When Ruth and I began planning a trip to the Yellowstone National Park area, a visit with Lincoln photographer Sam Swartz was a requirement. Two years earlier, Sam led a winter trip to Yellowstone for me and two others who wanted to sharpen our camera skills. It proved to be a photography course on steroids.
Still eager to teach, Sam provided Ruth and me a list of the area’s best photography sites, along with directions to each. At the top of his list was Schwabacher Landing in Grand Teton National Park.
Sam’s message was simple. If we wanted to fully experience the beauty of the Tetons, we had to see them bathed in the rays of a rising sun and reflected in the waters of the Snake River.
The landing is about 16 miles north of Jackson off U.S. Highway 89. We arrived well before sunrise, but the parking lot was already bustling with photographers eager to capture this iconic landscape image. Most of the folks, tripods over shoulders and cameras in hand, headed up the 1.8-mile path in search of the perfect spot.
I wasn’t being lazy, but it seemed to me that the promise of unfolding beauty was just a short walk from the parking area to the water. An industrious family of beavers had created a backwater pond. There were no ripples on the water from the current or rock rubble, which meant Grand Teton and its accompanying peaks would be reflected perfectly on the calm surface. At 13,775 feet, Grand Teton is the highest peak of the Teton Range and the second-highest in Wyoming.
I set up my tripod, attached the camera and waited for the sunrise to shower the Tetons in the early-light colors of purple and pink. The gradual awakening began. Then for just a few short moments the perfect light rained down. Images of mountain peaks and trees were mirrored on the still surface, and the water enhanced their features. Ruth was so awed that she spoke in a whisper, almost as if afraid that a harsh consonant would shatter the still beauty.
We lingered in that spot long after the magic light evaporated. Photographers who had hiked up the path filed past us, and some stopped to chat about their Schwabacher moment. Most were a bit disappointed because the water surface in their areas upstream was rippled, and the reflections of mountain peaks were distorted.
I blew a kiss of thanks to a beaver that swam past just as we were leaving.