I recenly got this travel diary from my friend, Richard Joseph, who made a visit to northwest Wyoming and Yellowstone National Park. Another spot, Jackson Hole, is a frequent stop for celebrities because of it’s beauty and exclusivity…even the name is alluring.
This is a place I have wanted to visit for a long time. and I got to experience it vicariously through my friend…I thought some of you land lovers might also enjoy this story and photos. – Heidi.
Story and Photos By Richard Joseph
For such a remote outpost, northwest Wyoming is a very popular destination. A trip my 19 year old son and I decided to turn into a father-son camping adventure.
We split the drive there into two days. The involuntary stop along US 287 for roadwork made a long trip even longer, but in addition to the road crews holding stop signs there was a Wyoming Department of Transportation “comedian” to entertain the unhappily detained motorists. I never found out if that was his job description or he was just bored. When the sign finally said ‘go’ it was up over a final hill with a breathtaking view in front of us.
The ruggedly picturesque Grand Tetons rise up into the sky from seemingly nowhere. Their jagged peaks reflecting on the water below suddenly makes the tedious trip seem worthwhile. If you don’t want to drive, there are airports in Jackson and Cody Wyoming that deliver you practically to the doorstep of the National Parks.
There are no reserved campsites at Grand Teton National Park so after paying the entrance fee at the gate it’s first come first serve to find a spot to pitch a tent. We chose Colter Bay not for its scenery or access to wildlife, but for what I would consider a more important reason, hot showers.
A deer , coyote and chipmunk individually greeted us upon arrival, but everywhere we looked there were warnings of a menace lurking nearby, bears. Each campsite comes with a “bear safe”, a metal box to store food and anything else that might draw the animals to your tent.
We drove into the town of Jackson for our first night’s dinner. You may know it as Jackson Hole, but they are the same place. The” hole” I understand is what it seemed like for the trappers coming out of the mountains into the valley. This is a very nice hole. Its theme seems to be the old west meets 21st century America. A stage coach makes its way through the streets where elegant shops await well-to-do tourists. We dined on a second floor balcony overlooking the park whose entrance features gateways built from dozens of antlers no longer atop the animals which once proudly wore them.
The next day it was off to one of the prime features of Grand Teton, Jenny Lake. It’s a seven mile fairly flat trek around it. You don’t have to do the whole route, there’s a boat that takes tourists from one side to the other. The options there range from waterfalls, to hiking straight up to Inspiration Point and into the canyons.
Tired from a day of hiking our dinner options were to cook something over the campfire or go to one of the park’s restaurants. We chose the latter. The Jackson Lake Lodge is a beautiful place with floor to ceiling windows and a giant grizzly bear (fortunately stuffed) in the lobby. The lodge’s Pioneer grill is an experience in itself. You sit at a counter that seats 85 people. It’s hard not to get to know the people seated around you. The food was good and priced the way I like it.
After a breakfast of cinnamon rolls and coffee from the store near our campsite we moved on up the road. No sooner did we leave Grand Teton than the Yellowstone sign appeared ahead. We heard it might be crowded, but didn’t expect to have to wait in line to take our pictures in front of the sign. English seemed to be a less heard language.
We thought we had arrived in the heart of Yellowstone, but it turned out we really hadn’t. Our campsite was still another 20 miles away. That was a just one indication of what a huge park it really is. Up ahead several cars were pulled over to the side. We quickly learned that’s a good indication of wildlife posing for pictures. Sure enough there was a moose. Also along the side of the road were several people hitch hiking, which seemed like a strange way to tour the park.
The Grant Village Campground also had what we wanted (showers, restaurants, stores, gas and more). Ok, while we really couldn’t say we were “roughing it”, we were sleeping in a tent. Of course the first thing we did after establishing our base camp was head to “Old Faithful”. To our surprise we learned it is not the largest of the geysers in terms of thermal eruptions, but it’s certainly the most popular. Benches surround one side of the attraction which fill up with hundreds of people anxious to see the show that they already knew of so well.
That show plays around every 90 minutes or so. In between performances by Mother Nature board walks can guide you past steaming hot pools and other geysers (that are apparently less than faithful). A ranger provided the explanation for the key attraction: Old Faithful isn’t connected to the rest of the thermal activity and therefore its own plumbing system traps the water and steam heated by the magma from the volcano caldera that is located on releasing it on a fairly regular timetable. After watching the show we had to decide what to eat. Rather than choosing pork and beans in a can over a fire our dinner was a great buffet at the historic Old Faithful Inn built in 1904. It’s a called the largest log structure in the world with balconies for viewing the geyser.
There is a lot to see in Yellowstone and as a result there’s a lot of driving to do. The roads are in large loops so you pick a circular route to explore for a day. We headed east to a section called Hayden Park in search of more wildlife. Sure enough on the road ahead a traffic jam was our indication we were in the right spot. We parked the car as a herd of Bison was leisurely crossing the road. We barely got our cameras out in time as one of the giant animals we call “buffalo” was passing right by our car. While we were transfixed by the beasts, they completely ignored us. Can’t blame them.
Next stop was a surprise. We had heard of the “Grand Canyon of Yellowstone”, but having been to the one that follows the Colorado River through Arizona we expected to see a much more minimal version. This was plenty big and highlighted by gushing waterfalls through a majestic landscape.
The Firehole River guided us back to Old Faithful. The river’s name fittingly comes from the geothermal activity that sit along its banks and heats the water. Those trappers who apparently named everything called it Firehole after seeing the steam that looks a lot like smoke. You can stop for a swim where a sign warns against cliff diving.
The narrow, but not treacherous route led us back to Old Faithful. If you pictured it as a lone geyser in the middle of nowhere think again. While it may have been at one time, it’s now part of complex of hotels, a visitor center, shops and even a gas station (with a probably well used repair garage).
Once again we gave up “roughing it” for dinner and instead went to a very nice restaurant at the Grant Village Campground. It was filled with foreign tourists, but found that the menu only comes in English. To close out our visit we had one final campfire and why not? We had purchased wood at $8.00 a box and certainly didn’t want to haul it 10 hours back home. Oh yes, we bought marshmellows, Hershey bars and special sticks earlier at the supermarket in Jackson. Even making “Smores” turned out to be a little more convenient than we would have liked. That’s ok, we’ve been telling the folks back home about our strenuous life of hardship in the back country of two of America’s finest National Parks.