There Are Mountains in the Tetons?

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I guess those are mountains.

I guess those are mountains.

I left Yellowstone and drove south on a dreary Friday morning. I was up early and on the prowl for a good campsite in Grand Teton National Park. In spite of the misty weather, I was very excited to see the legendary views of the Tetons as I drove in. But where were the mountains? I knew where they were supposed to be; I could see the bottoms, but the drama of driving into the park and seeing the craggy peaks looming over the sagebrush meadows was taken from me by the clouds. Then it started to pour. What a bummer!

I found a good little campsite surrounded by shrubs and aspens in my second-choice campground, Signal Mountain, about a hundred feet from the shore of Jackson Lake. Not too shabby! Already a step up from the sardine-esque Yellowstone accommodations. Setting up my tent in the rain is not my favorite, so I took refuge at the Signal Mountain Lodge restaurant and planned my wet day in the park.

I decided to save the hiking for Saturday and go to the visitors center and then do some birding and a tour of Menor’s Ferry Historic District. At least that way I would be near my car if (when) the rain started. I went to Mormon Row and saw an green tailed towhee and some ground squirrels along with some old farm buildings. Yeah, I didn’t really read much about the place. I was looking at the animals and willing the clouds to part so I could see the mountains.

Historic Barn

A mountain bluebird (look closely) perched on the cable of the rehabilitated Menors Ferry, still in use today for park visitors when the water is lower than when I was there.

A mountain bluebird (look closely) perched on the cable of the rehabilitated Menors Ferry, still in use today for park visitors when the water is lower than when I was there.

The Menor’s Ferry tour was interesting and then the sun came out! The tops of the mountains were still shrouded in clouds, but I caught a glimpse at least. The tour guide was a very nice intern with the park and he invited me to go hiking that afternoon. I was happy to have someone to explore with so we made a plan to meet up later. I took advantage of the sunshine and went to Lupine Meadows for a short hike. Not fifteen minutes in, the sky darkened and it was pouring again. Grr. No hike that afternoon. Instead, I met the intern and some of the other park employees at a pizza place and got some beers and food and had a great time hearing all their stories about the stupid questions from visitors. I was so glad to not be sitting in my tent in the rain.

After dinner, the intern had to pick up another of his cohort from the airport. I went with him and we drove to the town of Kelly to see the site of one of the largest landslides in North American history. It was impressive and the landscape on that side of the park was very different than the park itself. This was not an adventure I would have known to take by myself. I’m so glad I met that intern and his buddy. We drove back to the park in the dark singing along to The Head and the Heart. In spite of the rain, it had been a good evening after all!

I was feeling good cruising back to my campsite. The rain abated for a little while and I thought I might make it back during a break so I wouldn’t have to set up my tent in the dark AND the rain. In my Tetons revery, I stopped paying attention to my speed. Then I got pulled over. Double grr. Who would have thought there are cops giving out speeding tickets at 10pm in a National Park? Not me, but there are. You have been warned. I took that as a sign from the universe that my trip was nearing its natural end. I decided I’d spend one more day in the park and then make tracks to Boulder.

I awoke to no rain! Hooray! I hiked around Jenny Lake to Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point, the most popular and lauded hikes in the park. I’m not really sure why. The lake is pretty, the falls are impressive, and the view from Inspiration Point was nice, but this walk really missed the point of seeing the Tetons in all their rocky glory. I did get up close to and almost in them at the last part of the hike, but I was underwhelmed. I wanted to see the scenery, not the woods!

Inspiration Point Hike

The view from Inspiration Point. There is a marmot in the middle of the rocks.

The view from Inspiration Point. There is a marmot in the middle of the rocks.

Anyway, it was a pleasant way to spend the morning. I did take a nice detour to Moose Ponds where I got two life birds (yellow warbler and red-naped sapsucker). I got up close and personal with a marmot at Inspiration Point once I got away from all the people who had taken the easy way to the trailhead in the form of a boat ride. On my way back, I saw a moose too, so I can’t really complain…oh, except for the hailstorm! Yeesh. The Tetons must not like me very much. Overall, I think my time might have been better spent on some more remote trails, but no regrets.

I thought I’d finish off my day with a hunt for trumpeter swans. Grand Teton is one of the only places that has a year-round population of the large waterfowl. I drove to some of the spots where the rangers told me they might be (some more helpful than others. One told me, “Look near water.” Yeah. Got it.). The sun was out and the Tetons were finally visible too! I drove to a river and saw some birds, but nothing spectacular so I got back in the car and headed to Swan Lake. Sounds like a good bet, right?

I was waylaid by a traffic jam which can only mean one thing: wildlife near the road. I asked someone and they said it was a bear! Seeing a bear would definitely round out my big-game viewing experience, but I did not want to be one of those gawking idiots who ignored the rangers directing everyone to get back in their cars to get a grainy picture. I crept by in my car and there he was! A big grizzly eating some plants in a clearing by the side of the road. He (or she, I have no clue and definitely didn’t get close enough to find out) was impressive and huge. I got a twinge of fear even from my car. I’m thankful I never met one while I was hiking.

Now on to Swan Lake. The trail took me past Colter Bay where I finally got my perfect view of the mountains. They really are incredible and unlike any other mountains I’ve seen. Don’t worry though, Rocky Mountains, you’ll always be my favorites. I made it to Swan Lake, and lo and behold, trumpeter swans! That was easy. They were sitting on a little island at the far end of the lake, but they were unmistakably large. Satisfied and rather afraid of seeing another bear, I turned around.

Check it out! Mountains!

Check it out! Mountains!

To top off my full day, I drove up Signal Mountain and watched a picture-perfect sunset over the peaks. Grand Teton treated me pretty well after all.

View from Signal MountainThe next day I made it through Wyoming to Boulder, Colorado. I was a little sad my trip was over, but very happy to be home and not by myself anymore. Thanks to everyone who followed and supported me on my trip, friends and strangers alike. I have a couple more nuggets about this trip to post, but this is the last long post for now. However, I have more adventures in the works, so don’t unfollow me yet!

Columbines

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5 thoughts on “There Are Mountains in the Tetons?

  1. mike

    How did the aspens at your campsite compare to those in your backyard in Boulder? I bet the Boulder ones are more majestic.

  2. Fran

    It was fun reading about the tetons part since I working at Jenny Lake lodge taking people out on trail rides ….years ago. 🙂
    Fran (remember the eggs??!!)

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