Sunday, September 29, 2013

Checking out Jackson and a final day in the Grand Tetons

September 22-23, 2013
Jackson, Wyoming
Virginian Lodge RV Park

Vic and I have long heard of the place called Jackson Hole, but neither of us had specific knowledge of the geography other than knowing it was in Wyoming near the Tetons. When we looked at a map and saw where the town of Jackson was in relation to our campground in the national park, we thought it would be a good idea to spend our last two days in the town of Jackson just a couple miles from town at the Virginian Lodge RV Park.  In retrospect, however, we might have stayed all four days at Gros Ventre Campground as it is both in the NP and close to the town of Jackson but you have to be prepared for dry camping.  The Virginian turned out to be a good option as Jackson is one of those Western towns we wanted to check out.  

Our first day here we did just that—spent about fours hours walking the whole downtown area to get a feeling for the place. The town is definitely geared to tourists and outdoor recreation, so most of the stores seem to sell either sporting goods or Western mementos. In a surprising way, Jackson reminded us of Taos—built around a town square or plaza with gorgeous mountains and ski areas in the distance.  Like Taos, there are also an abundance of art galleries in Jackson.  My theory is the area inspires artists and there is probably a good market among the wealthy residents who own million dollar+ ranches in the surrounding area. (Teton County is one of the wealthiest in the country per capita.)

One question I had related to the name Jackson Hole. The name Jackson comes from a legendary trapper, Davey Jackson, who used to describe coming down into the “hole” from the Tetons—hence the name Jackson’s Hole stuck.  It now generally refers to the whole valley lying at the south end of the national park.

I only took a few photos of things that stood out to me on our walk around town. This antler gateway to the square was one of them.

You might recall I like all things cowboy, so guess what I took photos of?

I am not sure if this piece of apparel qualifies as Western Wear. . . . Maybe only if you include the tail in your purchase.

On the more serious side, I was blown away by the details of this 1912 soda fountain counter in what used to the Jackson Drug store.  Sad that the original store closed its doors in 2001, but at least the current tenants have kept the original features.  The owner confirmed this is all the original tile work, but the stools were reupholstered.

One thing I was also hoping to see in Jackson is the nightly shoot out in the town square.  Sadly, it is only a summer event that occurs Memorial Day through Labor Day—one of the downsides of traveling “off-season.”  In case you are wondering, the good guys always win and they only use blanks in their guns.  I stole this photo of the show from the internet.

On our last day here we were determined to go hiking even though we woke to temperatures in the 30s.  Fortunately, when we hit the trails at 11 a.m., it was almost 45 degrees!  We wanted to do a lake hike and one that looked most appealing to us was the Phelps Lake Trail which is also well-known for possible wildlife sightings. We also liked that in addition to the 4 mile trail, we could add on other short options to enhance our experience, so off we went quite bundled up with wool hats, gloves, and at least three layers.
Hardly anyone else was around as we headed about 1/4 mile down the trail.  Quite soon we came across a large pile of fresh bear scat jam-full of huckleberries.  Okay, then.  Vic had the bear spray and I wasn’t going to trail far behind him.  Within about 50 feet, we came across several more piles of fresh scat.  The trail was narrow with wooded areas close to us on either side—meaning we both started to feel hyper-vigilant about the possibilities of meeting a bear. I learned that it is almost impossible to distinguish grizzly scat from black bear scat, so my imagination went to the former.  We both decided not to tempt our fate and headed back to our car for Plan B.

bear scat-

Plan B was to do one of the more popular hikes in the park to Taggart Lake. Yes, we were looking for safety in numbers.  It turned out to be a delightful loop just short of six miles with maybe 500 or 600 ft. elevation. The cold day also probably made this trail less popular as we saw fewer than six other folks on the hike.  One of the benefits of the cold weather is seeing the aspen trees start to turn their golden hue. 

taggart lake hike3-

The early part of the trail also followed a creek with beautiful granite boulders almost creating a small waterfall.

taggart lake hike 1-

When we reached the lake, we were the only ones there and the day was still pretty chilly, but the best part was seeing the snowfall on the Tetons. Taggart is not as stunning as Jenny Lake, but it did have the same peaceful backwoods feeling. 

taggart lake view best

taggart lake w pam2-

taggart lake w vic-

From the lake, we chose to return via the Beaver Creek trail making our hike into a loop.  I am always in favor of the loop when given a choice as I like to see new vistas. 

taggart bridge w vic-

We saw more beautiful aspens on the hike back along Beaver Creek and some intriguing fungi.

mts with aspens3


We also had some visitors on horseback.

horse riders on trail-

I had heard about the Teton area being a mystical place and the geology of the rocks has something to do with it. There is an abundance of quartz mixed in with the granite and quartz crystals are thought to be the most powerful in terms of healing energy.  This particular rock had huge crystals in it.  If I were Lucille Ball, I would have hauled it back to the motor home and tried to hide it under the bed—don't know if you are old enough to get my allusion.  (I am bad enough with my ever-growing shell collection.)

granite with crystal-
granite with crystal-
On the way back to Jackson, we passed the National Museum of Wildlife Art, a place I wanted to go but I wasn’t too sure about Vic’s enthusiasm.  I was pleasantly surprised when he pulled in and this was a good move as we both thoroughly enjoyed the place. We knew nothing about it, so were surprised to discover the work of top artists such as Georgia O’Keefe, Carl Rungius (considered the best American painter of wildlife), Frederic Remington, Charles Russell, and someone who turned out to be my favorite artist there, Isadore Bonheur—among many others.  They also had a fabulous special collection of trout made out of recycled products by high school students.

art fish1-

art fish2

art fish3-

The good news is that I cannot share photos of the paintings I took. I did so mostly for inspiration as I have plans to get a palette and some watercolors for beach time in Florida. Maybe I will even try my hand at oils or acrylics.  My mother was a painter when she was young and it was always something she wanted to do again in her later years, but never did.  She did, however, instill a love in me for art, especially Impressionist paintings as we visited the Chicago Art Institute frequently throughout my childhood.  Thank you, mom!

artisits pallete

Our final plan for the day was to go “moose hunting” just before dusk. We saw a moose before in Montana years ago, but I have never gotten a photo of one. We headed back to the motorhome, picked up the pooches, and headed out to the Gros Ventre River, a popular place for sighting moose.  This area was only about 20 minutes away.  By the time we were reaching the junction, Vic pointed out there were many cars parked in the popular turnout.  Sure enough, I jumped out and saw all these tripods with mega lenses pointed toward the woods.  Word had it there was one cow and two bulls, but they were pretty far off and fairly well-hidden by the trees.  I did my best to get these shots.  Woo hoo!

So there you have it—my moose hunt was successful. I have to admit, I was pretty darn excited to end our stay in Jackson with this experience. That night this was the weather forecast for the area:

A major storm system is taking shape for Wednesday through Friday
across the area. On Wednesday... it will be mainly the far northwest
sections that will see steady to significant precipitation with
some snow in the mountains. A second storm system with colder air
will develop to our southwest on Thursday and move across the area
into Friday. The best chance of snowfall will be Thursday into Friday
morning across the southwest.

Time to say goodbye to the Rocky Mountains!  It always feels hard to leave the West as it has such a strong hold on our heart. Our next destination is Omaha for a visit with my son Jesse before going to my childhood hometown near Chicago. Roll on. . . .

Friday, September 27, 2013

Touring the scenic loop of the Grand Tetons

Sept. 20-21, 2013
Moran, Wyoming
Colter Bay RV Campground

After a fair amount of research about visiting the Grand Tetons, we decided to split our four days here between two places: Colter Bay, a campground right in the middle of the park followed by two days in the town of Jackson. From West Yellowstone, the two-hour drive on Hwy 89 takes you right through the park to the South Entrance of Yellowstone which leads directly into Grand Teton National Park. The only challenge with the road is you have to go slow because of the tourists and possible wildlife sighting traffic jams. There are lots of turnouts to let people pass, so that helps when you have a big rig. Having said this, we did encounter two potential hazards. It had snowed overnight at the higher elevations and there were signs up that said traction devices recommended. Ha.  Good thing we left late enough in the morning as we saw no signs of snow or ice on the roads. The second hazard was a long traffic delay (thirty minutes) which ended up being a head-on collision caused by a Honda Civic passing a fifth wheel.  A Mercedes hit the Honda head-on causing the fifth wheel to veer off into a ditch with major damage to the driver’s side of the fifth wheel. It was a sobering moment to see the crushed Honda being towed away. I heard later that no one died. The Honda passengers were lucky. Guess they were no longer in a hurry sitting in their hospital beds.

Colter Bay Village has two campgrounds: one with no hook-ups for RVs 25’ and under and one with full hook-ups that is big-rig friendly (and pricey). We paid for the convenience of staying right in the park, but quickly discovered the size of the park is much less imposing than Yellowstone or Glacier. The entire loop around the park is less than 50 miles. It was kind of refreshing to not feel so overwhelmed about where to go and what to see. 

We didn't do much our first day at Colter except go to the Visitor’s Center to gather information and take a quick trip (five miles) to the Jackson Lake Lodge. One disappointing discovery at Colter was the low level of water in Jackson Lake. A park ranger told me Idaho gets the first 29 ft. of water for irrigation. Apparently, there has been very little snow melt the past two years plus many Idaho farmers are transitioning from less water dependent crops such as wheat to corn, alfalfa and hay to support a growing dairy industry.  The water in the lake was down to 20% of its capacity.  All the piers at the marina in Colter Village were sitting on sand. The low water levels have had a big impact on fishing, boating, and the tourist industry in Colter Village.

The Jackson Lake Lodge is lovely, more swanky than rustic, but quite inviting with its huge windows looking out at the Tetons. We just had to go out on the deck and have an adult beverage while enjoying the view.  As beautiful as it was, the late sun of the jackson lake lodge mural windowsday made it difficult to get a decent photo due to the glare. 

We are sure blown away by the visual beauty of the Teton range.The Grand Teton is the tallest at 13,000 ft. which isn't all that high, but what makes them look massive is the lack of foothills at their base.

The other amazing feature of the park is the Snake River winding through it. They advertise a lot of rafting and float trips here which I would have loved to do in warmer weather. We had sunny but cold weather (30s overnight with daytime highs in the low 50s).  We considered taking the kayaks into one of the lakes but, again, the cooler temps dissuaded us. 

Our first full day here we decided to do the 42 mile loop driving tour starting from Colter Bay to get a sense of our surroundings.  I was also on the hunt for a moose sighting as there are several areas in the park which have perfect moose habitat (unlike Yellowstone whose moose population has been decimated by the wildfires).

grandtet_drive_01L (1)

The first stop on our driving tour was Oxbow Bend Turnout, a popular place for wildlife viewing, especially moose, ducks and swans. We only saw wood ducks here.  The best viewing time is early morning or just before dusk and we were here about 10 in the morning. The tallest peak in the background is Mt. Moran.  I think I could set up a chair here and just call it good.  This scenery really makes me want to be a painter—another unfulfilled aspiration!

From here we followed the east side of the loop to Elk Meadows Turnout. I thought the west side of the loop would be prettier as it is closer to the mountains and lakes, but we actually preferred the views of the mountains from this vantage point.  We met a cute young couple taking photos at the turnout and we offered to take their photo and they returned the favor.

Just a short drive away was a historical marker for Cunningham Cabin, an old homestead built by a trapper in 1888 that is open for viewing. According to western lore, two horse thieves who hid out here were killed in a shootout in the cabin and are buried nearby in unmarked graves.

The inside had dirt floors and very low ceilings, but what a view!  This is what you see from the open air window of the main living area.

We traveled about five more miles to a turnout that included our first view of the Teton stretch of the Snake River. The Snake River Overlook is an area most famous for Ansel Adam’s black and white photograph of the river with the snow-capped Tetons in the background.  Sorry for the glare on this photo but I wanted to include what this view looked like in the 1940s when Adams took this stunning photo.

Here is what it looks like from the same spot now—with my amateur photographer skills. Darn those trees for getting so tall!

Here is a more zoomed-in view of the same scene. I kept trying to capture the same silhouette as Adams, but I guess I would also need to be standing on top of our Jeep.

As you continue the drive south, you eventually are looking directly at the highest point, the Grand Teton, where there is a turnout called Teton Point.  I wanted to get a panoramic view of this scene and finally figured out how to do in on my camera (without having to stitch several photos together).

A little further down the road, I fell in love with a similar view of the range with horses in the field.  Somehow it just seems right for Wyoming scenes to have horses in them.

From this viewpoint, we headed east off the main road to an area called Mormon Row. In the late 1800s, Mormon settlers established 27 homesteads in Jackson Hole near the Gros Ventre River in an area known as Antelope Flats. Here is the first view of the old homesteads.

mts scene with cabins-

These settlements are now part of the historic register and are especially popular to photograph.  I can see why as this photo I took of the John Moulton barn is my favorite of the day.

Not far from Mormon Row is the Gros Ventre Campground, a national park campground that we wanted to check out. Aside from wanting to see the campground site, we had heard there had been several moose sightings in the the A and B loops of the campground—which made it even more intriguing to visit.  What we learned is there were plenty of sites that were big rig friendly. All the sites are first-come, first-serve dry camping sites, and, with the senior pass, the daily rate is $10.50. We would definitely consider staying in this campground as the national park is small enough for this location to still be convenient, plus you would have the added bonus of being about 20 minutes from the town of Jackson.  The disappointing part is we did not see any moose while we were here.

We decided to take a little side trip into the town of Jackson to see the park we were going to be staying at for two days and to get a bite to eat before finishing our loop drive.  There are two different ways you can go back into the park: on a road further to the east that goes past the Grand Teton Ski Village which includes about a five-mile section of dirt road or back up on the main road to Moose Junction.  We chose the more scenic dirt road route hoping to see more wildlife. 

We did not take time to go to the ski area, but we could see a skytram and it looked quite inviting. I would love to come here to ski in the winter.

Past Teton Village, on the Moose-Wilson dirt road, I suddenly yelled out, “Stop, there’s a moose!”  Oops, not quite, but still fun to spy this guy in the woods. At first I thought he was fake as he stood so motionless.

elk in trees-

Our last stop of the day was Jenny Lake.  Vic remembered camping here and swimming in the lake during his family’s trip to Yellowstone in the 1950s. I liked that he thought it looked the same.  There is a five mile walking trail around the lake that is pretty popular. Kayaking looked like another possibility if it was warmer. The campground here is tents only.

The following day we would be moving to another campground in the town of Jackson, less than an hour away. My kind of travel day. Our final plans for our stay in this area are to walk the streets of downtown Jackson, get in a good hike in the park, visit the Wildlife Art Museum, and see a moose! 

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Getting high on the Grand Prismatic Spring

September 19, 2013
West Yellowstone, Mt.
Grizzly RV Park

The sun finally came out on our last day here in Yellowstone but the high temperatures were only forecast to be in the 50s. Since we woke up to temperatures in the low 30s, we decided to wait a few hours before heading out on the trails.  Our main destination was to revisit the Midway Geyser Basin which we had only seen on a bus tour from afar on a dark rainy day. 

Thanks to tips from Brad, our Buffalo Bus tour guide, and a recommendation from fellow blogger Pam of Oh, the Places They Go!, we learned that there is an unofficial trail (Brad called it a social trail) that you can take to get the best view of the amazing Grand Prismatic Spring.

The drive from West Yellowstone to the Midway Geyser Basin only took about a half hour. There are some lovely views of the Madison River along the way.  Fall is prime fly fishing time and there is a strong part of me longing to be out there on the river.Both Vic and I have taken lessons and done a little flyfishing. It is on our list of future hobbies to pursue and Montana would sure be the ideal place to do it. The Vic kept all his gear including fly tying equipment in our storage uni. I would have to start from scratch which require a pretty hefty investment, but I am worth it—hah. 

One of my favorite novels is Norman MacLean’s A River Runs Through It. The first line about sums up how I feel about even watching the art of fly fishing: “In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing.”  And the last line is quite fitting for the beauty of this place as well: “I am haunted by waters.”

M YNP01 (124)

Another beautiful scene on our way to the Midway Geyser Basin was passing a big meadow near the springs dotted with bison.  These particular bison were known for being outstanding in their field.

Couldn’t resist shooting this photo of a cow bison with her young calf.

We parked the car at the Midway Geyser Basin lot which happened to have only one space left even this time of year.  I think the crowds were out in force since it was the first sunny day of the week. From here, we just followed the Fairy Falls Trail a short distance until we found an unmarked trail going straight up a hill to the left. We learned there is another hill you can climb a bit further down but it does not take you as high this trail does, so we decided to go for the gold. 

I don’t have much terminology to describe different terrains when it comes to hiking. There is not really a trail to follow here; you just have to pick your way around fallen trees and rocks as you make a steady climb uphill. Because of the recent rain, many places were slick so we especially appreciated our hiking boots with good tread and ankle support.

We were proud of ourselves to keep on going when others "called it good enough to take photos" at a much lower elevation.  After about a half hour of carefully stepping uphill, we reached the top ecstatic to see this incredible vista.

I could not stop taking photos as each time we walked a few steps more on the hilltop plateau, it revealed a slightly different look at the Grand Prismatic.  It was quite a thrill to be able to see this marvel of nature, the largest hot spring in the U.S. and third largest in the world, from this perspective.  Worth the whole trip to Yellowstone.

These are my experiments with zoomed in shots and different perspectives of this beauty.

I put my camera (a Nikon Coolpix P510) on a Special Effects setting called Painting for this photo.  I actually prefer the realistic photos but thought this was interesting to include.

No one else was on top of the hill with us and we wanted a photo of ourselves with the spring in the background.  It took about ten tries with us laughing the whole time.  Thank goodness for Vic’s long arms.  (We did look for a place to set the camera at the right height to take a timed photo, but to no avail. And, yes, I have major hat head but who cares?)

It was easy to take single photos of ourselves, so we did that too. You can see from Vic’s down vest and long pants that we are in colder temps than we are accustomed to as he is almost always wearing his retirement uniform--cargo shorts and flip flops.

After an exhilarating thirty minutes on the hilltop, we decided it was finally time to head down.  We took our time stepping carefully to avoid any slips, slides, or twists. Vic carefully lead the way down where we ran into other hikers who were only climbing midway.

This is the view of the spring as we descended—much less dramatic the closer you get but still pretty, I love the clouds too! 

This downed tree limb across the trail had names of other “viewers” carved into it making an interesting photo with the spring in the background.

We had plans to go on to Fairy Falls, another five miles, but that didn’t happen. We are still in our conditioning phase, you know. We did pass by this spectacular small pool on our way out.

Once again, our pooches were ultra happy upon our return.  At least this time they did not have to endure thunderstorms in our absence. 

dogs happy to see us

More excitement to come as we are off to the Grand Tetons for four days before starting our slow trek eastward. Our time in Glacier and Yellowstone exceeded our expectations causing us to seriously consider Montana as a future home. I have a feeling we will be seduced by Jackson as well. Isn’t it great to be so fickle about lovely places?  Roll on. . . .