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.

View from the top of the pass.  F the Old West, indeed.

We spent our two days in Victor visiting Grand Teton National Park, and it was glorious.

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.

Eponymity

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.

Rough life.

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.

Effing Gorgeous

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.

And up.

And 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.

Go Fisch

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.

Courtesy of xkcd

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!

MOAR POSTS

Next Post

Roadtrip Status

We’ve reached the end of our roadtrip!  We’re settled down in Denver, but we’re going to keep making blog posts and posting our favorite photos from the trip, so stay tuned for more.

Follow Us On Social Media

FacebooktwitterinstagramFacebooktwitterinstagram

Latest Posts

0

Week 46: The Reverse Oregon Trail to the Moon

We first arrived at the Pacific Ocean in late January, and it was a constant companion for months.  But in early May, we finally hit our northward limit near Seattle, and it was time to hitch up our wagons, turn the corner, and bid a sad adieu to the West Coast.

We drove southeast across Washington, Oregon, and Idaho for two long but beautiful days, and it was fascinating to watch the terrain change before our eyes.  As we crossed the spine of the Cascade mountains, the pristine evergreen forests suddenly disappeared, turning into scrubland that reminded us of West Texas.

As it turns out, while western Washington is the wettest place in the country, the eastern parts of Washington and Oregon are high deserts.  Fresh off of redwoods and rainforests, it was a sudden transition, but a welcome one – because the desert is freaking awesome.

Grueling Pace

We covered a lot of ground in two days.  Our first night was spent at a Wal-Mart near La Grande, Oregon, an area which seemed pretty empty even to us.  The Wal-Mart parking lot was quite popular, though, especially among travelers – so much so that there was actually a placard where we parked our RV suggesting things to do in the area.

The next morning, we stopped at the excellent National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center in Baker City, which was filled with cool displays about life on the actual Oregon Trail.  Sadly, there were no monocolor terminals available to play the original game (which we have a “slightaffinity for), but it was fascinating nonetheless.

Here’s a fun fact we’re pretty sure we saw here: people constantly tried to bring their 1,000+ lb cast iron stoves in their wagons with them, only to have to abandon them along the trail because of the weight.  A local entrepreneur realized this and began collecting the stoves from the trail, then bringing them back and selling them to new trailgoers, thereby creating his own, stove-based internal economy. Smart!

After checking out the museum and learning some interesting tidbits, we went outside and took a short hike through the blazing desert sun – still weird to think about in Oregon – for some pretty scenery…

… and a view of the actual wagon ruts from the actual Oregon Trail!

Wait, the actual Oregon Trail?  From the 1850s?

Well, that’s what they claimed, but upon reading the fine print, we discovered they were “reproductions” of where the wagons would have rolled.  Eh, close enough.

Fording the Snake River

After the Interpretive Center, we headed along essentially the reverse path of the old Oregon Trail.  Southern Idaho is basically one big mountain range with a giant valley cutting a pass through it – you can see it with Google Earth – and there’s really only one sane way to go across it.  We used the same way the settlers did, just slightly more easily.

We stopped for a few days in Twin Falls, Idaho, in the center of the valley.  We aren’t sure what we expected from Idaho, but it was surprisingly prosperous and normal.  We stocked up on supplies (but no cast-iron stoves), ate at a restaurant called Jakers (!!), and found out that there actually are two waterfalls in Twin Falls.

Oh, and the falls are spectacular.

Shoshone Falls claims to be the “Niagara of the West,” which is pretty questionable considering there were like 20 people there (and no casinos).  That said, it roars with some serious force.  The Snake River Canyon that it sits in is no slouch, either – a full mile wide, Evel Knievel once tried to jump the gorge on his “specially engineered rocket motorcycle,” but he failed when his parachute opened immediately on takeoff.  (A bummer to be sure, but it definitely could have been worse.)

The whole gorge area was extraordinarily beautiful, including the other waterfall and the Perrine Bridge crossing the chasm.  We really knew nothing about Twin Falls and didn’t expect to wander into something like this, but that’s basically why the West is awesome.

Crater Faces

The one thing we did expect to do in Twin Falls was visit Craters of the Moon National Monument, and it didn’t disappoint.  The “craters” are just remnants from an ancient lava flow, but they look otherworldly, especially in a setting like Idaho instead of Hawaii.

The lava field shown above is the North Crater Flow, and it’s only about 2,000 years old – a baby, really.  The oldest lava fields in the park are around 15,000 years old, and although they are currently “dormant,” they are expected to erupt in less than a thousand years. We thought about waiting around a couple hundred years to watch, but alas, our roadtrip schedule was unforgiving.

While the lava fields were pretty neat, our favorite feature of the park was the cinder cone. Inferno Cone is essentially a 160 ft tall sand dune made out of volcanic ash.

The only downside, and it was a big one, was the ungodly strength of the wind that day.  It was constant and oppressive.  Climbing up the Inferno Cone required pulling our hoods down and walking nearly parallel to the ground.  And since the ground was literally ash, we were under constant assault from airborne particles seeking to make their way into our eyes, ears, noses, and especially mouths.

Got some cool pictures, though.

After recovering from the volcanic ash pelting, we moved on to check out the Spatter Cones, the “Old Faithful” of Craters of the Moon. It’s pretty obvious why:  Old Faithful spews out hot water every 35-120 minutes, while the Spatter Cones spew out hot lava every… well, 500-3,000 years.

OK, maybe the comparison is a bit overblown.  Still, the Spatter Cones were pretty neat, and frankly, this is one eruption we’re thankful not to have seen in person.

The final feature at Craters of the Moon were lava tube caves. We really wanted to explore them, but it required a little hike to get to the caves, and we had hit our limit of bone chilling wind and volcanic cinders raining down on us.  The lava tube caves will have to wait for our next cross-country RV road trip.

On our way out we snapped a few more pictures.  Even the side of the road was cool.

Chekhov’s Interpretive Center

Whew!  This was a long blog post.  [Ed. note: Heather really loved Craters of the Moon and made that section approximately 800 times longer.] But hold on for one more second, because we’re about to tie this entire thing together with a bow.

Remember how we started this post with the Oregon Trail? Well, just outside of Craters of the Moon is a rather pretty area known as Goodale’s Cutoff.

Pioneers on the Oregon Trail used Goodale’s Cutoff, an alternate route along the trail, to skirt the lava flows and avoid potential Shoshone Indian attacks along the Snake River. The Cutoff paralleled the Oregon Trail for some distance, before rejoining it in… Baker City, home of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center!

And so, just like the moon’s orbit, we have come full circle.

Roadtrip Status

Still alive?  Check.

Where are you now?  Indiana Dunes State Park, near Chicago, seeing lots of old friends.

Next location?  Still TBD.

Follow Us On Social Media

FacebooktwitterinstagramFacebooktwitterinstagram

Latest Posts

0