Storm Before the Calm
By J.R. Switchgrass
We arrived in Teton Valley completely possessed by excitement because we knew the first snowfall of the season was imminent. We felt it in the air when we arrived. The sun was out, the mountains loomed in the distance, and we couldn’t wait to start our photo adventure!
In hindsight, it was a pretty crazy idea to visit the Grand Tetons in an old VW bus on the cusp of a winter storm. This adventure was not for the faint of heart, and truth be told, we’d typically be soaking up the Arizona sun this time of year. Still, my partner Kit and I had been traveling and living in our bus - aptly named “Sunshine” - since 2012, and we’d never run into any serious trouble, so we took our chances.
We cruised up and down park roads, peering up at craggy ledges and feeling tiny in the shadow of the impressive Teton range. We lunched at a lakeside overlook and chose a campsite from the map. Sunset came quickly, and we continued taking photos until the light of day had completely faded.
Our first morning was bitterly cold and clear. Sensible travelers tend to visit the area in the summer or wait for ski season, so traffic wasn’t an issue.
By midday we were perched on the side of Jackson Lake, enjoying the sun and the crisp air. Then it happened; the storm we were waiting for rolled in, and a thick, billowing fog descended upon us. Suddenly, we found ourselves inside a shaken snow globe. We could barely see past our own noses, but that didn’t stop us from taking more photos.
The storm and the sunset struck up an epic battle for command of the sky, engulfing us in a heavy murk, but we kept shooting. I’m glad we did because these ended up being some of the best photos of the trip. On our return trip to the campsite, the views we enjoyed earlier hit us in new ways. It felt like we were the only souls left in the park, and it was hard not to sit in mute awe at our surroundings.
That night, we slept inside the van at our campsite, wrapped in our sleeping backs and buried under three heavy woolen blankets. Our five-gallon water bottle froze solid, and I heard Kit vow to never venture this far north during the winter again.
We awoke in the morning, to a world of white. A few clouds lingered effortlessly over our heads, and soft, crunchy snow enveloped our campsite. We huddled under our blankets and drank our coffee black, hoping for some sunshine. As we sipped the dregs from our mugs, the sun burst through the clouds and promised us a new, beautiful day.
This was exactly why I wanted to visit the Tetons for the first snow of the season. Sometimes you have to wait out the storm if you want to capture the way the clouds clear, the mountains shine, and nature stops you in your tracks.