Third Stop—Grand Teton National Park

Grand Teton National Park is just south of Yellowstone. Handy! You’re barely out of one National Park before entering another. Grand Teton could be a nice day trip from the south of Yellowstone, but, that was not our plan. Our plan was to spend some hours in Teton then start the drive to Zion in Utah, on a route we had not yet decided other than heading south-ish for a while and setting up camp before dark.

The Grand Teton you know of photographs, the craggy jutting peaks of the Teton Range, are just as impressive in person. Almost anywhere you go in the park affords a view of the peaks, so don’t worry about missing those. The other half of the park to the east, forever overlooked by those peaks, is a flat valley called Jackson Hole. River, wetlands, and grassland habitats support many types of wildlife in the valley, so please don’t miss out on this area. If you’re a birder, the river edge is a great place to hang out—neither of us is, so we didn’t, but we did stop at the Oxbow Bend Turnout for a bit to survey the river area. Worth the stop.

Here is about where I realized my grave misstep of forgetting the charging attachments for my camera. Third park on the tour of eight, and I had enough juice left for a couple more photographs. Superb!

Tip #7 on a Road Trip: Really, try not to forget your camera charger or extra battery.

The information kiosk person mentioned a narrow drive up Signal Mountain, a nice drive surrounded by forest that wound past wetland areas. Prime moose habitat. This was one of our last last opportunities to see moose, so our only choice was to take the drive. It was as advertised, a pretty, twisty drive. We pulled over at one of the wetland areas we thought CERTAIN to have moose, but once at the wetland edge, we were dismayed to find other park visitors taking a loud, chatty walk around the wetland. Having a great time, but surely scaring off moose anywhere near.

The view from the top of Signal Mountain is impressive—flat land spreads below you with a view of the mountain ranges that surround the valley of Jackson Hole. Also on top of Signal Mountain: huge cell towers. So, that was a little disruptive to the ‘only nature for miles around’ idea. Great phone reception though. Too bad that wouldn’t help my now dead camera.

A little further south we stopped for picnic lunch. Grand Teton is a smaller park with a large amount of visitors. The ratio of people to picnic tables is about 100:1 (thoroughly non-scientific number, but truly what it seemed like) and we were even there after Labor Day—summer I can only imagine is more crowded. My point: If you’re picnicking, try to eat at an off time. Relaxation set in over lunch and we mused about staying here for the night. Would have been nice to spend more than four hours here, but with the slight issue of all camping spots being full and not wanting to pay for lodging beyond that, we decided to keep with the original ‘drive south-ish part of the way to Utah’ plan.

One of the popular park activities that will give an introduction to a variety of natural features in a short time: a boat ride across Jenny Lake to the mountains for a short hike. The Jenny Lake visitor center is rightfully named and highly visited. So, after waiting 20 minutes for a parking spot, we hopped on the next boat ride for the serene short trip that ends at the base of Mt. St. John and the start of the trail up to Hidden Falls. Standing at the base for a minute, I looked up and thought that the mountains here looked ‘totally climbable!’ Some day I’ll head back and see how climbable the Tetons actually are.

I love hiking in mountains, but generally not so much when in a long line of people. There was no choice in the matter here. The entire boatload of people disembarks and starts up the trail at the same time, and boats run about every 15 minutes during high season, so there are people everywhere. The trail is all uphill (until the trip down of course) and on rough terrain so can be challenging, but it’s thoroughly traveled by all types. Much of the trail follows a stream flowing downhill from the falls, so there are plenty of wider areas on the bank to use as resting points. Mountain streams are one of the more beautiful pristine things in the world. Clear clean water sparkling as it flows and bounces down multicolored rocks and fallen branches. Do yourself a favor and watch it for a while.

The falls were nice too. Wouldn’t it be nice if I had a picture? It would.

The trail goes further up from the falls to Inspiration Point, and beyond if you wish to hike more. So, off we went past the falls, up more rocky uneven terrain to Inspiration Point. The hike was a worthwhile good bit of exercise, but I do have to say that “inspiration point” was pretty much the same view as a lower observation area. Not all that inspirational. The view from Signal Mountain was more impressive. A couple of other guys I heard behind me mocking the sign in unnecessary mean-spiritedness seemed to think so too. Deciding against following the trail farther, we headed back down. Note: hiking down steep uneven paths can be trickier than hiking up.

Jenny Lake has a trail along its edge that leads from the visitor center, but we took the boat ride back in the interest of limited time. And because it was a delightful ride we were happy to take again. Back at the visitor center I asked about any good camping spots a couple hours away and if grizzlies hung out this far south. Rangers can’t help much with areas further away from the park (as I expected) but he could comment on grizzlies: that they have been spotted in wider territories of late and do roam mountains here and further south. This make me happy, as bears really were originally plains animals driven into the mountains and into smaller and a smaller territory by settlers and hunters. If they’re branching out to more, great! However, it also makes me anxious since I don’t really want to camp in grizzly territory (yes, I’m chicken). And, much like recent rehabitation attempts of wolves, there will be controversy if the bears venture into more populated areas. Even though they’re so very few and far between.

Anyhoo…do make a point of driving through the valley area on your way out of the park for possible wildlife spotting. There may even be an elusive moose. And there was! By the Snake River—we were fairly lucky in that we arrived right as the elusive moose did, while some of the waiting crowd had been there for hours. (Here’s a wildlife sighting clue: when there are many cars pulled off the road haphazardly, there may be a wildlife spotting. However, there may also just be a bunch of people pulling over haphazardly because they think there’s a sighting because of other cars already there. It can go either way.)

Just south of the park is Jackson, Wyoming. In the winter, this is a ski town, and all the time, it’s the gateway to Grand Teton. Which means it’s small but busy. We stopped into the tourist info area for maps and camping place ideas and to ask if there was an electronics store in town. There was indeed, and the info guy made it sound so easy to just drive down the main road to the little strip mall… but he neglected to mention traffic. Oh my goodness, if this is the usual traffic load in this small town, I’d have to not ever live there. It’s like cramming 10 times the amount of people that should fit, but with no left turn arrows. There are probably a lot of great places to stop and visit (a bar where you sit on saddles?) but I don’t know, I was in the middle of a traffic overload meltdown.

We made it to Radio Shack after much stop-and-go traffic, unharmed except for carsickness, to buy an overpriced battery-charging gadget. Then we braved traffic even further and made a much too hard-fought trip to a grocery store (again, NO LEFT TURN ARROWS). From there I accepted my mini-meltdown state, apologized, and made Marie drive the rest of the way out of town.

The drive south was a peaceful, windy road through large hills and valleys in Wyoming and into Idaho, where we took a gamble and decided to stop at a KOA only because we saw a sign (and also because camping areas were few and far between once you left the mountains) in the area of Montpelier, Idaho. This turned out to be the most adorable, clean little KOA. Highly recommended, as long as you’re not looking for primitive camping. The owners, who looked like they had been professional athletes of some sort, had taken over a few years back and were constantly making improvements. The place was well manicured and the bathrooms were clean and new. Also, they have free morning coffee and free WIFI. Having already eaten a burger-themed fast food dinner, we had no need to cook so set up tent and proceeded to log on to our internety devices. And there read the news that hikers in Yellowstone had stumbled upon the body of another bear attack victim only a few days before we had arrived. Oh. All those DO NOT STOP DO NOT GET OUT OF YOUR CAR signs and bear mace? They made sense.

Stay tuned for more wildlife updates in the next installment, Zion National Park.

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