Where the Deer and the Antelope Play
I am not an outdoors person. I hate bugs. I get easily sunburned. I don’t play sports. I never fully learned how to ride a bike or swim (embarrassing, but true. I’m working through it.). All of this being said, I was a little cautious going into the week long vacation Joe and I took to Wyoming, but my characteristic worries were for naught–I fell in love with Wyoming, outdoors and all.
We began our trip staying in the town of Jackson, just south of Grand Teton National Park. After breakfast with our friend Rosie, whose wedding we were in town for, we set out to the park on our first day. The first glimpse of the Grand Tetons were spectacular. They loom above the park, dominating every vista for miles and miles. They are everything you think of when you think of mountains–massive and craggy, capped with white, dotted with pines and other scrub. And set against the vast blue of the Wyoming sky–let’s just say I wouldn’t mind looking at that view every day. Of all the things I will miss about Wyoming, those mountains are number 1.
Our first stop in the park was Jenny Lake, a gorgeous mountain lake that could be from a movie. In fact, it could all be from a movie. You can take a short boat ride across the lake or hike about two miles to a trailhead that will take you to a waterfall and then Inspiration Point, a rocky cliff overlooking the Lake. This trail is the most popular in the park and was overrun with families by the time we arrived, but we didn’t mind because it was so beautiful. Although the trail is advertised as “easy” in all of the brochures, I was surprised to find that it was, in fact, a little bit difficult, especially as you climbed above the Falls to Inspiration Point. At one point, you scramble up a rock face with quite a drop below you, left to navigate a ledge with a continuous stream of people going in both directions. I’m afraid of heights, but I powered through, and was very glad I did. The view was definitely worth it, as was the feeling of achievement.
Also, we saw a moose!
After our more-epic-than-expected hike, we drove around the park a bit and then went back to Jackson for the night, where we had a delicious dinner (here) followed by a beer at the local cowboy bar (here). Jackson is a great little town, full of restaurants, cafes, art galleries, and shops. Most of them are filled with somewhat chintzy “western-style” artifacts and t-shirts with bad jokes, but some of them are really fun to look through. It’s also fun to just sit in the town square and people watch (preferably while you eat an ice cream cone from Moo’s).
On our second day, we took another hike, this one decidedly more peaceful and secluded. We were surrounded by pines, sky, creeks, and mountains. The only sound was the constant clicking of grasshoppers and the occasional bird. I’ve decided that I really enjoy hiking, not only for the beautiful scenery, but because it helps clear my mind in a way similar to yoga–instead of rattling through my to-do list or thinking about what my hair looks like, I’m focusing on where to put my feet, how to best get over that log, where to go for the best view of the lake. It’s calming and a good workout, which is always a bonus.
After THAT hike, we drove to String Lake, a shallow lake popular with many families in the area. There’s a small beach and people can rent kayaks and canoes or just go swimming. The water was cold and clear, with the mountains reflecting in them. I waded in only up to my knees because I was too cold, but Joe swam across and waved to me from a boulder on the opposite shore while I wiggled my toes in the rocks and branches on the lake bottom. These adventures were followed by a dinner at the Snake River Brewery and then a sunset drive back to the park, where we finally saw a herd of bison grazing in the flats, which we were pretty happy about.
On Day 3, we went for a river float on the Snake River, which basically involved climbing into a raft and floating 8 miles down the river while a guide paddled us around and told us about the various wildlife and fauna of the riverside. It was relaxing and really interesting. Our guide was Wyoming born and bred, and had tons of knowledge about the river and the park and the state itself, so it was just fun to listen to him tell stories about skiing on the 4th of July or taking his family to the hot springs in the woods in the middle of winter.
So, Grand Teton was breathtaking and beautiful and relaxing and awesome. But we had to see Yellowstone. Just about an hour’s drive north of Grand Teton, it was impossible to miss. So we drove up one afternoon and spent the night there, in a tiny cabin on the lake, with no television or internet access. It was pretty awesome.
Grand Teton is beautiful and smells like the color green personified. Yellowstone, on the other hand, is like another planet, full of awesomely weird landscapes, belching ponds of ethereal colors, and terrible, terrible smells. Also, the park is roughly the size of Connecticut, so plan for a lot of driving time between destinations! Our first stop, because you just have to, was Old Faithful. What a scene. People gather on benches arranged around the geyser and just wait for this hot water to spout in the air. It’s a kind of weird, but quintessentially American phenomenon I feel. We got there about a half hour before the next eruption, which was good timing because we got a good seat and didn’t have to wait too too long. The eruption itself was actually pretty cool–hot water shoots about 100 feet in the air and continues to spout upwards for about two minutes. It was fun to see the crowd’s reactions–the gasps and awed silences and the clapping when it quietly died down. It was a fun time.
Yellowstone, beyond the lunar landscapes, felt like a movie–a movie about camp in the 1950s. We ate a turkey dinner at the cafeteria in the Lake Lodge (complete with a Coors for Joe, because obviously) and then checked into our cabin, which was smaller than our bedroom in our Brooklyn apartment (bathroom included). It was quaint though, and amazingly quiet. Like, more quiet than anything else I can remember–no traffic, no people, no car alarms, no ambient electronic hum from computers or televisions–just quiet dark. Because we both felt a little hemmed in in the room, we went back to the Lodge for a glass of wine. We read and wrote by the fire, surrounded by various families playing cards and singing songs and little kids running around at top speed. It was pretty charming, and again, felt like an artifact of Americana–so this is what families on vacation do when there’s no internet or television. Fascinating!
Our second day at Yellowstone was a frantic one–we got up very early because we wanted to see many things before driving back to Jackson for Rosie’s rehearsal dinner. That morning, it was about 35 degrees and there was mist everywhere. As we drove on the road, just lightening with the morning, we saw an odd figure coming toward us on the other side. We both wondered what this strange cluster of people was doing walking on the road, wearing what looked to be oversized fur coats. But then the mist cleared a little and we realized our mistake–they were bison!
We gasped and oohed and ahhed, and drove on…only to be confronted with herds and herds of bison. We stopped to take pictures (so many pictures), but also because they were surrounding the road and there was a good chance we would have hit one had we tried to keep driving. So, it was a little slow going that morning, but thrilling and fun. Bison are really cool.
We arrived at Canyon around 8 am, where we hiked down a steep switchback trail about 600 feet to Lower Falls, which is twice the height of Niagara Falls. From this vantage point, you’re looking right over the lip of the falls, watching as the emerald water rushes over the cliff and explodes downward, like thousands of sparkling ice chips. Amazingly, we were the only people there for about five minutes, which is pretty unusual during the busy season in the parks, and it was so nice to have this massive waterfall and beautiful canyon to ourselves. We were both mesmerized by the water, and had to tear ourselves away so we could go see other parts of the park.
Next, we drove up to Mammoth Hot Springs, another intensely weird and oddly beautiful spot (that smelled like old garbage).
Then came a pretty exhausting and long drive back to Jackson, a scramble to shower and check in to our new hotel in Teton Village, and head over to Rosie and Pat’s rehearsal dinner, where we ate tacos and mingled with new friends. The next day we took it easy and enjoyed the pool at our hotel, got lunch, and generally relaxed before the wedding, which was held at the Wedding Tree in the Teton Forest just outside the park. It’s a literal tree, perched on a cliff overlooking mountains. It was so beautiful. I perhaps shouldn’t have worn heels, as there was a short hike to the site, but it all felt like part of the experience. Once the ceremony was over, we got on a shuttle and drove to Dornan’s, a privately owned spot in the park, for the reception. More mountains, more yummy food, more new friends. There was also a live bluegrass band, buffalo sliders, bandannas, and a very happy couple.
We were sad to say goodbye to the mountains, the stars, the lakes, and the general good times of Wyoming, but we hope to return soon. If you haven’t ever been out that way, and have any doubts about whether you’ll enjoy it, I strongly recommend you give it some thought. It was one of the best vacations I’ve ever taken!
What have your favorite trips been?