Jackson, Wyoming and The Tetons: August 29 – September 1, 2011

Reminders: 1. Posts are in chronological order with most recent on top. 2. Pictures can be enlarged by clicking on them and then using the back button (not close) to return to the text.

When we booked our site in Jackson , we asked for four nights but were limited to three, because we were butting up against Labor Day weekend. Our contact told us that we should definitely travel down from West Yellowstone through the parks rather than the highway to the west. Her concern was a connector known as Teton Pass, a ten mile stretch that’s ten degrees up and then ten degrees down. A rig had just come in that day with burned-out brakes. We decided to take her advice, though the transmission/engine brake combination on our Ram really helps us keep our foot off the brake pedal.

So we went back into Madison (again), then down to Old Faithful (again), but then we headed south out the bottom of Yellowstone and into Grand Teton National Park. It turned out to be a boon; not only was the landscape great all the way down, but we also got to visit the bottom of Yellowstone and the top of the Tetons, without having to come all the way back up there.

For the uninitiated (i.e., neither skier nor snowboarder), Jackson is a city and Jackson Hole is the depression caused when the mountains rose and the valley floor fell. It is now colloquially the name for the southwest Teton area. Our campground in Jackson was owned by and positioned behind a lodge. We describe it as a $23 campground with a $40 location. The place was crummy, and the $63 per day was the highest we’ve ever paid. We do have to concede that we were allowed to use the facilities at the lodge – pool, exercise room, hot tub, etc. But our visit, only two full days, was taken up by seeing the sights.

On our first day, we started at the Jackson Visitors Center, which is also the headquarters for the National Elk Preserve. The Center had a display of taxidermy at its best. The Preserve was first created in 1912 after a severe winter diminished the herd, which had also been partially displaced by the establishment of the city of Jackson. Today it’s a 25,000 acre preserve that stretches back into the Bridger-Teton Forest, where the elk spend the warm months. Approximately 7,000 elk graze there, and a herd of about 800 bison shares the environment with them. We saw only scattered small groups of elk, but a herd of about 100 bison was visible north of the preserve.

Stopping repeatedly to view and snap the shutter at the Tetons and their neighbors, we traveled to multiple venues up and down and off the main road. The Cathedral Group, in the first two pictures below, are Teewinot Mountain, Grand Teton and Mt. Owen. The first two pictures in Row 2 show Mt. Moran, which holds several secrets of formation. The Black Dike at the top was formed when magma was forced up into a large crevice, becoming dark igneous rock when it called. The Sandstone Cap, visible above it, is actually part of the sandstone floor of the valley, which is literally 24,000 lower than the peak. Mt. Moran is also the home of five of the 12 glaciers that still exist in the park.

An especially impressive stop was the Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center. Opened in 2007, the 22,000 square foot center cost $22 million and was two-thirds funded by private donations. U.S. Senator Craig Thomas was the prime mover behind the government’s contribution. The principal exhibit is a combination of storyboards and sculptures that portray all the principal human elements that went into the molding of the park. Relief maps and movies demonstrate the physical aspects. There’s also a great exhibit exploring the tools that have been used over the years to traverse the mountains — and to rescue people who don’t make it on their own. And yes, there’s a greeter moose.

We visited the shores of two lakes. The first was Jenny Lake, one of a series of glacial ponds formed at the base of the mountains. Jenny Lake is over 200 feet deep. It was named for the Shoshone wife of Beaver Dick Leigh, a trapper who served as a guide for the U.S. Territorial Survey expedition that mapped the area in 1872.

Then it was up to the shore of Lake Jackson for additional impressive views of the largest lake in the park, which we’d also sen a lot of on the way in. A bit smaller than Lake Yellowstone, it is approximately 450 feet deep, all natural except for the top 30 feet that have been created by a reservoir-forming dam. While the lake still receives replenishment from glaciers, the primary source is the Snake River.

On the other full day, we went over to the infamous Jackson Hole resort area where we took a fantastic tram ride to the top of Rendezvous Peak . The entirely new Jackson Hole Tram was inaugurated in December, 2008, replacing the original that had operated for fifty years from 1966 to 2006. Each of the two cars holds 100 people and transits 2 ½ miles while rising 4,100 feet (the base is 6,300 and the top is 10,400). The view looking down got us to appreciate, among other things, the dozens of ski — and bike — trails snaking down from the peak. Yes, there are summer thrill-seekers – maybe the same folks who don the planks on the winter snow. The summer view of the valley and Snake River is outstanding, and the hungry can partake of fresh waffles at Corbet’s Cabin!

I also took a separate ride to the top of Signal Mountain, reputedly the best spot to view the entire park. I have no comparison, but it was spectacular.

Now that we’ve been to Glacier, Yellowstone and Teton, perhaps it’s time for a bit of compare and contrast – keeping in mind that we are spectators rather than participants. All three of the venues are not to be missed. All three offer spectacular hiking and camping for tenters and smaller RV units. JH is apparently the best downhill skiing; but all three qualify highly for winter excitement. For us lookers/picture takers, we’d rank them Glacier, Teton and Yellowstone. While we loved every spot we reached in Yellowstone, getting to them wasn’t half the fun!

But we’ve only just begun. We still have Tahoe . . . Yosemite . . . Zion . . . Bryce . . . etcetera . . . etcetera . . . etcetera . . . to go!

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