It was my great luck to paint the first site for the 2014 View 22 project, a newly preserved parcel at the top of East Gros Ventre Butte above the National Museum of Wildlife Art. The location is extra special for me, since I worked for the NMWA for many years. It is a place that is dear to my heart – a building filled with art and a special, desert-like hillside with rock outcrops, sagebrush and mats of small wildflowers.
Amidst all this are marmots, uinta ground squirrels, black tailed weasels, coyotes, mule deer, even badgers. On the outcrop above, redtailed hawks and geese nest each year. I came to know and love the environment around the museum as much as I love what’s inside of it in the years I worked there.
Hiking uphill to the top of the butte, in the center of this special parcel, I was greeted almost immediately by the sleekest, most healthy looking cow elk. She seemed somewhat surprised by my presence and slipped into a stand of aspens a few hundred feet away. Further up the slope, I encountered a beautiful mule deer doe and her yearling fawn. They made space between us by delicately bounding over the sagebrush. When they were far enough to be comfortable, they stopped and began to graze. They watched me curiously as I wandered about at the top of the butte, trying to pick my vantage point.
And what a challenge that was! To the east was an amazing view across the National Elk Refuge to the Sleeping Indian. To the west, the Teton range, with the Grand towering over the valley. To the south, a bird’s eye view of town and Snow King mountain. And below, the National Museum of Wildlife Art tucked into the hillside, with the braids of Flat Creek lazily cutting through the flats beneath Miller Butte. Cloud cover created broken sunshine and cast shadows around the valley. As if the jaw-dropping views weren’t enough, the hillside was blanketed in a carpet of wildflowers amidst the sagebrush: scarlet gilia, sulfur & Indian paintbrush, hymenoxys, stonecrop, alpine phlox, pussytoes, alpine fleabane, and sulfur buckwheat. The light was changing constantly, in breathtaking ways. I could have made dozens of paintings (if I were really fast and had unlimited time)! But the sun was sinking quickly, and I had to make a choice.
I finally settled on the sweeping view over to the Sleeping Indian, also known as Sheep Mountain. I wished I’d brought a bigger board to work on! It was a challenge to condense all that wide open space into an 8×10 sheet of paper, but it did mean I could record the light quickly, since it was changing every moment I was there. When the sun finally dropped behind the Tetons, I resigned myself to packing up, but not without shooting lots more pictures as I hiked back to my car.
On my drive down, I was treated to yet another illustration of how this butte teems with life. In one stand of aspens, just below the property where I’d been painting, a group of 8-10 cow elk and yearling calves peered out at me as I drove by. Just a little further down the road, I was greeted by three magnificent looking bull elk, their antlers coated in velvet. Around the next turn, even more bull elk were grazing in the sage and aspen stands. I counted a dozen bulls in all. What a wonderful gift that this delicately balanced habitat will be preserved for future generations of wild creatures.
– Jennifer Hoffman