Night 9: The Tetons

Trip Start Jun 20, 2012
Trip End Jul 18, 2012

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Where I stayed
Gros Ventre Campground Moran
Read my review - 4/5 stars

Flag of United States  , Wyoming
Thursday, June 28, 2012

Today we drove about 170 miles. The weather was warm and very dry. Our lips are cracking in the sun and wind. The overnight forecast is calling for low temps. There is a wildfire burning directly to our south.

We are camped at Gros Ventre in Teton National Park. No one anywhere respects the "quiet time" posted for campers. This usually happens on weekends when campers with little experience are in bigger numbers at campgrounds. But there are no weekends here because most people here take a few days to even get here.

This morning we woke up and broke our two day camp at Mammoth in YNP. We also made eggs and pancakes. We had a very leisurely start to the day. From Mammoth it takes quite some time to meander across Yellowstone. We began the drive aiming for the Norris Geyser Basin and the east to Canyon. From here we crossed the Hayden Valley and continued to Yellowstone Lake.

At the Fishing Bridge we spotted a pelican. This inspired me (as did my readings of natural history) to check out the swampgrass of Pelican Creek. The bear activity here is very strong. I ventured into the trees until I got scared. A little up the road, we came to Mary Bay on  
Yelliwstone Lake. I  resisted the urge to snorkel in the hypothermic freezing mountain water and resorted to wading with our digital underwater camera. I was taking video of bubbles rising through the lakebed. When they came to the surface, they had a distinctly sulfuric smell. The lake sits in the lowest point of the Yellowstone super volcano's cauldera.

We stopped for a clean lunch at the Lake General Store, helping the trainee learn how to work the register and a bit of English too. Most of the workers at YNP are either retirees or Asians, who don't know a lick of English.

We also stopped to around most of the beautiful geysers and springs near the lake at West Thumb. I learned that the area was formed during a volcanic gurgle 167000 years ago. If the lake level drops, even a couple feet, this West Thumb area is going to blow up in a magnificent and deadly display.

We also learned that elk that live around these hydrothermal features usually die at a much younger age than other elk. The silica on the grass wears down their teeth and brings them closer to infection and death. As Andrew said, "They don't make snap-on smiles for elk."

We crossed the continental divide and drove alongside the Lewis River, which sits in the bottom of a huge canyon. Further down the road, the Lewis and we met the Snake River, our travel companion to the Pacific.

This is where you run out of Yellowstone and you pass an area operated by the National Forest Service, the John Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway. Funny, since everything his father's company does destroys the environment. But I guess if you're a billionaire and spend a few guilt dollars to fix a fraction of your mess, they'll name stuff after you.

Speaking of corporate sponsors, I was a bit disturbed to see advertising on public lands. In YNP there were boardwalks brought to you by "Unilever." In 2012, nothing is sacred and nothing is held in common. Why couldn't Unilever donate the money, if they felt so compelled, and NOT sully a national park with their "See? We care!" marketing message?

Before you know it US-191 id entering Grand Teton Nationsl Park. The Tetons dominate every view. They are huge, inspiring, beautiful, and pointy. The mountains are covered in glaciers year round. They stand behind two sparkling mountain lakes: Lake Jackson and Lake Jenny. Death by bears and the elements lurk in their canyons. In fact, one canyon is actually called "Death Canyon." we drove for a bit up Signal Mountain to get a better peek and the peaks.

Another strange phenemenon in the valley next to the Tetons called Jackson Hole is that our cell phones worked here. Here we were in the wilderness, calling family after days of incommunicado and in front of us were these wild, magnificent peaks.

Camping was open here and there, but I didn't want to stop so soon. When we saw hotel prices in Idaho Falls at $125, and considered that nearby Jackson was a rich man's city, we decided to look for cheap national park camping. At Lake Jenny, there were crowds and crowds so  
we moved on. In Moose Junction, we visited the park's main VC where we saw the museum, used the bathroom, and checked weather and camping vacancies. I was unsure but continued tonthe closest campground with openings 12 miles away and around a butte called Gros Ventre, which means "big belly" in French fur trapper.

On the road to the Belly, my dreams for the day were satisfield. The road passes through elk and pronghorn filled fields of sage. Down a hill is a rushing river and a variety of trees. In the trees I saw a moose. When I pulled a u-turn to see it again, it was gone. I continued on with my eyes on the river and not too far down we spotted two female moose in the water. We were able to pull over to get a closer look at them as they stood there deciding if we meant harm. They decided we were safe and continued their moose activities if standing in water and continuously twitching to remove mosquitos.

As we drove on, we saw a bison herd, which have become so mundane this week. This herd, though, had a contingent absolutely stampeding through the riparian forests and out behind us into the sage fields. It seems the Wyoming tourism bureau's TV ads were correct! They seemed like lies.

One mile from the stampede we came to Gros Ventre camp. There are hundreds of sites. It is pretty rugged and expensive for a national park. But then again, everything is expensive in Jackson Hole. The rangers were insistent about us being "bear aware." Keep a clean camp.  
Nothing with odors in or outside the tent if not in immediate use. Know how to handle a confrontation. Here is some literature. "We haven't had a bear problem here in years," he said, " and I aim to keep it that way." Above him hung photos of black bears attacking campsites and ripping through tents and stomping on coolers. The photos were taken at the campground.There were also photos of invading moose and badgers.

The campsite we were assigned was next to the bathrooms, which us good and bad. If you want quiet, this is not a good place. Campers seem to be the Pabst drinking hipster types. Complete amateurs with metal hardware hammers, no respect for quiet, and a propensity for leaving coolers and throwing food into the bushes in bear country. (I am lucky these fools didnt kill me.) Black socks with shorts. Obama bumper stickers. UW Madison and ASU diplomas. Worrying about what us recyclable and attaching actual guilt to the purchase of non-recyclable items. Huffing on astma inhalers. Mentioning socialized medicine to strangers.

We are in very dry conditions. Near the tent are cottonwood trees, not strange to find near rivers. There are thorns in some of the bushes, I've learned.

After we set up camp Andrew and I studied a map of Jackson and found the fast food places. Not wanting to cook in the dark at a campground so nervous about bears, we set off into Jackson. Along the way we saw a trio of bull moose walking aling the river where the stampede had taken place just an hour before. The town is 7 miles south just past the Nat'l Elk Refuge, managed by US Fish & Wildlife to keep the elk from extinction.

Jackson is a town that is having a party for tourists. While there is a Ripley's, it is not Wisconsin Dells. Jackson isn't about kids, it's a place for ski-obsessed twenty somethings with money. So there are bars and bars and restaurants with wooden signs, which usually signals  
to me that I can't afford it.

The town square is decorated with four huge arches made completely of elk antlers. A guy in a dirty pickup was swearing at and cursing the "damned tourists." I would be too if my town attracted this strange crowd of pretenders.

We drove to the cheap side of town for fast food and eggs. The Albertson's looked like a lodge. Jackson is one of those towns with a theme to their architecture and zoning laws.
We returned to our dark camp after quiet hours, but no one was quiet until about midnight.

Overnight hours were full of fun. Andrew had to go pee so I pointed him out the tent. I broke and repaired my sleeping bag. And at 4:00 am a coyote began yipping and howling not too far off.

There is a man a few sites away being a missionary for Scientology. He is preaching to just the right people. He found his marks. He is telling them to cleanse their bodies and to avoid Diet Coke. Why doesn't he care about me? I'm chugging on one right now.

It's funny how people feel the need to dress up Christianity with psycho babble. It is a complete waste of time. Jesus is all I need in my Christianity. Nice and simple and focused. 
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