Wednesday, May 28, 2014

May--2014: Grand Teton/Yellowstone National Parks

The Teton Range from the scenic turnout, Idaho Side.  Descending into the Teton Valley.

The Hot Chick's sister was flying into Jackson Hole, Wyoming at two o'clock yesterday afternoon.  She's visiting us and the family up in the Puget Sound this summer while her husband is deployed in the Middle East.

We went to pick her up at the airport which is about two hours from our home in Eastern Idaho.  It was very interesting, the Jackson Hole Airport falls within the boundaries of Grand Teton National Park.  I hadn't known that before.

After we located her bags, I told her we had several options.  Option 1 was to go back the way we came and be home by 4:30.  Option 2 was to head north into Grand Teton National Park, continue on to Old Faithful and then come home by 7 or 8.  Option 3 was to head up through the parks and turn left at Canyon and head home from there.  Option 4 was to head north all the way to Tower Falls in Yellowstone, cut across to Mammoth, down to Madison and home from there.  Option 4 would get us home pretty late.

She said if we went right home all we'd do is sit around and talk and we could easily do that in the car, so option 1 was out.  She also said she had seen Old Faithful more than any other feature in the park so option 2 was out.  She asked me where we'd have the best chance of seeing a bear and I told her option 4.  Option 4 it was.

1st Leg:  Idaho to Jackson Hole
The Teton Valley is a very beautiful valley on the Idaho side of the Teton range.  The view from the Idaho side is the most iconic.  It's the most recognizable.  The road travels through rolling hills and dry farms for forty or so miles and then descends into the Teton Valley.  This area was used during the fur trade days and French trappers inhabited this valley a hundred and fifty years ago.  Not just the French, but mountain men of all stripes.  This was one of the sites of their annual rendezvous.

As the road descends into the valley, there is a turnout with a beautiful view of the Tetons.  I usually stop there.  The road continues on to Driggs and then Victor, Idaho.  Driggs and Victor have been farming communities for well over a hundred years.  Recently, though, billionaires have discovered Jackson Hole, Wyoming and kind of pushed the millionaires out.  They settled in Driggs and Victor.  My biggest regret of the whole trip is when I rounded the corner, entering Driggs, I saw a turkey vulture right off the road, bald head and all.  I was concerned about time and I didn't stop to take a picture.  That will haunt me for a long time now, at least until I see another one and photograph it.

From there the road winds up over the Jackson Pass with miles of 10% grade up and down.  It's a pretty steep road and I wouldn't fancy driving it in the winter.  The view is spectacular though.  By the same token, I'd hate to have that view be the last thing I saw in this life.  We made it to Jackson Hole and continued into Grand Teton National Park to the airport and picked up the Hot Chick's sister.

The Teton Range from the Idaho side

What the sky looked like

Second Leg:  Grand Teton National Park
We headed north from the airport.  I don't know Grand Teton very well, not like Yellowstone.  The one thing I do know is Jenny Lake.  I've heard it said that Jenny Lake is the most beautiful lake in the world.  That's hard to quantify, but I think a case could be made for the most beautiful lake in North America.  It is spectacular regardless.

We turned left at Moose Junction because there were signs pointing to Jenny Lake from there.  Good thing we did because less than a mile down that road we saw a bunch of cars stopped and people with cameras taking photos.  Naturally we stopped.  Good thing we did.  It was a large bull moose.  He seemed unconcerned with the gawkers and just kept eating.  His antlers are still covered in velvet.

From there we continued down the road and stopped a few times for some photo opportunities of the Teton Range.  If you have even a semi-decent camera, Yellowstone and Grand Teton make you a great photographer.  It's really hard to take a poor picture there.

We made our way around Jenny Lake, stopped for the view and continued up to Pilgrim Junction where we had heard there was a mother grizzly and two cubs.  We stopped for photos all along the way though because the view is absolutely spectacular.  When we got to Pilgrim Junction, there were a bunch of cars and gawkers so we investigated.  Sure enough, a cinnamon colored grizzly and her two cubs were hanging out in a gully.  We waited for awhile but they didn't seem to want to come into full view.  I got a couple of pictures with some brown spots but that's all the better we could do.  I believe I saw three bears there, the Hot Chick's sister saw two and the Hot Chick only saw one.  This bear sighting was underwhelming.

The moose

Apparently he sees something tasty

Minding his own business, not paying attention to the riff raff

The Teton Range from the Wyoming side

These yellow flowers were everywhere

As were these white ones

On the other side of the trees is Jenny Lake.  The trees are on a glacial moraine with forms the dam that created Jenny Lake

Huge, spectacular mountains.  Almost completely devoid of any foothills.

Canada goose

The Grand Teton

The Grand Teton and Mount Teewinot from the Jenny Lake overlook

More Jenny Lake

And still more.  It's hard to take just one picture here.

The sister on the left and the Hot Chick on the right

Underwhelming bear sighting.  Two cinnamon colored brown spots in the middle of the shot.

Third Leg:  Waterfalls 
We headed north along the John D. Rockefeller Memorial Parkway and into Yellowstone via the south entrance.  Our first stop there was a waterfall we discovered a couple of years ago called Moose Falls.  We had seen it later in the year when the volume of water wasn't as great.  We had also seen it at dusk and only had a small, cheap digital camera.  We wanted a better shot of it and wanted to show it to our sister.

We continued on a short way from there and saw Lewis Falls.  I don't remember ever seeing Lewis Falls before.  I've spent precious little time in this part of the park.  Next time I photograph Lewis Falls, I want to do so in the morning or at high noon.  It was in the afternoon and the sun was going behind it.  Still, you can see from the photo that it's a beautiful waterfall and well worth seeing.

We continued past Lake, through the Hayden Valley, past Canyon and across the Dunraven Pass to Tower Falls.

Sisters at the brink

Moose Falls

Micro environment near the falls

More dramatic view of the falls at river's edge

With the zoom

Very old motoring bridge near Moose Falls

You drive by this to get to Lake

Lewis falls

Across from Lewis Falls
Fourth Leg:  Bears
We made it to Tower Falls but didn't walk to the falls.  Instead we headed toward Mammoth, hoping to see the sow black bear with her three cubs who had made this part of the park he residence.  Just before the bear area, I stopped at Calcite Spring.  I didn't make it all the way to the spring, but I did meet a German tourist who pointed out the bighorn sheep ewe and lamb across the valley.

We parked at Calcite Spring and walked to where the bears were.  It was right at that turnout.  The mama and the cubs had crossed the road and were on the side of the hill.  She was conducting the business of eating non-stop while the cubs were conducting the business of frolicking and climbing trees.  Reminds me of my kids...

From the bear area we went to Petrified Tree.  I'm not sure our sister had ever seen it before.  Besides that, we have had good luck in that canyon seeing bears over the last three years.  We didn't see any bears in that canyon yesterday, but had a nice time nevertheless.  We walked up to the tree and found other petrified wood along the trail I had never seen before.

From Petrified Tree we headed toward Mammoth but saw a bear at Floating Island Lake.  He made his way along the lake shore and we thought he was going to turn the corner and come our way but he finally found something interesting to eat and stopped.  He got spooked a few times and took off running.  That was cool to see.  Bears can move pretty fast.  A lot faster than I can.

We headed west toward Mammoth and saw a few more mammals and took some pictures and then we stopped at Undine Falls.  It has become a mainstay of our time in Yellowstone.  We love Undine Falls and love to show it off to people.

From there we headed to Mammoth, got some chow and headed home.  It had finally gotten too dark to take any pictures.

Canyon at Calcite Spring

Bighorn ewe and lamb

Mama bear



Causing trouble

Getting caught

Boys will be boys


Like I wouldn't take a picture of this?

Rocky outcrop across from Petrified Tree.  Could it be another one?

Cheesy sisters

The famous Petrified Tree in Yellowstone

This washed out along the trail.  Petrified wood is probably all over this valley

Wild larkspur

Wild clematis

Wild clematis

White flower I have to identify at some point

Depending on who you talk to, this was our sixth, seventh or eighth bear of the day

Found something he liked and stopped coming our way

Some blacktail deer.  I saw a lot of bison but didn't photograph any

Undine Falls

I suppose I ought to identify this flower at some time

Cow elk making her living on human grass at Mammoth.
It was a long day, but it was a good day.  We can see a lot in a short while in Yellowstone.  Plus it is good to see the Hot Chick's sister.  Her flying into Jackson Hole was a great excuse to go back to my sanctuary.  Great day.