12 Jul

Yellowstoners & Wyoming’s Nice Tetons

“That’s so Yellowstone” could be heard several times inside Bruno over the last few days in Wyoming. We had a marvelous time in the Jackson Hole Valley: beautiful free campsites and snow hikes in Grand Teton National Park. Further north we encountered a buncha crazy Yellowstoners in Los Angeles-level gridlock. Technically not gridlock. It was Bison-lock.

Heading north from Salt Lake City into Wyoming, we weren’t sure what to expect. What we encountered was miles upon miles of sagebrush. In short, things are pretty gosh darn flat and boring until we reached the northwest corner of the state. Monotonous driving is easily solved by our friend Harry Potter and his audiobooks (yup, we’re in our 30’s and still haven’t read the Harry Potter books. Better late than never!)

Our target heading was the Granite Creek campground and hot springs just southeast of Grand Teton National Park and the town of Jackson. After so much flat, it was a breath of fresh air to get our first glimpse of Wyoming’s Rocky Mountains and the wild flowers that dot the valley this time of year.

We drove up this rough road excited to see the hot springs. With warnings from folks who were just leaving, it turns out that the water was only lukewarm and 10 degrees cooler than normal due to high spring runoff, so we skipped out on that experience. We did find several excellent free campsites along Granite Creek Road and decided to save ourselves the $15 for an established campground – foregoing picnic tables and a toilet (all paper gets packed out, people!).

It was a very peaceful camp spot right next to a river.  The sites were beautiful and devoid of any people. Would be a great place to spend a week, but we’ve got places to go!

The town of Jackson is base camp for Grand Teton National Park and some incredible winter downhill skiing. Bucket list future winter trip, for sure.

The Tetons are an awesome mountain range that jump out of the flat valley floor without any preamble. The history is that early French voyageurs named the range les trois tétons (“the three tits”) after the distinct breast-like shapes of its peaks. How racy. Now-a-days you’ll occasionally see National Park enthusiasts wearing t-shirts that express their love of the Tetons.

On a park ranger’s recommendation, we hiked to Surprise Lake & Amphitheater Lake. 9 miles round trip and an elevation gain of 3,000 ft, the summer day started out beautifully.

Our summer day quickly turned into steep bushwhacking in the snow. Nobody could find the trail!

Our destination lakes were frozen over when we arrived (wah-wah), but we had fun taking pictures of the snowy Wyoming mountains in June.

Our feet were wet and a little cold (Travis did this hike in FiveFingers – not good). Here’s Travis as a garden gnome (not the Harry Potter kind), back on dry land.

Yellowstone National Park is about 2 hours north of the Tetons. The wide valley and high peaks disappear and are replaced with dense forest and modest hills. In addition to the abundant wildlife, Yellowstone is known for its hot water geysers and colorful hot spring pools. We were in awe of these strange and mysterious geothermal portals to the underworld. Various bacteria thrive at the different temperature ranges, absorbing portions of the visual light spectrum and making the rainbow colors (bluer waters are hotter than orange-colored water).

Every year, the National Park Service cleans out this pool with a special vacuum because the portal gets clogged up by trash that doofus humans throw in. Sigh. This is the type of stuff that probably makes Smokey Bear cry at night.

As you walk around the park, there’s an edge of suspense: most of the geysers cannot be predicted. Any one of them could fire off at any second! WAIT… what was that noise!? It’s a geyser going off – RUN! (towards the geyser)! Here is a shot of Amanda doing the run:

Kapowza! Blamo! Are these the noises that geysers make? No, not really. It’s more of a hissing sound.

The geyser steam contains a lot of sulfuric acid, which is pretty corrosive and you’re not supposed to breathe it. Interestingly, some people didn’t seem to mind having it rain down upon them.

We went to see the “Grand Canyon” of Yellowstone. The waterfall spray produced a magical rainbow as we walk down a steep staircase into the canyon. Quite beautiful.

And then, it was upon us. Behold, the Great Bison Blockade of 2017. At least 400 cars long in either direction, no one could tell what was going on. A car accident? Road construction?

We stopped off at some more pools to wait out the traffic. At least we didn’t have anywhere to be… Having everything we need in Bruno, we were stocked with food and water, prepared to wait it out for days if necessary. Here is you can still see The Blockade happening in the background.

Guide to Yellowstone: If you see wildlife while driving, you can either keep your cool and try to snap a quick picture, or you can slam on the brakes, block traffic, and observe as long as it pleases you!

If you’re curious, here is a snap of the peaceful herd of buffalo that generated the Great Bison Blockade of 2017.

Common things that Yellowstoners experience:

  • Joining a vehicle convoy where the leader in front is driving 30 mph in a 45 zone
  • Driving around a blind corner, almost hitting someone doing a 3 point turn in the middle of the highway
  • Getting stuck in traffic and realizing that most of the on-coming traffic is just people from your own lineup running out of patience and doing u-turns to escape
  • Thinking you’re smart by having a campsite reservation, only to discover that you still need to wait an hour in line just to check-in and claim your reservation

Amanda is somewhere in this Norris Campground lineup. This one is first-come, first-serve and took about 1.5 hours to victory.

This appears to be a nice, peaceful shot of Amanda. All alone, overlooking the “Grand Canyon” of Yellowstone. Such solitude with nature can be more satisfying than meditation…

In reality… wait, where did Amanda go!?? Did someone push her off the edge!?? ARRGGH, WHICH ONE OF YOU MONSTERS DID THIS!??

Peace in Yellowstone is achieved at sunup and sundown. But not being particularly​ early risers by choice, we found seclusion at remote picnic sites after 7:00pm. Since the sun wasn’t fully setting until 9:30, this late supper time worked for us. Hardly anyone around, except the mozzies (aka skeeters). Only twice in this entire trip did we eat in our car for fear of the outdoors. Both were insect related. Ugh. Gnats in Utah and mosquitoes in Yellowstone. Worst!!

OK, wild bison ARE pretty cool.

We left Yellowstone through the fancy-pants entrance at Yellowstone’s north gate. We had a blast, despite all our complaining. Surviving other humans is just par for the course during a summer trip through the National Parks. Moving on, only one state stands between us and the Canadian border. Vamos a Montaña!