GRAND TETON NATIONAL PARK
AUGUST 4-7, 2018
The Grand Teton National Park lies directly South of Yellowstone – a short 30 minute drive after leaving Yellowstone, sees one entering Grand Teton National Park. In direct comparison to Yellowstone, the Tetons are a very young landscape. These mountains in fact, are still growing, at the rate of approximately 1 inch every 50-100 years. On arrival into the park, it’s immediately apparent that these mountains are unique, in that the landscape is incredibly flat – there are no foothills, just the Teton mountain range jutting directly up from the plains. Today, several lakes hide in between the mountains and the Snake River – without the signage, it would be easy to drive throughout the park, and not even realise that these stunning glacial lakes exist.
In direct comparison to its Northern neighbour Yellowstone, Grand Teton National Park is quite small. Most of the highlights of the park can be accessed via a (relatively) quick drive between locations. I was staying at Colter Bay, and it was only a 15 minute drive to reach Jenny Lake, one of the highlights of the park, a stunning glacial lake nestled between the towering peaks of the Tetons and the Snake River.
Unfortunately, during the first day of my stay, visibility was significantly impacted by smoke haze caused by a man made fire that was burning out of control in the Sawtooth Mountains in Idaho. Thankfully, the wind shifted, and for the remainder of the stay, the air cleared, and the visibility improved significantly.
On my first day in the Tetons, I woke to miserable weather conditions. The sky was overcast, rain threatened, and smoke haze was prevalent – visibilty was poor. Given the weather conditions, I decided that a scenic drive was the way to go, after all, if I was at home in Philly, I would have stayed in to read or watch TV rather than hike in those conditions.
I planned out a short loop drive around the park that would take in several of the overlooks and wildlife viewing areas and set out on my way. Most of the overlooks were a complete bust… the smoke haze and cloud rendered the mountains almost completely invisible, or at least, invisible to my untrained photography skills.
Jenny Lake had come highly recommended by just about everyone who had visited the Teton’s previously. During a brief stop, it didn’t disappoint, with high peaks and cascade canyons surround the lake. After a quick visit to the overlook, I planned to return and spend more time there.
Apart from the varying overlooks along the scenic route, the other stop of note on the scenic drive was Mormon Row. Located towards the South entrance of the park, this area was settled by Mormon pioneers near the beginning of the 19th century. These pioneers developed irrigation techniques that provided crucial water for their crops. They created a community of farmers who cultivate many successful crops in the region. Today, the remains of their homes and outbuildings stand as testament to their success and are owned and managed as part of the National Parks Service.
The Snake River runs almost the entire length of the Tetons, and then makes it’s way into Idaho. In the Teton’s the placement of the river shows years of glacial involvement. The banks of the river were once swollen with glacial meltwater, and today, rise above and beyond the current riverbanks. The river brings life to the mountains and wildlife living within the boundaries of the park.
For a short hike during my stay, I had decided to make my way towards Jenny Lake. On the way, I diverted to a nearby lake, thinking that the parking situation might be more appealing. Turns out, it was similarly busy, but after parking, I realised that there was a loop hiking trail around String Lake that would perhaps be more preferable to an out and back hike at Jenny Lake (if I could find car parking).
The loop hike at String Lake was approx. 4 miles long, and started lakeside, winding its way through stands of pine trees before crossing over the outlet between String and Leigh Lakes. I took a short walk up the trail that led to views of the expansive Leigh Lake, before making my way back to the String Lake trail. Not long after crossing over to the west side of the lake, the trail headed upwards, and mostly through stands of pine forest at the foot of the mountains on its way around the lake.
Finally, once out of the pine forest, there were stunning clear views of the lake, the kind that the trail is obviously known for – just what I had been hoping for. There was also a bear, feeding up on the hillside – just what I WASN’T hoping for. The Black Bear disappeared amongst the foliage, and didn’t seem to be making its way toward the trail, so I wandered along the trail directly behind a small family group just to ensure that I wasn’t alone. In all, this hike presented a diversity of landscapes and wildlife, and while there were a few ups and downs, it was relatively easy, and offered high scenic value all the way along the trail.
A quick drive South in the afternoon led me to Jackson Hole and Teton Village. I stopped at the Mangy Moose saloon bar on the recommendation of a neighbour, and couldn’t help but feel like I was in an alternate universe. Truman Show-esque. The setting was stunning – ski village hotels and apartments, with rolling green lawns between the buildings, replete with families and groups of children playing cornhole, or frolicking in the sunshine… does this kind of place really exist a mere half hour drive from a stunning National Park?
As if the unreality continued, I actually got some slightly better shots of the Tetons on my way back to camp…
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