Thursday, August 11, 2011

Grand is an Understatement

What a difference 50 miles makes. Only an hour’s drive from the gently rolling hills of Yellowstone lay the soaring snow-capped peaks of the Tetons. Where Yellowstone provided intrigue, Grand Teton provides awe. While Yellowstone, despite its vastness, was always crowded, Grand Teton, despite its small footprint, feels far larger, more open, and much more solitary than its neighbor to the north. To top it all off, everywhere you turn, there is an incredible picture waiting to be taken. In short, the amazed reaction I got from people when telling them I was on my way to Yellowstone would have been better reserved for when I told them I was off for Grand Teton.

I woke up freezing again this morning. It’s amazing how, despite the sleeping bag, the weather knows I’m wearing shorts and concentrates all the cold on that part of me, even though the top quarter of me is sticking out of the sleeping bag altogether. Anyway, I wanted to get down to Grand Teton early enough that I would be able to get a  campsite at one of the good campgrounds, so I hurried to throw all my stuff back in the car, without stopping for breakfast, and set off to make the 50 mile trip south. Unfortunately, the bison had other plans.

These 2 guys were great. The first one was standing right in the middle of the road for a while, and then seemed to realize that all the cars were going around him so he decided to move… into the other lane. He didn’t just stroll across the road; he moved into the northbound lane and firmly planted his feet as if to say “I’m going to be here now!”

As I drove by, I managed to get one close-up of bison number one, which I’m pretty sure is as close as you can get to a buffalo in Yellowstone without finding out how sharp those horns are.

From there it was smooth sailing. The parkway between Yellowstone and Grand Teton, a national park in and of itself, is a nice 55 mph road with no merging traffic, since there are really no exits between the parks. After crossing into the park, the Tetons begin to come into view. Since they run parallel to the road, at first you’re only seeing them on edge, so they just look like any other mountain range. But as you continue down the road, they stretch out in front of you and reveal their unique shapes – so steep and jagged that they appear to be on the verge of toppling over sideways.

The first stop on my list, after going as fast as Hyundai-ly possible to make sure I got a spot at the Colter Bay Campground (N-310 tonight), was the road to the summit of Signal Mountain. I chose to do this one first because Signal Mountain sits east of the Tetons, so I’d be looking west at them, and if I waited until the afternoon I’d be staring straight into the sun. Once I got to the top and took the requisite pictures, I had lunch. I seem to be developing a pattern of having lunch at the most ridiculously scenic spots I can find. Maybe it’s bragging rights (Guess where I ate lunch today… the highest mountain in the continental US / in front of Old Faithful / looking at Half Dome / 1000 feet above Jackson Hole with an unobstructed view of the Tetons).

Next, I started making my way down the main park road towards Jenny Lake, stopping of course at every turnout I could find. I knew I wanted to go to Jenny Lake, but I wasn’t sure what exactly I was going to do when I got there. I looked through the paltry visitor center, picked up a loaf of bread and some firewood at the general store, and managed to find a relatively short trail around the lake. It ended at a waterfall which I wasn’t all that interested in. Plus, if I was going to hike to the foot of the mountains, it would mean I wouldn’t be able to see the mountains, which is kinda the whole purpose of this park.

So I knew from the beginning I wasn’t going to do the whole trail. This way I wouldn’t feel like I gave up when I decided to turn around. I walked for about 45 minutes, plus some extra time when the phone rang and I had to stand perfectly still to avoid dropping the call. When the scenery no longer impressed me, I turned around.

Back on the road, I kept moving along, stopping at the turnouts. One of them led to a short trail around the remains of an old cattle ranch, including a partially-restored cabin. It was a nice, flat, leisurely walk that I got almost all to myself. Towards the end, I bumped into an older couple from Nevada who had pulled up in their original VW beetle, and said they had been driving out here for years, noting the changes in this cabin over time.

From there, I decided to start making my way back towards my campsite, even though it was still relatively early. Since I’m camped on the eastern shore of Jackson Lake, I should have easy access to a good sunrise location tomorrow if I decide to get up that early. So I decided to scout out locations tonight. At first I tried traipsing through the woods from my tent directly towards the lake. Along the way I passed several tufts of bear fur, climbed a dozen logs, and swatted hundreds of mosquitoes. In the end, the trail disappeared a few hundred feet from the shoreline. I realized that this would be a major problem if I attempted this hike before dawn, so I gave up, worked my way back to relative civilization, and tried out the Colter Bay picnic area instead. This was a double win because not only is it 5 minutes away and a prime sunrise location, but the setting sun tonight was casting some interesting shadows and coloring the sides of the mountains.

I ended the evening with my final camp dinner of the trip – hot dogs and macaroni and cheese (a meal so awesome it’s worthy of being a last-night feast on its own). I had planned to make smores too, but an entire package of Velveeta Shells and Cheese had other plans. Looking ahead to tomorrow, I want to retrace some of my steps from this afternoon in the morning, to see how different the park looks with the sun on the other side. Then, I have 500 miles to cover to get to Deadwood, South Dakota, and eventually Custer by the end of the night. If no one hears from me, don’t bother looking, because either a coyote ate me somewhere in Wyoming, or I got sidetracked in Jackson and Dick Cheney mistook me for a quail and shot me in the face.

1 comment:

  1. Looking over th past month it appears that I basically sat around at the beach and read books, kayaked and watched the sunset which you have energetically bagged most of our national parks. Both are perfectly valid ways of spending a summer but your way is much more impressive!-amysue