Upper Teton Views
Written by Jamie
Next up on the trip was a long drive and overnight stay in Wyoming before reaching Grand Teton National Park. Pictures we had been seeing of the beautiful snow-capped mountains had us itching to get there as quick as possible. I was really excited about our drive through Wyoming to get there. Everything about Wyoming just screams “The Wild West” in my mind. The mountains…the cowboys…the wide open spaces…the state welcome sign with the rodeo guy and the bucking horse – I couldn’t help but yell out a “Huzzah!” (like some old prospector) when we crossed the border. We debated a few days whether or not to detour to Devil’s Tower on the way to our stopover point, but another traveller we met in Custer, SD suggested we make the trip, and we’re glad we took the advice.
Devil’s Tower National Monument is a giant butte that rises 867 feet from base to summit. The sides, known as columns, look as if they were carved and chiseled to form the shape, but the formation theories point in the direction of years of volcanic activity and erosion. The columns are a rock climber’s paradise (we saw a few scaling the sides while we visited!), and also serve as nesting grounds to peregrine falcons (Trae’s favorite animal). We took the 1.3 mile Tower Trail that loops around the entire tower. We got some great views, and a large portion of the trail was shaded under pine trees. The stop was definitely worth it and provided a nice opportunity to stretch our legs before continuing the long drive to Casper, WY, where we stopped for the night.
The following morning we hit the road early headed to Grand Teton. The drive through the valley and into the snow-capped mountains was absolutely gorgeous. I had found what looked to be another great dry campsite on BLM land known as Upper Teton View, so we entered the coordinates into our GPS. However, as we turned down the dirt road indicated on the map, it forked and the GPS appeared to be bringing us to the right. After a short drive up the rough, rocky dirt road clearly indicated that right was not the correct direction – so Trae got an opportunity to practice his reversing skills, with trailer in tow, for a ¼ mile back down the mountain. Left we forked and eventually arrived at an amazing cliffside clearing overlooking Jackson Hole, the Snake River and the Teton Range beyond. Our neighbors here were a little closer than the ones on the BLM land we stayed on back in South Dakota, but everyone seemed nice and generally in awe of this amazing free campsite right in the middle of everything.
I had planned to head out for some sunrise photos the following morning, but the previous night turned out to be rather stormy and loud. Instead, we started our day with a drive to the Visitors Center, followed by a 5.5 mile hike along the popular Taggart Lake-Bradley Lake Loop that follows the shoreline of 2 of the 6 glacially-formed lakes at the base of the Tetons. At the Visitors Center, the rangers cautioned us that we were in the heart of bear country and instructed us to carry bear spray at all times on any hike. While the bear spray offered there looked wildly overpriced for what it is (just a larger can of pepper spray), we splurged for it in the name of safety. However, within the first ½ mile of the Taggart Lake-Bradley Lake Loop, we knew there was no chance of seeing a bear due to how packed it was. Despite the amount of people on the trail, it was a beautiful hike through sagebrush and woods, and then along the shores of the alpine lakes.
We returned to the car and decided to head into the gateway city of Jackson, WY to explore, get some more groceries, and hopefully find some wifi to get some work done. The town of Jackson is cute and offers a lot of restaurant options just outside the park, but it was packed this time of year, hard to get around, and hard to find parking. We eventually found parking and walked to the Snake River Brewery for some beers and to get some work done using their free wifi. Sadly, the connection was spotty at best, so we made the decision to head back into the park and stop by Dornans, a family-run watering hole that’s been in Jackson Hole since the early 1900s. Dornans became our little evening refuge during our stay, offering free wifi, yummy local beers on tap, food options, and an amazing view at the foot of the Tetons. When we got back to our campsite that night, we had new neighbors, some from as far as Great Britain, and we spent the rest of the night around a large campfire, trading stories and alcohol 🙂
I just missed sunrise the next morning and got out as soon as possible to grab some photos with the good morning light, including a visit to the Mormon Row barns, said to be the most photographed barns in the world. Grand Teton is known to be a landscape photographer’s playground – absolutely no shortage of diverse scenery and wildlife – and while my background isn’t in photographing landscapes, anyone with a camera would get giddy with these surroundings as your subject! We took the rest of the morning easy, and in the afternoon headed north in the park to explore the Colter Bay area and dip our feet in the lake, rounding out the evening with a visit to Dornans.
Again, I awoke early the next morning , determined to catch the famous sunrise rays hitting the Tetons, and while it was a cloudy morning, the sun peeked out for about 30 seconds to cast some beautiful pink hues on the mountaintops!
When I got back to the trailer, Trae was up and ready to go too, so we headed out to hike the String Lake Loop. This easy 3.8 mile trail affords some outstanding views of the 12,605-foot Mt. Moran, as well as the “Cathedral Group” – 12,325-foot Teewinot Mountain, 13,770-foot Grand Teton and 12,928-foot Mt. Owen. At the very end of the trail, as we walked back towards the truck, a doe popped out of nowhere and seemed to be completely unfazed by our presence (a beautiful encounter, but typically not the best sign of the deer’s nourishment).
We spent our last night and evening in Grand Teton NP with a needed nap, followed by our last visit to Dornans for good drink, food, and wifi. We absolutely fell in love with this national park – the views were unbeatable, and Grand Teton is now on the “must visit again” list!
Trae and Jamie