Everyone Photographs the Moulton Barn

Moulton Barn, Mormon Row, Autumn, Grand Teton National Park, Jackson Hole, WY 2013 Photograph ©Craig Varjabedian

When scattered clouds are resting on the bosoms of hills, it seems as if one might climb into the heavenly region, earth being so intermixed with sky, and gradually transformed into it. —Nathaniel Hawthorne

Every visitor to Grand Tetons National Park photographs the Moulton Barn. Or at least it seems that way. Just outside Jackson Hole, Wyoming in area called Antelope Flats, the barn is located between the towns of Kelly and Moose on a road known as Mormon Row. It was built by Thomas Alma Moulton and his sons between 1912 and 1945 and according to Country Extra magazine it may be the most photographed barn in America. I can believe that.

On the many photographic trips to the Tetons I have taken over the years, I have always made it a point to stop by the Moulton barn early in the morning. There I join the gaggle of photographers poised to photograph the picturesque barn and the Teton Range at first light. It is an amazing sight to behold on so many levels.

On a recent trip to the Grand Tetons to teach a photography workshop, we had overcast skies with low clouds and light rain one morning, so we indulged in another cup of coffee in the restaurant and got a later start than usual for our energetic group. Fortunately, as our van made its way out of Jackson Hole, the clouds began to break up. When we reached Mormon Row and the Moulton Barn, I suggested locations at the site to set up cameras and answered a few technical questions for the group before they dispersed, each in pursuit of their own images, and I set up my camera to make a few exposures, albeit unremarkable ones.

After a while clouds appeared overhead and began to swirl. Their intensity grew until everything was enveloped in their beautiful whiteness. The valley seemed almost to pulsate as the light rapidly changed from full sun to shade and then back again. Then all of a sudden the clouds seemed to form a lace-like veil across the sky over the barn and the mountains behind it. A soft light seemed to embrace the entire valley if only for a brief moment. It was then that I made my photograph.

Moulton Barn, Mormon Row, Autumn, Grand Teton National Park, Jackson Hole, WY  2013   Photograph ©Craig Varjabedian

Later, a man and a woman with two small boys who were dressed alike appeared at the barn to be photographed in front of it. I want to believe the picture is for their Christmas card but only they know their reasons for being there. The Moulton barn not only brings people together but also I think provides meaning for visitors too. Perhaps it reminds us of the hard work of the Moulton family and those early Mormon settlers who once fought to survive on this rough stretch of land. Or perhaps it’s simply the beauty of a small, humble barn embraced by powerful mountains and an incredible sky that calls so many to attend. Whatever the reason, I too feel humbled standing in this place, filled with a sense of awe, and grateful for the privilege to make a photograph of this spectacular moment in time.

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THE TOOLS: Canon 5D Mark II, Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 lens, Gitzo Carbon Fiber Tripod GT3540LS, Really Right Stuff Head BH-55, Adobe Photoshop CS 6.0, nik/Google HDR Efex