Tag Archives: Grand Teton National Park

Two weeks ago, Day 6

So much for hot weather

This is what I woke up to the next morning:

Rain, rain, go away.  There *are* mountains there, honest.
Rain, rain, go away. There *are* mountains there, honest.

The temperature had dropped by about twenty degrees, which was lovely, but it was pouring rain, which was very much not.

I packed up from the very nice hostel at Teton Village and headed north, anyway. What else was I going to do? It did gradually clear up the farther north I went, and by the time I reached the part of the Tetons I’d been to before, the clouds were beginning to let those sharp, pointy mountains shred them a bit. (You do know what “tetons” means in French, right? — those fur trappers must have been out there a long time to make that particular association), and by the time I reached the southern entrance to Yellowstone, it had pretty much stopped raining, thankyouverymuch, although it was still nice and cool.

See, mountains!  Shredding clouds, too.
See, mountains! Shredding clouds, too.

I’d never approached Yellowstone from the south before. Because of where I live, I usually come at it through either the north or the west entrance. I missed out on entering via the northeast entrance two years ago because the Beartooth Highway (which tops out at almost 11,000 feet) was still blocked by snow in June. Anyway, it was an interesting change, and one that required me to show my parks pass three times today — once entering Grand Teton NP via the same goat trail I’d taken the day before, once re-entering GTNP via the Moran entrance (U.S. 89 is not officially part of the park, apparently), and once to get into Yellowstone itself. Weird.

It takes a while to get from the southern entrance to anything interesting except for Lewis Falls, which is pretty. I didn’t stop there this time, but here’s a picture from August, 2008, when the weather was much better.

Lewis Falls, in 2008.
Lewis Falls, in 2008.

My first real stop was at the West Thumb Geyser Basin. I’d never been there when the lake was so high before. Not only was Fishing Cone completely covered, but the water was actually lapping up underneath the shore boardwalk, and out the other side.

A submerged Fishing Cone.
A submerged Fishing Cone.  Don’t throw anything out there, please.
See the water lapping up to the *left* of the boardwalk???
See the water lapping up to the *left* of the boardwalk???

I love West Thumb. It’s as if TPTB said, where’s the prettiest place in the park to put some hot springs? And then put them there. There aren’t any regularly-erupting geysers at West Thumb, but it really is fetching.

West Thumb Geyser Basin and Lake Yellowstone.
West Thumb Geyser Basin and Lake Yellowstone.

In hindsight it wasn’t the best decision I’d made on this trip because of the weather (not today’s, but tomorrow’s), but I decided I would drive the Grand Loop today and do the geyser basin thing tomorrow and Saturday, so I headed north along the lakeshore. I stopped and ate lunch at the Lake Lodge cafeteria (which is absolutely identical to the one at Old Faithful, except for the view), then stopped again at the picnic area just north of LeHardy Rapids to look at the river.

Nez Perce Ford, where Charley almost drowned.
Nez Perce Ford, where Charley almost drowned.

Historically, this is where the Nez Perce crossed the Yellowstone River on their flight to Canada, and so it’s where Charley and Eliza and Anna crossed the river in Repeating History, and Charley almost drowned. So it’s sorta special to me.

RH 300 cover

So’s the next place I stopped, the Mud Volcano. Sounds pretty exciting, doesn’t it? Well, it’s smelly, and it’s muddy, and it’s pretty violent. It’s also where James happened to be when he realized he was falling in love with Jo in spite of himself in Finding Home, so it’s another kinda special place for me.

FH 300 cover

Mud Volcano (aka one of the hundreds of photos I have of Authentic Yellowstone steam ), aka where James fell in love with Jo.
Mud Volcano (aka one of the hundreds of photos I have of Authentic Yellowstone steam ), aka where James fell in love with Jo.

And so I kept going north. I drove through Hayden Valley and saw some red dogs (the local name for baby bison), which are adorable.

Red dogs!  And their mamas.
Red dogs! And their mamas.

I stopped at Canyon and admired the view from Artist’s Point.

The classic view of the Lower Falls of the Yellowstone, from Artist's Point.
The classic view of the Lower Falls of the Yellowstone, from Artist’s Point.

And I went up over Dunraven Pass, where I saw a flower new to me at the top of the pass (and, yes, the yellow ones are dandelions, just ignore them):

Purple (much more like red-violet than in the photo) phacelia -- a new flower for me.
Purple (much more like red-violet than in the photo) phacelia — a new flower for me.

And around Tower Falls, and west across to Mammoth Hot Springs and drove the loop up and around. By then it was sunny and gorgeous. Go figure. There were no elk at Mammoth. There are always elk at Mammoth. I did not see a single elk on this trip. Go figure that, too.

Orange Mound Spring, aka orange Cthulu, at Mammoth Hot Springs, which used to be a lot more orange than he is now.
Orange Mound Spring, aka orange Cthulu, at Mammoth Hot Springs, which used to be a lot more orange than he is now.

Then, because it was getting on in the afternoon, I headed south again, only to be brought to a dead stop because there were iris blooming in a small clear spot between the aspens just south of Mammoth. I’d never seen iris in Yellowstone before. My favorite flower in my favorite national park. It was just too cool to be true.

Iris!  In Yellowstone!  A bit overexposed, alas.  They were darker blue than this.
Iris! In Yellowstone! A bit overexposed, alas. They were darker blue than this.

It took me a bit to get going again after that. I stopped at Norris and walked around Porcelain Basin, where I saw a geyser I’d never seen before (it takes a fair amount for that to happen these days). It’s called Constant Geyser, but it does not live up to its name, so I was pretty lucky on that score.

Constant Geyser -- at least I *think* I got the name right -- first geyser I've ever seen erupt in Porcelain Basin, anyway.
Constant Geyser — at least I *think* I got the name right — first geyser I’ve ever seen erupt in Porcelain Basin, anyway.

I also got to listen to the tiny springs that sound just like butter sizzling in a frying pan, which amuse me vastly every time. They’re not very photogenic, but this is probably the best picture of one I’ve ever gotten in any number of tries over the years.

One of the larger "spitters" in Porcelain Basin.
One of the larger “spitters” in Porcelain Basin.

After that, it was time and past time to go check in at the hostel in West Yellowstone, which, as it turns out, was sold to a new owner last spring. This was not an improvement, alas, but it was a place to put my head for two nights, and possibly for three if I didn’t mind paying for a single room instead of a bunk that third night. I signed up for all three nights, but, well… That’s a story for a couple of days from now.

I couldn’t wait to go back into the park tomorrow and wander around waiting for things to erupt.

Two weeks ago, Day 5

No sleep, and more mountains!

Well, that was the only night I camped on this trip. For some reason I could not get comfortable in my sleeping bag, and I finally gave up about four in the morning. So I pulled out my Kindle and read till it got light at about 5:30, packed up, and headed out.

Not very far at first — the Sunrise campground sits at the very top of the long, steep drop to Bear Lake, and a very nice viewpoint/visitor center, which was unlocked even at that gawdawful hour of the day (much to my pleasure, as the campground only had pit toilets and no running water), is practically next door to it. So I got cleaned up and then sat and watched the sun rise over Bear Lake. It was fairly spectacular.

Sunrise at Bear Lake, Utah.
Sunrise at Bear Lake, Utah.

I decided I deserved breakfast out after that, and after descending 2000 feet (7900 to 5900) to Bear Lake and the small town of Garden City, I started looking for somewhere that might feed me one.

Nothing, and I mean nothing, was open in Garden City at six a.m., though, so I went on, heading north along the shore of Bear Lake. Eventually I crossed the state line back into Idaho, and found the small town of Montpelier, which was just waking up for the day. The lady at the gas station where I filled the tank for the fourth time on the trip told me the truck stop just north of town was about the only place to go to get breakfast (I did mention that Montpelier is a small town, right?). So I went to find the truck stop.

It turned out to be a nice place, as such things go, and the waitress very helpfully warned me that I only wanted one pancake, not a short stack. Wow, was she right. That pancake was about twelve inches around and at least half an inch thick. It was good, though, especially with Bear Lake raspberry syrup (the berries are a local specialty). I ate a bit more than half of it before I gave up.

I headed north and east on U.S. 89, the same highway that I took all the way to Yellowstone. Up and over a pass and into Wyoming, where I noticed that I was not as alert at the wheel as I could be, so I stopped in a forest service campground, let my seat back all the way, grabbed my pillow and afghan, and crashed for a couple of hours.

Much refreshed, I arrived in the town of Afton an hour or so later, where I got stuck in a bathroom line with a bunch of French-speaking bus tourists, and saw what is purportedly the world’s largest antler arch across the main drag in town. I did not get a photo of it, but if you click here you can get a look at it.

My goal for the day was the ski resort of Jackson Hole (no, not Jackson’s Whole — that would be the wrong Nexus, thank goodness), where I was going to spend tonight, and Grand Teton National Park, where I would spend the rest of the day.

I’d spent about half an hour on my cell phone last night in the campground — I don’t know why I’m still astonished that I can talk on the phone in places that remote, but I am — making sure I had a place to sleep tonight at the hostel in Teton Village (at the base of the ski resort) and for the next two nights (they didn’t have space after that — last minute trip planning can be a bear) at the hostel in West Yellowstone.

I hadn’t spent any time to speak of in the Tetons since I was a kid. In 1999 on my Long Trip (see my book Cross-Country: Adventures Alone Across America and Back) I’d spent an evening on a dinner cruise on Jackson Lake with some friends, and in 2008 my friend Mary and I passed through, stopping for a few photos, on our way from Yellowstone to Denver for WorldCon, but that was pretty much the extent of it. In all the rest of my jaunts to Yellowstone, I hadn’t bothered to come south even that far. So I wanted to spend a little time here, at least.

The Teton Mountains, Grand Teton (13,776 feet -- almost as tall as Mt. Rainier) front and center.
The Teton Mountains, Grand Teton (13,776 feet — almost as tall as Mt. Rainier) front and center.

The Tetons are spectacular, I’ll give them that, but they strike me as a bit — aloof. It’s hard to get out in them without doing a lot more hiking than I’m capable of. I stopped along the roadside to take pictures and to look at wildflowers (which were everywhere), and then at the visitor center at Moose, which was fun. Then I drove out to Jenny Lake and decided on a whim to take a boat ride across the lake to a trailhead that led to a waterfall.

The Moose at Moose -- no real meece, alas, not on this trip.
The Moose at Moose — no real meece, alas, not on this trip.
Scarlet gilia, which I've always thought of as a California wildflower before.
Scarlet gilia, which I’ve always thought of as a California wildflower before.
Another view of the Tetons.
Another view of the Tetons.

The boat ride was fun. It was also a great way to cool off from the 80+ degree temperatures. And the hike to the waterfall, albeit with a boatload of my new close friends, was good, too. So that was worth it.

Jenny Lake.
Jenny Lake.
From the boat on Jenny Lake.
From the boat on Jenny Lake.
Hidden Falls, approximately 100 feet tall.
Hidden Falls, approximately 100 feet tall.
Waiting for the boat to go back across Jenny Lake.
Waiting for the boat to go back across Jenny Lake.

After the ride back, though, it was getting late, and I took what was supposed to be a short cut but turned out to be a goat trail back to Teton Village.

And I ended my day by scaring the bejeebies out of myself. There was this gondola, you see. It was free in the evenings. I thought it would be like the gondola at Crystal Mountain here in Washington state, which is a pleasant little ride. This was not a pleasant little ride. It turned out to be about three times as long and three times as steep, and by the time I got to the top, I was a gibbering idiot (I don’t do manmade heights, at least not ones like these). If you want to see what the view from the top looks like, click here. I left my camera in the car.

I almost couldn’t make myself ride it back down again, but a group with a baby(!) got in the gondola with me, and that happy little baby was a great distraction. Thank goodness. I’m not sure I’d have made it down sane without him!

And that was more than enough for one day.