Yellowstone and the Tetons

The weekend of October 10, 2008, Jessica and David came to visit from Ohio. Jessica had been to the Tetons twice, but she always managed to come when it was snowing on the mountains, and she still had not actually seen the Teton range. I tried to tell her that mid-October was probably still not going to be good, but she was determined.

And she still didn’t see the range. A good snow storm came through all weekend, and the range was once again completely covered in snow clouds the whole time we were there.

But we had a really good time. David saw lots of wildlife for the first time: elk, moose, bison, antelope, and, best of all, we saw the Druid Peak wolf pack in the Lamar Valley of Yellowstone. On Thursday night we stayed in a forest service cabin in Idaho, outside of West Yellowstone. I think David experienced some serious culture shock…so I didn’t tell him about the wood mouse I saw in the wood pile. We eventually managed to get a fire going…without smoking us out of the cabin…and we had a good night in the cabin. The strangest part of the cabin for me was I found a plaque on the wood burning stove that read, “Knox Stove Works, Knoxville, Tenn.” We were 15 miles from the closest paved road in the Caribou-Targhee National Forest in a cabin designated as a National Historic Site…and Tracy and I managed to find something to make us homesick!

The next day we drove into Yellowstone. Tracy and I hiked out to Goose Lake from Fountain Flat Drive while Jessica and David went to do the touristy things. It was snowing pretty good on us, but the trail was nice and relaxing. We saw a couple of bald eagles, so that was nice. Jessica and David picked us up after a couple of hours, and then we started making our way to Cooke City, stopping and letting David and Jessica take lots of picture along the way. We eventually made it to Cooke City after dark, and we found that we were the only ones staying at the Super 8. We also learned that the Beartooth Highway, where I wanted to take Jessica and David, had closed the night before because of snow. But we spent another uneventful night in the one town on the planet we have spent more hotel nights than any other town…but we really like Cooke City…it’s fun there!

The next day we drove back into Yellowstone since the Beartooth Highway was closed. In the Lamar Valley we saw the Druid Peak wolf pack, so that was a good highlight for everyone. Then we drove into Mammoth. And after leaving Mammoth we almost died…literally. While driving up out of Mammoth in Golden Gate Canyon, David saw Rustic Falls and asked me to stop so he could take a picture. Well, for two days I had just been stopping whenever someone wanted to take a picture, and it didn’t occur to me until it was too late that the steep road was slick with packed snow. I was in 4 wheel drive, but when I gave it gas to start moving up, the truck just slid 90 degrees to the left…straight to the the side of the road with no guardrail, and only an old stone edging to keep us from plummeting down the gorge. There was nothing I could do to stop it except pray, and luckily the truck stopped within 6 inches of the edge. I dropped it down into 4 low, and managed to get it going and to get up to the top of the canyon. It’s hard to describe how close we were to having a REALLY bad day…so it’ll have to suffice to say that we came REALLY close to having a REALLY bad day.

But we kept going and made our way down to the Tetons in some nasty snow conditions. And, as mentioned, when we got to the Tetons, the range was completely snowed in. But we drove around and saw some wildlife and hiked around a little. In the evening we checked into the private cabin we had rented for the night on Lower Slide Lake just outside the park. We then drove into Jackson to get dinner. We were in a rush because the snow was getting bad and it was getting dark. We didn’t make it as quickly as I had hoped, and we hit white-out conditions trying to drive back to the cabin. But we made it back without dying, and we hiked around the cabin at night in the snow, and just enjoyed the really nice cabin.

The next day we hiked a little more near Leigh Lake, drove around some more, and saw more wildlife. We then drove into Jackson and walked around town a little and had lunch. In the afternoon we headed back to Salt Lake and had an uneventful drive back home.

We had a great trip and learned one valuable lesson that I thought I already knew: don’t stop on a steep, snow-slick road. As Tracy said, “At least Darwin didn’t have it out for us today.”

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