Carolina: Cruising Past 70: Getting High at the Tetons

Friday, August 6, 2010

Getting High at the Tetons

Without any reservations (the system is first-come, first-served), we went to Grand Tetons National Park hoping that, despite the peak season, we could get a campsite at one of the NPS campgrounds.  Coming in very early, we got 5 nights! From there we also got 4 nights at Yellowstone NP! Let me tell you…Grand Tetons is a breath-taking experience (we tell you about Yellowstone in the next post).

The French fur traders/trappers named the pointed, purple peaks ‘tetons’.  Lonely after weeks in the wilderness, those elegant ‘shapes’ must have evoked memories of the most beautiful forms in the universe…the female breasts. There are three well-known peaks that are close together: the Grand Teton (the highest at 13,770 ft), the Middle Teton, and the South Teton. 

There are other peaks (Mt. Teewinot, the most pointed and closest to Grand, and Moran, a little further removed, with its famous skillet glacier) to the Tetons.  It is a 50 mile mountain range that sprung up about 10-13 million years ago (the Rockies are 60 million years old) when the Teton fault moved and sank the valley below (Jackson Hole).  Thus there are no foothills, making the peaks jaggedly dramatic.  

I thought a chapel with the peaks as background for an altar would be perfect for a stirring mass and that is exactly what the Chapel of Transfiguration in the heart of the Park does! The artistry of the peaks was completed by three glaciations that carved the horns, arĂȘtes, and the U-shaped canyons that divided the peaks.  You have to see it to believe it! Truly there is a Master Sculptor.

We spent the first day attending ranger sessions.  We learned so much about the Teton’s geology, its wildlife, its plants and trees, and history. The next two days we drove on the self-guided tour and stopped at all the overlooks and turnouts.  We share with you here the best of the hundreds of Teton photos we took. From many vistas, across rivers or lakes, those peaks are truly inspirational.

But the last day of our stay proved to be the best. That was when we were driving past herds of cattle and then Bill says ‘watch carefully, sometimes other wildlife graze with them’.  And then suddenly…we spotted a herd of pronged antelope amongst them.  That day we also saw a herd of elk and then a herd of bison.  No wonder they call this ecosystem (including the Tetons) the Serengeti of North America!   

Then there are the interesting towns surrounding the park.  Victor is the small town on the Idaho side of the Tetons. A few miles north of it is Driggs. The Teton Pass gives you easy but steep access from the towns to Grand Teton National Park.  The Pass had 10 % grades a few times for several miles so we could not take our RV through there. Instead we went through the neat towns of Alpine and Jackson.

Before reaching Jackson, across the National Wildlife Elf Refuge, tucked into and almost hidden in the hills is the Museum of Wildlife Art, designed by Curtis Ventriss. Then as you get into the city, the town square featured, at each corner an Antlers Arch.  Pretty cool indeed.  And as we meandered among the shops and cafes, we discovered a lot of neat ‘Western’ things such as this Antlers’ Christmas tree.

Bill and I urge you to visit the Tetons at least once in your lifetime. There are many campgrounds to stay in.  If you are not yet into RVing as a lifestyle, there are many lodges, cabins, and tent campsites available, too.  At Colter Bay, where we stayed, there is a general store, a launderette/shower, and a museum/visitor center, plus an amphitheater for a beehive of activities.

At Jenny Lake, you will get treated to a more intimate setting with the Tetons. At the back deck of Jackson Lake Lodge, on the other hand, is a massive view of the entire range and the Willow Flats of Jackson Hole where the wildlife roam and the drama of predator-prey relationships unfold. You can even see the Hidden Falls cascading down the canyon beside Mt. Moran. 
Next Stop: Yellowstone National Park