“Les Trois Tetons” ~ Grand Teton NP

Fur trappers, when first gazing upon the Teton Range, dubbed the South, Middle, and Grand peaks “Les Trois Tetons”, meaning “the three breasts”.

With less than three days to explore one of nature’s finer creations, Grand Teton National Park, we knew we would be leaving much for another time.  A day of hiking and one dedicated to exploring the park’s beauty through a lens seemed the best approach. Fortunately this wasn’t our first visit so we didn’t feel compelled to maintain a crazed, frenetic pace.

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Bison at Antelope Flats

Waiting in a long line at the entrance station, hubby turned to me and said “remind me why we decided to visit a national park during peak season and while the National Park Service is celebrating their centennial year”.  Yes, probably not our most prudent decision.  Shoulder season is typically our time for exploring these treasures but a planned visit to friends in the area and another adventure already scheduled for the fall found us rubbing elbows with hordes of tourists.

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Grand Teton reflection on Jackson Lake

With map and park newspaper in hand we pulled away from the entrance station and were immediately reminded of why we are drawn to this park.  Without any rolling foothills to soften the visual effects, Grand Teton’s massive, craggy peaks rose dramatically off the Jackson Hole valley floor, a sight likely to leave most breathless.

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Terry on the trail

The 2.7 billion-year-old rocks found in the core of this range are some of the oldest in North America, but these magnificent mountains rank among the youngest in the world.

After passing a couple of full campgrounds and another long wait, we quickly set up camp at Colter Bay.   With map and newspaper in hand we charted our course for the next two days.

The Forks of Cascade Canyon Trail at Jenny Lake became our hike of choice. Instead of taking the boat shuttle across the lake, an option for many as it shaves about four miles off the hike, we opted to start our trek from the String Lake trailhead.  It made for a nice 12.5-mile hike, with a 2000’ elevation gain.

We even got a peek at a moose feeding in the willows across a meadow, a wonderful treat. They have been known to dive up to 18 feet under the water’s surface and stay there for up to a minute, in search of aquatic plants, which makes for a rather uncooperative photography subject.

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Moose munching on willows

The next morning found me rubbing sleep out of my eyes at 4:30 am, heading out in the hopes of capturing sunrise shots without the crowds.  Tucked into a warm bed, hubby graciously declined the offer to join me.

Both artists and photographers flock to the Tetons.  With her sagebrush flats, wet and alpine meadows, lakes, ponds, and forests, there is plenty available for a creative mind.

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Moulton Barn on Mormon Row

A favorite stop to complete a wonderful day of sightseeing was the Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve Center.  This plot of land south of the village of Moose offers 8 miles of trails and showcases Mr. Rockefeller’s vision and his legacy of conservation stewardship.  A small circular room allows you to quietly sit, enjoying the sounds of the park: crickets chirping, owls hooting, wolves howling, male ruffed grouse flapping his wings in courtship, an elk’s mating call, wind blowing through an aspen grove, a thunderstorm…ahhh!

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Just me and my shadow at Oxbow Bend

Wind speaks through pines.  Light animates granite.  An eagle soars – it’s shadow crosses over us. All life is intertwined.  ~ Anonymous

 This is the connectedness felt when we quiet ourselves in nature.

Sacred Space or Climbing Mecca ~ Devils Tower National Monument, WY

Legend of Devils Tower ~ photo credit Google
Legend of Devils Tower ~ photo credit Google

According to the Lakota tribe, while at play, a group of young girls were chased by giant bears. Their escape was to climb atop a rock and pray to the Great Spirit to save them.The Great Spirit heard their pleas and the rock rose to the heavens, keeping the young girls safe from attack.  Deep claw marks in the sides of the rock evidence the ursine’s attempts to reach the girls. These are the marks which appear today on the sides of Devils Tower.  When the girls reached the sky, they were turned into the star constellation Pleiades.

There are things in the natural world that induce a stillness of spirit, a sense of wonder. For me, Devils Tower is one of those things.  President Theodore Roosevelt must have felt this same sense of awe as he gazed upwards at this rocky sentinel rising 1267 feet above the surrounding landscape, as this was to be his choice for the first national monument on September 24, 1906.  With a one-mile circumference, it is a sight to behold.

The name “Bear’s Lodge” given to this stately tower by Native Americans became woefully mistranslated by a U.S. Army interpreter to that of “Bad Man’s Tower”, which then became Devils Tower.  Northern Plains Indians have objected to this name and wish to see it changed to Bear Lodge National Historic Landmark but they have been met by local opposition, fearing a name change would affect tourism.

There is an ongoing debate about how this massive tower was formed.  Most geologists agree that Devils Tower was formed by the forceful passage of molten material between other rock formations but they can’t agree whether this magma reached the earth’s surface or how that process took place.  What is known is that this material cooled and crystallized, forming hexagonal (4 to 7-sided) columns separated by vertical fissures, compatible to columns found at Devil’s Postpile National Monument in California, but those at Devils Tower are much larger.  These are the tallest and widest columns in the world, some more than 600 feet tall and 10-20 feet wide.

Many ask, “should this be a sacred tower, a climbing mecca, or is there room for both?” It has long been held as sacred ground by over 20 Native American tribes but has also been sought as an international climbing destination since its first ascent on July 4, 1893.  Out of respect for Native American beliefs, the National Park Service has asked climbers to refrain from climbing the tower during the month of June, when many tribes gather here for prayer, sun dance, sweat lodge ceremonies, and vision quests.

With wind blowing through the pines, the sun's final light sets the tower aglow.
With wind blowing through the pines, the sun’s final light sets the tower aglow.

Records of the tower climbs have been kept since that first ascent by William Rogers and Willard Ripley in 1893, using a wooden ladder to climb the first 350 feet.  Two years later Mrs. Rogers used that same ladder to become the first woman to summit. Remnants of that ladder can still be seen today on the side of Devils Tower.  Annually 5000+ climbers world-wide come to tackle this technically difficult tower and over 220 climbing routes have been established.  Five deaths have resulted from attempting this climb, the most recent being in 2003.  We watched in awe as one climber worked his way up the tower barefoot.

We were content to extol her beauty with our feet planted terra firma. 🙂

The Yellowstone Experience

“Everyone needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike.”  ~John Muir~

The Yellowstone Experience – something everyone should know.  My husband Terry and I were recently marveling that it took us so long to find our way to this land of magic and mystery.  After spending over two years in a place of such raw, wild beauty, it is time for us to move on and gain new insights and explore new corners of the world.  But before we leave this paradise, it is important to touch on a few of the wonderful experiences we shared here, together and with special friends.

Hiking was by far our favorite pastime, where we could leave the worries of the day and immerse ourselves in God’s splendor, the backcountry of Yellowstone, where we knew for certain that we were not on the top of the food chain, but sharing this wilderness with those who were here before us – grizzly, black bear, bison, and elk, to name a few.  Terry always felt that being amongst the wild ones kept all his senses on high alert, which was the best way to view nature.

Some of our hikes were shared with two of our most favorite people, Rosie and Jim Johnson, who we know from Sedona and who summer in Yellowstone.  At times Jim’s alter ego Jimmy would come along for the ride.

Rosie Relaxing on Rescue Creek Trail
Jim, Our Photographer
Terry Enjoying Pebble Creek Trail
Terry & Lu - Pebble Creek Trail
"Jimmy" on Elephant Back Trail

Friday, September 3rd ~ Moving Day

This was a bittersweet day for us, leaving the grandeur of Yellowstone, the people we have come to know and love and our apartment that faced Mt. Everts and allowed us the opportunity to look out our window and view wildlife at its finest, newborn elk and bison calves with their moms.  Some days walking to work was an interesting  journey of dodging the elk, who can be more aggressive with their babes in tow.

All of our worldly possessions are crammed into a 10-foot U-Haul and the back of our truck camper.  Of this, some would think, look how far they have fallen!  We prefer to see this as a very freeing experience that will allow us to pick up and move about as we see fit.  This is certainly not appealing to everyone but seems to be what is calling us at this time in our lives.

Leaving Yellowstone

One last lunch for a while with our friend Rosie (sorry Jim could not be there) and we are off.   We are sorry to be leaving so soon before the beginning of the elk rut, where the resident elk herd at Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone perform quite a show for employees and guests alike.  As if staged, a very large bull elk strolled into Mammoth this very morning, getting ready to round up his harem of cows and steel himself against any other bulls in the area who may want to challenge him.

A very prominent bull elk lovingly known as “Number 6” (the ear tag number on him) was king of this territory until a freak accident took his life over a year ago.  He was a “bad boy” who had to have his antlers removed a couple of times for doing battle with vehicles and making a nuisance of himself.  He was a beauty who gave us all chills whenever we heard him bugle.  There were many tears shed over his passing.

2009 Mammoth Bull Elk

Goodbye for now Yellowstone.  We will remember your wildness, your breathtaking vistas, and all the wonderful people who you summon and continue to draw back to your beauty and mystery year after year.