Day Three : August 2nd
We slept so well that when we woke up the next morning at 7 a.m., we were both fully rested and ready to go claim a spot at Jenny Lake. If you’re ever going somewhere new on vacation and you want the inside scoop, visit www.TripAdvisor.com and browse through the forums for information on your destination. Because we did this in advance, we knew that the best campground in Grand Teton is Jenny Lake and that you need to be there before 8 a.m. to get a spot because it is first come, first served.
So, that is why we still needed to get going so early despite such a long previous day. It paid off though, because we got to see a small herd of bison grazing for their breakfast, and it was a great time of day to see the Teton Range for the first time.
After claiming one of the few available spots at Jenny Lake, we went up the road just a little bit to a quiet picnic area next to Leigh Lake. We had a simple breakfast in the shade of a mixture of pine and fir trees and we smiled knowing that this is what we had come for. No more interstates, no more long hours of inventing new twists on standard car games. Instead, sitting in the shade of a tree whose roots are fed by a perfectly clear mountain lake. A lake that looks like the kind you hear about…a surface like a mirror, as clear as air, tucked in perfectly at the foot of a mountain. It’s a place where thinking comes easily, effortlessly, and you are changed by it in at least a small way.
Afterward, we went to the Taggart Lake Trailhead and implemented what we knew would be a good compromise on hikes that Laura wasn’t necessarily up for. The answer: a book and a chair.
So, while Laura relaxed and with her book in what has to be described as one of the most perfect places to read…ever…I continued on toward Taggart. It ended up being one of my favorite walks of the entire trip. You walked through areas of lush foliage, an open meadow, along a stream, through a tunnel of pines, among burned out snags from a wildfire years before, finally arriving at the lake.
That afternoon we also drove to the top of Signal Mountain and learned about the glacier activity that carved out and landscaped the area. It was interesting to be able to literally see what the glacier had done: leaving rich deposits of soil in some areas (allowing trees with deep root systems to flourish) and large amounts of rock in others (meaning less topsoil and quick drainage which lead to sage and other grasses establishing themselves).
We visited a few historic sites in the park before returning to camp; a camp that for the first time would remain in place for more than a few hours. This was especially great because it meant setting up a very spacious, bells-and-whistles tent that we’d borrowed from the Wares. A tent so spacious that we could easily fit the two inflatable mattresses that we’d also borrowed from them. As far as our standards for camping go, we were pretty much entering four-star territory at this point.
We enjoyed veggie dogs roasted on an open fire and baked beans cooked on a handy propane stove. Before going to bed we played a round or two of our new favorite game on the picnic table and then fell asleep with the alarm set for 5:00 a.m.
Day Four : August 3rd
"5:00 a.m.?! Are these people crazy?" Allow me to explain.
Besides the Teton Mountain Range itself, one of the park’s most geographically prominent and ecologically influential features is the Snake River. And what better way to see and learn about the River than to go on a guided float? And what better time to go on a guided float than 6 a.m.? Ok, Laura wasn’t exactly sold either when I pitched it to her, but sunrise is easily my favorite time of day and in this case, it has the added benefit of being a time when the wildlife is active and visible. So we met our river guide and the rest of our group very early in the morning and hit the water.
Our guide ended up being great. The whole guide thing is always a toss up; we’ve had wonderful guides who love questions and love sharing their knowledge, and we’ve had guides who would rather be anywhere else but there. But Matt was awesome.
He was running commentary non-stop throughout the float about the park and river’s geology, plants, trees, beavers, eagles, elk, history…and he was very funny which is always helpful.
Besides having a good guide, we also got to see some great wildlife. We saw several bald eagles, including one full-grown (6ft wingspan) eagle that flew right over our head and snatched a fish from the river and began eating it right there on the bank. There were elk and Canadian geese, and a very close encounter with a beaver who came right up to the raft. We also had some good looks at the Tetons as they peeked through the cloudy sky.
After the float, we visited a few historic sites nearby and then made our way back to camp. Little did we know that camp is where the real action would be! As we drove in to our campground, we noticed a small group of people gathered near the entrance. We’d seen some mule deer on the way back and figured that it must be more of them. But upon investigation…
We’ve got a bear ladies and gentlemen! He was just doing his thing: rooting around looking for bugs, grubs and moths. We watched him for quite a while and then he seemed to be wandering off, so we hopped in the car and drove the extra 50 or so yards to our campground, exhilarated that a bear had been that close to our site! Laura was going about her business getting lunch ready and I was straightening up some things when a car slowly drove up and stopped.
"Yes?" Laura said.
"Uh, there is a bear about to walk through your campsite, I just didn’t want you to look up and be alarmed."
Sure enough, we look up and about 15 to 20 yards away is the same bear walking on by! We’ve got this on video but my FireWire cable isn’t working. As soon as I get it figured out I’ll be sure to put it online. It was a great, great, treat and a wildlife experience that will be difficult to top!
To cap off a perfect day that also included a hike near Two Oceans Lake as well as a picturesque moose sighting (he’s in the lower left)…
…we walked down a short trail to the shore of Jenny Lake. I had brought my swim trunks because I was planning on getting in to the springs around Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone, but after seeing some folks swimming in this lake I just had to give it a try.
I also had several chances on this day to journal and write a few poems. The first was on the Two Oceans Lake Trail.
The pines are growing,
right in front of my eyes,
even though I cannot see it.
Aspen leaves are flickering.
Insects are clicking.
Somewhere, a moose drinks from a stream;
A baby breastfeeds;
A pinecone falls.
Journal Entry: Two Oceans Trail 8/3/07
Every trip is a learning experience. I feel like every time we go somewhere a part of my spirit changes to accommodate what I am seeing, smelling and touching.
Every trail we take shows me a metaphor and helps me make sense of existing. The trail itself being the most obvious one.
On the way to Taggart Lake I walked through an area that had been burned away some years ago. The forest was recovering quickly…nature was simply doing what it does. I was reminded that this world does not need me, that I am a blip on a spectacularly minuscule rock in a staggeringly enormous space.
And far from making me feel despondent, irrelevant, or unimportant, I felt a great deal of peace and comfort in that moment.
This creation, which I love dearly and which awes me regularly, will continue without me, without any of us. For that I am exceedingly grateful.