We were 2 miles into our hike from the trailhead that marks the start of the trek into Death Canyon here in the Tetons. I had not yet taken any photos, concentrating instead on just hiking – as I often do during our ascent of a trail otherwise we will never get anywhere! Some ripening huckleberries caught my eye on the uphill side of the trail, though, and I decided to snap some pictures of these delectable fruits. I took a couple of shots, and then a short distance along the trail, we came to the Phelps Lake overlook – and I raised the camera to my eye once more. This time, however, I noticed something I had not noticed on the previous shots, that pesky little icon displaying in the viewfinder indicating I did not have an SD card in the slot! My heart sank!
Let me give you some history here. When I was researching cameras to upgrade to a better piece of equipment, I purposely chose a camera that had “two” SD card slots for a very good reason. I had once forgotten to replace my camera card in my old Canon, leaving it in my computer when I was transferring pictures. I left for a hike one day, and I did not have a replacement card handy, and found myself unable to use the camera when I needed it. I vowed this would never, ever happen again. (Yeah, right….)
My Nikon D750 has two card slots. The purpose for this is simple. Picture-taking capacity is much expanded, and (most important for me obviously) one also has a back-up card in the camera just in case. My plan was to always keep a card in the second slot as added insurance against failure. And for a while, I did just that.
Don’t ask me why I all of the sudden found myself with no cards in my camera on our Death Canyon hike. Oh – “the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” If I had to venture a guess, I’d say that I had relied on the back-up card at some point, and then had forgotten to replace it, or I had removed it to use in my Canon when realizing I was without a card in that camera! Who knows? Pure conjecture now – and it does not really matter anyway, right? I was card-less – no explanation would change that. To make matters worse, I also neglected to follow one of my golden rules to always check my camera before starting off to make sure I had a card IN the camera. So, I failed on two counts.
I did have some extra cards in my camera bag back in the truck. Positive points for that, but it was two miles to return to the trailhead and that was not happening. Luckily, we have these things called smart phones with built-in cameras that do not require an SD card! I was forced to store my Nikon in my pack and use my cellphone for this hike.
I was feeling pretty foolish that I had let this happen a second time but I was not going to let that ruin my hike. It was a beautiful day! My only regret was lugging my heavy Nikon up the steep trail for no good reason. (Actually, truth be told, Jim took pity on me and offered to carry the camera in his pack – and I relented! So, he ended up with the load with the promise that it never happen again!)
I happily started just snapping pictures with my cellphone, and all was good until I met a fellow photographer along the trail. This guy was carrying a serious camera with a monster telephoto lens up a pretty steep trail. (And I thought my camera was heavy for a long, steep hike!) I started chatting with him while I was waiting for Jim to catch up to me (remember he was carrying extra weight), and made a remark about being resigned to using my cellphone for this hike. I was looking for a little sympathy – and maybe, some comradery that perhaps I was not the only photographer who treks off on a hike minus an SD card in the camera.
So, I confessed to him that I was forced to put away my camera because I realized I had left my SD card in my computer at home. I was hoping that he would say – “oh yeah, that happens to all of us once in a while.” But, instead – he gave me this eye-brow raised look and said he’s never done that before – in a way that made me feel completely sheepish and inferior!
I was secretly hoping that he might offer me a spare card but I could see this conversation was going nowhere in that direction. He went on to tell me about all the great shots he was getting – and I decided it was time to hit the trail and put some distance between he and I – small talk had ended for me!
The first thing I did when I got off the trail was round up all my spare SD cards and immediately put two of them in my Nikon. One to be entirely for the purpose of back-up, and to never, ever leave the camera. (I’ve heard that one before!) Why is it I never learn my lessons the first time around??
I still managed to get some okay pictures from our Death Canyon hike but my smart phone is no match for the Nikon. Sorry, One Plus….
We’ve always enjoyed eating out. When Jim and I first met, one of our favorite things to do on the weekend was to eat out for breakfast. Our first year together, we lived along the Brandywine Creek at the corner of Rt. 100 and Rt. 926 in Pocopson Township, Chester County. Hank’s Place diner in Chadd’s Ford was just a hop, skip and a jump down the road, and became our go-to breakfast joint. I have many fond memories sipping coffee in this small establishment amidst many famous local Chester County artists!
Invariably, wherever we live, we tend to settle on a few favorite local establishments. Once we find a good eatery, we’re loyal patrons! In West Chester, PA, we frequented Jamison’s (formerly Eachus Dairy), DeStarr’s Restaurant, the Square Bar, and New Haven Pizza! In Kennett Square, my hometown, we were often found in Giordano’s for pizza or a local coffee/bakery shop (no longer there) for their scrumptious cinnamon twists.
Upon our migration to Vermont, our tendency to hone in on a few good restaurants continued. We love Julio’s Mexican Restaurant in the capital city of Montpelier, and frequented Salt Hill Pub in Hanover, NH for occasional Happy Hour fare. One of my favorite places to meet for our Dartmouth book club was Stella’s in Lyme, NH.
Of course, now that we’re here in the Tetons for the summer, we’ve kept our tradition alive and have zeroed in a few favorite local establishments. When we were here during the winter 36 years ago, we loved to drive out to Moose Junction and enjoy a brew and some food at the restaurant/bar located there. The large picture window looking out over the Tetons, and the big stone fireplace created a rustic ambiance that was so warm and cozy. Now called Dornan’s, it remains our favorite place to go after work. Sorry for the double posting, as I’ve mentioned this before – but it deserves another spot in this write-up!
The Pizza and Pasta Company at the Dornan’s complex operates out of the Spur Bar. As the name suggests, the menu consists of an array of pasta dishes and pizza creations named for the local mountains. My favorite pizza is the Mount Owen – Sundried Tomato Pesto Sauce with Four Cheeses topped with Fresh Basil. Or, I also opt for the Teton – a simple marinara sauce and cheese to which I customize with my choice of toppings. We prefer to dine (weather-permitting) on the Upper Outside Deck which offers sweeping views of the Teton Range and the Snake River valley.
You can also find an outdoor chuckwagon at Dornan’s serving up breakfast and dinner. Jim used to frequent the breakfast back in the day when he hung out here in the late 1970’s.
On Monday nights during the summer, there is an informal jam session with local and traveling musicians sharing the stage and entertaining the crowd with an eclectic mix of music genres. (pictures in my previous post!)
We were told about this little out-of-the-way café by our store managers. And, we were thrilled to find this place. It is located just east of Moran, away from the crowds, and along the Buffalo River.
This is a funky, little place located and operated by a guest ranch. The morning we were here, there was only one other couple in the small restaurant. I had heard they had wicked good Sausage Gravy and Biscuits – a favorite of mine – and I can verify this personally now! I’m not a big meat eater but I do enjoy this dish once in a while as a treat. Jim indulged in a hearty egg, hash browns, and sausage dish that he proclaimed was excellent. The best thing about this café (besides the food) was the drive to get there. Buffalo Valley is a beautiful area.
Oh, and while we were eating, a young gentleman came out to the counter, who we learned is the cook. We noticed he had on a T-shirt that advertised Avon Grove Ice Hockey along with a Philadelphia Flyers cap adorning his head. I love it when this happens. We started talking to him, and turns out he grew up in Landenberg (near where I lived in Kennett Square) and attended my rival high school – Avon Grove. Small world!
We discovered this local brew for the first time at Dornan’s. I’m really not a beer drinker, but I have to admit that their Pako’s IPA is growing on me! Usually, the only time I enjoy a beer is with pizza on a hot day. Turns out, this climate is conducive to these conditions. Since we had been enjoying their beer in other establishments, we decided to give their own brewery pub a try. Located in Jackson, the brewery sits a few blocks from the center of town. It’s typical décor for a brew pub, with an open, multi-level lay-out complete with wide-screen TV’s showing – what else – extreme sports clips.
The place was jam-packed with people and obviously a popular spot. We opted to just get a couple of beers and an appetizer each. I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the food. I ordered the Smoked Trout Cakes – and they were out-of-this-world delicious. The description is mouth-watering and accurately describes this tasty dish – Apple wood smoked trout cakes, spicy tomatillo & avocado salsa verde with sweet corn relish. Jim decided on the Sausage Sampler – Pale Ale pork, Lager apricot elk & Zonker bison sausage with Farmer Fred’s sauerkraut & whole grain mustard – and his was equally delectable. I have no doubt we will patronize this establishment a few more times this summer.
Well, I’m sure we will try out some other eateries over the summer and I’ll be sure to include an additional post if I find enough other places that warrant attention on my blog! I may even include the “duds” – those places that will not enjoy a second visit from us!!!
Oh my! Time flies so fast! It’s already almost mid-July and there’s so much that we have done since the last time I posted. While riding bikes today along the Pilgrim Creek area of the park, I was thinking about the theme for my next posting. It seemed appropriate to devote at least one post to the event of the summer – the total solar eclipse. While my text will be focused on the eclipse, I’ll embellish the posting with some pictures of our adventures over the past two weeks. 🙂
By pure happenstance, Jim and I are positioned to be in one of the best places in the U.S. for viewing the total solar eclipse this summer on August 21st. A chance encounter with some fellow workampers along Interstate 10 in Arizona over the winter brought us to the Tetons this summer – when they encouraged us to apply for a job opening here, and we took them up on it.
I did not realize at the time that we were going to be in a prime spot to view the eclipse. My sister-in-law, who owns a house in Driggs, ID, clued me in to this while we were back in Vermont for a couple of months in early spring. She said she briefly considered renting out her house in Driggs to astronomy lovers who will be descending en masse to the area in August. Apparently, rental prices will be through the roof!
We were only on the job a couple of days when we were informed to expect to have record-breaking crowds in the park. I have no doubt this will be true. What an exciting place this will be come August! I am totally thrilled that we landed here this particular year. Just dumb luck!
We’ve just started to sell the special “solar glasses” (meant to be worn when witnessing the eclipse) in the Jenny Lake Store, and I did some research so I could be prepared to answer questions about the epic event. So far, I’ve fielded questions like: What is a total eclipse? And why are you selling these glasses here? 🙂
I’m surprised by the number of people who don’t realize the event is even happening. I learned that the Town of Jackson has an entire website devoted to this spectacular occasion – Teton Eclipse. Check it out!
So, just what is a total solar eclipse?? For a brief two minutes on August 21st, the moon will cross in front of the sun at mid-day in our location – causing total darkness for those in the path of totality. And, folks, that means us here in Jackson and the surrounding area!! The path of totality is a 60-mile wide shadow that defines the best viewing of the phenomenon – and it crosses the contiguous U.S. roughly from the coast of South Carolina to the coast of Northern Oregon. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has a great map showing the path of totality across the country. Look to see if you are within it!! And if not, where you can go to view it best! I’m happy to see that my brother’s location in Charleston, SC is also within the path of totality.
Those lucky folks who live in Hopkinsville, Kentucky are the closest population center to the absolute prime spot for the eclipse – where the sun will be blocked for the longest period of time – which will be just 12 miles north of town and will traverse through Giant City State Park in Illinois and right by the Blue Sky Vineyard! Now, that would be a great place to spend the day! I wonder if they are Harvest Host members 😊 Ha! Ha!
NASA also has a link to NOAA’s information about weather conditions during the eclipse so people can be aware of up to date environmental viewing conditions. Check out NASA’s complete eclipse website for all kinds of activities and scientific information about this phenomenal happening.
I’m just glad to find myself in one of the best places to view the eclipse, and even though we are scheduled to work that day, we’ve received official word that our company is allowing us to close down the store just prior to the eclipse so we can go outside and enjoy the spectacle. And with our Jenny Lake location, we are just a mere 8 miles north of the center of the path of totality – which runs through the Gros Ventre Campground, along the Kelly Road and through Moose Junction. The absolute center of the path runs right through the Jackson Hole Airport.
According to Jackson astronomer Ryan Hennessy (quote taken from an article in JHStyle Magazine), this is what to expect. “You’re probably going to see the most spectacular sight in nature. You’re seeing the sky go from day to night.” He says that many of the brightest stars will appear, and in particular Mars and Venus will be visible, temperatures will drop slightly, animals will become confused, and the light will take on an eerie glow.
How lucky am I feeling? VERY LUCKY! I hope everyone is making plans to enjoy the eclipse at your locale!! Keeping my fingers crossed for clear skies that day!! While we wait for August, we will continue to explore this unique area. Below are more examples of the sights and sounds of Jackson Hole and the Grand Tetons…….
On July 3rd, we attended the weekly Monday Night Jackson Hole Hootenanny at Moose Junction – great opportunity for local artists (and those just wandering through the area) to perform!
Today, July 12th, we rode bikes from Colter Bay along Pilgrim Creek Road and then, stopped by Leek’s Marina to enjoy the lake views.
Returning to Colter Bay mid-afternoon, we rested up before embarking on an early evening kayak on Jackson Lake.
The Teton Valley is a remarkable natural environment created by forces of nature spanning millions of years. The Teton Fault accounts for the formation of the Teton range as movement along this fault caused the dramatic uplift of the mountain range. Even today, there are estimated to be many small, unnoticeable earthquakes per year. There is a great website that outlines recent earthquake activity in the greater area surrounding the Tetons. So, the fault is definitely still active and the potential for a major earthquake here does exist! I’ve heard some predict that this will be the year. I hope not while we’re here!
After the mountains were formed, glacial action sculpted the valley and mountains even further. The last glacial impact happened between 50,000 and 14,000 years ago – fairly recent by earth standards. In their wake, the glaciers left behind depressions and rocky moraines that contributed to the formation of the beautiful natural lakes such as Phelps, Taggart, Jenny, Jackson and others. The Snake River flows between some of these moraines which are visible from a number of overlooks throughout the park. One area of the park called The Potholes is indicative of how the glaciers impacted the terrain – leaving large “pothole” depressions in the sagebrush flats. The glaciers carved out U-shaped canyons in the Teton Range as well – such as Cascade and Paintbrush Canyon. There are still a number of small glaciers within the park. Mount Moran has two small glaciers that continue to sculpt the mountain – Skillet and Falling Ice. On the Grand Teton, the Teton Glacier is still flowing down the northern flank of the mountain. There is an interesting article on some scientific research that is being conducted on these glaciers and the impact of climate change on the park.
Over time, the Snake River flowing through this valley continues to form terraces and benches as it meanders down through the sagebrush flats. Between the river, the mountains and the high-desert flats, the area is rich with a diversity of ecosystems fostering an interesting mix of plant and animal life.
LOADS OF BLOOMS
When we first arrived in the Tetons, there was plenty of snow in the mountains (and there still is!). Most of the higher elevation trails were snow-covered but valley trails were open and passable. We started hiking some of these lower trails so we could get our hiking legs back, and I was surprised to see so many flowers and shrubs already starting to bloom.
One of the early flowers to bloom here in the park, and very prevalent, is the Arrowleaf Balsamroot. It forms very showy clumps throughout the park – often entire fields of zflowers are evident. This plant has useful medicinal properties and was traditiionally used by Native Americans for pain relief, as well as a remedy for treating colds, burns, wounds, and insect bites.
The Western Amelanchier is by far one of the prettiest examples of serviceberry that I have ever seen. Here in the park, the shrubs form small, dense clumps with startling white flowers in the spring. There are several eastern varieties of Amelanchier and it has always been one of my favorite native plants. I have to admit that I have never seen it bloom as impressively as I have here in the Tetons.
This Ballhead Waterleaf was a plant I found along the Taggart Lake Trail. The flowers were held underneath the leaves making it hard to even notice them. I’ve never seen this plant before so it was a thrill to find it and identify it! I was fascinated to learn that all parts of the plant are edible – especially tasty are the tender young leaves which apparently have a sweet carrot-like taste.
Rock Clematis grows along many of the trails in the park. I first noticed it on the Paintbrush Canyon trail and then again on the Cascade Canyon trail. It prefers the shade of the forest. Clematis has always been one of my favorite garden vines and to find a variety growing in the wild was pure delight!
I was lucky to even spot this lovely little orchid growing in the shaded forest on the Paintbrush Canyon trail. I searched for more than this one specimen but could not find any other plants. The other common name for this orchid is Fairyslipper – how fitting!
Ever since we’ve heard about the wild huckleberry plant that is native to this region, we’ve been trying to identify it in the wild. We have oodles of merchandise for sale in our store that has the native huckleberry as a major ingredient – including honey, syrup, all manner of candy to non-edibles such as hand cream, soap and huckleberry chapstick. The plant is closely related to blueberries and it’s not hard to see the resemblance in the flowers and plant structure. It’s no surprise that huckleberries are a favorite food of the bears in the park. I can imagine them feasting on the hillsides covered with this delectable berry.
The Silver Lupine is a less showy plant than other cultivated lupines that I’m used to on the east coast, but it has a very subtle beauty that makes it a striking plant whether by itself or combined with other blooming wildflowers such as the Indian Paintbrush. I’ve seen it growing almost everywhere in the park – from the sagebrush flats to more open areas in the Lodgepole Pine forests.
Sticky Geranium is growing with abundance in many areas of the park. I love geraniums and it was obvious to me this was a type of geranium but, since I’m not familiar with native plants in this region, I had consult some plant books to nail down the exact species. I understand that this plant is an important food source for both deer and elk in late spring and early summer.
I’ve encountered Indian Paintbrush species all over the United States, and the Teton Valley boasts a number of different varieties. I’m guessing that the ones I have photographed are Castilleja miniata – but I’m not going to swear by that! No matter what the species, these plants provide colorful splashes of red throughout the moist meadows of the park.
Not to be confused with Arrowleaf Balsamroot, several species of Arnica’s are blooming in the park about the same time but the habit and leaf of the plants are different. I hope I’ve got this right! I’ve been examining these plants for a couple of weeks now! Balsamroot, from my observation is a larger, more clump-forming plant with leaves that resemble an arrow. The Heartleaf Arnica is smaller, with a leaf roughly the shape of a heart and does not grow in large clumps but is more rhizomatous in nature. Arnica plants are well-known for their medicinal properties – used externally for swelling, cuts and bruises. In the park, they are a food source for mule deer and elk.
Pronghorn are one of the most interesting animals! Everyday on our drive to work, we pass by the sagebrush flats where the pronghorn love to roam. Usually they are not near the road, and we view them from a distance. The one above happened to be close enough to the road that I could snag a photo with my telephoto. Pronghorns are related to goats and antelopes and are ungulates (hoofed animals). They can top speeds of 60 miles an hour making them the fastest land animal in North America.
Moose are a common sight in the park, especially in the wetter meadows and lakes. We have seen quite a few at a distance, and a young one quite close at Moose Pond near Jenny Lake. I was amazed to learn that moose will dive quite deep in search of food at the bottom of a lake or stream. One thing to be aware of – moose can be more dangerous than bears. I’ve heard stories about the dangers of getting too close to a cow with young ones or a bull moose with an attitude!
We have seen numerous marmots while hiking on the trails in the park – on the Bradley Lake trail, on the String Lake trail and today, on the Cascade Canyon trail. They are not too shy and love to pose for photos. Let’s face it – they are rodents. They earned the nickname “whistle pigs” due to their loud scream used to sound an alarm. These animals are not high on the food chain and are preyed upon by coyotes, grizzlies, and golden eagles.
The biggest thrill of all came one evening on our way home from work. We happened upon an area near Pilgrim Creek that has been frequented this spring by a sow and her cubs at the precise moment when she was nearing the road, and wanting to cross. We had seen her and her cubs from a distance several times but this was really up close and personal. Park biologists believe that she may be staying close to the road in an effort to protect her cubs from aggressive boars (male bears) in the area.
We recently spent some time on the water canoeing around the small islands in Jackson Lake off the shore from Colter Bay. We watched the Common Mergansers above for quite a while in a protected cove south of Colter Bay. While we were sitting there, we also saw several Great Blue Herons and a Bald Eagle fly over! I’m hoping to improve my knowledge of birds this summer so look for more bird photos as I investigate their habitats. In particular, I’m on the hunt for the elusive Trumpeter Swan and Sandhill Cranes. I have seen some American Pelicans – but not close enough for a photo.
So, lots coming to life here in the Tetons this spring – which just officially became SUMMER!
Our first two days off in a row came with welcome relief last week! While the retail work is not difficult and loads of fun, it is tiring! 😊
The company we work for, Grand Teton Lodge Company, offers its employees the opportunity to engage in some of the activities it provides for guests – for free. I believe this perk serves two purposes – 1. It gives us first-hand knowledge of some of these adventurous activities so we can recommend them to guests in our interactions with them and 2. It gives employees an opportunity to just get out and enjoy the park – in other words, good for moral!
Our agenda for our two days ended up working out to a day on the water (hence, the sea reference in the title) and a day of land travel visiting some of the most popular sites in the park.
Last Wednesday, we took advantage of two activities that are free to us, or very low cost. In the morning, we left on the first river float of the day with our guide “Jake on the Snake”, as he refers to himself. Jake has been leading guided raft trips on the Snake River for over 10 years. In the evening, we hopped aboard the dinner cruise on Jackson Lake. When we signed up for our water-related trips, the weather forecast for Wednesday was sunny and warm with minimal wind. Perfect weather for being on the water.
On Wednesday morning, however, we woke to rain and cool temperatures. Ya gotta love mountain weather! The best laid plans don’t always work out! So, in addition to our bug spray and sunscreen, we threw some raingear into our packs as we headed out the door along with a couple of extra layers of clothing. At our check-in location at Jackson Lodge, we were joined by 7 “paying” guests. Our guide was tracking the weather, and indicated to us that we could opt for a re-schedule due to the weather conditions. Keep in mind, also, that the river was high due to snowmelt from the record snowfall here over the winter.
Without hesitation, everyone in the group chose to tough it out, and stay on board with the float trip. Jake made sure everyone was dressed appropriately for the weather conditions before departure. He was also monitoring the storm cell online, and felt reasonably sure it would move off quickly. He was right. By the time our transport van and raft reached the Pacific Creek Landing site, the weather had cleared and it was looking like we would have ideal conditions for the 2 ½ hour float.
Jake was entertaining and informative. He was well-versed in park history, and educated in a field related to natural resources and the environment. He chatted with us during the entire float maintaining a steady narration about the fauna and flora along the way. We watched colonies of bank swallows darting in and out of their nests. Bank swallows make their nests in vertical banks along rivers and stream. They dig holes into the bank high above the water line and I read where these holes can be 5 feet in length into the bank! It was fun to watch them darting and diving back and forth.
We were also treated to three bald eagle sightings during our morning float. I loved Jake’s description of how best to spot a bald eagle along the river. Look for what appears to be a “golf ball” high up in the pines lining the banks. And it was true.
The white head of the eagle appears in the distance as if there is a giant golf ball resting in the pines – since the body of the eagle is often camouflaged by the pine background. We were treated to a great view of one bald eagle sitting on a branch near the river – preening himself and basking in the morning sun. Unfortunately, I did not bring my Nikon camera or my Canon with the telephoto lens due to the weather forecast. The cell phone camera just could not capture the eagles well ☹
Scenes from the Float:
After the float trip, we hung around Colter Bay for the afternoon waiting for our dinner cruise. The marina at Colter Bay offers scenic tours around Jackson Lake, a breakfast cruise and a dinner cruise. We decided to try the dinner cruise first as the menu looked too good to be true – grilled steak, trout, salad bar, rolls, roasted potatoes, beans, watermelon, peach cobbler dessert, hot tea, lemonade or coffee.
We arrived at the marina fifteen minutes ahead of schedule as requested and were organized and assigned one of two cruise boats. Jackson Lake sits at about 6,700 in elevation and is almost 15 miles long, and seven miles wide in some places. It is a deep, high-altitude lake and one of the largest of its kind in the U.S. It is breath-taking.
As we boarded the boats, the weather once again appeared ominous. By the time our captain pulled away from the dock, the wind had kicked up, and we were heading into the lake with strong winds and whitecaps. We were headed for Elk Island where dinner would be served outdoors. I learned that Elk Island is the largest island in the state of Wyoming, and there are about a dozen back-country campsites on the island accessible only by boat.
Half-way to Elk Island it started to rain. This was going to be interesting. As we taxied into the cove on the island, the wind was so strong it was lifting the dock up and down like a roller coaster. For the second time that day, we were thankfully treated to a fast and furious storm. As soon as we all donned our raingear and sheltered camera equipment, the clouds dispersed and the wind died down. For the second time today, the gods were with us and the skies parted and just in time for dinner! An extra bonus – the mosquitos we had been warned about did not make their appearance!
After a delicious dinner (and we both enjoyed seconds!), we had about an hour before boarding the boat back to Colter Bay. There were several trails around the island, and we hiked to the top of the ridge and wandered around enjoying this beautiful island. The island is named Elk Island because the elk will often swim to the island and have their babies here. Apparently, the bears do not inhabit this island and the elk babies are safe from predators here. After the hike, we were served our peach cobbler dessert and, while gobbling down the food, we chatted with one of the servers. He was a very personable young lad from Duluth, MN. Since we’ve spent some time there visiting relatives, we could appreciate his hometown and had some common ground on which to have a conversation.
The Island Photos
The ride back to Colter Bay was ideal. Jim and I sat outside in the back of the boat so we could enjoy the fresh air and scenery. Perfect end to the day!
Since our first day off was so busy with all those water craft activities, we decided to spend a leisurely second day off exploring the park via truck. I have so many customers at the store asking questions about the park, and some of the more common places to visit. So, we took last Thursday as a day to visit some of these most popular places in the park. With first-hand knowledge of these landmarks, I was confident I could then be more informed and answer questions more easily. You know – with us librarians it’s all about information!
One of our favorite spots is the short drive down into Cattleman’s Crossing. Part of this access is closed due to high water levels, but one can still get down to the Snake River. There is a field of Heartleaf Arnica growing down near the river, and I’ve been scoping out the area waiting for full-bloom! We started our days’ journey here. The arnica is still not quite there yet as far as bloom – but it was great to see the river nonetheless.
From Cattleman’s Crossing, we continued on down Rt. 191 until we came to the pull-off for the historic site of Cunningham’s Cabin. I had been asked by someone at the store how to get to this site, and at the time, I really had no idea! It was only my second or third day in the park – and I was still very unfamiliar with many of the places that visitors wanted to see. Now I know! The site of this remaining historic cabin was once the Bar Flying U Ranch settled and owned by J. Pierce Cunningham in the 1880’s. Cunningham and his wife took advantage of the Homestead Act of 1862 to stake a claim on 160 acres of land sometime between 1880 and 1890. The Cunningham Cabin is one of the few remaining examples of homestead cabins in Jackson Hole. Cunningham used the cabin for his initial shelter on the land – constructing it in the “dogtrot” style common in the west. It is basically two cabins connected with a center breezeway.
As the ranch prospered, he later built a larger ranch house and used the cabin for storage. Cunningham was one of the few ranchers who was able to eek a living out of the harsh environment, and eventually became a prominent citizen of the Jackson Hole area.
By the mid-1920’s however, cattle ranching had reached an all-time economic low and Cunningham was pro-active in petitioning for preservation of the valley ranches through incorporation into a public recreation area. He ultimately sold his ranch to the Snake River Land Company in 1928 – which was the company owned by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Rockefeller created the company as a means to purchase local ranches at fair market value, with the intent of donating the land to the federal government for a national park. In all, Rockefeller eventually donated more than 32,000 acres of purchased ranches to what would eventually be called the Grand Teton National Park.
It was interesting to walk around the property, and try to envision what it must have been like to operate a ranch here in the late 1880’s. These homesteaders were indeed a hearty bunch. You can still see the remnants of the irrigation ditches that were used to divert water from mountain streams and provide irrigation for cultivation of native grasses and hay that Cunningham needed to grow to provide food for his cattle.
Our next stop was Mormon Row. Some of the most photographic scenes of the Tetons are taken from this area of the park located out on Antelope Flats. Mormon families from Salt Lake City began homesteading in Jackson Hole in the 1890’s. There was, at one time, a total of around 27 homesteads in this area. The Moulton family settled in the area now known as Mormon Row. One of the philosophies that helped the Mormon families prosper here was their sense of community. They were unlike traditional homesteaders in the area who clung to a fierce independent, individualistic lifestyle. The Mormons worked communally to survive the harsh environment. Sharing tasks and chores, they were able to establish a thriving community in the area originally known as Grovont. Today, along Mormon Row, many of the barns and houses remain as an example of this early settlement. By the 1950’s, most of the Mormon homesteaders sold their land to the national park for the enjoyment and education of all. The two most famous barns – the T.A. Moulton Barn and the John Moulton Barn – are widely photographed.
Well, after touring the park all day, we were saturated with history and in need of some refreshment. We also needed to do some grocery shopping for the coming week. We left Mormon Row and headed into Jackson. Jim had spent some time in Jackson in the 1970’s and he was curious about some of his old stomping grounds. So, of course, we had to investigate these places and see if they had changed. The first stop was the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar.
It was warm outside and approaching Happy Hour, so we stepped inside for a look at this town relic and enjoyed a draft beer. Jim and I had visited the Cowboy Bar in 1981 and I remember well working up a sweat on the dance floor while listening to one of the many live bands that play here.
We left the Cowboy Bar, and headed around the corner to the Silver Dollar Bar. By this time, we needed something to eat along with a second draft! So, here we indulged in a Spinach-Artichoke Dip with Pita while sipping on our IPA’s. Actually, I enjoyed a glass of ice water with lemon, and Jim drank the IPA. (and I took an occasional sip on the brew) One beer is enough for me!
While sitting at the bar, we engaged in conversation with an elderly gentleman on an adjacent stool. Turns out, his cousin was Laurance Rockefeller’s wife and he recounted stories about the Rockefeller’s and their life here in the Tetons and Jackson area. And, he was a retired landscape architect so we had a lot in common talking about native plants and landscape photography. Quite a pleasant exchange!
It was fun to reminisce about our last time visiting the Tetons so many years ago. As Jim will attest, things have certainly changed. We did finally drag ourselves out of the Silver Dollar Bar, and get our grocery shopping done – with promises to go back and listen to some of the live music that each bar offers throughout the week.
Hard to believe that we’ve been settled in the Tetons at Colter Bay for over two weeks! It’s been a whirlwind of activity getting set up in our camping spot for the summer and training for our jobs at the Jenny Lake Store.
My last post entertained the benefits of stopping off at a local county fairground campground for a night. It was an idyllic evening set among the historic fairgrounds. This was to be our last glimpse of good weather for the rest of our trip across country. We were heading into Iowa and Nebraska – and we always have trouble getting through the bread basket of the country without some imminent weather-related threats coming our way.
The night after our stay at the Fulton County Fairgrounds, we were stuck at a truck stop on the western side of Iowa due to severe weather just ahead of us. Facing possible high winds, severe storms, hail and tornado warnings, we spent the night there along with many other trucks and RVer’s sitting just to the east of the enormous weather system. The next morning, we witnessed some of the effects of the storm – two overturned tractor trailers and an overturned fifth-wheel RV less than 50 miles from where we spent the night. I would say we made the right decision to sit out the storm in the relative safety of the rest area.
Back on the road, we entered Nebraska and started our long journey across this plains state. I started tracking the weather ahead of us about mid-day, and was alarmed to see a serious winter storm descending upon eastern Wyoming and right in our path. This storm was not on my radar earlier, and we had to make some decisions. We were on track to arrive in the Tetons a couple of days ahead of schedule – and we were looking forward to having this extra time to settle in and get acclimated. I enlisted the help of the Storm weather app to determine where we would be able to stop for the night, and I settled on Sidney, NE. Again, we were situated right on the eastern flank of the storm, and at this lower elevation, it meant we would experience rain only.
This was a monster storm, and it was estimated that parts of south-eastern Wyoming could see up to 2 feet of snow. The duration of the slow-moving storm meant we were stuck in Sidney for three nights and two days. Interstate 80 through much of Wyoming was closed for a couple of days until the storm subsided. Oh boy! We were lucky that we chose to stay at the Cabela’s RV Park in Sidney. It was relatively inexpensive for an electric only site, and we took the opportunity to do some chores. With a Walmart just down the road, we stocked up on food. The campground had a nice laundry facility, so that job was accomplished. And, the WIFI was awesome so we streamed some movies!
Finally, by Saturday morning the road was clear to continue to Jackson. We rose just before sunup and started our long day’s journey to the Tetons. Our initial destination was the Gros Ventre Campground in the southern end of the Grand Teton National Park. We had made the decision to reside here for the summer thinking it would be a little less crowded, and closer to Jackson. After an almost 12-hour drive, we arrived early evening and sought the campground manager who we were supposed to check in with to get our site. Now, I’m the first one to admit that first impressions are often not reliable but I took an immediate disliking to this guy. He showed us to the site and it was an instant disappointment.
After a very tiring day’s drive, my heart sank. Jim could see the look on my face, and knew what was coming! Our site was a mess, it was located adjacent to a campground loop restroom and our trailer would be practically sitting on top of the septic tanks. To top it off, he said the water hookup did not work at the site and we would have to run a hose all the way to the restroom and hook up to a dirty, non-potable hose that he had jury-rigged with a faucet on the end. I was trying my best to contain my anger. He unlocked the closet door, dragged the old, filthy hose out, and threw it on the ground. Oh, visions of Whitefish, Montana danced in my head!! (if you’ll recall, we had water issues with that site assignment as well as management problems!!)
When we were initially asked about where we might prefer to reside – Colter Bay Employee Campground or Gros Ventre – we were undecided and my contact (and manager) at the Grand Teton Lodge Company had reserved both places for us. We could decide when we arrived, she said. But, a week before our departure, she indicated she was getting pressure from other managers to give up our spot at Colter Bay since they were running out of spaces for employees with RV’s. So, we reluctantly said we would stay at Gros Ventre – sight unseen. She mentioned that we would have a choice of two or three open spots there. With that ammunition, I asked this campground manager to show us the other two sites that were available to us. His amused expression at my request was enough for me to solidify my displeasure with him. He stated that this was the only site available to us – the others were reserved for his own campground employees. Case closed.
He left, and we deliberated. We were a day early, and had the entire next day before starting work to figure out a solution. We weighed our options. If we stayed here, we would need to purchase a longer potable water hose and figure out a way to connect to the restroom closet water without the old hose. We would endure restroom lights glaring in our windows at night, campground traffic in and out of the restrooms all night, and potential smell from the bathrooms permeating our air space. I was hard-pressed to come up with any positives – except closer to Jackson for grocery supplies.
While we were discussing our situation, I walked over to where (the campground manager) had dumped the hose with attached faucet and noticed that he had dropped it right in the middle of a pile of moose droppings! That did it! I took pictures of our water hookup laying amid the feces with my phone camera and composed an email with attached photo to our manager with my concerns. I was reasonably sure this would get her attention as I was prepared to report (the campground manager), and the situation as a health hazard. It did. She responded almost immediately that she would pull some strings and get us a spot at Colter Bay. (We later learned that one of the couples they had hired for our job last year, quit immediately after being given the same exact spot!) So, I guess she did not want that to happen again!
It was kind of unfortunate because Gros Ventre Campground had some redeeming qualities. But, it was obvious to me that the management there was not up to our standards, and the campground appearance reflected this. I’m always amazed that companies continue to hire on sub-standard people. But, that’s part of the seasonal aspect of this type of work. They are always short-staffed and often take whoever they can secure. I now understand some of the negative reviews I’ve seen online regarding Gros Ventre CG. Something a change in management might solve? Perhaps – but I will reserve final judgement for another time.
Anyway, we moved to Colter Bay and our spot is just fine! The sites are a bit close, but our site has pines all around us – so we have a good screen from our neighbor to the south, and at present, the site to our north is unoccupied. The water, electric and sewer hookups all work, we have decent WiFi and, as it turns out, our fellow employees are good neighbors. The campground is quiet, and everyone is respectful of each other’s space. And, the best part is that we have access to the waterfront on Jackson Lake!
Our first day of work for the Grand Teton Lodge Company consisted of a half-day of orientation, followed by issuance of our uniforms and completion of all payroll paperwork. Orientations can be somewhat painful, but we found it informative and tolerable. We learned that, as employees, we could take advantage of a plethora of discounts on many activities and merchandise – an added perk!
Lunchtree Hill – honoring John D. Rockerfeller and his contribution to the establishment of Grand Teton National Park
We’ve spent the last two weeks immersed in our jobs at the Jenny Lake Store learning the ropes. We work with a total of five couples sharing responsibilities for 4 different shifts – including opening and closing shifts with accompanying procedures. The guys handle the grocery/food side of the store while the women are responsible for the retail gift area. I was fortunate to draw responsibility for managing all the camp and sporting goods equipment. I have lee-way to organize and rearrange merchandise as I see fit. Recently, I just inventoried and reorganized our binocular display case and thoroughly enjoyed that!
We are both responsible for manning the cash register throughout the day, and thankfully for Jim, it is an easy POS software system. He has grasped the computer responsibilities admirably. I attribute his Amazon experience to helping him attain more confidence with computers! It is shaping up to be a pretty good summer. We like our co-workers and I think we have a good team – John and Sharon from Massachusetts, Rick and Gloria from California, Tammy and Mike from Ohio, and Bill and Sandy from Texas.
While training, we had an irregular schedule and our day’s off were not consecutive for the last two weeks. But, we still managed to get in some sight-seeing and hiking. For our first hike of the season, we opted for a lower elevation hike to a couple of glacial lakes in the southern end of the park. There is still a bit of snow pack in the higher elevations. Our 5-mile roundtrip hike to Taggart and Bradley Lakes was just perfect to get us acclimated!
After a rewarding hike, we headed to Moose Junction to find something to eat. We landed at the famed Dornan’s Pizza and Pasta place – complete with astounding views of the Tetons. We feasted on fantastic pizza and local brew from their rooftop patio.
After Dornan’s, we headed home via the outer loop road (Rt. 191) because I wanted to stop in at the famous Schwabacher’s Landing area. I had read that this is a popular spot for photographer’s and I wanted to scope out the area for future photo ops. We arrived in early evening and walked the trail along the river. What a peaceful, serene place! You could bet the farm on the fact that I will be back here many times this summer!
Reluctantly, we left Schwabacher’s Landing for home, and stopped at the Oxbow Bend overlook for a quick picture.
On a subsequent day off, and wanting to beat the crowds later in the season, we took advantage of our employee discount (free) to ride the tram at Jackson Hole to the top of Rendezvous Mountain. It was a perfect day with temperatures in the 60’s at the top of the 10,000 plus summit!
We walked around the summit and along the ridge for a bit, and then treated ourselves to the renowned Corbet Cabin waffles! Yum! Yum! As I walked out of the cabin after eating, I caught a paraglider just taking off from the ridge – he actually jumped off backwards and away he went! I watched him glide all the way down. Must be a real thrill!
We have just completed our second week of work, and are looking forward to two days off. We have plans to take a Snake River raft trip and enjoy an evening dinner cruise on Jackson Lake. More to come on these adventures!
It’s weird to be back on the road again after a two-month hiatus at home in Vermont. Our third day on the road (May 15th), and I think we are getting back in the groove.
Although I have innate organizational skills that came in handy during my years as a librarian, I often employ a *fly by the seat of my pants* strategy while on the road. On many travel days, we will start our journey with no idea where we will spend the night. This was the case when we left Buttonwood Campground along the Juniata River in Mexico, PA. We had stopped off there for two nights to visit with my sister and her husband, who are work-camping at this spot for the summer.
After a slow morning start (we needed to fill up with fresh water, dump and backwash tanks, etc), we headed west on Route 322 towards Interstate 80 via the site of my old alma mater, State College. It was a sunny morning, and a scenic route – one that I could have navigated blind-folded back in the late 70’s. We continued on Route 322 past State College and through the Phillipsburg area – enjoying the morning and the more laid back travel experience off the interstate.
Eventually, we joined I80 and headed west. All was good until we stopped for fuel about 75 miles after picking up the interstate. One of the daily challenges on the road is fueling up – I think most Rver’s would agree with me on this. We’ve developed a pretty reliable strategy when we find a fuel station, and take the exit towards the travel stop. The approach is critical to avoid getting into a pickle at the pumps. There are several key observations that need to take place as you near a fuel station or travel center. Where are the diesel pumps located? What is the traffic pattern? Do I have enough room to enter/exit the station? Am I going to block any entrances or exits when sitting at the pumps? Are there separate pump stations for trucks and are they RV friendly? These decisions have to be made quickly and accurately.
We pulled up to a gas station on this fine, sunny morning, surveyed the scene and made our assessments with minimal conversation. We decided to pull in behind someone who was fueling up on the end island (where the diesel pump was located). Jim made sure that folks could get around us to enter or exit the area. We turned off the truck and proceeded to patiently wait our turn. Our tranquility this fine morning was about to be shattered.
We have never experienced anyone exhibiting *road rage* before – especially when that road rage was directed at us. Jim had just turned off the truck when a guy driving a small Toyota truck pulled up to us, rolled down his window, and started shouting.
“Who do you think you are?” he exclaimed. “You can’t pull up there! You need to move! Are you going to park there all day!” This guy was really irate, and out-of-control. He was clearly having a bad day. And, we clearly could not understand what his problem was with us.
Now, my husband could have reacted any number of ways to this outburst. On some occasions, he might have ignored the antagonist. But, on this particular morning at this particular moment in time, Jim was already somewhat irritated because, as we were pulling off the interstate to make this fuel stop, he noticed that he had no trailer brakes or trailer lights. He was just about to get out of the truck to investigate that problem when this guy starting yelling at him. Let’s just say that Jim did not choose the option that might have deescalated the situation.
As things were heating up, a older, gray-haired, pony-tailed man at an adjacent pump offered up some sound advice. He interrupted the dialogue between Jim and the instigator by aruguing that it was just too beautiful a day to be angry. His calm demeanor attracted Jim’s attention. Jim agreed with him, turned away from the other guy, and thanked this person for his rational assessment. The angry guy would not be placated, and continued his rant a bit more, then backed his truck up, and spun his wheels out of the parking lot. Our friend with the pony-tail turned to Jim at that moment and exclaimed “Boy, that guy needs a good a**-kicking!” We all laughed at that remark, the guy ahead of us finished filling up, and we proceeded to do the same.
Oh, and as it turned out, the trailer brakes were just fine. Jim checked his trailer plug-in, found that it had just come loose and we got back on the road. An eventful fuel stop to say the least! The rest of the day passed with minimal drama, thank goodness!
Later in the day, as it became clear how much further we would be able to travel, I started researching camping spots for the night. Of course, free is always nice. It is hard to find free campsites in the east though, unless you want to stop over in a rest area, or a Walmart parking lot. I started scanning my go-to apps and, at first, was coming up empty. There were few options near us in Ohio that were either free or cheap.
One of my favorite apps is the Ultimate Campgrounds Public CG app – an application that maps out public campgrounds of all kinds throughout the U.S. We have talked to many other RVer’s who have taken advantage of county fairgrounds as an option for an overnight stay. Ultimate Campgrounds includes those fairgrounds that allow overnight camping. Along Interstate 80 in Ohio, there are several county fairgrounds listed as potential choices. We decided to give this a try. I have been wanting to experiment with this possibility, and here was our opportunity!
I love agricultural fairs. I remember as a young child attending the Unionville Farm Show – when I was a student at Unionville Elementary School in Unionville, PA. Many years later, when my own kids were enrolled there, the name had been changed to the Unionville Community Fair. The name change reflected the demographic shift in the area from a farming community to a corporate bedroom community. But, it was still a good, wholesome fair complete with agricultural exhibits, amusement rides and good old-fashioned cotton candy!
When we moved to Vermont, we were fortunate to live one town north of the famous Tunbridge World’s Fair. We were active participants in these local fairs – both myself and my sons entered arts, crafts, baked goods and vegetables in hopes of being awarded a coveted blue ribbon!
So, the prospect of using fairgrounds during our travels intrigued me. I’m all in favor of supporting these treasured community events. I found a fairground listed on Ultimate Campgrounds that was located just off the interstate, and near where we wanted to stop for the night. We took the exit and pulled into the Fulton County Fairground.
We did not immediately see any indication of how the camping registration worked. The grounds were fairly deserted, and no one was about to inquire as to procedures. So, we parked near the entrance and started walking. We soon discovered a sign that read “Camping – $20.00 per night” and a bulletin board with a map and a note to deposit $$ in the slot at Building 19. Bingo!
We followed the map directions, driving the narrow road weaving through the fair buildings and back to the campground. There were only two other RV’s in the entire campground – and one was the host! Coincidentally, the host turned out to be Glenn from The RV Driving School. He had been a participant at the RV Dreams rally we attended in TN two years ago. I remembered him immediately. He conducts workshops for people wanting to learn how to drive their RV safely and confidently – and especially caters to women drivers.
Glenn gave us the low-down on camping at the fairgrounds. We could choose any site, including full hook-ups, and he showed us the bathhouse where we could secure a hot shower! All for $20.00 a night. We found a nice, level grassy spot and had the place literally to ourselves (with the exception of Glenn). I must admit that I am now enamored with the idea of seeking out fairgrounds as an option for convenient, overnight stays along the road.
Our spot was level enough that we did not have to unhitch. We settled in to cook dinner, and after eating, decided to stroll around the empty fairgrounds. This is obviously a BIG fair with lots of agricultural buildings and outdoor arenas. It was so much fun to wander around the deserted grounds!
Looking forward to our next opportunity to enjoy the laid-back ambiance of camping at a local county fairground!
A fellow traveler, Mike, who we met this past winter in Texas, added me to his email list so I could receive his periodic stories of his travels. In one of his most recent email updates, he started his story as follows: “One of my favorite story tellers is Jean Sheppard of Christmas Story fame. Sometimes he’d fool us by starting a story on his WOR radio show about something interesting and slip, undetected, into something else. In the last minute of the show, he’d return to the story we’d lost track of.” I’m borrowing this concept for my post today! Stay awake!
Hard to believe our short time back home in Vermont is almost up. We’ve spent the last two months here trying to get some much-needed work done towards finishing the detached garage/workshop, and doing some minor repairs to the Airstream. We’ve been hit with two major snowstorms and more than enough rain.
Ya gotta love Spring in Vermont! The weather has stymied our progress and caused us to revise our to-do list multiple times! We’ve had to settle with getting less accomplished but we’re okay with that. The work will be here waiting for us when we get back.
In just a couple of days, we will need to be on the road heading to our summer work-camping position in Grand Tetons National Park. The last time I visited the Tetons was 36 years ago, just a few months after I met my *soon-to-be* soulmate. And it was winter at that time.
I met my future husband in the Fall of 1980. I had just been laid off from a seasonal position as a park ranger for the State of Pennsylvania. At the end of the summer, I moved back home to Kennett Square to save some money and look for more permanent work. Although I loved my work as a ranger, times were tough for funding in state and national parks in the early 80’s, and my chance for a full-time position was questionable. All full-time park jobs were frozen at the time I was entering the job market. Fresh out of college, I really needed more secure, full-time employment. So, I moved back home with Mom and developed a strategy.
My plan was simple. With the help of my beloved godparent Uncle Roland, a short-order cook at the Birmingham Grille in West Chester, PA, I secured a temporary position as a waitress at this famed truck stop along the Route 202 corridor.
I was to work the 3-11pm shift, allowing me time during the morning to job search. Conjure up your most hilarious image of a truck-stop diner “a la Alice and friends” (the 1970’s era TV show) – but even more dramatic – and you might get an idea what my life was like for almost a year. It was an experience of a lifetime and I’ve never regretted the time I spent there working with my uncle. After all, two weeks after I started working, my life would change forever.
It was near the end of my shift that September night in 1980, and I was in the *back kitchen area* filling up the catsup bottles, sugar containers, etc – helping to get the 11-7 shift set up with supplies. I heard the outside door open, and headed out to the counter to see who had come in. Sitting at my counter was a blond-haired, good-looking fella with real, old-fashioned suspenders, and, what we have affectionately dubbed “popeye” arms, extending from his worn T-shirt. He had an innocent Amish look about him. We made eye contact – and that was it for me. I had heard the expression “love at first sight” and never really believed it possible – until that moment. It was the same for him.
He came back every night for a slice of pie and cup of coffee, and after a couple of weeks, finally got up the nerve to ask me out. On our first date, Jim took me to a very nice, new and intimate restaurant called Pace One, located in a converted barn in the country-side south of West Chester. He picked me up in his old 1960 stake-bed Dodge truck and I knew I had a real unique guy here! I was smitten. And, by the way, it was one of the best meals I’ve ever had – even to this day.
That was in the Fall of 1980. A few short months later, just after the new year, we were both ready for a vacation and decided to go on our first (of many) road trips together. We shared a love of cross-country skiing, and since Jim had spent some time during his footloose, vagabond days in Jackson, WY – we decided to head in that direction. I had spent a couple of years in Boulder, CO during my college years so we planned a trip that would take us to the Tetons via Colorado.
When we got the chance to work in the Tetons this summer (through some folks we met while working at Amazon Camperforce last Fall), visions of that trip many years ago came back to me. Jim loved the time he had spent in Jackson back in the 70’s and I was dying to see the Tetons in the summer. It did not take us long to alter our plans and decide to accept this opportunity.
So, after two months here in Vermont catching up on house chores and visiting with family and friends, we are off on another adventure! Can’t wait to get back on the road!
Family Pictures during April weekend in Vermont 2017
Spring Flowers in my Vermont Garden
A lone pine stands watch
On the summit of the trail
Guarding time, and place.
My final post reflecting our time in Big Bend has arrived! I want to share a quote from the author of a book I have on Big Bend: He describes his first trip up the Chisos Basin road: “I drove the car onto the Chisos Basin Road, winding up into what looked like the ancient kingdom of a long-lost civilization, with a naturally carved castle at the top – Casa Grande.” (from Enjoying Big Bend National Park by Gary Clark) I could not have improved on that first impression he shares. It is indeed a magical place.
We did not spend as much time in the Chisos Mountains area of the park this time around, so I included here a couple of our hikes from January 2017, as well as some hikes and photos from our March 2014 vacation here.
LOST MINE TRAIL
The picture above was taken three years ago, along the Lost Mine Trail in the Chisos Mountains. That day, it was foggy at the summit creating a surreal atmosphere that was mystical and enchanting. I’m sure this contributed to my fondness for the trail. Hiking the trail this winter for a second time, the skies were clear, and while the aura was different, I was still enthralled with the hike and the vistas offered up along the way.
The trail is accessed via a small parking lot on the road to the Chisos Basin at about the 5.0-mile marker. I would advise getting to the trailhead early since this is a popular hike, and parking is limited. The 4.8-mile roundtrip hike is classified as moderate and a great half-day trek. It is your normal mountain hike – ascending fairly steadily to the summit with a few switchbacks along the steepest section of the trail.
The flora is typical of the Chisos Mountains – a mixture of oak, pine and juniper forest with common desert and understory plants interspersed. The views along the way toward both the Juniper and Pine Canyons, and the distant Sierra del Carmen Mountains in Mexico, define this trail. When we reached the summit, I realized that the meandering path I could see down in the valley towards the south was the Juniper Canyon Trail – which we had hiked several days before. This discovery made my day. I love it when I have the opportunity to view a landscape as magnificent as this from multiple vantage points! The simplest things make me happy 😊
The Window Trail is the quintessential hike in the basin area. The trail can be accessed from the campground or the lodge area where the Chisos Basin trailhead is located. The trail from the campground is a tad shorter – a 4.5-mile roundtrip with less elevation gain on the way back. Hiking from the basin trailhead adds a mile and additional elevation gain if you want to extend the walk and get your heart a-pumping!
The trail descends steadily to the Windows pour-off – an impressive slick-rock drop-off with awe-inspiring views to the Chihuahuan Desert floor below. The walk traverses through a variety of plant habitats – from desert scrub to oak/pine forest along a seasonal creek bed. On the day we hiked, there was a wind advisory. At one point on the trail, the wind was sweeping up the canyon so hard, we had to find shelter from the dust. And even in January, I managed to find some plants blooming!
We met several different hiking parties along the trail – passing each other at various times, and chatting. It’s always fun to meet our fellow hikers! Such a congenial group! On our return trip up the trail from the Window, one hiking group we had previously talked with relayed to us that they had just spotted a mama bear with cubs heading up the hillside. We hurried along to see if they were still in view, but unfortunately the bear family had dropped out of sight behind some cliffs. Darn! We must have just missed them on our hike down to the Window.
When we hiked this trail three years ago, we took a side trail – the Oak Springs trail – that led up onto a cliff overlooking the desert. I highly recommend diverting onto this trail if you have the time. The views are amazing from the top of this ridge.
As I was reviewing my photos from our March 2014 trip here, I just could not resist adding more of those shots!
We hiked to the summit of Emory Peak (7832 ft.) in March 2014. This is a strenuous, 9-mile roundtrip climb via the Pinnacles Trail from the Chisos Basin Trailhead with leg-aching, steep elevation gain of 2,425 feet. It is also one of the prettiest mountain hikes, especially when the Texas Madrone is in bloom during March and April. I am a sucker for exfoliating bark! Go figure, but I am attracted to trees with interesting and varied bark patterns!
I had broken my wrist playing pond hockey just prior to our 2-week vacation here in 2014, so I could not partake of the very short 100-foot rock scramble to reach the *true* summit of Emory Peak. But, that’s okay – another time perhaps. We did not spend as much time in the Chisos Mountains on this trip, so I have a reason to go back!
The hike takes you through a varied plant ecosystem providing a comprehensive introduction to the oak, juniper, pine and maple forests of the Chisos Mountains. With majestic views of the surrounding desert below at various bends in the trail, there is ample opportunity to rest, reflect and relish this unique habitat.
OTHER TRAILS IN CHISOS BASIN
There are certainly lots of other options for hiking in the Chisos. We did not, for example, hike to the South Rim or into Boot Canyon. Sections of the trail to the South Rim were closed when we were there in 2014 due to peregrine falcon nesting. It’s also a very long day hike! Our plan eventually is to organize a backpacking trip and hike to the South Rim when we are prepared to spend the night, so we can enjoy the immense solitude of this spot.
We did hike parts of the Laguna Meadow trail in 2014 – just an out and back hike. I think it’s safe to say we will return to Big Bend – I still have areas of the park where I need to leave my footprints!
And just some random flowering desert plants and wildflowers from our 2014 March visit to Big Bend
I wanted to share some links that I used for plant identification. I found these to be particularly helpful for Texas and Southwest plant taxonomy.
Being on the road, and remaining flexible, means that plans can change, and change fast. We found ourselves with an opportunity to work in the Tetons this coming summer, so it meant that we needed to high-tail it back to Vermont earlier than anticipated to attend to some things at home. We have to be in Wyoming by the third week in May, so we find ourselves out of the desert and in the middle of the biggest snowstorm of the season! Ya gotta love Vermont! I will take the opportunity to get caught up on our Southwest adventures while stationary here for a couple of months!
I need to get back to our Big Bend National Park stay and, before moving to our hikes in the Chisos Mountains here, I wanted to briefly share some other interesting hikes and places to visit in the desert.
Fossil Discovery Exhibit
The ribbon cutting for the grand opening of this new exhibit was on January 14, 2017. So, we were fortunate to be in Big Bend just after this opened. The price tag on this exhibit was a whopping $1.4 million and it was made possible through a successful fundraising initiative spearheaded by the Big Bend Conservancy.
The weather did not cooperate the day we visited the exhibit, unfortunately. It was cold and extremely windy. To be honest, it was all we could do to endure the visit as long as we did. It was pure misery! Since the exhibit is not totally enclosed, our stay was short. We started to hike the interpretive trail at the site but the wind deterred us! I will go back on our next visit to the park, though. I really wanted to spend more quality time looking over the exhibits.
I wandered through most of the exhibit displays quickly, and did absorb a deeper understanding of the significance of Big Bend as a fossil discovery location. I was truly enthralled by the story these fossils tell concerning the evolution of this area from a shallow sea to a wide-spread desert. Quite amazing to me!
We actually stumbled upon some fossil evidence on one of our hikes by the river. It’s so exciting when this happens!
Be sure to sharpen your observational skills while hiking in Big Bend. You just never know what you might come across 🙂
Grapevine Hills Hiking Trail
While camped at Government Springs on the Grapevine Hills Road, we took advantage of our proximity to the Grapevine Hills trail. This trail is further down the dirt road past several other dispersed camping sites. It’s a short hike to the much-photographed Balanced Rock. While the Balanced Rock was certainly worth viewing, I found the geology and rock formations along the whole trail to be more of a draw for me. The area called Grapevine Hills is an example of a laccolith – an igneous rock formation exposed by erosion over the years. In this case, the igneous rock is syenite, a rock similar in composition to granite minus the quartz. As the rock heated up and cooled long ago, it caused the rock to break apart into these rough boulder-type chunks that are visible today due to weathering and erosion.
A process called spheroidal weathering is the technical term for the types of patterns visible on the rock formations in this area. That’s a VERY basic geologic explanation for the complicated process that formed this area!
Next up folks – those amazing Chisos Mountains!!