Sunday, July 26, 2009

From Grand Teton to Grand Canyon - 2 weeks in the National Parks

Blogging is work. Blogging everyday is impossible work, especially while traveling.

So, my plan to start this series of messages on the first day of our journey was aborted at the beginning. A number of obstructions interfered with that plan. I won't detail them. Anyone who has tried to blog from the road knows what they are.

To pick up at the beginning, we drove from Salt Lake City, our landing point, to Grand Teton National Park. Our destination was Colter Bay Village. We had reserved a cabin suitable for three (our granddaughter was traveling with us.)

Our arrival brought us to the check-in cabin, where the staff were very friendly and helpful.

(Aside: We found this to be generally true at all five National Parks we visited. If I could be assured that Government Health care would be this well served up, I might reconsider my opposition to it.)

We were told that wifi was available in the check-in cabin, but not in the individual lodging cabins. That was fine. It was a short walk through the pine trees between our cabin and the check in cabin. We were not told that there was a guests' lounge cabin. We didn't learn that until checking out.

Our cabin was very comfortable. A single large room included a pair of double beds, one at each end, with a twin bed in a small niche of the room. Generous windows opened to the freshness of evening and morning breezes off of Jackson Lake and Colter Bay.

Susanne and Melissa at the entrance to our cabin

We were booked for two nights here. Our first mission after check-in was to have dinner at the restaurant. Since we were a few minutes early for the restaurant to open for dinner, they let us sit with a glass of wine until service time. Susanne had a special chicken soup with dumplings along with a Greek Salad. Melissa had fettuccine. I ordered breaded, center cut pork chops that were overcooked and impossible to finish.

Three of us at dinner in the Colter Bay Village dining room.

(Aside: the serving staff was very pleasant.)

After dinner, we stopped at the activities booth to sign up for a special guided morning tour of Grand Teton National Park, with a return scheduled for around noon.

(Aside: We usually take advantage of tours at a destination. It gives us a preview of the land, so to speak.)

The tour was excellent covering all the high spots of Grand Teton National Park. It started at Jackson Lake Lodge, where we arrived early enough for coffee and a bagel.

One breakfast pastry we did not have at Jackson Lake Lodge;
a Rice Krispies replica of the view

The tour guide, Warren, was a man of incredible experiences from high school teacher to tour guide at Glacier National Park and Peace Corp volunteer for 3 yrs in Azerbaijan. He drove us to his favorite spot for looking at the mountains, Oxbow Cove.

A breath-taking view of the mountains reflected in the Snake River,
with a slow-floating duck in the water.

From this point, we could see the steeply rising snow and glacier covered peaks of he Grand Teton range reflected in the still waters of the Snake River.

Warren warned us to drive the speed limit exactly - park rangers are very strict – and be wary of wildlife crossing he road. The warning was timely.

On our drive to Jackson Lake Lodge from Colter Bay Village, we already had experienced an elk buck and his harem of five does leaping across the road 30 feet before our car. We stopped in time for them to clear. It was a stunning thing to see. Too quick to photograph, however.

Since one of our objectives in the National Parks was to see wildlife in its natural setting, Warren drove us to a field filled with a herd of bison. They were in the distance; too far away to record on camera. But there were scores of them. The setting also was a scene that had been the subject of a famous photograph. We shamelessly replicated it with our camera.

The picturesque view; a scene previously recorded in a historic photo

The tour included the site of Menor's Ferry, a now defunct ferry across the Snake River that was ingeniously designed with a double hull. Turning the hulls, while held on a cable across the river, made the current propel the ferry across when going in either direction. A historic reconstruction of the ferry craft is under way. The location, near the Moose, WY park entry, also was the site of a restored general store

The restored General Store...

and a special Chapel of the Transfiguration with a window behind the altar framing a Grand Teton peak.

...and the altar view from the chapel

(Aside: Visitors must pay to enter the National Parks. There are several admission plans. We found the bargain of the century in a Senior's Annual Pass. For $10, if your are a senior, you can use this pass to visit every US National Park. It's good for an entire car-full. Ten bucks!!There are other good deals too. But ten bucks? Wow! You can buy it at the park entrance.)

At the end of the tour, upon delivery back to Jackson Lake Lodge, we decided on lunch at the Pioneer Grill. This facility has no tables, just and old style lunch counter. I had chili (good, not too spicy). Sue had a grilled cheese. Melissa, our granddaughter, opted for a Philly cheese steak.

(Aside: one of the fun aspects of the Pioneer Grill is that the counter dining brings you contact and conversation with others sitting next to you. Those inclined for more sophisticated dining may choose a table in the Mural Dining Room, with a view to match that of the lounge.)

One of the more pleasant places to spend some time is in the lounge of the Jackson Lake Lodge, with floor to ceiling windows over looking the Grand Teton range and an area where elk, moose and bison are know to make appearances, as are the bears that prey on them. You can tell when there is a sighting. Those sitting by the window in the lounge jump up in unison and run out the door onto the terrace.

Melissa and Susanne in the Jackson Lake Lodge lounge

(Aside: Jackson Lake Lodge is one of several places to stay in Grand Teton National Park. It is very impressive, with a rustic luxury that reflects it somewhat more dear rates. Since you can use the public areas with staying in the lodge. we opted for the more reasonable rates at Colter Bay Village.)

We stayed around Jackson Lake Lodge, waiting for the Jackson Lake cruise we also had signed up for. We had it in our heads that it was to leave at 2:30. When there was no apparent organizing activity, we asked at the desk and were told it was not scheduled to leave until 3:30. When there was no activity approaching 3:30, we asked again and were told that it didn't leave from Jackson Lake Lodge, but from Colter Bay Village marina.

(Aside: This reiterates the observation that, if you don't ask, information is not volunteered. How many times do we have to learn this truth?)

We jumped in the car and raced – at 45 mph – to the marina. The desk at Jackson Lake Lodge called ahead to say were on our way. We arrived just in time for departure. With no time to spare although the captain and mate showed no impatience and said they would have waited for us after getting the call. Besides, there were only five other passengers on this cruise. It would have been lonely without us.

The cruise was 1 ½ hours on slightly choppy waters with a stiff breeze. Fortunately the cabin was enclosed. The mate was very informative about the lake and the mountains at its edge. The full lake was formed when the Snake River was dammed, raising the depth to 39 feet averagely, although there are areas of the lake that run much deeper. One section close to the mountain shore was said to be 450 feet deep.

We learned about forest fires and their beneficial effects. Also about birch and aspen trees that grow from common root systems so that all the trees in a certain grove will share the same DNA. Because they grow primarily from spreading roots rather seeds they are less susceptible to permanent damage by fires.

Even pines, however, are equipped to survive forest fires. As the temperature of the fire increases it melts the wax coating covering the cones, causing them to spit their seeds to the ground below. Nurtured in the ashes of the fire, seedlings sprout again to form a new forest. It is long process. Fire-ravaged forests often takes decades or generations to show new growth.

(Aside: Of interest is the fact that, even though the lake is in a National Park and in Wyoming, the water is "owned" by Idaho. That state's potato growers financed the building of dam years ago, in return for control over the water, releasing it for irrigation. Put that in your trivia hat for the future.)

After the cruise, we retired to our cabin to get ready (IE. sleep) for the next day.

Thank you for your indulgence in reading this first chapter of our Tour of our National Parks. They truly are gems in America's crown. Next episode? Yellowstone.

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