Field Journal-Moulton Barn

Historic Moulton’s Barn, Grand Teton National Park
Historic Moulton’s Barn, Grand Teton National Park
© Thayne Shaffer 2006

Canon EOS 20D with 17-85mm f4-5.6 IS USM Lens
f22 @ 1/4 sec; Bogen Tripod; Tiffen .6 ND grad filter
4 Images stitched together

Grand Teton National Park

January 16, 2006

As I sat looking into the darkness, the outside temperature display on the dashboard dropped one degree—to negative ten. The blue-green glow of the clock read 5:17 a.m. I reminded myself that worthwhile photos rarely come at convenient times and under comfortable conditions. With that in mind, I exited my vehicle and immediately felt the tingle of the sub-zero temperature on my face. I swung my pack over my shoulders and set out. The snow crunched beneath my snowshoes and the snow crystals sparkled in the beam of my headlamp. Following an aged set of cross-country ski tracks, I headed east along the snow-covered road. There was little moonlight, but the stars were abundant, making the tracks easily visible. At times, the snow bore my weight. But often I broke through the frozen crust to a layer of sugary powder beneath. The resulting inconsistency of my stride made the hike more difficult, but the added effort helped work up much needed warmth.

Finally, I reached my planned destination—the historic Moulton barn on Mormon Row. It was still dark, but a deep orange glow was cresting the eastern horizon. I had been to this place many times before, on warm summer days and crisp autumn mornings. Each time it had been bustling with photographers and sightseers. But this morning it was quiet and deserted. The only sign of life was a set of coyote tracks in the snow, and the only sound to break the silence was the occasional rustle of a few dry leaves still clinging to the nearby cottonwood trees.

I chose a spot, and began to compact the snow for my tripod. Without the heat generated from my trudging, I felt the cold begin to creep through my layers of clothes. I went about readying my equipment, following a mental checklist of techniques, settings and other details I hoped would result in at least one quality photograph. The cold hindered my efforts, but my camera was soon ready.The horizon continued to glow brighter. I had hoped to find some clouds over the mountains to add texture to the scene and catch the early morning color. But the only visible clouds rested low on the mountains and to the north of the peaks. This morning, the air was sharp and the sky was clear.

As I waited I thought of my wife and kids asleep and warm in the hotel in Jackson.

Before long, a subtle breeze picked up and the temperature began to drop, a sign of the approaching sunrise. My thermometer now read negative twelve. Then a ray of pink light touched the peak of the Grand Teton. Gradually, pink gave way to a brilliant coral as the light crept down the mountainside. The barn was still and dark, but the sunlight ignited the peaks behind it. The spectacle filled me with a sense of exhilaration. I snapped frame after frame, completely caught up in the marvel playing out before me. My fingers, out of the heavy gloves, were numb with cold as I tried to make each exposure count.

After a time, the golden light began to fade and the cooler light of midmorning flooded over the barn and valley. I slowly packed up my gear and reluctantly walked back to my vehicle. It would still be some time before I could scrutinize and process the images I had captured. I wondered whether they would truly portray the grandeur I had just witnessed.

Mormon Row