Tag Archives: Yellowstone

The Attractive Neighbor

Snake River at Oxbow Bend, Grand Teton National Park (photo by Sally Reeder)

If you want to get noticed, don’t stand next to an international superstar.

That thought occurred to me as I considered why Grand Teton National Park doesn’t seem to get as much worldwide buzz as Yellowstone does.  The two scenic U.S. wilderness areas in Wyoming are only ten miles apart, but Yellowstone has a much bigger reputation.

For that matter, Yellowstone is a much bigger park than Grand Teton — something like 7 times as large.  Yellowstone was the world’s first national park and has the world’s largest collection of geysers.  It is on the official list of World Heritage Sites.

Don’t get me wrong — I’m not saying that Yellowstone doesn’t deserve all the attention it gets.  It’s just that Grand Teton National Park can make your jaw go slack, too.  It is a high-altitude plateau (6,000 ft.+) that is surrounded by mountains and glaciers; the Snake River slithers through it.  Everywhere you look seems postcard-worthy, so if you go home from GTNP without at least a few good photographs, you might as well stop taking pictures.

The first non-natives to find this region arrived in the early years of the 19th century.  One of them was John Colter, who had been with the Lewis and Clark expedition, but on the return trip Colter stayed in these parts to try his hand at fur trapping.

By the way, it was French-speaking fur trappers who are apparently responsible for the name.  They called three distinctive mountain peaks les trois tetons, which translates (politely) to “the three breasts”.  This would indicate that these fellows had a flawed understanding of basic female anatomy, or had not seen a woman in a very long time.  Probably both.

At any rate, Grand Teton, Middle Teton and South Teton are dramatic features on the horizon as seen from Jenny Lake, a gorgeous body of water formed by glaciers.  There are a lot of hiking trails in the area around Jenny Lake, and there’s a ferry boat that will take you across the lake to reach the ones on the far side.

One leads to a beautiful cascade called Hidden Falls.  From there, an even steeper trail leads to Inspiration Point, which inspired me to sit down and catch my breath.

The largest body of water in GTNP is Jackson Lake, which is fed by the Snake River.  It’s a good spot to stop hiking and regain your inertia while you admire the view in all directions.

Particularly in the early morning or late afternoon, though, it’s worth grabbing your camera and traveling a couple of miles east from the Jackson Lake Lodge to a spot called Oxbow Bend.  Pull off the road and walk down to the river’s edge to get excellent views of Mount Moran, which sometimes has a shawl of clouds around it (see photo).

There are lots of scenic viewpoints along the highway that winds through Grand Teton National Park.  At one we saw a grizzly bear wade into a group of foolish tourists who barely managed to get out of his way.  At another, a bald eagle circled overhead.

We eventually drove the few miles north to Yellowstone, of course, and it’s as glorious as you’ve probably heard, but its next-door neighbor deserves its share of raves, too.  What I’m saying is, Grand Teton National Park is spectacular.  Pass it on.

Let’s Go Back

Big Sur, California

Depending where you choose to go, travel can offer the thrill of someplace new, or the contentment of someplace familiar.  My friend David much preferred the latter:  He did a lot of traveling, but most of it was to either Venice or London.

Occasionally he could be cajoled into going elsewhere, but he always wanted to get back to his favorites.  He once told us that he’d stopped counting how many times he had been to Venice after his 27th visit.  So far, I’m still stuck on one.

Unlike David, my inclination is to go somewhere I haven’t been before, since there are so many wonderful places to see.  On the other hand, I’ve been fortunate to have seen many wonderful places already, and I’d love to see some of them again — you, too? 

Unfortunately, most of us don’t have unlimited time and money, so when an opportunity to travel does come along and we ask ourselves “where shall we go?”, we have to pick either a new adventure or an old favorite.  Which, I acknowledge, is a nice problem to have.

Places like Copenhagen and Angkor and the Amazon River remain on my wish list of future adventures, but my wish list for return visits includes…

     •  Paris embraces me; its boulevards and museums and sidewalk cafés reach out affectionately.  Not everyone feels that way about the City of Light, I know, but when I daydream about traveling, this is usually where my mind takes me.

     •  Yellowstone National Park has awe-inspiring sights around almost every bend in the road or trail.  At certain times of the year there are hordes of other tourists around every bend, too, but a well-timed visit can make you sigh deeply at Yellowstone’s majestic beauty.

•  Moorea is not as well-known as its neighbors Tahiti and Bora Bora, but offers  similarly gorgeous beaches and abundant tropical fish.  It’s a great place to kayak or dive or hike… or just sprawl out and do nothing.

•  Shanghai impressed me with its contrasts:  Parts of the city are ancient, but nearby there are skyscrapers.  Buildings along the Bund evoke 19th-century Europe, but directly across the river is a business district that, after dark, is lit up like Las Vegas.  I have had just a taste of Shanghai, and it made me want more.

•  Florence, the birthplace of the Renaissance, is an old but elegant city.  As Sally observed when we were there:  “In Rome you wake up to car horns; in Florence you wake up to church bells.”

•  The California Coastline is where I live, so forgive me if this sounds like boosterism. The Pacific coast’s natural beauty stretches for hundreds of miles (and in fairness, to Oregon and Washington, too).  As much as I like going elsewhere, it’s great to come back here.

So… what about you?  Is there some special place you look forward to seeing again?

Car Hike

elk in YellowstoneAdmiring broad vistas of nature while hiking along a trail is an exhilarating experience.  The only drawback is that it isn’t very time-efficient.  Even an experienced hiker in good physical condition can only cover a few miles in a day, which limits the amount of natural beauty one can see.  That’s why I invented the car hike.  It’s in the road-trip family, but a car hike takes you off the main highways and onto the scenic byways.  It allows you the opportunity to travel much greater distances than a traditional foot-hiker can attain, thereby revealing far more scenic beauty.  To get the additional thrill of “roughing it” that hikers enjoy, I recommend turning off the car’s air conditioning and rolling down the windows.

Yellowstone National Park is an ideal spot for car hiking because of its vast expanses (3,468 square miles).  A foot hiker can only take in a tiny portion of it, but a car hiker with a map and a careful plan can enjoy a generous sample of its geysers, canyons, waterfalls, rivers, lakes, and wildlife in a relatively few days.  To illustrate how a car hike in Yellowstone works, here is my report of one.  It’s just the afternoon hours, mind you — of September 9, 2008:

Sally took the wheel after lunch and we found a road off the main highway — it’s called Firehole Lake Drive.  Along the way we saw some cars parked and decided to investigate.  It was the site of a geyser called White Dome.  Several people had been waiting there quite a while, but within minutes of our arrival it erupted — a pretty impressive show, too.  It wasn’t as high as Old Faithful, but the eruption seemed to last longer, and the cone was taller.

The plan was to work our way back toward our hotel in West Yellowstone, allowing time for stops along the way.  One sight that caught our eye and made us pull off the road was a fly fisherman sharing the Madison River with an elk.  They glanced at each other occasionally, but neither seemed to feel threatened by the other…

While looking for the perfect spot to have the “refreshments” I had in the trunk of our rental car, we came across a frustrated romance.  A male elk with extravagant antlers was in the company of seven females.  His bellows — and aggressive passes — made it clear that he was strongly interested in mating.  The females all claimed to have headaches, though, and managed to thwart his advances.

Eventually we found a quiet spot near the Seven-Mile Bridge (Madison River).  We got out of the car and walked a short distance to the bank of the river, where we enjoyed our drinks along with some mixed nuts.  We weren’t alone for long — on the opposite bank several female elk and a couple of juveniles came down to the river’s edge for their evening drink…