Monday, July 21, 2008

Grand Teton

View of the Tetons from Jackson Lodge

My campsite... My tent looks pretty good for being a high school graduation gift. (Thanks, Michael.)

Relaxing at Inspiration Point (overlooking Jenny Lake)

Be Bear Aware!

Moose Antlers, in the bushes

July 18, 2008

I am sitting at a picnic table, at a campground, at the top of a small mountain (a hill? with mountain-like features?). I am in Grand Teton National Park, and this is one of the most spectacular places I have ever seen.

I drove in this morning from Idaho Falls, which is sort of like coming in the back way. For the first hour or so out of town, I passed the greenest, rolling fields of what I presumed to be potatoes. I know what most other crops look like, but since potatoes grow underground, I am not sure what there above-ground counter-part looks like. Pretty though, it would seem. Then, I began following the Snake River, which wound down and around, then I rolled into the mountains.

Now, in most mountainous places, you see wildflowers, maybe just a smattering on a trail, or a few here and there on the side of the road. But driving today, they were everywhere, and all different colors. There were wild sunflowers, big, and sometimes dotting the whole southern facing side of a mountain. I am not very good with my wildflowers (though I looked at guidebooks today so I could name the pretty long purple flowers I kept seeing (lobelia, I believe). And if I am not mistaken, I also saw Brown-Eyed Susans, Indian Paintbrush, and a lot of purple things. It’s highly likely I have the names wrong until I become better acquainted with my new surroundings, but you get the idea-- pretty, and lots of color.

I went over a monster pass with huge grades-- like 10%. And check it out, at the top of the pass, there were a ton of mountain bikers, which was confusing until I realized that there were trails... going down. And as i drove down in my car, shifting into way low gear, there were bikers pedaling up. And quite a few at that. Crazy.

At the bottom of the pass was a stunning little town just a few minutes outside of Jackson, called Wilson. And again, bicyclists everywhere. Jackson itself was also beautiful-- everything in wood. It looked like a true mountain town, but it was also a mountain town that has money. That much was obvious, otherwise you couldn’t ask each of the buildings to look so pretty and natural.

I drove into the park, and as soon as I saw the sign, those big mountains just rose up. Recently, someone asked me what was in Grand Teton, as in, why is it a national park. My answer: the Tetons. And as soon as I saw them, I was confirmed. They are stunning, unlike any other range, and truly deserving of their status. They rise, tall and huge, snow-covered in late July and craggly... and they rise up from the valley floor making them look even more massive.

I set up my campsite about noon and went down by Jackson Lake for a picnic. It had been sprinkling off and on, but was beginning to warm. Kids played in the water. An older couple sailed remote controlled boats. I ate a tuna salad sandwich and potato salad and basked in the sun. It occurred to me how nice it was to sit still, a reprieve from my constant driving.

I drove south again towards Jenny Lake to take the ferry across and do a quick hike that my brother had recommended. I recently watched video of when they were here in June and I was struck by how nice the weather had turned for me (sunny and 80 degrees), versus the snow and freezing cold he had. Once across the lake, I hiked up to Inspiration Point and then back to look at the falls. That water was cascading. I mean cascading in the truest sense of the word, furiously rushing downhill, all white water and bottled up. I loved that sound. I sat there thinking about why it is that as people we like water so much. We gravitate toward it, even when we cannot use it for recreation-- even in cold, or when it runs too fast. I guess a lot of people do so because it is pretty, but I think it must be some more basic instinct than that. Water means life-- it means vegetation and food. It takes us where we need to go, and that sense of movement and continuity must be underlying everything when we are near it.

After hiking back around the lake, I drove again. While driving in Tasmania last year, I learned I like paying attention to things more without any music. When something is truly absorbing, or when I want to think, silence is the way to go. So as the sun baked me and I thought of dinner (kippered snacks, cheese, bread, and iced tea-- yep, by choice) and I hurried to get an ice cream cone, which I ate as the sun began to set over the mountains.

Now, I am typing at a campsite, a first for me, and something I would not usually endorse, but I like writing at the end of my day. The wind is kicking up and it will be dark soon. I rejected the notion of a fire as I got back here only an hour before dark and am contemplating going to a ranger lecture in the campground ampitheatre at 9:30. And fire danger is high. The mountains are all eclipsed by the haze from California. I had forgotten that living in the Midwest, that fire states away will change the way the sky looks for weeks, even months.

So, I’m chilling, waiting to sleep in my little tent, hoping to get up early and take some pictures of the early sun over the marina and then go wildlife viewing with the rangers just like I saw on PBS. And then to Yellowstone. After that, I think I am headed to a small little town called Ennis (the name makes me think of the character in Brokeback Mountain everytime), and then work my way up to Missoula by the end of the weekend. I have loved everything I see, and each day’s drive seems more beautiful than the day before. I don’t want to rush it, but I am eager to be in one place, and I can’t wait for that place to be my condo. Montana, here I come.

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