The 2019 Road Trip: Grand Teton National Park – Day 1

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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALater in the morning, from the front of the house, we could see the neighborhood where our cabin was located.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe morning light streamed into the dining room area of our house through the giant windows as we had our morning coffee,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAwhile a little, stout, bird warmed itself in the sunlight on top of an evergreen tree in front of us.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe rising sun revealed open fields behind the house.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter 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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOur 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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe 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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA bike trail ran beside the road, leading me to imagine some future adventure on a different set of wheels.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOur lunch stop was in a parking area near the Lupine Meadows trailhead.  We were constantly on the lookout for moose, but none obliged!IMG_20191013_133816804_HDRWe drove further north through the park.  It was past noon by now, and the position of the sun had shift further west.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe 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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe crossed String Lake early on.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is where an inlet from String Lake feeds into Jenny Lake.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe colors of Fall were in full display beside the trail along Jenny Lake.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere 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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe 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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe 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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOnce 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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACascade 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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe sun was setting behind the mountains as we arrived back at Jenny Lake.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs 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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThroughout 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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe sun was setting as we started our drive out of the park.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn 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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPA130921.jpgAs 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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADinner 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!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe did not stay up too late that evening.  We were tired after the day’s activities.

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!)