Anyplace where I can see moose, elk, bison, eagles and either a very large coyote or possibly a wolf, all within a single day, is definitely a place I want to hang out for a while. I had seen the photos of Oxbow Bend, and the Grand Teton peaks, but I wasn’t prepared for the dramatic imposing scale of these mountains as they seem to shoot directly out of the earth, with no foothills to soften their ascent or provide a sense of scale. I found myself just looking at them again and again and trying to conceptualize how huge they were!
I spent several days camping at the Colter Bay RV Campground, and it was mostly a cold, wet, and rainy stay, with snow breaking through off and on. I combined time exploring and hiking with a couple of days hunkered down in my camper to read and rest.
The hike that was my favorite ended up being an abbreviated version of one suggested to me by a friend back home, which was to do the hike that starts at the String Lake Trail Head, in the area by North Jenny Lake Junction, around Jenny Lake and into the Cascade Canyon. The Canyon ended up being under snowpack and I didn’t have the right equipment with me for that, but the hike up and around Jenny Lake was beautiful. It starts in the area around an old burn, and the area is still covered with fallen trees. The lack of trees means that you can see easily the boulders scattered along the side of the mountain, right where the last ice age left them. It also means you can see all around you to look out for grizzly bears, which were definitely active while I was there.
I didn’t realize how nervous I was about meeting a grizzly until I found myself walking along the trail, bear spray on my belt and bear bell jingling while I sang the song “You’ll Be Back” (from Hamilton, and badly) for extra volume as I meandered my way past the fully flowing stream below. I was trying to be bear aware, and apparently failing at it because from directly behind me came the calm voice of a very nice young man who was letting me know that he was passing on my left. My startled reaction was to scream loudly, jump uncontrollably into the air, and flail my arms about, with hiking poles attached and flailing in the air as well. It was the kind of scream where I knew it needed to stop but the process of pushing it out of my body had already begun and I had to just wait it out. Turns out, it didn’t actually stop, but rather morphed into embarrassed hysterical laughter, which I also couldn’t stop. That poor kid stood there laughing (definitely at me and not so much with me) for a few minutes before he passed by with as much space as possible and resumed his hike. The absurdity of that moment is going to stick with me for a very long time.
The next big moment came when I encountered Marmot Village, which is what they should call the section of the path that is filled with these creatures. Apparently some of them have lived there long enough to have names, and refuse to get off the path as you walk by. You just have to walk around them. I was a little nervous initially, because those stupid “Honey Badger” YouTube videos that my son coerced me into watching were still in my head. I had visions of marmots going rogue and attacking me. A ranger on the path assured me no, they just have learned to ignore people so I calmed down again and continued on. The ignoring part might have been a stretch because on the way back, one of them stood on the side of the path and clearly was trying to make itself as big as possible in a bit of a “none shall pass!” gesture. Cute. I thought about giving it a belly rub as I passed by, but decided that would be pushing it.
Anyway, on down the path and past the Marmot Village I had a very bizarre experience, which is best described as one of those altered states that happens sometimes when I’m in nature, when everything around me starts looking intensely beautiful. It’s hard describe, but lets just go with a nature based wabi sabi kind of acid trip, or maybe think about the double rainbow guy (to be clear, I’m not actually taking any kind of drugs, it just feels like a modified state of consciousness). I was very aware of it, and just looking around and marveling at how many shades of green show up in the spring, and the beauty of the aspen trees with their yellow buds, and how clear the water is, and how walking through the trees feels so comforting. I realize this may sound strange, but I’ve had that experience in nature before and it’s transcendent. I love it.
I made it all the way to the entrance to Cascade Canyon, and walked a little further around the lake to the point where the trail was closed, before heading back. I didn’t see any bears, and the main wildlife of the entire hike was really just the marmots, but the landscape itself was so enchanting that it was the best hike I’ve had on this trip so far.
The next day, the snow arrived. They had over a foot of it up in the mountains and more up in nearby Yellowstone, but down at the campground elevation we had only a few inches. I mostly stayed in my camper and read, but did head out to stretch my legs and walk down to the lake and up to the visitors center to watch some of their movies, which were very interesting. There is also an Indian Arts Exhibit at both the Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center and the Colter Bay Visitor Center. My favorite part of it was the ledger art ,where old ledgers, accounting books and other paper sourced from the U.S. government was re-used as a canvas for paintings. Often the paintings would reflect the native american view of what the ledgers were recording, which made for an interesting juxtaposition.
Most of the other short hikes I was able to fit in between rain showers were to vantage points to look for wildlife. This park does not disappoint in that regard, although it’s often from afar. I’ll be heading to Yellowstone soon, and I’m told the wildlife there tends to get very close to people, so that should also be interesting. I’d love to see a grizzly, from the inside of my truck or a safe distance away!
Overall impression: I am loving Wyoming, and the Grand Tetons were a wonderful introduction to the area. I’ll definitely be back, although I think it was a good idea to visit in the off season and I understand it can get extremely crowded here in the summer.
Costs: I stayed at the Colter Bay RV Campground inside the park, where the rate is $71/night with full hookups. That is the only RV option in the area, and the price reflected the prime real estate. I ate most meals were at my camper, but I did try out the restaurant at Signal Mountain Lodge, and the restaurant down at Moose Junction. Both had acceptable offerings for lunch in the $15 range, including a drink. Park entrance fees are $30/vehicle for 7 days. There is also an option to buy a Grand Teton & Yellowstone pass that is $50/vehicle for 7 days. My entrance fees were covered by my Interagency Annual Pass.