Smoky in the Tetons
Getting from Yellowstone National Park to Grand Tetons National Park is not really a long drive at all. It took us maybe an hour and a half, through the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway (a link made possible by the family’s donation of land). That meant we actually got here earlier than the Coulter Bay campground wanted us. No problem, we simply unhooked the car, fixed lunch and walked to the camp store and visitor center.
Coulter Bay Camp check-in
Coulter Bay campsite
Once in our pull-thru campsite we actually then took off 30 miles for Jackson, or Jackson Hole (it seems to go by both) to restock on groceries at a beautiful Albertson’s market. The town seems to be trying for a wintertime mecca along the lines of Vail and the Colorado ski towns.
Some of downtown Jackson Hole
One of several elk antler arches
Lots of timber, rock and steel in construction, and a bit pricey around town. Naturally we had to stop in at the local brewery for lunch and a flight. Snake River Brewing was a great spot to hang out.
Snake River Brewing
Jackson’s town square was really cute, with several arches made of elk antlers. Since it sits next to the National Elk Refuge, it plays up the animals.
Visitor Center at National Elk Refuge
The NER visitor center was pretty cool, featuring a herd of elk inside (stuffed), but we didn’t see any on the long drive through the sagebrush flats. One lonely bison, not the large herd we were warned about. A few small groups of pronghorn, that’s all. Once back in camp we reviewed the park literature and maps and plotted out the next 4 days.
Since the Tetons were all but invisible in the smoke of wildfires, we decided the first day should be a local hike around the Coulter Bay area. This is a different sort of National Park, because the whole backdrop of the park is the Tetons – they rise up out of the sagebrush flats and tower over the Snake River, Jackson and Jenny Lakes below. You almost don’t interact with the mountains; you just gaze at them and hike to their base. And if you can’t see them, it diminishes the experience.
Beaver lodge on Heron Pond
Beaver dam … but no beavers active
So our hike took us to Heron Pond and Swan Lake, which were marshy beaver ponds that looked like prime spots for moose. Our goal here in the Tetons is to find moose! The hike was a bit like walking on bowling balls, since the rounded stones are pretty much everywhere, and we did see two beaver lodges and a beaver dam, but no beaver and no moose. Had a nice lunch next to the pond though and then made our way back.
Around Jackson Lake
Jackson Lake shoreline
Next day was to be a big adventure for sure. We had booked a small-boat whitewater rafting excursion on the Snake River and were ready for action. With quick-dry clothing and water sandals on, we joined the others on the school bus and rode the half hour to the drop-off point. We were using Jackson Hole Whitewater Rafting, although there are many other outfitters in town, and the total group was 4 rafts, both small and large. We snapped into our lifejackets, grabbed a paddle, paired up with a family of six (raft of 8), joined our river guide Sky, and set off into the river. Air temp was 80 or so, water was probably 65 degrees. Clear and swift. As we moved along, Sky gave us instructions, we practiced our paddling moves and got into position. Doug and Adam, were the two lead paddlers in the front, Jackie a few spots back. But everyone paddled when told.
And what work it was. Splashing and bouncing our way through some rapids, we paddled, spun around, hit the waves and cheered as we made it through. Soon we got some total dunks and did a high-five with paddles. Ah, but it gets better. Someone could volunteer to “ride the bull” at the very front, one leg in, one leg out, holding tight on a strap. Stuart volunteered first and got some good dunks. About halfway down the 9 mile trip Doug took the front spot and got totally drenched in the Big Kahuna rapids. In truth, the entire raft got doused, Jackie was bounced to the center of the raft and we all were very wet, but excited. Photos were cleverly captured at that spot and they reveal a wild ride and crazy expressions from the crew. What a rush. I highly recommend it.
Discovery Center at Grand Teton NP
Thursday was to be an early morning drive to a spot just off the south end of the park where beaver pond marshes were known to have moose. Up at 5:30 a.m. we were off to find those critters for sure. Just past Jackson Lake dam we spotted a beautiful bull elk on the shoulder of the road with a beautiful rack, a female just a bit further – a good sign that we were finally going to see wildlife today.
On the road along the marshes we noticed a Wildlife Management pickup and a ranger in the roadway, which meant something was nearby. Yes, there was a bull moose not far off, sloshing his way through the marsh. We tried to stop for a look, but he waved us on. When we got the chance, we turned back around for another look, but he was moving farther off and out of sight. Darn.
Moose at last!
We found a small parking area, pulled in and followed another group to the bank of a large wetland. We were probably 50 feet above the marsh, so it was a good chance to scan for moose. Nothing. Heading back to the parking lot, we met one of the other couples who had also been scanning the area for moose and they said “you just missed the female and calf …” Really??
Actually, they were still moving along the water’s edge, so we hustled and huffed our way further along to watch them. What fun, as they moved along, in and out of the water, eating the willow shoots and other greens. Junior would stop and look up at the crowd on the hill every once in a while, mom paid little attention. Good day for moose.
Drove back on Moose-Wilson road and were rewarded by a great view (and pic) of the bull moose. Awesome!
We made our way north back into the park, stopped at another beautiful visitor’s center and then to Jenny Lake. The plan was to follow a short hike to the other side of the lake to see Hidden Falls, have lunch and hike back. All the maps had this listed as about a 2.5 mile hike one way, so we were pretty confident it was do-able. It did give us a good look at the mountain peaks, even though still hazy.
Partway along a ranger told us there were moose at Moose Ponds, a short diversion. So of course we had to go, and we got a great look at another female in the pond, munching on something underwater. Her calf was nearby, but we couldn’t see it.
At Moose Ponds, naturally
Back on the main trail it was a definite uphill climb. As I recall, we had gone up almost 700 feet.
A narrow slice across a boulder field was downhill for a bit, with a great view of the lake below, but we knew it would be uphill on the return. Just before the falls we stopped to have lunch and catch our breath.
Little further along, and downhill, we found the falls.
Nice, but it was quite the hike to reach. You can shorten the journey by paying for a boat ride across the lake, which we opted not to do (after all, we were tough hikers). But on the way back we were reconsidering the wisdom of that decision.
In fact, it got downright tedious and exhausting as we kept going uphill … until it finally began to slope down toward Moose Pond and finally the parking lot. Checking our fitbits and also Jackie’s phone step tracker, the hike came in at over 10 miles!! Not what we had expected. But we made it, just a bit sore and weary from the effort.
Arriving in camp we were delayed by a mule deer doe and two youngsters, as they crossed the road in front of us. They do have a peculiar “bouncy” way of running. So it really was a good day for critters. Dinner was a quick bite at the lodge restaurant, a couple glasses of wine in the Winnebago to recover and off to bed.
Kodi at the Tetons
That meant the last full day would be restful. We did some laundry, checked the weather and news online, called Dad to review Hurricane Irma evacuation plans and then made some plans for our next destination. It was probably best, since the sky is once again hazy and smoke-filled. You can’t even see the mountains across Lake Jackson, which is right along the campground. They say there is a chance of thunderstorms tonight, but it seems doubtful. Crazy that it is so dry in the upper west and so wet from hurricanes in the south and southeast.
Sunset at the lake
Finally clear on last morning
Tomorrow we break camp and head southeast ourselves, hoping to pass Rock Springs toward Cheyenne. From there it will be one nighters across Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Mississippi until we reach Grayton Beach on the panhandle of Florida. Probably won’t be another post until we are in Florida, but I do appreciate that you are following along on the journey.
Stick with us, there is more to come (and one day soon, some video from my gopro)!
Snake River Brewing
His adventure look …
Tetons Last Day
Visitor Center at National Elk Refuge