The 2019 Road Trip: Grand Teton National Park – Day 2

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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPA140945.jpgI 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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHere is the moon setting behind a hill.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs 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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn a little while, the sun itself finally made its grand appearance.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABreakfast 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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis 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.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe 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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is a picture of Grand Teton mountain taken from the car.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis picture was taken from one of the parking lots along the park road.  I think it was Potholes Turnout.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe 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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis bird stayed around us while we were at the lookout at the peak.  I have not been able to identify it.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThese 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!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe sighted what I think were mule deer on our way down the mountain.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis picture was taken half way down Signal Mountain.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe 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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis 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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is where the Snake river reemerges from Jackson lake.  The main road runs over the dam that creates the lake behind it.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe drove off the main road to a river access point to have our lunch.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Snake river looked quite peaceful and the waters were low.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe water was crystal clear.PA140082.jpgI spotted a common merganser in the river.  It did not hang around too long.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter 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).OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Tetons were visible in the distance, beyond Jackson Lake, as we began the hike.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe 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.)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe trail followed the twin tracks of a an old dirt road.  We forded a stream at this point.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe 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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe 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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe 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.PA140129.jpgWe saw these two birds along the way.  I have not been able to identify them yet.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe trail ended up at a fork in the road where you could continue either leftOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA or right.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe 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!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThese pictures were taken on the way back.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe 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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt 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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe sun was going down behind the mountains by that time.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe 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!)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe interior of the chapel is very simple. The opening behind the altar revealed the Grand Tetons.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe benches that formed the pews reflected simplicity, and the nature of their surroundings.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe 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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe mountains looked majestic in the fading light as we left the park.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe 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.

Next blog in this series here.

Four States, Two National Parks, and much more

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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHot springs,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAgeysers,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA fumaroles,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAmud pits,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA 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.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt is an amazing place.

The cold temperatures that we experienced in the park lent an additional beauty to the scene.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Then there is the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis 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.

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The Tetons rise behind Jackson Hole airport
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The breadth of the Teton mountain range
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Sunset behind the mountains
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Mountains and Lakes
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Chapel of the Transfiguration, Grand Teton National Park

 

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In the evening

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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe 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.PA160360.jpgApparently 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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAJust 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. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt 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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn 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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe 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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe 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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou do get a view of Salt Lake City from a distance from certain viewpoints on the island.    The Wasatch mountains dominate the background.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI 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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe caught a performance on the organ at the Tabernacle. PA190756.jpgAfter a visit to the nearby Utah State Capital Building,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAwe headed back to our hotel.  Autumn was very much in the air in Salt Lake City.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe 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.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA(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.