More Natural Beauty: Yellowstone & Grand Teton

Continental DivideWe slept in a little this morning and awoke to a clear blue sky and a warmer morning than yesterday. We unhastily packed up our camp and ended up leaving the campground slightly about ten minutes later than checkout time.

Our main goal for today was to see Old Faithful. We drove across the park to the site, crossing the continental divide several times, and were fascinated to see how much infrastructure there was in that part of the park. The roads were like freeways, which had not been true anywhere else in the park. There was a TON of parking, and several different buildings containing shops, restaurants, museums, etc. It was obvious that this is the most visited part of Yellowstone.

Bison at Old FaithfulWhen we got there, we walked around the geyser a bit, which was steaming. There was a lone bison sitting in the dust just in front of Old Faithful, around which a crowd had formed. I think everyone at that point violated the “stay 25 feet away from the wildlife” rule, but oh well. After taking a picture of the bison, we walked into one of the buildings to see if we could find out when Old Faithful was scheduled to erupt. The park rangers are able to predict within about 10 minutes when it will erupt. It was about quarter to 11 at this point, and the sign said to expect Old Faithful to make an appearance just after noon.

So we had about an hour to kill, which was easy there with all the different things to see. Of course there were other geysers and geothermal features, but they were mostly just steaming, and the only thing we really cared to see at that point was Old Faithful.

Old Faithful InnWe walked through the Visitor Center briefly and then headed for the Old Faithful Inn, which is celebrating its centennial this year. It was very cool. It’s like a very large, fancy log cabin designed to host visitors. I can’t really describe it, so you’ll just have to look at Dave’s photos instead.

By the time we got outside and finished taking pictures of the Inn, it was getting to be about time to wait for the geyser. You could tell, because the benches around Old Faithful were starting to fill up with tourists. This was the largest crowd we’d seen while in Yellowstone – the park was thankfully fairly empty the entire time we were here.

Old FaithfulOld Faithful erupted about eight minutes before noon, close to the predicted time. It blew water high into the sky for just under a minute, then spurted water about half that height for a couple of minutes more, before turning into heavy steam. It might have been a little more fun and interesting if the little girl sitting in front of us hadn’t complained the whole time about this wasn’t fun.

We did a bit of shopping and then had lunch there. Then we got on the road and started driving out of Yellowstone, stopping a few times to take pictures of such things as the Kepler Cascade and Lewis River.

Finally we got to the South Entrance of Yellowstone to exit the park, but ended up waiting for about 20 minutes because there is construction on the road that connects Yellowstone to Grand Teton, and it’s a one-lane road. Dave got out and took some pictures of the river that was right there, and I wrote some postcards. Finally the oncoming traffic all came down the road and we followed the pilot vehicle down the 4 miles of construction.

Entering Grand Teton National ParkAnd then we were in Grand Teton National Park. We were surprised that we didn’t have to go through any kind of entrance gate to pay to enter the park. We later realized that since there’s no way to get through the North Entrance to Grand Teton without going through Yellowstone, they must figure that it’s okay that people already paid to enter Yellowstone. Who knows?

The Tetons are breathtaking. They are precisely what one pictures the Rocky Mountains to be – grey and craggy, with glaciers clinging to the sides of the peaks. As we drove along the road, we came to the northern part of Jackson Lake, which is situated at the base of the mountains. It was such a beautiful scene.

We finally came to our campground at Coulter Bay, and the park ranger was super friendly. This is a very large campground, and it wasn’t very full by the time we got there. “Do you want me to give you my favorite campsite?” he asked. I enthusiastically replied, “Yes!” I was so amused by his demeanor I had to play along. He gave us a site at the very back of the campground, where we wouldn’t have any neighbors behind us, and where we have spectacular views of the mountains. It is the most beautiful campsite we’ve had so far, particularly in terms of the view.

Campsite at Grand TetonIt was mid-afternoon at this point, and it was great to be able to set up our tent in the daylight, and to let our tarp dry a bit.

We headed back out to check out the Visitor Center, since we weren’t given a map at the entrance as would normally happen. The map didn’t really give us much more information than we already had. We poked around a bit to try to find out if we could rent kayaks or a canoe to take onto the lake. It turns out that the lake is extremely low this year, and the marina is already closed for the season. We went down to the marina to check it out, and there was pretty much no water there.

Jackson Lake at Grand TetonSo we drove to the other side of the Visitor Center and parked where we could see the lake. We walked across a very rocky beach and found a nice sandy spot to try to get into the water. I say “try” because it was very cold and it took us a while to get in. We slowly inched our way in deeper and deeper. At mid-waist depth, Dave just jumped in. I inched all the way until my shoulders were covered and then I went under. We swam for just a few minutes before heading back to shore. It was very cold, but not nearly as cold as the Bighorn River we floated down in Montana. It was interesting swimming with the Tetons looking down on us, with their patches of snow sliding down them.

We went back to our campsite and got it set up the rest of the way. Dave edited photos for a while as I read a book. Then we had hot dogs for dinner and cherry hobo pies for dessert. Yummy! And all while it was still light outside! This was really the first night we’ve been able to just enjoy the experience of camping – most other nights we’ve camped, we pretty much just set up the tent, ate, then slept. We’re going to try to get to bed early tonight. Tomorrow might be a long day, trying to get out of Grand Teton and make it all the way to Salt Lake City.

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