The Journey to Utah

We had a mysterious disappearance at Grand Teton. Somehow Gigi’s Jr Ranger passport book that she had had stamped at Glacier and Yellowstone and Colter Bay disappeared along with a couple of stickers and a magnet (also purchased at Colter Bay). Although I put it in the van right before our Colter Bay hike, we somehow lost it. So that was sad, and we spent a bit of time in the morning driving back to the Colter Bay visitor’s center (the opposite direction of where we needed to go) to see if anyone had turned it in and to buy another one when the original hadn’t shown up. So Gigi’s going to have to go back to Glacier and Yellowstone someday to get her stamps again.

After that, we took off for Utah, going first through lots of Wyoming followed by Idaho. Not a lot to say about this journey except that it was very lonely. I’m not sure if it was the particular route that Google sent us on, but the road was very empty and civilization was nowhere to be found. We’d finally left all hints of rain and coldness behind, and the weather was hot and dry and the sun relentless.

We found a playground in some small town in Idaho to regroup and have a wiggle break. Auggie found a kid about Desmond’s age to follow around on the playground and go down slides with him. He loves older kids, but is highly suspicious of kids his own size.

When we were on our way to our next campground at Box Elder, Utah, I was afraid it was going to be equally hot and dry, but the campground itself was nestled in between large trees and a little creek that ran right behind our campsite. The kids had fun scrambling down the bank to the water and walking across logs to get over the water. The water itself is shallow and unthreatening, even if they fall down in it. Basically a perfect place for kids to play.

Auggie discovered a friend; another two year old who was staying at an RV at a nearby site. It turns out that his grandmother was the camp host who lives there six months out of the year. She said that she always feels bad leaving for the winter, and I can’t say I blame her. The Box Elder campground is a little bit of heaven in that dry, deserty part of Utah.

Although it’s very secluded, it’s also very close to some significant population center and thus has great data access. I used our access point to catch up on the latest episode of the Expanse. So good! And it was a great place to update this blog.

Jenny Lake and Menor’s Ferry

The next day, we decided to explore some of the sites that had been recommended to us by the ranger from yesterday. The first on the list was a short drive on Signal Mountain, located conveniently near our campground, that supposedly had some fantastic views of the Tetons. However, when we got to the beginning of the road, there was a sign across it, explaining that the road was closed until 4pm while they cut down some unsafe trees near the road. They didn’t want anyone to get smashed in the process.

Next on the list was the Jenny Lake Overlook. On the way, we kept stopping to take pictures because… how could we not? There was a small turnout that explained about how the hard craggy shape of the Tetons was the result of glacier activity. Unfortunately, the glaciers on the Tetons were receding and may eventually disappear due to climate change.

There’s a small parking lot at the Jenny Lake Overlook, but we lucked into a spot. Jenny Lake is beautiful, and the view of the Tetons above it is pretty spectacular. We look a bunch of pictures and wandered around the outlook area. Auggie had fallen asleep in the van, though, and we didn’t particularly want to wake him up, so we decided not to seek out any hikes in this area, so this turned into a pretty quick stop in our daily adventure.

We got back in the car and finished the Jenny Lake scenic drive. As we were turning to get back to the main road, we went by the parking lot to actually go down to Jenny Lake and the hike recommended to most people not traveling with a 2 year old. It was so overflowing that people were parking out on the main road, which looked like it was a considerable distance to the action. No, thank you. I think we would have skipped that one even if we didn’t have to worry about Auggie.

Our next stop was Menor’s ferry on the Snake River, the site of an old homestead and ferry from back in the day. There are still a number of the original buildings remaining, many of them that had been built by Bill Menor himself, one room at a time. We looked through an album of at pictures from the time while a lady who worked there gave us a brief history. Apparently the man himself had a brother who built a house on the other side of the ferry, and the two of them spent many years pointedly not talking to each other. Brothers. Some things never change.

One of the old barns had a bunch of old carriages. Several of them had been used to transport people around Yellowstone before cars became popular. When the carriages were phased out at Yellowstone, they were purchased by local dude ranches who repainted them. A couple of them ended up here, still with the JY logo on them.

I don’t have a picture of it, but Bill Menor also built a storage building that he used to store vegetables with ice he cut during the winter. I’d really love to know how well that worked. The walls of the building looked pretty thick, but it does get really hot in that area. Did the ice last all summer in the storage building or just part?

Close to the ferry is an active Episcopal church called the Church of the Transfiguration. It’s a very beautiful, small building with the outstanding attraction of a large clear window at the very front that frames the Tetons. Since the building is so dark and the Tetons are so bright, it was hard getting a good photo, but here’s my best effort. There were also benches outside pointing, of course, at the Tetons.

After visiting the church, we drove to the visitor’s center at Moose where we enjoyed the air conditioning on the hot day and watched a video on the Tetons which was probably very interesting, except that I had a hard time not falling asleep listening to the soft droning voice and pleasant music.

There was also this crazy history of how the Teton park came into being; Albright, superintendent of Yellowstone, invited John D Rockefeller, Jr to the area and convinced him to buy up a lot of land in the Jackson Hole valley in order to donate it to the federal government and establish a park. So Rockefeller bought up a ton of land through some agents, but then had a really hard time getting the government to actually accept the land. Grand Teton was established as a park, but without Rockefeller’s lands.

Just as today, where there’s some local opposition to expanding Bears’ Ears in Utah, a bunch of locals didn’t want Teton Park to even exist, fearing federal government interference. Rockefeller actually had to threaten to sell off the land to someone else before Roosevelt turned the area into a national monument using the Antiquities Act, which really pissed off the locals. Then after WW2, the locals realized that the national monument was bringing in a lot of tourist dollars and maybe it wasn’t such a bad thing after all. So they struck a deal with the feds, and the national monument lands were added to the Grand Teton parklands while Wyoming got an exemption from the Antiquities Act; no more national monuments in Wyoming without congressional approval.

We took a short hike to a neaby site from the vistor’s center and encountered a deer who was totally and completely unconcerned about us.

Afterwards, we loaded back into the van and headed back to Signal Mountain, making a stop at the local camp store for ice for the cooler, ice cream sandwiches for the kids, and firewood to help keep away the bugs. We didn’t know it at the time, but it was to be the last campfire for quite a while; southern Utah, our next destination, had a ban on campfires due to dry, hot conditions.

Grand Teton Day 1

The only two nights of our entire 9.5 week trip that we don’t have reservations for were the two nights in Grand Teton. Turns out that none of the campgrounds (except the RV park) allow reservations; they are all first-come-first-serve. From reviews, the best campground is at Jenny Lake, but it’s a tent-only spot. The second best seemed to be Signal Mountain, which allows RVs up to 30 ft, but it’s almost equally hard to get a campsite. I read that your best shot is to get there by 10am, and that if you get there after noon, you are completely out of luck.

Grand Teton is adjacent to Yellowstone, so we didn’t have far to travel, but it still took a couple of hours to get through the park. This meant another very early morning since it usually takes us 2 hours to break camp. We packed up what we could the night before, set the alarm for 6am (actually getting up 15 minutes later), and sent the kids to hang out in the warmed up van to go back to sleep while we packed up our camp. Skipping breakfast and coffee, we almost managed to get out of there by 7:30 when Aaron discovered that the wire to one of the rear lights on our trailer had somehow been cut. Since I’m pretty sure it was working fine when we arrived, our best guess is that a squirrel or a chipmunk liked the way the wire tasted.

Luckily, while I had been hunting down a replacement battery charger in Helena for the one I had left behind in Portland, Aaron had been hunting down a crimper for the one that he had accidentally left behind. So he got it out and fixed the wire on our trailer light. After stopping for coffee and fuel, we were able to get out of Canyon at around 8am.

The journey to Grand Teton was really nice. In fact, if I could do it all over again, I’d skip the trip to Lamar Valley and just go south through the park. The herds of bison weren’t quit as big as in Lamar, but there were still plenty of them, and there were also lots of steaming super volcano stuff that I would have loved to investigate further. Next trip to Yellowstone, I’m definitely going to explore this area.

Finally, we left Yellowstone and entered Grand Teton and finally arrived at the Signal Mountain campground at just after 10am. Then we crossed our fingers and carefully made our way through the loop, looking for an empty spot. We looked up, spotting a campsite that someone had put a receipt for bear spray rental in the camping permit envelope that is supposed to tell you whether or not the camp is occupied or not. I took out the receipt and looked carefully, but it was for the day before, and didn’t say anything about the camp site. The site itself was empty except for a small old carpet that was only half visible in the dirt. Very odd, but the site was unoccupied, so we snagged it; it even had a driveway just big enough for our van and trailer. There is even a view of the Tetons if you look carefully enough through the trees.

Aaron disconnected the trailer and I took the van down to the campsite office to pay for the spot. I am very glad that I remembered to grab my checkbook because I don’t think I had enough cash, and the office was empty when I got there. Old technology sometimes still works.

I went back to the campsite and we took our time setting up camp and getting some brunch. I even cleaned out the van since it was looking pretty crappy after having practically lived in it for over a week.

After a bit of a rest, we went to the visitors’ center at Colter Bay and got Gigi’s Jr Ranger book stamped. A very helpful ranger told Gigi about all the different animals in the park and directed us to the Lakeshore trail, which is an easy 2 mile loop by the water. The view of the Tetons was spectacular.

The water was very high; it seemed likedly that the big storms we caught at Yellowstone were also here. Some plants and trees were by the lake’s edge were submerged. However, on that day, the weather was sunny and warm, a really great change from the cold, wet weather we experienced at Yellowstone.

Afterwards, we went back to camp, stopping to pick up ice cream sandwiches at the local campstore as well as some ice for the cooler. Grand Teton has been a relaxing change of pace from the craziness that was both Glacier and Yellowstone.