Right Place & Time

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The Right Place, The Right Time

In the fall of 1999, I was on sabbatical from Marietta College.  I decided to make a swing through the western states to fill out my portfolio and to see some places I hadn't seen for 20 years.  Near the top of my list was a return to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks.  I was especially anxious to see these parks minus the crowds that flock there during the summer.

I was traveling alone in a minivan with the center seat removed.  This allowed me to sleep either on the floor of the van or on the back seat.  Also, since everything I needed except a bathroom was inside the van, it allowed me to get going quickly in the morning.  That was to prove lucky, indeed.

I woke up before dawn on my last day in Yellowstone.  After a trip to the latrine, I was on the road heading south to Grand Teton National Park.  Reaching the park in the darkness, I drove immediately to the top of Signal Mountain, which has a classic view to the west of the the eastern face of the Teton Range that the park is so famous for.

This particular Monday morning, however, was gray, with snow falling.  Still, I was able to take a few pictures of the fog in the Snake River Valley to the east, and some unsatisfactory pictures of the mountains themselves.  I noted the time of day that the sun came up, and went to explore the park.

After a day of photographing moose, elk and grouse in the park, I found a campsite near the base of Signal Mountain.  After a cold night, I was back up at 6:15 and out of camp 24 minutes later.  I again drove up to the top of the mountain.  The sun was just coming up as I pulled out my camera with its wide angle zoom lens.  No tripod.  Just lots of clothes because it was cold up there.  It was 19 degrees F when I got up down below, and it was colder, if anything, on the mountaintop.

I walked to the place I had scouted the day before.  A few other photographers were standing nearby already.  I looked to the west, to the mountains.  The rising sun was lighting the mountain peaks, covered with yesterday's snow, to an incredible rosy glow.  A cloud layer bisected the mountain, and sunlight squeezed through the clouds to strike the forest and the lake below.  I took about a roll of film while the light was just right.  As the sun began to rise, however, the rich, warm colors on the mountainside changed to pure whites, and the moment was lost.  For about 5 minutes though, it was perfect.

As I walked back to the van I noticed that several of the other cars in the lot.  Some of these people had spent the night in their cars up on the cold mountaintop to catch the perfect moment - I had spent the night (relatively) warm down below and had come up to snatch the moment.  Actually, a few people were still asleep in their cars; they had already missed the show.

As I drove down the mountain I saw a number of other cars on their way to the top.  They, too had missed the show as I reminded myself every time I pulled to the side of the road to look back over at the mountains.  Still a spectacular sight, but it paled to what had been there a moment before.  Some planning and skill on my part, plus a little luck with the clouds, well....  Was I in the right place at the right time?  You tell me: