Week 52: Grand Teton National Park
After visiting the Black Canyon, it was time to head out of Colorado for a while (but not forever!). We traveled west, past Grand Junction and Moab, and stayed overnight in a dusty and quiet RV park in Green River, Utah. Anecdotal reports (read: some guy at a gas station) suggested that we avoid heading west on Interstate 70 from there, so we took Route 6, an easy ride through typically gorgeous Utah terrain.
With a little bit of time before the events to come, we ended up spending three days in Ogden, Utah, just north of Salt Lake City. You can see pictures from our stay there, including stunning Antelope Island, in this blog post. Then, still taking it easy, we stopped for an overnight stay on our way north to Grand Teton National Park.
We picked the location based entirely on the name: Lava Hot Springs, Idaho.
We forgot to take pictures, so we borrowed this one from the Internet. We’ll return it later!
True to its name, the town has several hot springs, along with cold-water river tubing. To be honest, it was pretty hopping for a Sunday night in an Idaho town with a population of 407! All of our neighbors at the RV park were partying it up – loudly, outdoors. Not to worry – we were headed for the springs anyway.
As it turned out, the hot springs were very nice, but the “lava” part is not entirely an exaggeration. It was hot enough that we could only spend a little bit of time in the water before hopping out to cool down. After repeating that process about four times, we walked back to the RV, which was parked approximately one hundred yards away.
Not sure it would be worth planning a vacation around, but Lava Hot Springs was a pretty nifty place to spend an evening.
Up Up Down Down Left Right Left Right
The next day we got to our real destination. Well, close to it, which is to say, Victor, Idaho, population 2,000. As it turns out, Grand Teton National Park is not the easiest place to get to. It is literally built into a mountain range. Victor is on the western side of that range, and our drive in involved switchbacking up and then down an insanely steep mountain, eventually bringing us into Jackson, Wyoming.
We were glad we stayed in Victor, because trying to get over that mountain in the RV would definitely have landed us in some kind of viral video.
On the first day, we drove the big scenic loop drive, taking approximately one million photos and swearing continuously at how gorgeous everything was. Even the visitor center was awesome!
If you’re not familiar with the park, it has two main parts. One part sits on a broad, shockingly flat plain (there’s even an airport!) between mountain ranges, dotted with beautiful trees, rivers, and lakes.
This valley is called Jackson Hole.
The second part of the park encompasses the mountains themselves. “Grand Teton” is both the name of the park and the name of the highest peak (the one in the middle below). It’s a handsome, brooding crag, and you’re about to see it in the background of a lot of photographs.
The scenic drive took us past the peaks and then back, showing us Grand Teton and his friends from a thousand angles in a thousand shades of sunlight. We were fascinated with photographing the mountains, long past the point where we normally get bored, and the park just kept showing off in new and stunning ways.
Room With A View
We could spend forever naming these places, but we’ll just show off a few, like this awesome picnic spot near Jackson Lake where we munched our lunch. (We were champion lunch-packers by this point in our trip, by the way.) It was mid-June, the weather was amazing, and there were flowers everywhere.
There was also the beautiful Jenny Lake, which Jake’s family fell in love with during a trip out West in his early teenage years. Owing to parking issues and some off-camera construction, the experience in person was a little lackluster this time, but you still can’t beat that view. The water here is a preposterous blue.
(Incidentally, Jenny Lake features in a beautiful story written by our friend Maggie.)
If you’re wondering, Jake’s bright blue shades were purchased in the gift shop after his existing pair broke – and yes, they do say “Grand Teton” on them.
Everything at Grand Teton was stunning, but our favorite of all was probably Oxbow Bend. Even though this picture turned out really well, it was truly awe-inspiring in person.
Remember how we mentioned swearing at the beauty a lot? Well… this was definitely a 4-letter view.
The Valley of the Shadow of Death
We saw most of the tourist-friendly stuff on Day 1, so Day 2 was spent doing our favorite national park activity: hiking! We drove a few miles down a bumpy dirt road (a common Jake and Heather refrain) before getting nervous about the road conditions and parking in a random dirt lot. We thought we were close to the trailhead… but we were actually a mile away. D’oh!
After finally making it to the trail, we set off through a dense pine forest which just smelled amazing. Soon, we emerged to a glorious view of… well, whatever this lake was called. “Lake Something.” Or maybe… “Something Lake.”
Whatever. It was pretty.
(Note from Heather: It’s Phelps. Phelps Lake.)
We knew this was supposed to be a difficult hike, but getting to the lake was easy. We decided at this point we were just so badass that it felt easy. Then… we started going up.
Friends, this is what happens when you choose to hike up something named “Death Canyon”: you get your 3-letter word kicked. The hike ended up being 10+ miles round trip, most of which was spent going straight up a mountain, before turning around and heading right back down.
Oh, and as a fun bonus? The trail runs directly through grizzly bear habitat, and as it happened, we coincidentally went about an hour in the morning without seeing any other humans. It was just us, a can of bear spray, a walking stick, and some very close vegetation – making lots of worrisome noises.
We never did see a bear, though – at least not at Grand Teton – and the closest we came were some frolicking marmots at the top. The scenery was unparalleled, as was the feeling of hiking through the huge, U-shaped glacial valley. We enjoyed another picnic lunch with a view, sitting near a mountain waterfall and a cool old log cabin, before enjoying the bear-free scenery on our much easier descent.
It was a tough but satisfying day, and who would know if we later saw a bunch of young children scampering up that supposedly-difficult trail with infuriating ease? Certainly not our readers.
Our final note from Grand Teton has nothing to do with scenery. Jake’s great-uncle on his father’s side moved out to Idaho with his family many years ago, and as it turns out, they all still live out in this area. We met up for a fantastic home-cooked dinner at the home of Jake’s cousin (once-removed), which turned out to be in… Victor, Idaho.
In fact, after getting lost and driving around aimlessly for a few minutes, we realized her house was basically directly across the field from the RV park we were staying at. Imagine a Family Circus cartoon, and you’ve pretty much got our driving route.
All’s well that ends well, though, and we did finally make it. It was great to reconnect and, in Heather’s case, meet the other half of the Fischer family for the first time. This was the end of a very long stretch of time in which we saw literally nobody else we knew, so this was a special and much-needed night for us.
We forgot to take a group picture to commemorate, but we did leave laden with food, so we’ll call it an A+ evening on the whole. Thanks again, Idaho Fischers!