Saturday, July 11, 2009

Te-tons of Fun

Grand Teton National Park

July 10-11

We have just two days in Grand Teton National Park. At "just" 310,000 acres, it is less than 15% of Yellowstone's size, but still, we have a lot of spectacular territory to cover in a very short time.

Fortunately, it takes us no time at all to get there. We drive out Yellowstone's south gate, travel through eight miles of what we imagine is disputed territory between the two parks, and then we are at Grand Teton's north gate.

Over and over again, we have experienced abrupt changes in landscape as we have traveled the West. In passing from Yellowstone to Teton, we know immediately—this is a very different park.

The focus here is the dramatic Teton Range that runs as a backbone down the West edge of the park. They are a stately row of craggy snow-frosted and glaciated peaks that rise steeply some 7,000 feet above the broad Jackson Hole valley. The run-off from these mountains creates powerful waterfalls, and veins the basin with wetlands, streams and crystal lakes.

Our first day, we did the one thing all tourists here must do—we took a boat across Jenny Lake, and hiked a half mile to Hidden Falls, where we rested at the foot of the Falls, savoring the cool breeze and mist from the water's fury. (Not to experience this field trip would be equivalent to visiting Yellowstone and not seeing Old Faithful erupt.)

Not ones to content ourselves with fulfilling the minimum requirement, we continued our hike up, and up, and up the side of the mountain to Inspiration Point, where we could take photographs of the mountains all around us, and the tiny boats below ferrying others back and forth across lovely deep blue Jenny Lake to the hiking trail.

Hikers coming to Inspiration Point from another trail reported seeing a moose about fifteen minutes back on their trail, so we hopped up and went to take a look. We were rewarded with our first moose sighting of the trip, not far off the trail.

We haven't seen any moose grazing in the valley yet, but we know they are there, because we see many warning signs. Our favorite warning rolls out in a Burma Shave-like series:






We also see evidence of moose, elk and deer antlers all over town. The four corners of the Jackson town square each have massive archways made entirely of intertwined deer and elk antlers, with moose antler trim. A plaque by the main archway explains that Boy Scouts collect the antlers after they are shed every spring, and sell them as a fund raiser.

Apparently every business in town is supporting the Boy Scouts, because antlers are used as door handles, clothing display racks, wreaths and lamp fixtures. If you like that style, there is a store in town that can fix you up with a moose antler chandelier big enough to go in the lobby of the Old Faithful Inn, as well as many other more modest size lighting options, furniture, and home d├ęcor accessories incorporating antlers. (And, many motels around here have antlerish names, such as ours--the Elk Country Inn.)

Since we covered the normal tourist hot spots on our first day, we took the roads less traveled on our second day, which began with our alarm clock going off at 4:15 a.m. No mistake. We got up at that hour to be sure we made it to a very scenic spot to see the sun rise and illuminate the Grand and its neighboring peaks. The temperature was 39 degrees. We wore many layers of clothing, but had neglected to pack winter hats or gloves.

Dick set up his tripod and camera in the dark using a flashlight, then came in the car to wait for first light. He took pictures, then came back to the car to warm up, and repeated that process many times. I didn't leave the car until the sun was up. It was still cold then, but the bright sun throwing yellow light around had a psychological warming effect of about ten degrees.

We weren't the only ones out at that hour. We saw about a dozen other photographers looking for sunrise shots. Unfortunately for sunrise photographers, the day broke clear and cloudless, so there were no special effects in the sky. We did have great light, though, so after a quick breakfast stop at 7, we were back out mucking in a boggy lowland field looking for birds, then we went to a deserted Mormon settlement and took pictures of the barns and fences that are slowly weathering away at the foot of the mountains, their ragged roofs mirroring the rugged mountain peaks.

By about 11, the temperature was getting into the 60s, we had peeled off most of our layers of outerwear, and it seemed like a great time for a bike ride. So we changed into our bike clothes and hit the park's new paved multi-purpose trail. It runs for nearly ten miles through a sage and wildflower covered valley at the base of the Teton Range, ending at Jenny Lake. We rode to Jenny Lake, bought picnic provisions at the General Store, had lunch there, and rode back.

While we were at Jenny Lake, a helicopter was flying around the mountain we had climbed as far as Inspiration Point yesterday. A ranger told us Emergency personnel in the helicopter were locating a man who slid 300 feet down the mountain and broke his leg. They were trying to determine the best way to get help to him and evacuate him. We hope that story ends well.

We have no idea of the circumstances of that man's fall,
but it does remind us to mention that we have seen many people doing stupid things in dangerous places in the National Parks, from approaching animals too closely (often with a child in tow), to stepping off boardwalks onto steaming ground near a bubbling thermal pool's eggshell thin edge, or leaving kids unattended to climb over a retaining wall at the edge of a steep drop-off. We are sure the Ranger rescue squads and EMTs around here have many stories to tell.

We planned to go back out in the Park tonight to catch mountain sunset pictures at a little after 9 pm, but we have a load of laundry in the dryer, a long day of driving ahead of us tomorrow, and we never did get around to the afternoon nap we planned to make up for our early morning, so we are working to convince ourselves that the sunset is probably not going to be so hot tonight after all.

We are leaving the curtains closed so as not to be tempted to hop in the car and change our plans at the first glimmer of pink in the clouds.

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