Here are a few pictures taken at our cabin in Victor early in the morning after the two days of visiting Grand Teton National Park.This is the living room of the house before sunrise.This picture is taken closer to sunrise.I actually walked out into the cold to take the picture below. You can see the setting moon.Commercial aircraft carrying consignments of human souls zipped across the morning sky, this one headed to some place northwest of where we were.This was a leisurely morning. The decision to stay put in the cabin for the day came only after everybody had woken up. Nobody, it seems, felt a strong desired to spend another day at the Grand Teton National Park. It did take some driving over the mountain pass to get to the place, and we had been doing this crossing regularly. It also took some time to get to the park. Maybe it was getting to be too much. We also looked into local hikes closer to Victor but ended up deciding not to go out on any. We were going to relax.
This was the day for board games and catching up on reading.I got somewhat restless after a little while of sitting around in the cabin and decided to go for a drive on my own. I went into the main part of town and took a few pictures there. It looked like a typical western town.I proceeded towards Driggs, the next big town on the main road. It was just a few miles away. We had stayed there the first night of the trip.
I saw a sign for Darby Canyon Road just outside of Driggs. I made an unplanned turn onto this road on the spur of the moment. I had no idea what lay in store for me.
The road led to some hills in the distance. I was headed east. In a mile or two the paved road turned to dirt, and shortly after that it came to a T-junction. There was a field in front of me, and an abandoned house on the road going left.The road to the right made a 90 degree turn to the left just beyond the field, and continued east. I decided to go in that direction. I ended up heading into Darby Canyon. I had not planned any of this. So, I did not know where the road was going to lead me. But I kept driving. I arrived at a trail head. The trail itself did not look well maintained at that point. It was not very tempting.The canyon stretched out in front of me. I had no idea how far the road went into the canyon.It was tempting to investigate further, but, in the end, I did not drive too far down the Canyon . All of this was unplanned, and I had not budgeted time for “adventures”. I turned back towards the main road to Driggs.
On the way back to the road, I took a picture of this massive irrigation device in a field. We saw many instances of such equipment in the field in the huge farms that we drove by during this trip. I am not sure exactly how this mobile sprinkler system works, since there appears to be the need for a water source at one end, and it looks like the whole system can move without being anchored at any location.Only later did I find out that I had actually crossed from Idaho into Wyoming when driving into Darby canyon. In fact, a short stretch of the road that I had driven along before turning into the canyon ran along the border.
Driggs was a short distance away once I reached the main road. It is a small town. There did not seem to be any significant tourist related activities, but I did see signs for a national forest and an outdoor store. There is a winter sports area close by called the Grand Targhee Resort.From the establishments on the main street, I gathered that there was a Buddhist presence in town. I picked up lunch for the folks in Victor from this small establishment which had prayer scrolls hung up all around on the inside. This was a hole in the wall. I was served by two kids, one of them Asian, perhaps Thai. There was no place to sit inside, and I took one of the last two bags of potato chips. There was one apple left. (This place does not even have its own website.)I headed back to Victor after picking up lunch.
My eyes were drawn to something by the wayside on the way back. I stopped for a quick look. I had seen the signs earlier, but I had not stopped. This time I turned off the main road. It looked like a joke, but suspect that it is, or perhaps was, real. I would be surprised if the drive-in theater is still functional. There is a website for the theater that looks real, but it looks old and the links do not work. Old Murphy looked like something out of a Disney movie. The spud could not have been real, but I did not confirm.It was a very short stop.
I was able to take a picture of the front of the cabin we were staying at when I returned to Victor. It felt bigger inside than it looked like from outside.Lunch was a little delayed due to my unplanned detour. The rest of the afternoon passed by quickly. I made sure I got a group picture before we left for Jackson Hole Airport to drop off the folks headed for Massachusetts.The drive to the airport was uneventful. We could have driven through the park to the airport and made another attempt to see the moose, but we had left the park pass in the cabin. This was the last crossing of Teton Pass for some of us.
I took this picture of the cowboy on the bucking horse at the entrance to the airport. This is a symbol of the State of Wyoming.The three of us drove back to Victor. It was going to be our last night there. We had dinner at a small Thai restaurant called Chiang Mai Thai Kitchen, a surprising find in a place like Victor. (Perhaps the existence of the restaurant was connected with the presence of Buddhists in the general area.) The food was good, but the dishes were different from what one is used to seeing in more mainstream Thai restaurants in the US. We enjoyed the food with some local beer.
And that was it for the day. I did take pictures of the moon again – for the last time in Victor. It was obvious that the moon was waning.Next in this series of blogs here.
Once again, I made sure to be up early in the morning to see the sunrise. I stepped outside from the bedroom into the cold morning in my night clothes to get the pictures. Thankfully, it was not as cold as it had been during the first few nights of this trip. The two pictures below were taken as time progressed as it got closer to sunrise. Sunrise that day was not as colorful as it had been the previous morning.I went to the other side of the house to take pictures of the moon. These came out better than the pictures I had taken before going to bed.Here is the moon setting behind a hill.As it became brighter outside, there was enough light to see the horses out in the field next to us. We saw these three horses together regularly. I imagined them as a family. I jokingly said that one of them was named Jack. I did not take the trouble to identify which one of them was actually Jack.In a little while, the sun itself finally made its grand appearance.Breakfast was once again a leisurely affair before we set out to the park.
I was able to take pictures since I was not driving. The picture below was taken as we were nearing Teton Resort. Once again, we went into the park through the south entrance, without passing through Jackson, hoping that the moose were still hanging out where they had been sighted the previous day.This was a view of the mountains to the west as we drove into the park. Our first stop was going to be Signal Mountain, towards the north side of the park. We drove slowly through the section of the earlier moose sighting without any luck.
We saw bikers once again after entering the more developed section of the park.This is a picture of Grand Teton mountain taken from the car.This picture was taken from one of the parking lots along the park road. I think it was Potholes Turnout.We had to drive up a winding road to get to the viewpoints on Signal Hill. The road ended at the top of the mountain at the location of a cellphone tower.
This was the view of Jackson Hole Valley with the Snake river flowing through it.This bird stayed around us while we were at the lookout at the peak. I have not been able to identify it.These are views in the direction of the Tetons. Unfortunately, they were not as unobstructed as I was hoping for. I jokingly noted that they should be cutting some of the trees that block the view – just for the tourists!We sighted what I think were mule deer on our way down the mountain.This picture was taken half way down Signal Mountain.We stopped at the Chapel of the Sacred Heart on our way further north after leaving Signal Mountain. The chapel was closed for the season. It belongs to the Catholic parish in Jackson.This is Jackson Lake and reservoir. The Snake river flows south through the lake. The river actually begins a short distance to the north of the lake and flows through it.This is where the Snake river reemerges from Jackson lake. The main road runs over the dam that creates the lake behind it.We drove off the main road to a river access point to have our lunch.The Snake river looked quite peaceful and the waters were low.The water was crystal clear.I spotted a common merganser in the river. It did not hang around too long.After lunch, we headed out to the Willows Flats overlook. We were going hike the Willow Falls Trail starting at the parking lot. Our goal for the afternoon was to see moose. We had been told that this was one of the areas where they hung out!
The trail lay below the parking lot, behind the trees (towards the front of the picture below).The Tetons were visible in the distance, beyond Jackson Lake, as we began the hike.We kept our eyes peeled, looking for moose (and bear). There were a few occasions when our eyes were drawn to something or the other in the distance that drew our attention. Even the growth seen in the picture below caused us to pause and look more carefully. (I had to zoom in to the maximum extent allowed by the lens to get this picture.)The trail followed the twin tracks of a an old dirt road. We forded a stream at this point.The flats were covered with brush. We could see occasional pathways where animals had forced their way through the growth to get to drinking holes by the waterside. The occasional scat on the trail indicated that this was the abode of the animals and that they were around somewhere.We continued to look for moose. We were also keeping an eye out for bear. I did not want to disturb a bear inadvertently and annoy it. We tried to keep up a conversation to alert the bear ahead of our arrival. I was especially alert when walking in the wooded areas between the open spaces.We crossed Pilgrim Creek on a road bridge at one point. The creek looked wide and impressive enough to be a river. It runs from the nearby Bridger Teton National Forest into Jackson Lake.We saw these two birds along the way. I have not been able to identify them yet.The trail ended up at a fork in the road where you could continue either left or right.We made a different decision! We decided that this would be the extent of the hike. We turned back. We had already walked a few miles without seeing moose!These pictures were taken on the way back.We did see a herd of elk in the distance as we were leaving the place. I am sorry to say that the moose eluded us the entire duration of the hike.It was time now to head back to Victor. We would be driving south, all the way through the park, on our way back to Idaho.
Along the way, we stopped at one of the turnoffs and noted this curious sight. The woman was facing the direction of the Tetons. It took us a few minutes to gather that she was actually taking a picture of a car that was in the parking lot in front of her. She was taking the picture against the background of the mountains. A person who looked like the driver was also hanging out in the parking lot. Our guess was that this was for some kind of advertisement.The sun was going down behind the mountains by that time.We did have enough time to stop at the Chapel of the Transfiguration – in the park and near Moose Junction. It is a functional Episcopalian church that was built in 1925. The setting of the chapel is very dramatic. (A morning view of the chapel against the mountains would have been even more impressive!)The interior of the chapel is very simple. The opening behind the altar revealed the Grand Tetons.The benches that formed the pews reflected simplicity, and the nature of their surroundings.We continued our way south through the park even though it might have been faster to drive on the main road through Jackson. We stopped at the parking lot of the earlier moose sighting once again. We had no luck once again. I did get a picture of what I suspect is a Goldeneye duck in the water.The mountains looked majestic in the fading light as we left the park.We stopped at a place called West Side Yard in Victor for dinner. It was more of a bar, with a lot of open space, space for games, and random sitting arrangements. The separate, very small, formal dining area was full when we arrived. So we sat at a high table on high chairs near the bar and ordered our beer and hot sandwiches. It was great food and drink, and a nice atmosphere. The place looked new. The draft beer came from some of the local microbreweries. (There is even one in Victor.) I sensed that this place represented a kind of change coming to these old country towns, with a goal of serving people who were visiting the area in addition to the local population. Victor was not a tourist destination in itself, but there was enough overflow traffic from the nearby more touristy areas to bring in additional foot traffic to keep a business going.
We headed back to the cabin after dinner. The rest of the evening was spent chilling out. This was the last evening of the holiday for the folks from Massachusetts. Their were taking a red-eye flight in the evening the next day.
I have a habit of waking up early in the morning when traveling. It might be a certain restlessness that comes with being in a new place, and a need for me to explore and find out more about the new surroundings.
Thus it was this first morning at our log cabin in Victor, Idaho. This was the view outside the window of the bedroom we were occupying when I woke up.Later in the morning, from the front of the house, we could see the neighborhood where our cabin was located.The morning light streamed into the dining room area of our house through the giant windows as we had our morning coffee,while a little, stout, bird warmed itself in the sunlight on top of an evergreen tree in front of us.The rising sun revealed open fields behind the house.After a leisurely breakfast, we headed towards Grand Teton National Park, crossing the Teton Pass once again, this time on the way east. After descending into the valley on the Wyoming side of the mountain range, we turned onto the road to take us into the park. This turnoff was well before the town of Jackson.
We passed the resort area of Teton Village before we reached the entrance to the park. The ski slopes behind the resort were bare. The traffic around the area was light. I am sure the place is busier during the winter season when the ski slopes are covered with snow. The entrance to the park itself was a small, unmanned, affair, and the road beyond it narrow and winding, with a section that was still unpaved. It was apparent that this was a less developed section of the park.
After a short while of driving in the park, we arrived at a section of the road where temporary road signs indicated that vehicles were not allowed to stop by the roadside. Beside the road were either woods or an open low-lying area. A stream meandered through the flatland. Reeds and shrubs, and the occasional tree, dotted this space. All of a sudden we began to see vehicles stopped on the roadway, blocking it partially (because of the lack of space beside the road), and people getting out of their vehicles. We were curious, but we were also inclined to follow the park rules. We made our way (with some difficulty and a feeling of annoyance) past the stopped vehicles. As we were leaving the area of the cars, there was a shout from the back seat that a couple of moose had been sighted! We were really excited because one of the objectives of this trip was to see a moose. Unfortunately, I was still driving and did not see the animal, and there was also no place to stop. A short while after that we arrived in an opening with a big parking lot. I was able to pull in.
We got out and started looking for moose. Below the parking lot was a creek, with woods on the other side. There were ducks in the water, but there was no moose to be seen. We had to leave the place without a moose sighting (for some of us), but we were resolved to come back to look for moose once again later in the trip.
The road now entered a more open area of the park. You could see the Tetons off in the distance to the left.Our next stop was the park headquarters at Moose Junction. At this point we ended our drive on the narrow road that we had been on, and entered a more developed section of the park.
We watched a video about the park at the visitor center. At the end of the movie the curtains opened up behind the screen to reveal the Tetons.We then drove further north into the park. We were now on a stretch of road that was wider and more suitable for the more significant tourist traffic. We had come to the park at a time of year when the traffic was dying out due to the colder weather, as is obvious by the looks of the empty parking lot in the picture below.A bike trail ran beside the road, leading me to imagine some future adventure on a different set of wheels.Our lunch stop was in a parking area near the Lupine Meadows trailhead. We were constantly on the lookout for moose, but none obliged!We drove further north through the park. It was past noon by now, and the position of the sun had shift further west.We arrived at the parking lot for the String Lake trail. Our plan was to hike to Inspiration Point, overlooking Jenny Lake.
This picture was taken as we were starting the hike. The first part of our hike would take us from the parking lot for String Lake towards Jenny Lake.We crossed String Lake early on.This is where an inlet from String Lake feeds into Jenny Lake.The colors of Fall were in full display beside the trail along Jenny Lake.There is a boat that takes tourists across Jenny lake. We had to leave the trail beside the lake and start a climb up a different trail towards Inspiration Point just beyond the place where this boat docks.We passed Hidden Falls on our way up the hill. There were short stretches of snow and ice on this section of the trail, at places where the sun does not reach that easily this time of year.We reached Inspiration Point after a short climb in an open section of the trail higher up the mountain. This was the view of Jenny Lake for Inspiration Point.Once we left Inspiration Point, we continued to climb towards Cascade Canyon Trail. We turned right at the intersection with Cascade Canyon Trail in order to head back to Jenny Lake, and to the parking lot where we had left our car.Cascade Canyon Trail in the other direction actually goes between mountain peaks to a point where you can catch the Teton Crest Trail and get closer to Grand Teton mountain, the highest peak in the range. A hike in that direction had to be left as a possible adventure for another day.
We headed back towards Jenny Lake.The sun was setting behind the mountains as we arrived back at Jenny Lake.As we were leaving the area of the lake, I noticed these markings on the side of a tree. From what I had read that morning at the visitor center, these were most likely the markings of the paw of a bear.Throughout our stay in the park, we were warned about how to handle encounters with bears. We were on the lookout for them constantly, but did not see any in the end. They do recommend carrying bear spray to deter the animals. The spray contains an extract from cayenne pepper. Apparently, it is quite potent, and something you do not want to get in your eyes.
This picture was taken as we were crossing String Lake to get back to the car.The sun was setting as we started our drive out of the park.On the way out, we came upon a herd of pronghorn deer in the fields a short distance away from the road. This is the first time I was seeing pronghorn. We stopped by the roadside for a few minutes so that I could take pictures.As we were leaving the park, we could see the mountains of the Gros Ventre range on the eastern side of Jackson Hole valley lit up in the fading light of the setting sun.Dinner was at a place called Liberty Burger in Jackson. Some of us tried out bison burgers. Then it was back over the Teton Pass, and onward to Victor, Idaho, for the night.
Later in the evening, back at the cabin, I tried to take more pictures of the moon. It was the day after a full moon. For some reason, just as it happened the previous night, I was still not getting a clear picture with the camera. It was a strange image, as if some diffused light from around the moon was falling on the lens of the camera through the night sky. Weird!We did not stay up too late that evening. We were tired after the day’s activities.
It was another cold morning in Park Spring, Idaho, but not as bad as the previous one. We had to depart the cabin that we had been staying in for two nights and move on to the next destination.The eyes on the deer seemed to be following me through the house as we prepared to leave. I could not make out any particular expression.I turned over the driving responsibility for the day to Jesse. This allowed me to better see what was going on all around us as we drove to the park. Here you can see one of the big ranches that we passed. There was a lot of cattle and horses out there. We were wondering how the animals survive out in the sub-freezing temperatures of the night.We passed through West Yellowstone for the last time. A search in the town for Yaktrax, cleats that you put over your shoes to let you walk more easily on snow and ice, was unsuccessful.We had forgotten to take our obligatory National Park picture at the entrance of Yellowstone earlier during our visit. We took the pictures that morning. In case you are wondering, the other side of this sign welcomes you to the park. We chose to take the picture from this direction because of the direction of the sunlight.The fly fishermen were out in the rivers early in the morning.The first stop within the park was roadside at Beryl Spring.
Steam rose from below the boardwalk as we walked from the parking lot.Fumes filled the air from the fumaroles.Beryl Spring is supposed to be the hottest spring within the park, with temperatures close to boiling.The combination of the steam with the below freezing air temperature made for interesting formations. We were thinking that some of these scenes would have been suitable for Christmas cards.The ice crystals formed delicate patterns on the leaves.The next stop was Artists Paintpots. We had to walk a little bit to get to the terrace where the underground activity was obvious.You can climb a hill behind the terrace from which you get a view of the activity below youand also some of the venting activity on the hillside.
The small holes in the ground in the pictures below allow gases and steam under pressure to escape from below. The symmetry of the hole below was interesting to see,and also the manner in which the deposits can grow with time.Water bubbled out of the mud pots.We could see both levels of the trail as we walked back to the parking lot.The next stop was the Norris Geyser Basin. The trails were a little tricky in this location because of snow and ice. Some of us walked to one of the terraces. We followed a small loop in the back basin.
This area has the tallest geyser in the world, Steamboat geyser. Here it is before it eruptsand here is an eruption in progress.The sound that emanates from the Vixen geyser below, and its appearance, is quite unique and notable.There were many geysers and hot springs of different kinds in this area. Apparently, they are caused by the faults running below the ground in this particular section of the park. These faults allow moisture to seep into the ground through the cracks, and through the crust, into the thin mantle of the earth and close to the magma bubble beneath. What is interesting is that every geyser has its own personality and character. It could be in the size, the timing, in the noise that it generates, the nature of output – clear water spray vs. the spraying of drops, the pattern of eruption, etc. And all of these characteristics change with time as the dynamic underground forces impact the crust above it. Unfortunately, some of the changes are due to the humans who have been visiting Yellowstone. One of the geysers closed due to visitors throwing rocks into the vent for their own amusement. It is a disappointment that we humans indulge in this kind of destructive behavior even today, and not just in the context of taking care of the nature around us.
This is a general picture of the activity going on in the back basin. In the background, on the hill in the midst of the trees, is steam rising from some kind of geological activity in the ground.The area in front of us in the picture below is called the Porcelain basin. There is a trail that runs through it. We had no time to explore further.This is a picture of the venting in the Porcelain basin.It was tricky walking back to the car in the snow and ice.Our next stop was at Canyon Village. They had an interesting museum with a focus on the geological history of Yellowstone. There are very few places in the world where the forces inside the earth are close enough to the surface to be revealed to us. Iceland and Hawaii are two other such regions.
We took a drive to Inspiration Point on the north rim of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.We then went to Artist Point on the south rim of the canyon.These are views of the Yellowstone river and the lower falls from Artist Point.We walked from another parking lot on the south rim to get a closer view of the upper falls. The view might have been more impressive from the North Rim, but the parking lot there was closed.This was going to be our last day at Yellowstone. We began our drive south towards Jackson and the Grand Tetons.
On the way, while still in Yellowstone, we stopped to see Sulphur Caldron, considered the most acidic hot spring in Yellowstone.There was a newly formed vent in the parking lot. It was cordoned off.Our final stop in the park was at the location called Mud Volcano. We had to walk a trail up a hill to get to the location of the activity. This area was interesting because of all the “mud” activity. The picture below was a scene next to the parking lot. I believe it is called the Mud Caldron. Here is a bubbling mud spring half way up Cooking Hillside, with mud flowing out of it all the way to the bottom of the hill. I think it is called Sizzling Basin. There are bubbles constantly coming out of the muddy surface, like the surface of a sizzling pan.This is Churning Caldron.This is Black Dragon Caldron.This is Mud Volcano. It stopped erupting a long time ago. It is now just a hot spring.Dragons Mouth Spring.As we drove south, we came upon a section where a single coyote was hunting for food in the grass beside the trail. We stopped for a little while to take in the action.The sun was setting as we left the park. It was a pretty sunset over the lake with the Tetons in the distance to our right.The sun set behind the Tetons a short while later.There was a full moon out. I tried to get a picture of the moon but did not do too well.We stopped at Jackson for dinner. We went to Pica’s Mexican Taqueria in a Hispanic side of town. It was a small place serving the locals with authentic food. They had some canned local beers that satisfied my thirst. A huge heaping of fajita vegetables and chicken satisfied my hunger.
Then it was on to the town of Victor for the night, crossing the Teton Pass into Idaho once again. This was something that we did several times during the trip.
It was not difficult to find the cabin that we were going to stay in that night. We were very happy to find a spacious place with all the modern amenities, and best of all, two full bathrooms!
The house seemed to be located on a plain in the middle of nowhere. We got a better idea of our surroundings the next morning. I took a few pictures of the clear sky before we went to bed. I still need to develop my skills when it comes to taking nighttime shots.And that was it for the long day!
It was very, very, cold the the next morning. According to the weather app, the local temperature was about -3° F outside when we woke up. Fortunately, we did not have to go out immediately. A breakfast of cooked oats and hot coffee warmed us up for the outdoors. I made sure to start the car up early to try to warm it up for others.Our first stop was the West Yellowstone airport. Our rental car company had a counter there where we could register another driver for the car. The airport itself was quite tiny, and it was about to close for the winter.
Traffic in the town of West Yellowstone was light as we drove through.After entering the park we drove for a while by the Madison river.At a place called Madison, we took the road going north towards our first destination of the day – Mammoth Hot Springs. The other option would have been to take the road south towards Old Faithful. Our plan was to head to Old Faithful later in the day.
During our drives, there were sometimes places where steam rose from close to, or even underneath, the roadway. There were parking lots to pull into to take in the sights. This particular place where we stopped was called Terrace Spring.You can see the steam and hot water bubbling out of the ground in the picture below.When you stop at places like this, you usually walk on boardwalks that have been put in place. This protects you from the unstable ground under.
The recent snowfall made things a little tricky on this boardwalk. In order to prevent contamination, the park avoids the use of salt and other chemicals to melt snow and ice from their boardwalks and roads.We stopped for pictures at Gibbon Falls on the Gibbon river. The parking lot for this view was just beside the road. The Gibbon flows into the Madison river.The meadows were covered with a light layer of snow. We saw bison close by in one of these meadows. I took pictures with my zoom lens.We drove through the Golden Gate Canyon that connects Mammoth Hot Springs to the the rest of the park.We stopped at the parking lot for the Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces. It was time for lunch. Our sandwiches were made with peanut butter and banana, a combination that, along with the steel cut oats that we had eaten in the morning, created a lot of extra activity on my digestive system. It was good to be able to walk it off in the open air.
From the area of the hot springs, one could see Fort Yellowstone below us. A visitor center and park headquarters is located there today. It was possible to take a trail from where we were to the fort. Instead, we decided to walk on the Upper Terrace Loop Drive. The road was closed to motorized traffic, probably because of road conditions in certain sections.This is one of the formations we came upon during the walk. It is called the Orange Spring Mound. It was formed over many years by the deposition of the minerals from the water (steam) emanating from the earth. This is called the White Elephant Back Terrace.The area below is called Angel Terrace. You can see the interaction of the hot water with the fresh snow.We drove down to Fort Yellowstone. The visitor center at Fort Yellowstone proved to be one of the smaller ones in the park.
We stopped to look at some of the activity on the lower terrace of Mammoth Spring on our way back from Fort Yellowstone.Then it was on to Old Faithful.
During our drives we saw people fly fishing in many of the rivers and creeks. The folks would be right out there in the middle of the water flow in their waterproof waders. They did not seem to be feeling the cold.We headed straight for the geyser after getting to the parking lot at the Visitor Center for Old Faithful. It was fortunate that we did this because the geyser put up a show and erupted within a few minutes of our arrival. It was perfect timing.
It all looked benign when the activity started.The geyser built up steam slowly.It peaked.And then the wind began to carry the steam high into the sky!The activity was over within a few minutes. Old Faithful erupts about once every hour and a half these day. It used to erupt once an hour in the past.
A stop at the Visitor Center allowed us to catch one of the videos that they have about a park. We make it a point to try to see these videos whichever national park we happen to be in.
It was time to start making our way back to Park Island.
We ended up making two stops along the way. One was at the Black Sand Basin. It was going to be a quick drive by, but I was intrigued enough by what I saw that we spent a little more time.
This picture shows the different colored minerals that are being deposited on the rocks from the hot water and steam coming out of the earth. The colors are muted in the picture below because the sun was setting behind a mountain at this point when I took the picture. The following pictures were taken on the Fountain Paint Pot trail further along the drive back to Park Island. We walked along a boardwalk.There was a section of the boardwalk here that was so slippery that only two of us followed the loop to its end to get back to the car. Others retraced their paths in order to get back.
The Paint Pot walk was the last stop for us within the park that day. In general, there were many more locations where one could have stopped to experience the wonderland that is Yellowstone National Park.
On the way back, we stopped in West Yellowstone once again for dinner. The place we ate at was called Beartooth Barbecue. The food was good, and the place was crowded. They told us that they were about to shut down operations for the winter.
Back in our log cabin in Park Island, we were hoping that the heating issues would have been addressed. Unfortunately, that was not the case. Fortunately, the temperatures had risen a little bit – but it was still below freezing in the night.
I cannot remember much more of what happened that evening. This was going to be our last night in Park Island. We were going to drive through Yellowstone towards the Grand Tetons the next day.
The first day was a very long travel day. The family was going to gather in Wyoming, and get ready for the visits to the National Parks that were starting the next day.
We departed from BWI in the early afternoon. Arrival at Salt Lake City, UT, was in the early evening after a flight that lasted more than four hours. Angela landed up separately at about the same time. We picked up the rental car and began our drive towards Jackson, WY, as soon as we could. Very soon we were off the highway and driving north over smaller roads along the border of Idaho and Wyoming, with instructions being given to me every so often to turn either left or right from one road to another. This being the boondocks in the western states, the speed limits on these roads were quite high. Nevertheless, it took us about 5 hours to cover the distance and get to our destination.
Throughout our drive to Jackson, we were in touch with Christina and Jesse who were landing at Jackson Hole later in the evening. We all ended up meeting up at the restaurant for the Roadhouse Brewing Company in Jackson rather late in the evening just before the kitchen was about to close. We were hungry and thirsty. It had been a while since we had our lunch at BWI airport. The craft beer was welcome after the long drive. The food was good.
It was well past my normal bedtime by the time we started our drive from Jackson to Driggs, ID, to our place for the night. Very soon after we left town the road began to climb up the mountainside to the Teton Pass. We were warned about 10% grades! And then the snow also started falling. I had to slow down further on the winding mountain road. It was a little challenging. We crossed into Idaho after descending from the Teton Pass. We had a few more miles to drive after that to get to Driggs.
It was close to midnight (Mountain time!) by the time we located the place we were staying that night. I crashed out very soon. I was dead tired.
It was quite cold when we woke up the next morning, well below freezing. There was also a thin layer of snow on the car.Coffee was being made in the house, but, this being the first morning of the trip, we were not prepared for breakfast.Jesse and I drove into the main section of town to pick up something to eat. While we were there, we went to the local tire store to have the tires on the vehicle checked out since the low pressure indicator had come on. We were told that there was most likely nothing wrong with the tires. The change in the air temperature made events like the low pressure indicator coming on fairly common. It turned out to be the correct diagnosis. The indicator light went off after a few hours of driving. This phenomenon repeated itself the next day.
The objective for the first day was to drive towards Yellowstone National Park. We would have to drive north through Grand Teton National Park in order to get there. The goal was to get to our place for the night by evening time. This was going to be primarily a driving day. We would be driving into Yellowstone from the South entrance and leaving for our place for the evening through the West entrance (or exit, in this case).
After getting ready for the day and repacking our stuff back into our vehicle, we drove back towards Wyoming and Jackson. We had prepared ourselves for a very cold day. We had to drive through the Teton Pass once again, this time in the opposite direction. This being our first day in the mountains, we had to stop every once in a while to enjoy our surroundings and the recently fallen snow. We had not been able to see anything the previous night.It was snowing once again by the time we got to the top of Teton pass. Jackson lay in the valley in front of us, but the view was not very clear because of the precipitation. It was also very windy and brutally cold at the top of the pass, something that we were not that well prepared for. We had to take to obligatory pictures quickly. We stopped at the supermarket in Jackson to pick up some supplies for the next few days, and then we were on our way.
Soon we were beginning to get our first views of the Tetons – covered with a layer of fresh snow!Our first stop was to be the car rental place at Jackson Hole airport. The reason for the stop was to add one more driver to the list of people allowed to drive the rental vehicle. Unfortunately, our rental company did not have a booth in the airport. We had made the mistake of not stopping at their office in the town of Jackson on the way. I was going to have to drive the rest of the day since we did not have a registered second driver. The next opportunity for us to add such would be at the town of West Yellowstone in Montana, on the way to the place we were staying at for a couple of nights.
The airport lies in the vast valley to the east of the Tetons. I thought the background for the airport was stunning.The drive took us on the highway to the east of the Snake river.
Over millions of years, the river has carved out a meandering path over the plain. The layering of the erosion that happened at different times in the history of the river clearly shows, and can be studied more carefully from a few viewpoints. You can also drive down to today’s river side.On the way towards Yellowstone, we took a detour to the east towards a location that was supposed to have good views. We ended up driving through a snow storm. On the other side of the storm we arrived at a section of the Continental Divide and decided that this was a far as we would head in this direction. The views were not as great as we expected. We turned back after getting some nourishment into us.This was a view of the Teton Mountains on our drive back to the park.We passed an entrance to the Grand Teton National Park and stopped to take the obligatory picture.This was another view of the Grand Tetons as we were driving beside the Snake river.We had to actually drive through an entrance gate for Grand Teton NP, and then for a little while along a highway, before we got to the entrance for Yellowstone. At that point we discovered that one of the roads that was closed because of the weather was the one that went past the famous geyser, Old Faithful. This was the road that provided the most direct route to our destination for the night. Fortunately, the roads in Yellowstone form a loop, and we could come around to where we needed to be by driving around in the other, longer, direction. Instead of going clockwise in the loop, we went anti-clockwise.It was only now that we also began to realize that we had come to the park when things were beginning to shut down in general. In fact, the first Visitor Center that we went to at Grant Village, on the shore of the West Thumb of Lake Yellowstone, was about to close for the rest of the year. There were also no ranger-led tours for the rest of the year.
We drove by Lewis Lake and Lewis Falls during the early section of the drive within Yellowstone.We got onto the road that ran along the west shore of Lake Yellowstone.During the rest of the drive towards the west entrance of Yellowstone we drove past a our first herd of bison, backlit in the sun that was beginning to set.On our way out of the park, we stopped at the town of West Yellowstone to get some dinner before proceeding towards Island Park and our place for the night. We ate at what was rated to be the best restaurant in town. It was called the Wild West Pizzeria and Saloon. The place was busy and the pizza was good. The massive saloon area next to the restaurant seating had a native feel. I might have felt a little uncomfortable hanging out in that section of the establishment.
The town of West Yellowstone itself had its own unique feel. It is a small place and does not have the more modern and very touristy feel of a place like Jackson. From the nature of the buildings and the signs, I imagined being in a western town in a different place and time, perhaps in the movies. Things shut down for the winter. There are no supermarkets. I did not see any chain motels. Even the grocery store had character. The population definitely appeared to to be more homogeneous than I am used to experiencing. We did see a Chinese restaurant, and the some of the service staff at the restaurant that we ate at appeared to be Hispanic.
We had to drive a further distance from West Yellowstone to get to Island Park. We drove from Montana into Idaho during this drive. The road conditions were still a little dicey from snowfall. The local road that we drove onto in Island Park was covered with snow. (I found out later that the Toyota Highlander Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV) that I was driving was an All Wheel Drive vehicle. It was a free upgrade from the intermediate size SUV that I had originally booked with the rental company. That was a good thing!) We had good traction and clearance, which was especially important when we got on to the snow-covered and uneven gravel road that led to the log cabin we were staying at.
The cabin was real nice, except that it got very, very, cold that night, and we had issues with the gas fireplace and the heating in the house. The adults slept in the bedroom downstairs, that had its own heating. The kids slept upstairs in the attic.
The name 30-60-30 was suggested at one point during the later part of this trip. After all, the trip was meant to be a celebration of two 30th birthdays, and one 60th, all taking place in the order noted above. It had been in the works for a while, and it was taking place in spite of fractured elbows that had gotten in the way of another 60th birthday celebration trip. That particular one had gotten cancelled a couple of weeks earlier. This one was a get-together with the kids, and a visit to the National Parks of Yellowstone and the nearby Grand Tetons, after which the two of us were to set off on adventures of our own, extending the trip to visit the Sawtooth Mountains in Idaho and then also spend some time in Salt Lake City. During this trip, we were to travel through the states of Utah, Wyoming, Idaho and Montana.
It has been a few days since we finished the trip. I have been unsure about how to put this one into the record books. Should it be summarized in one blog? Should it be broken up into a day by day, blow by blow, description? How should I use the hundreds of pictures that I took related to this story? What should I emphasize and where will particular pictures fit in? I have decided on a “hybrid” approach. Only time will tell how this will turn out.
Traveling in this part of the country is mostly about the outdoors. Besides the parks that visitors come to see, this part of the country is occupied by large ranches and farms where cultivation of crops and the raising of animals takes place. The properties are huge, and it takes specialized equipment and vehicles to manage the large spaces. Some ranches have animals grazing in them as far as the eye can see – primarily cows and horses. In many places the landscape is dotted with massive irrigation systems that can water significant chunks of farmland in short time. And then there are the open and rugged lands that are more sparsely occupied.
Yellowstone National Park was a pleasant surprise for me. I was expecting the geyser Old Faithful to be the primary attraction, after which I expected to be done with the park, but I found out that the land that this huge park occupies is truly a wonderland. The Yellowstone Caldera is a massive ancient volcano basin where the volcanic activity has brought the heat and fury of the inner earth very close to its surface. The super-hot magma lies close enough to the crust to have a visible impact all over the park. Steam rises into the air everywhere. There are very few places in the world like this.Hot springs,geysers,fumaroles,mud pits, and all other combinations of phenomena that result from steam, hot water and hot mud rising out of the earth result. The throwing up, churning and/or bubbling of the water, or mud, is continuous as the underground forces are released. The air is filled with fumes with different smells. It is an amazing place.
The cold temperatures that we experienced in the park lent an additional beauty to the scene. Then there is the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.This is very much a geologically active area. In one location, steam has erupted from the pavement in a parking lot. You are warned everywhere in the park to keep to the boardwalk. The crust is thin. You do not want to fall into a hole that opens up beneath you. Neither would you want to be there when subterranean forces burst out of the ground.
Yellowstone covers a huge area, and it takes a few days to get around to the different locations. So, if you visit, plan to spend enough time, perhaps a few days. It is one of those places well worth having on your bucket list.
The Grand Tetons are a different experience. The massive, rugged, and majestic massif that rises in a straight line up out of the flat plateau dominate the scene. Geologically, the Teton mountains rise along a fault line. Over a period of millions of years, the land on one side of the fault line was uplifted because the land on the two sides of the fault line pushed against each other. This process ended up raising and exposing really old rock in a relatively new mountain range. Imagine the nature of the forces that are powerful enough to actually create majestic mountains! Geology is fascinating.
The experience of the Grand Teton National Park is mainly about its beauty and the outdoor activities that are possible.
In many sections of both the parks the roads ran along, or crossed, mountain rivers and streams. The main rivers that I noted were the Yellowstone River, a tributary of the Missouri, that flowed to the north through the parks, and the Snake River, a tributary of the Columbia, that flowed to the south through the parks. There are a few large and very pretty lakes whose bright and clear blue color catches your attention immediately on a sunny day.
We arrived at the parks at a time when the weather was much colder than it usually is at this time of the year. We had to be bundled up in layers to stay warm, and there was snow and ice to be tackled on some of the trails. The kids were instrumental in making sure we could navigate some of the more slippery trails without incident and additional damage to elbows. There was some tricky driving involved on a couple of occasions. Driving up and down the winding mountain road through the Teton Pass in the falling snow on a dark night after a long day of driving from Salt Lake City to Jackson Hole was an interesting challenge. Waking up to below zero degrees (Fahrenheit!) temperatures in Island Park in Idaho one morning was a unique experience. We spent two very cold nights in a nice (but somewhat cold) cabin there. Fortunately, it warmed up somewhat – to closer to freezing temperatures – during the day as we drove into the park.
There are many kinds of animals to be seen in Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons, but we encountered only a few of them, including those in the pictures below.We did spend a lot of time looking for moose, and also hoping that we would not run across bears when we were by ourselves. Only the bears cooperated. A couple of people in the car managed to catch sight of a moose one day, but there was no place to stop for the rest of the folks in the car to get a view. We came back to the same area of the park a few times without success.
The kids left us after our explorations of Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons. It was quality time that was well spent, and without their assistance we could not have been able to experience all that we did. After their departure, the two of us headed out further west in our rental car.
Our destination was the Sawtooth National Recreation area. Along the way, we stopped at the Craters of the Moon National Monument. This is a really strange place with bizarre landscape. The remains of ancient lava flows and their aftereffects dominate the area, making the place look like it is of another world.Apparently astronauts come here occasionally to train. There are some caves that have formed in this area, and I managed to crawl in and out of one of these and do some exploration (spelunking?!) without hurting myself. The area of the Craters of the Moon is active from a volcanic perspective. The National Park Service site states “The time between eruptive periods in the Craters of the Moon Lava Field averages 2,000 years and it has been more than 2,000 years since the last eruption.”
The drive past this park took us through the area occupied by the Idaho National Laboratory, a place that I had not known about before. Apparently, this is one of the historical centers of nuclear research in the country. It is still active. There are a few nuclear reactors still in the area, and nuclear waste is also stored here. I suppose the location makes sense considering how sparsely populated this part of Idaho is, and how far it is from major population centers.
We spent the night in a small town called Bellevue in the Sun Valley area of Idaho before heading for the Sawtooth Mountains that lay further to the north. As with our drives earlier on in the trip, this one was spectacular. This was in spite of the fact that the weather did not cooperate too much in the early part of the day. We had to drive through intermittent events of rain and snow fall.Just beyond a mountain pass over Galena mountain, we arrived at the headwaters of the Salmon river, also called the “The River of No Return”. We drove onward to the town of Stanley. The place looked like it was out of a Western Movie, but a more modern version. It felt like the major form of transportation in this part of the world was the pickup truck. The popular fashion statement seemed to involve clothing with camouflage design on it. The Salmon river flows past Stanley on its way north along this section of the road.In general, many of the small towns that we drove through in the countryside during this trip could be considered “cute”. The few commercial buildings in town would mostly be centered around the one main traffic intersection on a main road. There could be the town’s only traffic light at the intersection. There was usually a gas station. The towns that were not too far from the tourist areas would have a few restaurants and drinking holes, and perhaps a motel or two, some of them new and modern. I did notice a Buddhist establishment in at least one town. Young people seem to find jobs in some of these places. Perhaps they keep them alive.
The stop at Shoshone Falls in the town of Twin Falls, Idaho, took place the same evening that we visited the Sawtooth Mountains. It happened because of an encounter we had the previous day at the Craters of the Moon. A fellow visitor had shown us pictures she had taken of the place. The waterfalls are impressive. They are also called the Niagara of the West. The waterfalls happened to be on our way back to Salt Lake City. Not many people visit, although we did see the obligatory busload of Chinese tourists.We spent a significant part of the next day on our way back to Salt Lake City at Antelope Island, located on the Great Salt Lake. Antelope Island hosts a popular state park and is reached by driving over a causeway from the mainland.The island is dedicated to outdoor activities. We were limited in what we could do because of the pre-trip injuries. We did a little bit of hiking on the easier trails. In general, these trails were not that well maintained, nor well marked.
We made it to a beach to check out the salinity of the water.You do get a view of Salt Lake City from a distance from certain viewpoints on the island. The Wasatch mountains dominate the background.I was hoping to see more of the local flora and fauna on the island. That did not happen.
The final day was spent visiting the sights in Salt Lake City. The city is small enough that you can cover it on foot. The main attraction is Temple Square, where you can see the outside of the Mormon Temple, and visit their chapel and Tabernacle. They have visitor centers where you can learn more about Mormonism. It is an interesting experience, and there is no pressure. Salt Lake City is the seat of the Mormon religion.We caught a performance on the organ at the Tabernacle. After a visit to the nearby Utah State Capital Building,we headed back to our hotel. Autumn was very much in the air in Salt Lake City.We went to the Saturday evening service at the Cathedral of the Madeline later on in the day, went out for dinner at a sushi restaurant after that, and finally called it a day.
And that was the end of the vacation and the visit to the four northwest states.
We flew back to Maryland the next morning. (That’s Salt Lake City in the background in the picture above!)
The first of a series of blogs with more details of the trip can be read here.