Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks 05.31.14-06.15.14 Part I

It had been too long since being in the mountains. The not so snowy (but still adequate) winter hadn't gotten us out too much. So we hatched a plan to take three weeks to hit the big three mountain west parks, Grand Teton, Yellowstone, and Glacier. The primary reason for this was to see the dying glaciers in Glacier National Park, but it soon became a trip focused around Yellowstone. Where many of the big attractions are less than a mile from the road. This facilitates an easier time with a three year old who doesn't prefer to do her own hiking all the time.

We had taken three weeks off to drive out and enjoy the parks. We opted to head south into Oregon so that we could time our travel well. Mirabelle had stopped taking naps, and we were doing the drive in two days instead of the one that we would have done before having a kid. Our southern route would also take us near Craters of the Moon National Monument. So we had put into the schedule a visit there.

Initially we were going to do the trip without reservations anywhere. But we were blessed with my Father-in-Law booking us two nights in the Grant's Village Lodge in Yellowstone. It put us on a timeline to get there for our reservation. Which had its positives and negatives.

The trip started smoothly, although finding food on the road was a bit tricky, but we managed to get a decent, if not too salty, dinner in rural Oregon before spending the night in a Walmart parking lot in outside of Boise. In the morning we drove into Boise, and ate breakfast at Goldy's. After a long breakfast session we went to the local food COOP and purchased some provisions before heading out to Craters of the Moon.

The drive out to Craters was pretty amazing with some high desert scenery on a two lane road. But it could not prepare us for the scenery at the park. Most of the area at the park is covered in black pumice, with some small hills that are cinder cones or craters. Except for the abundant wildflowers and some trees, there is good reason to think of the park as moon surface. It is wild and other worldly. We hiked to the top of Inferno Cone and had some great views. Then we checked out the Spatter Cones and Snow Cone, which lived up to its name by having a pile of snow in the bottom. Due to our schedule of having to get to the lodge for our reservation, this is all the time we spent at the park. (We did picnic and visit the visitor's center too.) I would have like to have camped a night in the park and explored the lava caves, but it was not in the cards for this trip.

We left the park and continued to our final destination that evening, the Gros Ventre campground in Teton National Park. Of course, we made a stop for dinner in Idaho Falls first. This was a better offering of food than the previous evening as we stopped in MacKenzie River Pizza and Pub. Oddly situated on the Snake River near the river walk. A stop for dinner and then Mirabelle biking on the path and playing at the river's edge before we got back in the van and headed east. Soon we left the high desert and were in the trees making our way up to Teton Pass where the van topped the 8431 foot pass at 25mph and then we coasted down into Jackson and straight to the park to a campsite to go to sleep.

We awoke to moose in the campground, and the Tetons peeking out from behind the trees. Bison wandered the sagebrush out in the plains, as well as pronghorn. With this abundance, we decided to go check out Mormon Row, passing lots of wildlife on the way there. When we arrived there was a group of photographers with telephoto lens waiting patiently. We discovered that a coyote had put its den underneath one of the buildings, and there were seven coyote pups playing about near the house. We watched a bit and then took a walk along the row, watching magpies and ground squirrels before heading back to the car and driving up to Gros Ventre slide. On the way back into town we stopped at the Kelly Warm Springs and put our feet in. The water was warmer than anything we have at 6000' in Washington, but the air temps and breeze didn't make us feel like we need to submerge. After the dip we headed into town.

In town we went to the visitor's center and learned a few things, including getting a coupon for a future activity; The Jackson Hole Tram. In town we hung out at the square and ate ice cream from Moo's. We checked out the local area a bit, and then headed to the Jackson Whole Grocer for provisions before returning to camp.

The next day we planned to take the boat across Jenny Lake to the Inspiration Point hike. We drove up to the lake and got on a full boat with a nice ride across the lake before reaching the other side. Mirabelle had a snack, and then we hiked up. The trail was fairly crowded but we still managed to see a fox run across the trail in front of us before reaching our high point at Inspiration Point. Mirabelle got out of the pack for a bit to jump and climb around while we had our lunch. Then we headed back down to the dock where we were the last people to get on board the ferry that was leaving toward the visitor's center.

After that we drove into town to have a dinner. Unfortunately, none of the local restaurants were really in our price range. Although many looked interesting, a burger was going to run us over $15 in many of them. We walked around trying to find something that had local flair, a menu we liked, and prices we could afford. Right before almost settling on something we walked past the rafting shop. There was a sign in the window advertising the Snake River Brewery. This was what we were looking for in a dining establishment. We walked inside to ask for directions and made our way over for some delicious food and beer. Then we returned to camp to sleep for the night.

After Mirabelle had gone to bed that night, some bison wandered through the campground. Since there were no calves, we presume it was an all male group. They were only a few campsites away from us when two tussled a bit, butting heads, before the group of seven or so wandered off into the night.

Our next day was a travel day, so we packed up and headed to some sights before  arriving at our final destination. We rode over to Teton Village Tram to the top of Rendezvous Mountain. After days of staring at mountains I could not climb on this trip, it was nice to get on a mountain, even if by tram. With the coupons, it was still quite expensive, but we wanted to get to some snow and be in the mountains more. The only way to really make that possible with a three year old is via the tram. Of course, once at the top I just looked around and saw terrain I wanted to ski or climb even more. I realized I would have to live in Jackson for a few years just to do everything I want to do in the Tetons (and the Winds.) After a short stay outside, and a mediocre waffle inside, we headed back down.

On the way back into town, we stopped at the Teton Raptor Center. Which was pretty standard fare for that sort of thing. Get to see a hawk fly, and get fairly up close with some raptors inside the barn. A nice little side trip before heading back through town and up to our next campground at Colter Bay.

The Colter Bay campground was the opposite of the Gros Ventre campground. It was nearly full (although partially because two loops were closed.) There were lots of RVs and plenty of noise. We got there in time for us to make dinner and put Mirabelle to sleep. The mosquitoes were worse there, so we didn't spend too much time hanging out after Mirabelle's bedtime anyway.

The next morning I awoke early and took a walk by the lake. This is the point where I was really glad we purchased the bear spray before the trip as I would not have walked alone, by the water's edge, at dawn, by myself without it. It was a nice morning activity and headed back to camp to eat breakfast before we rented a canoe. The simple two hour canoe trip was the best thing we had done to this point, It reminded Jennifer and I why we like being in wilderness. We really didn't see other people for a major portion of the paddle. Mirabelle enjoyed it too. We have had a portage! We got to see a white pelican and a number of raptors as well. After the paddle we packed up camp and hung out on the rocky coastline for a while before making the trip up to Yellowstone for our reservation that night in the Grant Village Lodge.

Had we not had the reservation, we would have like to stay in Teton a bit longer.

Pics can be found here

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