My arrival back to the Tetons was something I’d looked forward to for months. Not only is it one of my all time favorite places for its beauty, hiking trails and abundance of wildlife, but I was about to reconnect with friends I’d met on my journey as well. I spend so much time on my own that time with friends is always a special treat for me… especially like minded friends who are as in love with nature as I am. Needless to say my good mood escalated as I grew near.
When I crossed from Yellowstone into Grand Teton National Park on Hwy 89 and came alongside Jackson Lake where the rugged Tetons are mirrored in the water I was elated. This is one of those priceless moments I wish I had on video to share. Imagine… me at the wheel, Sadie sitting on the “co-pilot platform” over the passenger seat, Jazzy dozing on the floor next to me. As the Tetons came into view I let out a loud “Yesssss! I’m back!!” Sadie sits up with ears perked and head tilted. “What’s up?” she’s asking. “We’re back Sadie! Whoop whoop! Sing it with me girl!! Whoop whoop!” Jazzy sits up, looks at me, and looks at Sadie as if to say “What’s gotten into her?” Sadie’s expression is easy to read, “I dunno, but I like it!”
A few more miles down the road I came to another favorite vista of this gorgeous mountain range. Is it any wonder that I’m drawn back here again and again?
Waiting for me at Gros Ventre campground was my friend Jesse, who I met in the same campground the prior summer. Before I was even settled into my campsite he was there to greet me with a big smile and a warm hug. That evening he introduced me to his new friend Jessica and the three of us immediately set about discussing a hike we would take a few days later after the arrival of yet another new friend, Joe, who I met and hiked with while camped in Georgia.
While out walking early the following morning I came upon two young male moose who were slowing foraging their way into the campground. I don’t have much doubt that these are the same two males I caught nosing around in my campsite before dawn last year. (story here) I’m guessing that they are brothers since they appear to be the same age and they stick so close together. It was fun observing the two of them from a relatively close (and safe) distance for a while.
Part of what I love about the Teton area, in addition to the majestic mountain range, are the numerous lakes and rivers. The Snake River, which cuts its path through this National Park, is a great spot for drift boating and fly fishing. Whitewater rafting is popular with the tourists just a few miles downriver from here as well.
The morning after Joe arrived at Gros Ventre Campground the four of us set out well before sunrise for our highly anticipated “killer hike”… the Paintbrush Divide Loop. I’ve done a lot of hiking in my lifetime, and I’m not sure I’ve ever been on one so spectacular as this. The majesty of these mountains, and the breathtaking vistas all along the way made it memorable. The challenge created by a distance of nearly nineteen miles at a high elevation on a rugged trail, with an additional vertical gain of 3,765 feet was completely depleting and elating at the same time.
The trail took us past String Lake at sunrise, and up Paintbrush Canyon where we passed other small mountain lakes and streams as we forged upward. Early in the day Jesse (veteran to the trail) stopped, pointed high up the mountain and said, “That’s where we’re going.” to which the three of us replied in unison, “Yeah right.”
After many miles of climbing we stood facing the “Paintbrush Divide” that Jesse had been pointing to from down the mountain. It wasn’t until it loomed above us that Joe, Jessica and I realized he hadn’t been kidding. In order to cross over it we still had to make our way across it’s steep, rocky, and partially snow-covered face.
The combined gratitude and gratification we felt once we’d finally reached the top of the 10,700 foot high divide was exhilarating to say the least. A little farther down the trail we grew excited at the sight of Lake Solitude where we planned to rest and have a bite to eat. Distance can be very deceiving in the mountains! The lake that seemed not much more than a stones throw away from the top took us another hour of hard hiking to reach. It teased and taunted us every knee-jarring step of the way.
After a short break at Lake Solitude we donned our backpacks (which were now lighter but seemed heavier) and started our trek down Cascade Canyon. Many gorgeous and grueling miles later we arrived at Jenny Lake just in time to catch the last ferry to the other side, saving our tired bodies another mile on the trail.
[There are far too many images from this hike alone to share in one blog post, but the entire breathtaking hike can be seen in this slideshow... A Day Hike in the Tetons. ]
After a very long day on the trail, with every inch of our bodies tired and aching and dirty… and with no showers in the campground… a cold dip in the Gros Ventre River was refreshing to say the least.
As of that night, with our bodies aching in protest of the punishment we’d put them through, none of us imagined walking farther than a picnic table or lounge chair the following day. After a good night’s rest though, both Joe and I found ourselves ready to tackle a much simpler loop out to Phelps Lake. Before the hike we stepped inside the Rockefeller Preserve Center for a few moments. One thing that caught my eye was a beautiful mural of mountains reflected in Phelps Lake. When I stepped forward for a closer look I realized it was made entirely from smaller images from these mountains… mostly birds and plant life.
From the Rockefeller Preserve Center we enjoyed hiking the relatively easy loop to and from Phelps Lake. Although not crowded, we encountered a few more people along this popular trail than we saw during our entire hike the day before.
At a bridge over Lake Creek I spotted a family of ducks making their way upriver and stopped to watch for awhile. We were amused to observe a mother Merganser teaching her offspring the art of swimming upstream against the flow of a cascading river. This little group fought their way against the flow which was all the harder when it cascaded over the rocks above them. From time to time one of them would get caught by the force of the water and swept back to a pool below. Every time this happened the entire family would drop back, regroup and forge ahead together. Gotta love the rhythm and harmony of nature, not to mention the family unity!
After our hike we continued south on Moose-Wilson Road toward Jackson, stopping along the way to take in a few scenes. After a bite to eat in town we headed back north to the campground to prepare for our journey through Yellowstone the following day.
Since I am now a Yellowstone veteran (I’ve taken in much of it during my few prior visits) I told Joe (newbie ) I’d play tour guide and show him as many favorite spots as we could fit into one day. [My memorable solo adventure around Yellowstone can be seen here... Full Circle Through Eden]
The day started early driving north through Teton National Park on Hwy-89, which parallels the Snake River, and eventually rounding a bend to what has become one of my favorite scenes in either of these two amazing national parks… The Grand Tetons towering over Jackson Lake. (same spot shared at the beginning of this post.)
From there we drove through the south entrance to Yellowstone National Park following the Lewis River from a ridge above, and stopping for photo ops at Moose Falls. While there I observed and photographed an artist working on a painting of the falls. Eventually I introduced myself, gave him my card and told him I’d be happy to share the image with him if he cared to contact me. A few weeks later he sent me a nice email which I replied to with a copy of his image, and then I cruised his website. Very impressive! Meet Gary Bertram.
Not too far up the road we encountered a traffic jam. This is a common occurrence in Yellowstone because so many tourists stop right in the middle of the roadway to snap pictures of the bountiful wildlife. In this case though, we sat for a very long time in one place and had no idea what was holding up the traffic. Eventually I suggested one of us should go check it out. Joe immediately hopped out with a smile on his face (I was behind the wheel). Ten minutes later he returned with an even bigger smile and informed me that there was a huge herd of Bison crossing the road just around the bend ahead of us. The flow of traffic could only trickle through the infrequent gaps between these huge beasts. I estimated it took us nearly an hour to drive the quarter mile it took to get beyond them.
Our next stop was an intended one… Artists Point and the Yellowstone Falls overlook. The vista here is absolutely stunning, and makes me grateful yet again for the forethought in creating our National Park system. Without them these vistas might include homes, hotels and casinos!
A bit farther up the road we spotted two male elk grazing down a hillside. With camera in hand I stepped out and slowly moved down amongst the trees for a better position. Keep in mind I have photographed elk several times before, the most thrilling of which was a large bull with a huge herd during rut… at a relatively close distance. I move very slowly and keep barriers of trees and boulders between us, and I watch for any sign of agitation or aggression. This does not guarantee my safety, but having a sense of respect and understanding of any wildlife is important when in their territory.
Stupidity and ignorance in a place like Yellowstone can get you killed or maimed, and sadly it happens year after year. Several other cars pulled off the road (or parked in it) shortly after we stopped, and the peaceful scene was immediately interrupted with loud chatter… and one mother screaming at her teenage son not to get any closer. As I glanced back up the hill to see Joe’s reaction to the intrusion I was appalled to watch three small children come briskly down the hill in the wide-open near where I was perched behind the tree.
The closest stag became alert immediately. I was quickly formulating a plan to grab the child nearest me, or all, or dive on them if need be if the young bull were to take on an aggressive stance. I glanced up the hill at their parents who were chatting with each other in some foreign language… not a care in the world… when the kids suddenly continued their advance on the elk. I reached out to stop them and at the same time hollered out to their parents, “These kids should not be down here!” The reaction was not one of urgency, but eventually they were called back up the hill. All I could do was shake my head in amazement. The kids were simply being curious kids. Their parents were pathetically ignorant.
Next stop was the steep (and unmapped) climb to a birds-eye view of Grand Prismatic. This climb, as well as a few of our other stops for the day are covered more extensively in the post mentioned above… Full Circle Through Eden.
With evening setting in it was time to turn back for our hundred-mile return trek to the campground. As day turned to night though, we were treated to a few more reasons to stop and take in the beauty of these two amazing National Parks.
I have enjoyed visiting many of our National Parks during my journey and in my lifetime, and have my sights set on many more. This month I had planned to visit Crater Lake in Oregon and Zion in Utah. Now… because of the government shutdowns, all of our National Parks are closed. That leaves me, along with 300 million other annual visitors to these parks, saddened to say the least. Hopefully the closures won’t last long.
Our National Park system may seem relatively unimportant in the whole political scheme of things right now, but I strongly believe they are a valued and vital treasure in our nation. To quote a very wise man;
“In the midst of the complexities of modern life, with all its pressures, the spirit of man needs to refresh itself by communion with unspoiled nature. In such surroundings- occasional as our visits may be- we can achieve that kind of physical and spiritual renewal that comes alone from the wonder of the natural world.”
― Laurance S. Rockefeller