#307–The Grand Tetons

Grand Disappointments

We arrived about 11:30 a.m., and our first day gave us a lot to be disappointed about. In Yellowstone there are lots of places to go and lots to see. In the Tetons, it is mainly the impressive mountains that rise up thousands of feet from the flat landscape. So very impressive! Well, not so impressive when hidden by wildfire smoke. That first day, there was not even a hint of any mountains within the smoke. I was so disappointed. I had been looking forward to seeing these mountains. I hadn’t seen them since I was a teenager. I’m glad we didn’t pay for a cabin with a view. We stayed at Jackson Lake Lodge, which has many, many cabins as well as condos and rooms in the lodge.

I bought this sticker in the Colter Bay general store. It is now on my fridge. On this trip, I was never disappointed by a bison.

Well, our “classic cabin” was the second disappointment. It was tiny and would have been small for two people, let alone the four of us.  We were all there together with two queen beds and one rollaway—almost wall-to-wall beds when the rollaway was set up. (And, of course, no chance of seeking any change in accommodations.) There was only a tiny kitchen space, that included sink, small fridge, and a coffee maker squeezed between the bathroom and a big-box like closet. No microwave—no way to heat anything except water in the coffee maker. No table, only one chair, and our reservations were for three nights. We so missed our spacious digs in Gardiner.

We headed for the lodge to have some lunch. That was the third disappointment. The cafe was closed except for takeout, and that was not very good. So, we tried to make reservations for that night in the more upscale restaurant and were told they were filled that night and all day the next day. That’s when we learned that we needed reservations there for all meals—even breakfast. So, we made reservations for dinner the night after next and for the morning of our last day.

The lodge building was impressive with the tallest windows I think I’ve ever seen to view the mountains. And the grounds were nice. We spent the afternoon walking around the whole area and browsed and bought some gifts in the marvelous gift shop. That first night we gave the takeout cafe another chance and this time, it was even more disappointing––totally awful for me and not much better for the others.

FFOB—at Times a Cuss Word (my very own four-letter ‘F’ word)

Next morning, I got up very early and bundled up because it was cold and went outside. There were two Adirondack-style chairs in front of our cabin, and I used one. I had my laptop and got started. I had received a request the day before for two articles regarding the Florence Festival of Books and they were needed right then, of course. It took awhile, but I found two articles from 2019 that I could use. I reworked them, and sent to Aleia at the Florence Events Center to put in the Center Stage publication and to send to the newspaper regarding the FFOB. Every day, I checked my email, whenever we had a signal, and there were always questions I needed to respond to from both FFOB committee members and participants. Even in the Tetons, I couldn’t get away from FFOB stuff.

Great Expectations Fulfilled

With nowhere to go for breakfast, we had PBJ sandwiches for breakfast. At least, the others did. I had a mandarin orange and a Clif bar. It was still early, so we took a scenic drive and the mountains were there—in all their splendor. Thank goodness! Most of the smoke had dissipated during the night and they were fabulous. I was so pleased!

The Tetons are impressive!

We loved being able to see the mountains.
I took this from the Cottonwood Creek picnic site.

We drove all over the place and enjoyed the lakes and mountains. We stopped at a general store at Colter Bay and stocked up on food. Then we could have a picnic lunch. We stopped at Cottonwood Creek picnic area. Fabulous views all day. We came back to our tiny room. Everyone took a nap except me, I went outside back to those comfy Adirondack chairs and read and enjoyed the many photos in two of the books I had gotten at museums in Montana. The day before Jayne in her walks around the area had found a picnic table on a little knoll near the lodge with a great view of the mountains. So, we packed up some of our food, walked to this fabulous site, and had a picnic dinner with a great view of the lake and mountains. It was a bit breezy, but that was okay.

The shuttle boat took us across Jenny Lake to the lower slopes of the Tetons.

The next day more of the same for breakfast and then we packed a lunch and headed for Jenny Lake. The mountains were still visible in all their glory. We boarded a shuttle boat that took us across the lake and then we hiked up the lower slopes of one of the Tetons. Harry and Jayne went farther than Edna and I. Edna would’ve gone on, but her sandals had became a problem. So, we took a loop trail back.

We saw squirrels and a deer came walking along the narrow trail heading right at us. Just as we were about to move off the trail, it moved. On we went. We crossed some bridges over lovely creeks full of water. I was on the look-out for pikas, a small, rabbit-like mammal as cute as can be that lives in the rocky talus slopes at the base of mountainsides at high elevations. This was their prime habitat. When we got back to the boat landing, I talked to the fellows running the shuttle boat about them. And they had seen some the week before and saw a few bears just a couple days earlier. Hmm!  We didn’t see any pikas or bears.

One of the streams we crossed during the hike.

That afternoon, we headed into Jackson or as tourists call it Jackson Hole. It still is an adorable town, but very, very, very crowded with tourists. We could hardly wait to get away from all the people. We stopped at a park on the edge of town where there were few people and had a picnic lunch. An elk came into the park and kept an eye on us nearly the whole time we were there as he wandered about.

Surprises in Bronze

On the way back, we stopped at the National Museum of Wildlife Art. We had noticed it coming into Jackson and decided to check it out after lunch.

The museum specialized in bronzes. Bronzes of nearly every wild animal imaginable. It was fabulous and such a wonderful surprise. And they had two special shows with wildlife themes. One was of Andy Warhol art involving valued wild animals and the other of Ai Weiwei with his Chinese Zodiac heads done in Legos. Both shows were quite amazing and also such a surprise! This museum was definitely worth a stop.

Most of this building is underground and many bronzes were also on the walkways leading from parking to the building. This museum was simply full of surprises.

Ending in Style

We ended our Teton trip in style. That third evening in the Tetons was our last evening to all be together. We dressed up a bit and dined in a really fabulous dining room, the Mural Room, and had a fabulous dinner. Everything was delicious—the perfectly cooked red trout, the roasted broccolini, the mashed Yukon gold potatoes with bacon—that I ordered makes my mouth water just to think about.

And the next morning, we were back in the same dining room having a fabulous breakfast buffet. And the mountains seen through those extremely tall windows were still gorgeous. It was totally wonderful. A great way to end our time in the Tetons!

After breakfast, we packed up and went our separate ways after heartfelt goodbyes. I headed over Teton Pass and my car had to really work as it made its way up the steep grade over the 8,431-foot pass. Then down through Swan Valley and west to Idaho Falls to the freeway that crosses the width of the state near its southern border.  The highway bypassed Boise and ended up in Ontario, Oregon, where I had reservations for the night.

All day the weather had been pleasant, the wildfire smoke almost gone, and the traffic moved with no problems. I was impressed by the rest stops in Idaho. Each one had an impressive and unique building with plenty of grassy areas. The motel in Ontario was expecting me and the room was very nice. I enjoyed the privacy, with only me in the room, after three nights of four people in one room. I slept very well.

This is just one of several very impressive rest stops along the highway in Idaho.

The trip across Oregon the next day was also uneventful. I no longer had to pump my own gas, but I did have to learn to slow down. I had gotten used to 80 on the major roads in Montana and Wyoming and 70 in Idaho. I was back in Oregon where the speed limit was 55! This time around, I did not get lost in Bend. And without the wildfire smoke, the mountains and forests were beautiful from Hwy 20 and Hwy 126––except for the 27 miles or so that were burned in the Holiday Farm Fire that began last year on Labor Day. That fire burned for weeks, burning 173,000 acres and 1,100 structures and wiping out most of the town of Blue River. A year later, I saw some rebuilding evident as well as lots of logging of burned trees.  It is still a sad, sad sight.

When I got to Florence, I did major grocery shopping, since I had been gone two weeks and had very little to eat in the house. When I got home, the best part was the grand welcome from Groucho. He didn’t quit purring or let me out of his sight for days.

The whole trip—the Montana portion and the visits to Yellowstone and the Tetons––was marvelous. The best part was reconnecting with family––immediate family that I hadn’t seen since the pandemic began and cousins I had not seen in 29 years. It was, indeed, the  trip of a lifetime—one I will always remember.

About crossingsauthor

Judy Fleagle spent 22 years teaching 1st and 2nd grades and 21 years as editor/staff writer with Oregon Coast and Northwest Travel magazines.Since 2009, she has written five books: "Crossings: McCullough's Coastal Bridges," "The Crossings Guide to Oregon's Coastal Spans," "Around Florence," "Devil Cat and Other Colorful Animals I Have Known," and "The Oregon Coast Guide to the UNEXPECTED!!!."
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