A long time ago, in a little town called North Bend, I once set my alarm clock for 4:00 in the morning. I threw my bike in the car and drove out to a trailhead below Mount Teneriffe and started up by headlamp. It was all downhill AND uphill from there. Mornings before work in downtown Seattle found me on top of Rattlesnake Ridge, or Little Si, or Guye Peak, or Teneriffe, or Washington, or any number of places around Snoqualmie Pass. Word spread, connections made, and so it continued for a couple of years – until we moved to Vancouver.
That was a tough move for me, even though it was the right decision for our family… I didn’t find a lot of people in our immediate social circle (church) who had even close to the same passion for early morning suffering that I did, unless you count golf as suffering, which I honestly do. Dawn patrols slipped away into Weekend Warrior Mornings, and slowly became fewer and farther between. I have yet to get back into the level of fitness I had going back in North Bend, but now that we’re in Wyoming and so close to the hills again I’m hoping to remedy that situation.
The inaugural Wyoming Dawn Patrol took place on September 25, 2008, joined by only myself and five moose, six elk, and seven deer. I drove up through Jackson in the dark, wide awake and grinning the whole way. I had my pack in the back along with my laptop and work stuff for the day, as well as a couple of cameras and a tripod. The plan was to head up into the Teton National Park and catch the sunrise, and then head over to the Taggart Lake trailhead for an ultra-quick run up to the water and back before heading to the Jackson Library to work for the day.
The sun had just started making things light up when I got to the park. Just before Blacktail Butte, I looked over to the right and saw a couple of moose, so I pulled a touron and edged the car over. Two bulls were slowly trying to work each other over, pushing and twisting with their giant racks. You could hear the clicks and snaps of their antlers locking and as more cars pulled over, they started to break it up. There were a lot of big lenses out now along the road, and the moose just started walking south through the parking lot there at the Butte and then proceded to cross the road. People were getting awfully close, and I was really surprised at the bravado (stupidity) of some of the early morning tourists in getting that close up moose butt shot. They made it across the road without any problems though, and I moved on.
A little farther down the road I pulled off to the left and drove down a rutted dirt road to Schwabacher’s Landing. It was just me and about 20 other cars and photographers down there, so it was nice and cozy as we all snapped away at the reflected Tetons and the ever-increasing glow of sunrise. It was a pretty spectacular view, and I managed to get a few shots I liked before moving on to the actual hike part of the morning. Driving back into Moose Junction and into the park, I saw a small herd of elk, a large bull and about 5 cows on the north side of the road, and then five seconds later, a bull, cow and calf moose on the south disappear into the aspen. They say mornings and evenings are the best time to see wildlife in the park, and they weren’t kidding.
The parking lot for Taggart and Bradley Lakes was nearly empty, except for a few construction vehicles, so I parked up close and got my stuff out. The trail was easy, and with the rising sunlight coming through the aspen, it was hard not to stop and shoot the trees the whole way up. In the interest of time though, I stashed the poles and just ran up with camera in hand.
I was kind of nervous about meeting a Large Carnivore or Horned Herbivore, so I tried to sing and just make as much noise as I could as I went along. Easing out of the lower open scrub and into the thicker stands of pine and aspen, it was easy to imagine large creatures around ever corner, but nothing materialized. The trail is really a beautiful one, with some really nice views of the Grand (it’s not hard around here I’m guessing) and quickly let me to the edge of Taggart Lake. The wind hadn’t picked up so there were a few good reflection shots taken and a handful of dried peaches eaten before turning and saying farewell to my first Dawn Patrol destination.
On the way out I stopped to butcher my 6th grade French phrases with an older tourist couple before landing on Spanish as a common language, which was kind of fun. I wished them “bon voyage” and then trucked it back down the trail, managing to flush out another good handful of deer. The parking lot was full when I got back down, and there were two groups of kids coming up with a decibel level guaranteed to eliminate any wildlife viewing that morning. I threw my stuff in the car, changed in the bathroom and then headed into town to find the library and start my day. The sun was up – the sky blue – aspen yellow – and I was happy.