvantages. This is particularly true when I have found myself lugging a heavy backpack on a 5-10 mile hike up very steep terrain in high altitudes. I have tried to convince myself that carrying such a load is worth it, but as of late, found my own arguments rather unconvincing, particularly in light of improvements in the DX and mirrorless platforms. The next wave of mirrorless cameras will likely close a good bit of the gap with their FX brethren. It will be interesting to see how Nikon and Canon respond to the Sony and Fuji strong push to disrupt the market.
13.b) Employ A Local Guide
A good guide, however, with knowledge of local wildlife sightings and habits, can be one of the best investments you make. Most of the guides foster communications with other guides and thus act as a network to maximize your wildlife viewing opportunities. Ebooks are often much more valuable after you have become acquainted with the area.
13.c) Take To The Air
Balloon, plane rides, and helicopter rides can range from $250-$650 plus tip for two people. That might seem like a pricey sum for a 1/2 to 1 hour venture, but it is worth it. Skip a few of the fancy vacation dinners and put that money toward seeing your vacation destination from the air. As much as I love the Smithsonian Channel’s “Aerial America” series, it does not provide the same experience as being there in person, soaring high above a majestic mountain range.
13.d) Pace Yourself
Some enthusiastic amateur photographers can be overly zealous regarding how much photography adventures they can cram within their vacation. Most likely, you will be heading off with other family members on your vacation. Don’t forget that you are supposed to be on vacation and not in an endurance contest. You don’t want to arrive back home and find yourself more exhausted than when you departed. One of my most peaceful moments on our entire vacation was taking a nap on a bed of pine needles on the shore of a beautiful lily pad-strewn lake. I may have been more relaxed at some point in my life, but I can’t honestly recall when.
13.e) Make Sure You Have A Good Pair Of Hiking Boots
Exploring many of the most scenic areas of our national parks can involve quite a bit of hiking and be tough on the feet. Make sure you have a good pair of broken-in boots that fit your feet comfortably. Nothing will ruin your mood and photography faster than a few blisters or a twisted ankle on a steep rocky trail. And always carry an extra pair or two of shoelaces, since your boots will become nearly useless if a shoelace breaks.
13.f) Bear Spray
Some time ago, I had come to the conclusion that the Bear Spray market represented one of the best businesses one could be in. Fear of a bear attack is a strong incentive to buy the product. Everyone in and around the National Parks encourages buying it, since having tourists eaten by bears tends to be bad for the tourist business, let alone what it does for families’ vacation plans. And while hardly anyone has the opportunity to use bear spray (since bear attacks are exceedingly rare), everyone nonetheless has a terrible fear of not having a canister of bear spray hand at the precise moment when an angry grizzly approaches.
Due to due to shipping regulations, however, you cannot simply pack bear spray in your carry-on or check-in luggage. One can imagine what might happen on an airline if one or more canisters ruptured and filled the cockpit and cabin of the plane with eye-stinging irritants while in flight! Thus you have to buy your can of bear spray at your vacation destination and have little choice but to leave it behind when you head home. Due to liability concerns of reselling a “used” can of bear spray and having it fail during the critical moment of need, few companies have been enthusiastic regarding creating a market for used bear spray.
The UPS store in Jackson wanted about $28 to ship it back to Pittsburgh, roughly half the cost of the bear spray. We were pleasantly surprised to find that the USPS would ship it back home via ground transportation for $10.50 (which includes a $2 padded envelope). In the future, we will ship our bear spray to our vacation destination via USPS and back again when we are ready to leave. Spending $22 for shipping both ways beats buying a new can for $50-$60 and leaving it behind.
Just make sure you ship your can of bear spray to your vacation destination in time to correspond with your arrival, and call ahead to let your hotel/condo management company know to hold it until you arrive.
13.g) Split Your Trip
There is simply too much ground to cover from a single location. If we had do it over again, we would split our trip into two equal legs, rather than stay in Jackson for both weeks. The first leg would take us to the Lake Yellowstone Hotel or another hotel in the vicinity. This would be a good central location from which to see every aspect of the Yellowstone, without burdening us with too much driving on any given day. On the second leg, we would head down to Jackson. Lesson learned…
If you love the outdoors and are an avid photographer, Jackson Hole and Yellowstone National Park should be on your short list of vacation spots. Both offer an abundant supply of wildlife and scenic landscape opportunities. The rich history, art museums, and cultural activities round out their appeal. If you decide to plan a trip to the area and have any questions, feel free to drop me a line.