Our trip around the northwestern United States has been highlighted with visits to all the National Parks in that part of the country with one exception — Grand Teton National Park. Grand Teton is only ten minutes from Yellowstone National Park’s south gate. We were at Yellowstone National Park a couple months ago, but did not drive down to Grand Teton. We just ran out of time. We were disappointed that we could not fit everything we wanted to do in the amount of time we had. But now, after making a u-turn at the Pacific Coast and heading back toward the east, we have another opportunity.
You can probably judge just how badly we wanted to visit Grand Teton by the amount of money we paid for our campsite. We paid $105.00 per night at Fireside Buffalo Valley RV Park that included four different taxes that amounted to 18%. The only thing going for the place was it’s location and full hook-ups. Other than that, it was an overcrowded, shadeless lot. Our plan is to stay for three nights while we explore the free camping sites on nearby BLM and Forest Service land.
The first thing we did after arriving was drive the 42-mile Scenic Loop through the National Park. Think of this as a reconnaissance mission where we explored and took mental notes of places we would come back to later. We were awestruck by the Grand Teton Mountain’s lack of foothills creating an abrupt rise that showcased the uniquely stunning mountain profile.
There are plenty of turnouts for stopping to admire the majestic mountain views and wide-open landscape. We stopped at a few — most notably Oxbow Bend and Jenny Lake Overlook — and we took note of Signal Mountain, Snake River, Cunningham Cabin and others places for later.
We also stopped at the Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center where we learned from a ranger the best places to view wildlife. We went to one of those recommended places on Moose-Wilson Road straight away as it was not too far from the visitor center. At the very first pull off was a crowd of people looking across a stream where one person told us they saw a bear. We didn’t see the bear, but we soon saw a moose emerge from the trees and walk to the water. She stepped into the stream and put her head under the water like she was eating from the bottom. It was pretty cool to see.
The next morning we went to Yellowstone National Park. Maybe a bit of irony, but we did not see the south side of Yellowstone during our first visit. Besides, the ranger told us that the road between Teton and Yellowstone is a good place to spot a grizzly bear. The grizzly bear proved to be elusive during this trip, however we were lucky to see a large herd of elk cross the road in front of us. It didn’t take long before there was a traffic jam a half mile long.
In Yellowstone National Park, we stopped at two wonderful waterfalls that were near the road — Moose Falls and Lewis Falls. Then we drove though Lake Lewis Campground. The campground near the shore of Lake Lewis has no hook ups, but it does allow RV’s up to twenty-five feet long. There is a boat ramp for those with a boat.
Having spent all morning in Yellowstone, we returned to Grand Teton National Park. We stopped at Headwaters Lodge and Cabins at Flagg Ranch, Leeks Marina, Colter Bay Village, and Jackson Lake Lodge to look around and maybe find a restaurant for lunch. Ultimately, we just grabbed a couple croissants from the deli counter at Jackson Lake Lodge and went down to the lakeshore at Jackson Lake and made a sandwich.
After lunch we drove to the top of Signal Mountain for a grand panoramic view. Though the smoke from distant fires was moving in to obscure the views, it was still a gorgeous sight to see. We also saw a celebrity while at the top of Signal Mountain. Newt Gingrich and his wife Callista were walking down the trail as we were walking pass. We made eye contact and said hello to each other as we passed.
The next day we started out by stopping at the turnout at Elks Ranch Flats on Highway 89— said to be one of the best places to get that iconic picture of The Grand Tetons. However, with the smoke still present, it was not a picture perfect kind of morning. We continued to Cunningham Cabin — a historic homestead built in 1888. It’s one of the structures in the park still remaining from that era.
Next we went back to Moose-Wilson Road and stopped at the same place where we saw the moose on the first day we arrived. There was no crowd standing and pointing this time, so Grammi and I grabbed our bear spray and took a stroll along the creek. We noticed at lot of trees gnawed at the base indicating there might be a busy beaver near by. Sure enough, we soon saw one swimming across the creek — a creek made wider and deeper by a beaver’s dam.
When we returned to the parking lot, a crowd had gathered. Across the creek was a black bear. It was too far away for a good photograph with my phone camera but I attempt it anyway. The bear dawdled a while in the scrub before disappearing in the trees.
We continued along Moose-Wilson Road for about 3 miles and turned off toward Death Canyon Trailhead for another 2 miles, the last of which was unpaved and very rough. There were a lot of vehicles up there and I began to wonder if we would find a place to park. Fortunately someone was leaving a spot as we arrived. The two mile hike through dense pines and aspen trees to Phelps Lake Overlook was a moderate climb and I couldn’t help but feel we were being watched by the wildlife as we hiked through. At the overlook, the lake below appeared peaceful. We sat and rested a while on a fallen tree while talking with people who also made the climb. This was a beautiful hike.
Grammi, while perusing the online webs for a nearby available campsite found a site at Gros Ventre Campground. It is a highly sought after Grand Teton National Park campground requiring reservations a year in advance in most cases. She was checking the website regularly for cancelations and as luck would have it, we got a site for three nights. So we traded our $105.00 per night site for a much more desirable $40.00 per night site. Even though this is the only National Park campground I have experienced that does not offer a discount rate for senior pass holders, I was still happy to move. To celebrate our move, we cooked dinner on the Blackstone griddle, opened a bottle of wine, and gazed at the moon and the mountains. We feel blessed to be in such a beautiful place.
The next morning the alarm goes off and I fumbled around to shut it down. A quick look around and I see it is still dark outside. I force myself out of bed and turn on the stove. It’s going to be a few minutes before the coffee pot begins to percolate. Squinting my eyes, I see the clock. It is 5:34 A.M. Ugh! Grammi is awake, at least I think so, but she hasn’t yet moved. I reach around the door and pinch her toes. “ Okay, I’m moving”, she says with as much enthusiasm as someone going to the dentist for a root canal.
It’s 43 degrees outside so I pull a sweatshirt over my head. Grammi has three layer of clothes on. We grab the coffee thermos and head out the door. Arriving at a location before sunrise is best for getting the ideal lighting for a picture. It’s called the Golden Hour and comes just a few minutes before sunrise. I have the tripod set and our Nikon D5200 focused on the subject. As we wait for the light to appear, I look around. We are not alone. There are a few other camera wielding photographers standing and waiting too. Geez, these folks are serious about their photography.
Our subject is the famous T.A. Moulton Barn along Mormon Row. This much photographed barn with the Teton Range in the background is a must see attraction. Hoards of visitors come to see it, but only a few arrived at the Golden Hour. The sunlight reveals more smoke has moved across the area. It’s the worst we’ve seen this week and very disappointing. I take some shots before moving a few hundred feet to the John Moulton Barn, the brother of T.A. Moulton. I take a few more shots there before packing it in.
As we drove back to our camper, we saw pronghorn antelope playfully running in the fields. They say animals in the park are the most active during the early morning and this was certainly the case here. They were quick and raced along side of us before pulling ahead and crossing the road just in front. The wildlife in Grand Teton is abundant and seeing it gives us a blissful feeling. It is great to be in nature.
We went to Jackson, Wyoming for lunch and found a wonderful organic cafe — The Healthy Being Organic Cafe and Cold Press Juicery. We each ordered one of their featured signature bowls and a healthy smoothie. It was delicious. I give the place five stars.
After lunch we walked around town and enjoyed the feeling of being in the old west town. Lawmen wearing cowboy hats patrolling the streets on horseback, a stagecoach rolling into town, and an array of western shops all serves to enhance the experience. The famous elk antler arches at the Town Square are a must see.
We are pleasantly surprise by Grand Teton National Park. There is so much to see and so much to do. We might try and stay a little longer — maybe go on a float trip down the Snake River or hike around Jenny Lake. But first, we’ll have to find another campsite.
Until next time — happy days and safe travels.