I shall be telling this with a sigh somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.
Monday, May 25, 2015: When we last left our meandering couple, they were trundling down Interstate 84 heading toward the eastern seaboard.
Not having any definite plans, and being pretty far north for this time of the year, camping opportunities are a bit of a crapshoot……many of the National Parks are normally not open or open with limited services. Fortunately, it had been a relatively mild winter and spring had arrived a few weeks early so we decided to capitalize on this rare occurrence. Being less than 100 miles from our nation’s very first National Park and since it was now open for camping, Kit and I headed for Yellowstone!
Leaving the Snake River Valley on US-26, we climbed into the Caribou-Targhee National Forest on Idaho State Highway 31.
By 1630 hours we had rolled across the border into Wyoming…..at this point, the road changes to Wyoming State Highway 22. And steadily climbs a rather steep 10% grade, and our fuel economy steadily dropped to a measly 2MPG…..yikes!
At an elevation of 8,436 feet we topped out at the famed Teton Pass and stopped to stretch our legs and enjoy the view.
While calling around to see about vacancies at the various National Park campgrounds in the area, we were able to score a few nights at Colter Bay in Grand Teton National Park, just south of Yellowstone.
Descending into Jackson, Wyoming Kit and I made our way through town and up Jackson Hole (Valley) at the base of the surrounding Gros Ventre and Teton Mountain Ranges.
The term “hole” was coined for this valley by early mountain men. The steep decent they encountered traveling through the mountains felt to them as if they were dropping into a hole.
The topography along Jackson Hole is stunning, even at this late hour and with storm clouds in the area.
At 1720, Kit and I arrived at the southern entrance to Grand Teton National Park.
Where we flashed our Senior Passes to the gate attendant and found our way to Colter Bay Campground and a very nice site for the evening.
As the name implies, the campground is located on Colter Bay in Jackson Lake. Our site was across the road from one of the paths down to the lake and a short walk took us to an incredible view of the Teton Mountains!
Tuesday, May 26 through Thursday, May 28, 2015-Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks: Kit and I were only able to stay three days at Colter Bay Campground because it was solidly booked for the weekend, so we intended to make the most of it.
On day one, we decided to travel back down the valley to the town of Jackson for a visit. The US Highway that follows the valley features spectacular scenery along the entire route.
In Jackson Village Kit really wanted to look about the shops and I had to get our trailer tire fixed.
Jackson, a town of 9,500 folks, is a year round outdoor playground featuring hiking and biking trails in the summer and some world class ski areas when snow comes to the mountains. One of the smaller, but challenging ski hills is Snow King, which is within the town limits.
They only have 26 runs for a 1,571 foot vertical drop…..the world famous Jackson Hole Mountain Resort located 12 miles away in the Teton Mountains, features 116 runs with a vertical drop of 4,139 feet!
A popular attraction in town is the four arches made with Elk Antlers that anchor the four corners of the town square.
These are actual antlers that wild Elk have shed and locals have gathered and donated to the display.
They are an iconic symbol of Jackson and are maintained by the local Rotary Club with assistance from the towns Boy Scout troop.
As Kit continued to “oz about town”, I had a trailer tire with unwanted hardware attached which needed fixing. First stop was at Teton Chevrolet, on the south side of town. Being a small dealership, the service manager noticed as I pulled in and commented: “nice truck”…..what’s wrong. I replied: “absolutely nothing…..best truck I’ve ever owned”! Then I proceeded to explain about the trailer tire with a bolt embedded in the tread. He had a mechanic roll it in the shop, and a half hour later roll it out and heaved it back in the truck…..fixed! He even handed me the offending road hazard as a souvenir.
I went to pay…..no charge with the comment, “thanks for being a loyal General Motors customer”. Nice!
Back in town, I oz’d around myself a bit before wandering into a western hat shop.
With my penchant for trying on hats and then walking about the store, I had a blast in this place. Even spent a while talking to the proprietor about the business of millinery. Some of his wares (no pun intended) exceed four figures in price…..those he didn’t let me play with.
After goofing off in town some more, I met Kit for an early dinner at a highly recommended place called the Sweetwater Restaurant.
It was cool and rainy, so we ordered the soup and sandwich special, which was excellent.
Sloppy Joe’s made with Elk meat and goat cheese soup!
Getting late, we called it a day and enjoyed the drive back up Jackson Hole which was as spectacular and picturesque as ever…..even on this cold nasty day.
As you may be able to tell, there were a series of storms that came through during our stay. At first I was a bit disappointed, as clear sunny days would be better for photographing the stunning snow covered mountains. Then I started to see gaggles of photographers perched on hillsides with their high zoot cameras pointed at the cloud shrouded mountains.
Apparently this weather made for the best mountain photography…..I then came to appreciate the beauty of nature and Mother Nature in their wildest state.
Back in camp, Kit and I walked down to Jackson Lake to enjoy the setting sun on this rather stormy day.
Before turning in for the evening with visions of adventures to come filling our heads…
Day two we decided to explore more of Grand Teton National Park. Following a nice breakfast in the camper, we took off on the park road, which follows the south shore of Jackson Lake…..
…..and leads to the much smaller Jenny Lake, a glacial moraine that sits at the foot of Cascade Canyon.
The canyon and lake bottom were formed by a glacier that scoured that portion of the Teton Mountain’s.
Driving further down the park road, the terrain flattens into an alpine meadow.
Where a rather unique house of worship sits; The Chapel of the Transfiguration.
This small log chapel was built in 1925 and sited to take advantage of the view of the mountains. The interior was warm and inviting with rustic furnishings and a simple alter.
Beyond the alter, a large picture window shows off God’s creation in the distance.
Although a nice touch, the chapel seems redundant being built in one of nature’s great natural cathedrals.
The location was, I’m sure, the inspiration for the simple but beautiful stained glass windows that adorn the chapel.
By midafternoon, we were getting hungry so made our way to Jackson Lake Lodge and into one of their great restaurants, The Blue Heron.
Where we scored a nice window seat overlooking Jackson Meadow with the Grand Teton’s beyond.
Yea, I know, they were barely visible…..but we knew they were there, and besides we enjoyed a great tavern meal and a few Barley Pops.
Lounging about the lobby of Jackson Lodge, Kit caught up on e-mail and Facebook while I uploaded one of the journals to our website.
However we were both distracted by the beautiful views out the immense wall of windows directly in front of us.
Getting late, we made our way back to the campground and turned in for the evening. Sadly, we only had one more day to explore this beautiful area of the country.
Day three dawned a bit brighter. I took a walk about the campground while Kit got ready for the days outing.
The next row over (no pun intended), I noticed a fellow camper that mounted a rear rack to accommodate carrying kayaks and other bulky gear.
Now, this might solve the dilemma of how to bring my kayak on these trips! No one was outside so I didn’t get to ask questions, but the rack appeared to be store-bought…..I’ll have to do some research!
My morning stroll led me to the shore of Jackson Lake. The weather is still a bit unsettled, but there are some patches of blue sky about.
The beach is littered with smooth and colorful stones which glistened in the muted sunlight.
Did you notice that half the photo above is under water? Yep…..that’s how clear this mountain lake is!
For our final day in the area, we decided to drive north and visit Yellowstone National Park. But first we stopped by Colter Bay Village so Kit could purchase that sunhat she has been lusting after all week.
I being a bit superstitious, thought that its sitting on her pretty little head might force the sun to finally show an appearance…..time will tell!
We enjoyed a nice drive up the eight mile John D Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway that connects Grand Teton National Park to Yellowstone National Park.
And arrived at the south entrance to the park at around 1000, and once again…..free admittance!
There aren’t a lot of things good about getting old, but the US Governments desire to get pensioner’s into the national park’s by awarding us Senior Access Passes is certainly one of them!
The 3,468 square mile Yellowstone National Park was created in 1872…..forty four years before the establishment of the National Park Service. This lack of physical protection led to the unfettered destruction of the area and wanton poaching of the parks animals. As a result, in 1886 the US Army was ordered to build a fort along the parks northern boundary and they began improving public access while enforcing the law.
Yellowstone is basically a very large volcanic caldera and contains more geothermal features than anywhere else in the world. The popular tourist attractions are the geysers, and Old Faithful is the queen of these spectacular eruptions. Since we concentrated on the geysers on our previous visit to the park, Kit and I decided to explore some of the other geothermal features of Yellowstone, such as the hot spring pools next to Yellowstone Lake.
These pools of superheated water can rise to very high temperatures, and if mixed with soil become Mud Pots.
And, if the earth heats the water enough, it flashes off as steam and which are known as Fumaroles.
There are many areas of the park that contain all four major geothermal features and boardwalks allow the visitor to safely get up close to many of the more spectacular…..
…such as this emerald pool of superheated water.
Throughout the more geologically active areas of the park, the very strong scent of Sulfur Dioxide permeates the air providing that “rotten egg” smell.
When we visited Yellowstone many years ago, the bear population had adapted to human activity and park visitors were allowed, and sometimes encouraged, to feed them as park policy. After a number of high profile mauling’s and a few deaths, the park service began to prohibit the activity in the 1970’s. Today, it is rare to see a bear alongside the road. However Bison are now frequent roadside visitors and have the potential to be just as dangerous as the bears…..or any other wild animal.
However, that doesn’t deter the occasional Touron (tourist-moron) from jumping out of their car, run out into the field and pose with the 2,000 pound animals.
For example, on one of my hikes along a designated walkway through a geographically rich area of the park, I passed a few bison down the hill minding their own business.
I felt safe and comfortable continuing on to the upper geyser field, which frankly was a bit disappointing.
However, on my return trip down that same path, one of the huge animals had grazed to within a few feet of the walkway.
This, of course, halted me in my tracks. Since there were bubbling mud pots to the left and a giant bull bison to the right, my only option was to wait the animal out. Before long, a diversion arrived in the form of a gaggle of foreign Touron’s who crowded about the munching animal which allowed me to pass by unnoticed. Not wanting to witness a Darwin moment, I quickly walked down the path toward the truck. Oh, and the Bison’s coat is natural for this time of the year when the heavy winter fur sloughs off and shorter summer hair grows in its place…..ain’t Mother Nature wonderful?
It was a great day at Yellowstone, and another bucket list item that will remain on the list as Kit and I vow to return. Even though we have seen a great deal of the country over the past seven years, our bucket list keeps getting longer! Guess we should plan on living forever to see everything!?!?
Tonight marks the final evening camping in Grand Teton National Park.
A grand time was had by Kit and I, but new adventures await.
Kit’s Bit’s: I’m glad we were finally able to see The Grand Teton’s and once again, tour Yellowstone NP. Both are unbelievably beautiful! Driving through both parks, some of the inclines and descents were very steep, which was a bit nerve-wracking but, all went well. With not too many guardrails, I avoided looking down as much as possible and, thanks to Bill’s truck handling skills we made it through this part of our tour. Needless to say, I’m ready for some prairie land.