An unusual experience, watching thousands of elk up-close welcoming to their winter world at National Elk Refuge, Wyoming.

Out West Moments

While planning my Yellowstone road trip last year, I stumbled upon a few mesmerizing photographs of the Teton ranges on Instagram, thanks to wrong taggers. However, due to limited time, I was unable to visit them back then. Upon committing to a year of travel, in an attempt to please my gypsy soul, I knew I’d get to see more of this enchanting world. Also, I knew just where I wanted to start my yearlong adventure.

Tucked in a blanket of snow, these glowing Sierra peaks make every winter morning phenomenal. To me flying is the only way to appreciate the massive scale of these raw, rugged and otherworldly monuments of California. Photographs taken on the way to Salt Lake City from San Francisco.

Known as “the mountains of imagination,” the Grand Teton ranges rise above a picturesque landscape rich with incredible wildlife, pristine lakes, and alpine terrain. My much-awaited road trip to witness these spectacular mountains began this past Presidents’ Day long weekend when I flew from San Francisco to Salt Lake City. Even though flights were available to Jackson Hole, I wanted to spend some time in and around Salt Lake City and to explore a unique alien world existing on its west edge.

Light Drama : On the way back from Salt Flats right before entering Salt Lake city via Highway 80.

Imagine a place so flat and vast that it seems you can see the curvature of the planet! A place so barren, not even the simplest life forms can exist. And this time of the season, the Bonneville Salt Flats are soaked in a thin layer of water, making it look like dazzling white — glass lamination that stretches for miles, indeed nature’s own mirror. You can observe a few of the most hypnotic views of these flats and the mountain ranges surrounding Salt Lake City via Highway 80. I surely want to go back when it’s dry and take big four-wheelers or dirt bikes and have fun racing on the Salt Flats’ international speedway.

When your curiosity and feet are in sync, you can experience wonders.

An early morning drive from Tetonia to Grand Teton via Jackson was a unique, captivating experience which I think cannot be described in just words. I stopped multiple times on the way to explore a few roadside trails. Honestly, I couldn’t believe my eyes; they had never witnessed such visuals in life. It seemed like Heaven and Earth had swapped places that very moment. Herds of deer and mountain sheep were already up and grazing on weeds that had been freshly exposed due to melting snow. You can hear the fluttering of swans in the Snake River creating unusual ripples as if trying to awaken the river from its winter slumber. To me, it was all but magic.

Aerial shot of Salt river, twisting its way through and carving the majestic landscapes of Idaho & Wyoming.
While driving around Jackson Hole Valley in search of a parking spot I stumbled upon this cute local squad.
Savoring the solitude at Teton Valley.
One of those places which makes us realize that fantasy of nature is much larger than our own.

My primary goal of the trip was to witness the sheer beauty of the Teton ranges, which unfortunately couldn’t happen due to adverse weather. However, I guess now I can call it a “fortunate twist” as I got to spend more time exploring the surrounding terrain.

While Jackson Hole is probably well known for the splendor and ruggedness of the Teton Ranges, the valley is also known to provide a winter habitat for the migrating elk. The best way to experience this spectacle is by taking a horse-drawn sleigh ride among those elk, which number in the thousands. You can hear the sparring sound of antlers clattering; I guess it’s a perfect gesture to acknowledge the presence of humans with their cameras and a technique to stay warm during winters. In summers if you are lucky, you might be able to witness calving too. To me, finding myself amongst the migration of these great beasts was truly a wild treat for my nomadic heart.

Dealing with weather and its abrupt shifts became a theme of this trip. But it didn’t take long to figure out that the most beautiful time of the day was just after a heavy snowfall with the sun trying to peak softly through, over Taggart Lake. And even though it was an exhausting hike to reach there, especially without skis or snowshoes, that didn’t stop me from venturing out to walk over the frozen lake, something I’ll always cherish. Yes! It’s true; I can never outgrow the excitement of having made first tracks in the fresh snow.

Hike to Taggert Lake in Grand Teton National Park
The Miller Cabin at National Elk Refuge, Wyoming. Can you spot a bald eagle ?

In the evening while taking some drone shots in Jackson Hole, I saw a pretty massive snow storm approaching from the north, something similar to what we used to see on Discovery Channel. I had to make a quick call on whether to take a few more snaps or just pack up and leave ASAP. But even before I could get my answer, I lost visibility of my drone in the sky due to a sudden pour of snow and started getting connection errors. Thankfully, I got it back safely and started driving back.

I can never forget the exultation upon arriving safely back to Tetonia. The sensation was less about the triumph over a massive snow storm, and more about knowing that I’d soon be snuggling down in my cozy Airbnb bed and face-timing with my mom and dad, so I could share my breathtaking moments and photographs of the trip and let them live vicariously through my senses. But it was hard to distill my thoughts and all of that fascination, experience, and sensations I felt into a few photographs of places like these.

Nothing in this world is certain. I didn’t know that my Grand Teton trip would be without any Tetons visibility. I didn’t know that I would be walking on a lake for which the same morning I had called up a local kayak rental shop. Every time I flew my broken drone in a snow storm I didn’t know if it would come back to me. And I had no clue about the unexpected wildlife encounter I was about to have. Every step we take, every route we choose, it might lead us to an entirely new and strange world. But what we are currently addressing as uncertainty, might be a new possibility. These prospects might be scarce to us, but remember, it’s not always about having multiple lifelines in a game; sometimes it might just be one.

Reconnect with the essence of your being.
Special thanks to Janae & her family for hosting me at their beautiful Airbnb home in Tetonia, Idaho. Fortified by majestic mountains including the Grand Tetons on the east, the place is known for its fascinating wildlife encounters in the past.
One of those surreal places on the planet which make you pinch yourself multiple times to believe in what you experience.
The detour rewards! Last sunlight of the day illuminating hills on the border of Salt Lake City on the way back.

We can never comprehend what all levels we can reach in life until we challenge ourselves by dropping down our burdening cloak of fear and moving forward undeviatingly. As there are no set rules, it has to get real crazy at times, but the greatest adventures come-to-life only when we embrace the unexpected.

So just keep exploring these new opportunities to awaken your heart and mind, to move your soul, to inspire and to be inspired and to reach out for: what was once, just a dream.

Please let me know what you think of this story by leaving your responses below. Follow me on Instagram and 500px for more. Photographs and Videos taken with Canon 5DM3, GoPro Hero 5, DJI Phantom 3 Professional and DJI Mavic. Color graded using VSCO and Color Finale with Lightroom and Final Cut Pro.

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