By Jelane A. Kennedy
When we visited Yellowstone in 2004 on our last grand road trip, we had hoped to visit the Grand Teton National Park via Yellowstone and the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway. But we were stopped by a snowstorm that October. So when making our plans this time we decided to head there after our time in Glacier National Park. It was hard to leave Glacier but the season was coming to an end, they were in process of closing for the winter. The drive to the Grand Teton was our transition from one park to another. We made a stop in Idaho Falls and replaced my daypack as I had blown out a shoulder strap and the duck tape was irritating without wearing lot of clothes for padding.
Idaho Falls was a nice surprise. We were able to pick up some more information about other National Parks nearby along with the Grand Teton. The Idaho Falls River Walk added a great an urban hike to our experience. Part of what made it fun was the benches that lined the path were all created by different artists each depicting a different theme, everything from a big Idaho potato to a horse. The views of the Great Snake River and Falls were terrific.
After such a calming exit we were unprepared for the chaos of Jackson Hole! It was overcrowded and insane to drive through. We stopped near the park entrance to gain some information about camping in the park after visiting a gravel parking lot that was suppose to be a campground! We had to ask a couple of times about camping as we got some confusing reports but in the end a female ranger helped us out.
Our first night we camped at Jenny Lake campground. It was crowded and the bathrooms were not well maintained by the campground host. So even though the view was terrific, the next morning we drove over to Colter Bay to check out their campground. It was a designated as a RV park with electrical hook ups but no options for a campfire so we decided to look further. We finally found, Signal Mountain Campground on Jackson Lake and really liked the facilities. They had a convenience store, gas station, restaurants, marina and gift store. But we were most interested in good bathrooms that were clean. After we had camping sorted out then we could settle into enjoying the Grand Teton’s.
It was the last week for The Indian Arts Museum to be open in the park. It would be closing and no specific time was in place to replace the museum. The museum had an incredible collection that had been given to the Park by David T. Vernon. We felt very formulate to see so much of the collection. While we were in the park we went to a couple of the ranger talks about the museum collection and visited the resident artist, DG House, we loved her art work and decided to purchase two small prints for our home and one for a friend. (The Visitor Center at Colter Bay has been remodeled since our trip and 35 of the over 1500 artifacts from the Vernon collection are on display currently).
The Grand Teton National Park follows the mountain range and has several lakes within the park. We loved driving the length of the park and observing the range from several angles. We became Junior Park Rangers. At this park they opened the program to everyone regardless of age. During our Ranger Hike (Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point), Ranger Molly encouraged us to become a Junior Ranger, she joked “The best and least expensive souvenir in the park!”
She was right, for $2.00 we tested our park knowledge, received a patch and a badge along with pledging to respect and appreciate the park. It was great fun and we enjoyed completing the work sheet. It gave us a chance to focus in on some areas of the park we knew the least and prompted us to check out more. They told us their oldest Junior Ranger was in his 90’s.
One of the things we loved about the campground we stayed in was slipping down from our site to Jackson Lake, watching the sunset. I took a ton of photos, playing with the light and walking the beach. The Lake is the largest in the park.
We took several hikes and visited String Lake and Leigh Lake. A unique thing about the park was that they had multiple signs up with hikes listed so you could use them as markers to where you were. But they missed placing “you are here” marks so that several times we got a bit confused as to where we were on the trails and some of the maps were truncated so it was good that we had a complete map from the visitor center. Several times we helped other lost hikers find their way. It was easy to get turned around.
One of the other trips we made was to the Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve. The Preserve is just inside the park. It feels like it is outside the park but it is a separate space along Phelps Lake. There is limited access allowed, so only when a parking space opens can a new group of travelers enter the park. This keeps the area from becoming overcrowded and guarantee’s a certain level of solitude. We hiked the Lake Creek and Woodland Trail Loop. It was a lovely moderate hike of 2.9 miles and it allowed us time since it was late in the day when we visited, to enjoy a hike and spend time in the Visitor Center and library with comfy leather chairs.
Once we got beyond Jackson Hole and into the park, we fell in love with the Grand Teton’s. Our time again was too short and we would have loved more time to explore. The combination of the mountains as a backdrop to the lakes and the open view of the range were once again awe-inspiring. What a gift that I, an average citizen can venture into such beauty that in many places in the world only the rich can partake. Mother Nature!
© Jelane A. Kennedy & Eileen A. McFerran