Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The Summer of a Little Bit Wild: Grand Teton National Park

**Please note: All of the good photos in this post were taken by Rob**

On our last morning at Norris in Yellowstone, I got up around 6:45am and people were already circling the campground like vultures, looking for vacated sites to occupy.  As I was climbing down the ladder from our camper, a woman jumped out of her subaru to ask me if we were leaving and if she could put her camp chair at our site to claim it.  I sighed.  Rob and Will weren't even awake yet, but this kind of thing was enough to make me want to get the heck out of Yellowstone.

We headed south to the Tetons, planning to see if we could find a dispersed camp site at a place called Grassy Lake that I had read about in my Lonely Planet guidebook.  Because when has Lonely Planet ever led anyone astray.

Snake River and Teton Range
Grassy Lake Campground, along the Snake River.  What a great name for a river.  It reminded me of how I had wanted to camp on the "Poison Spider Mesa" when we were in Utah, but we didn't end up venturing over there.
The place seemed good enough, if you could ignore the swarming mosquitoes.  Mainly I just wanted some solitude, like our trip to Gould, when we were alone in the mountains and it had been the best thing ever.  So we set up our canopy tent and left a camp chair at the site we chose and then headed on into the Tetons.

These mountains were lovely, and I instantly liked the Tetons better than Yellowstone.  There weren't as many people, for one, and everything seemed more relaxed.

Jackson Lake and Teton Range



We stopped to make lunch at a picnic area along Jackson Lake, and Will set to work on his Grand Teton Junior Ranger booklet because he was very motivated to earn another badge.

After lunch, we drove the rest of the loop around the park.  It was much smaller than Yellowstone, so we had time to stop and enjoy the things we wanted to see.

Grand Teton and Jenny Lake
Kayakers in Jenny Lake.

The Grand Tetons
One of the major attractions of the park is an iconic barn on a stretch of road called Mormon Row, where I think some Mormon settlers had endured harsh winters to work the land.  I don't really care that much about Mormon history, but I do like old barns more than the average person, so this was nice.

Old barn on Mormon Row

By the time we made it back to the mosquito-infested campground, we found that our canopy tent had blown over, and a van-residing young hippie was squatting at our site.

I wasn't very happy about this, but he seemed like a nice enough kid who just wanted a place to park his van and sleep for the night, and it appeared that all the other sites were occupied.  So we were like, whatever.  In the scheme of things, it wouldn't really bother us to have his van parked near our campsite.

Snake River dispersed campsite

Snake River mosquito-fest

The bothersome thing about the campground was the mosquitoes.  Who would have thought that at a place called "Grassy Lake" mosquitoes would be a problem.  In addition to any bit of exposed flesh, they went for your eyes and ears, and every time you breathed, you got a few of them up your nose. We climbed into the tent as soon as we finished dinner, desperate to seek the shelter of the mosquito net.

Long about 10:30 that night, we were woken by a cowboy-hat-wearing Utahan, who had returned from a long day of fly-fishing to discover (much like us) somebody squatting in his campsite.  He seemed to think that we were in on this conspiracy (which he viewed as affront his manhood), simply because we were at the adjacent campsite, though in truth, we had not known anything about it.

The Utahan and the squatter sparred for about an hour, in a way that made silverback gorillas seem polite by comparison.  The Utahan finally took off on his motorcycle to go get the park rangers, and the whole thing began to seem like that time I watched a 2:00am police chase/drug deal from the window of my house in St. Louis.

The next morning, we talked to the Utahan, who in the daylight seemed like a really nice guy, but I was still very eager to leave Grassy Lake.  The whole reason why I had wanted to camp at a dispersed campsite was for some more solitude than is available at one of the Walmart-like campgrounds inside the park, but even the crowded campgrounds at Yellowstone had been more peaceful than the night we'd just lain awake through.

We headed to Jenny Lake, the most popular campground inside the Tetons, and we snagged the last available place.

Our campsite was beautiful but was the farthest one from the bathroom.  I kid you not, it took 6 minutes just to walk to the bathroom (and that meant another 6 minutes to walk back up to the campsite), which with my still-sore foot, was kind of difficult.

The Jenny Lake area was pretty ramped-up in terms of bear safety precautions.  A little over a week before our visit, the park staff had euthanized a "bold," purse-snatching black bear who had been attracted to the $700/night Jenny Lake Lodge after some guests left the trunk of their car open (and food accessible) while unloading.  I think it is horrifying that the bear was euthanized, but even more horrifying that despite all these warnings, I saw people at the campground doing things that the rangers specifically said not to, such as leave water jugs and fuel containers unattended at their campsites.  Seriously, at the campsite you were not supposed to dump out dish water, brush your teeth, hang up laundry to dry, or sleep with chapstick in your tent.  Nothing that would make a bear suspect that humans, and their associated foodstuffs, are around.

I didn't ask if peeing in the woods was strictly prohibited (because your two injured legs make it painful for you to walk 1/3 of a mile to the bathroom), but given the heightened level of other precautions, I just assumed it was and didn't even consider it.

At any rate, we saw no bears at Jenny Lake or (spoiler alert) any other time during our trip.

The main reason why Rob had wanted to camp at Jenny Lake is because it was an area where you could access many of the trails in the park.  As soon as we arrived and got ourselves minimally set up, Rob began readying himself for a long run up Cascade Canyon.

He didn't end up needing the Bear Spray he brought with him, but he did have to filter drinking water from a stream.

While Rob ran, Will and I went for a hike around Jenny Lake.  With enough bandaids, my blistered foot was finally feeling better, and my injured leg was okay.  It wasn't until after we started the hike that I realized it was over 7 miles all the way around the lake, so we didn't do the whole thing.  But we still had a nice time, and on our way back, we stopped at the Jenny Lake Visitor Center and general store to get ourselves a treat.

Jenny Lake

When Rob returned after several hours of hard trail running, I decided that we could all use a shower.  It was a Tuesday, and none of us had had a shower since Friday, at our friends' house in Idaho Falls.  We drove over to Colter Bay Village (I think it was about a 20 minute drive from Jenny Lake), where they had a laundromat, general store, and shower facilities for campers.  It kind of doesn't make sense that the showers are at Colter Bay, when most of the hiking trails are at Jenny Lake, but I'm assuming there are sustainability/environmental reasons why they don't have showers by the trails.  At least I hope there was a pretty good reason why we had to get in the car and drive 20 minutes just to clean up.

It was nice to wash of the last several days of grime, sunscreen, and bug spray off me.  When I got done showering, I went out to the common area to wait for Will and Rob and started chatting with a woman from Iowa.  We compared notes about how we'd planned and packed for our trips, and we discussed the extraordinary level of preparation it took to come up with meal ideas and bring along everything our families were going to eat for an entire week.  We both marveled at the grocery store in Colter Bay--she was thrilled that they had meat, I was thrilled that they had hummus, tofu, and produce.  I hadn't known about the Colter Bay grocery store before we left for our trip, but if we ever go back to the Tetons, I will keep that in mind for restocking our supplies.

When we finally got back to our campsite after our Shower Expedition, it was getting late, and everyone was hungry.  

Grand Teton NP campsite
"Where is my dinner?"  -- William
Because it was the last night of our trip, I decided we would try the expensive, dehydrated backpacking foods I had bought at REI.  What I didn't realize was that it took like 20 minutes for these to rehydrate, so we just kind of wandered around hungrily waiting for the time to pass.

I made all 3 meals, even though I knew that would be way too much food, because I reasoned that we could keep the leftovers in the Yeti and eat them on the road the next day.

Will only tried the two rice and bean dishes and declared he didn't like either of them.  I tried all three and thought they were all good.  I liked the Santa Fe Rice and Beans the best, followed closely by the Kathmandu Curry.  What was impressive about the curry was that it had vegetables in it and they tasted like real, actual, vegetables.  What was not as impressive about it was that it was the saltiest thing I'd ever tasted in my life.  

When we were done with dinner, Rob and Will offered to wash our dishes, and Will had so much fun doing this that he got sad when he was done and asked me if there was anything else he could wash.  I told him that when we got home, he could do dishes whenever he wanted.

We snuggled into the camper for the last night of our trip.  I slept well and woke up when the sun rose.  While the boys were still asleep, I went for a walk on the trails near the campground, and then I went to the store and visitor center, where I bought myself a black coffee (when I'm desperate enough, I discovered I can drink coffee black), and I bought Will a toy bison he had admired the day before.

Then it was time to begin the long drive home.  I told Rob that I was sad our camping trip was over.  He said, "Do you want to go back to Gould this weekend?"  And I answered, "Alright."

Thanks for reading.


gutzville said...

Sounds like an awesome trip, and it looks beautiful. I love Yellowstone.

Anonymous said...

AWESOME PICTURES!!!!!! another ragfield adventure , full of many stories! such as. swarming FLYING BUGS !! AND. OBNOXIOUS campers, holey ' Moley!! sounds like you might need a Lock on your TENT?!! the world is full of scary stuff! just glad it turmed out OK and NO bears were seen as you HIKED about"""!! your IN HOUSE dishwashers are pretty CUTE!! 😉. thanks again for taking us along !! always love hearing about your adventures. since I know everyone is safe!! ! 😄!! luv and hugs to all! mama