Entering Wyoming we were coming off our first storm (while camping, and you will all remember from my super helpful diagram that camping in the rain is no fun), and to top it off, I was sick. I don’t get really sick that often, and it got to the point that I pulled the sick card. I said to hell with the budget, if we can Priceline a hotel for a reasonable price in Jackson then we’re not camping, we’re nursing my cold and the first of my strange red spots (it’s getting a little weird, I keep getting bites or rashes on this road trip that are inexplicable. I thought the weird sicknesses don’t start til you go to third world countries!?) at a hotel with walls, a roof and a shower that has hot water in it. Well, Priceline, you disappoint me. (Has anyone really ever gotten the deals I always hear of?? We keep trying Priceline and HotelTonight and all that and while it may be a deal to us in our former lives where we were um, employed, they are not real life steals). Anyhow, I suppose it was a blessing in disguise, because after I bought like 4 types of generic cold medicines I was able to sufficiently knock myself out on our gravel bedded campground at night and stop my sniffling enough to enjoy the great outdoors Grand Teton style. We camped at Colter Bay, which I imagine looked a whole lot more like a bay when there’s water in it. All in all, solid little campsite. My two complaints, the area clearly cordoned off as the tent area is laid with gravel. What the? Gravel doesn’t feel good to lie on?? Also, the man at the little shop (which was great, guidebooks, food, huckleberry soft serve, fire starters, so on and so on) had an Aussie accent and told us he was from Florida. He also told me bear bells attract cubs and hence angry momma bears. I’m fairly certain he’s a serial killer. Also, they are beyond bear aware here, they are bear awarely serious. As in, no water bottles in the tents! Holy tchotchkes, did I hold the bear spray close when peeing at night!
Hedging our bets that I’d feel more up for physical activity after a day of rest, and due to the fact that Taste of the Tetons happened to coincide with that date, we spent our first day in Wyoming checking out the town of Jackson. Driving down from our campsite we were treated with some phenomenal views of those peaks. Majestic! To top it off, there was a herd of 100s of buffalo along the road and the cloud cover parted for our photographic benefit.
In the main square of Jackson was live music and a host of local restaurants serving up small tastes for $2-4 a piece. After tasting the Tetons to our hearts delight, and exploring the rest of the downtown area we went into a sports bar (the Town Square Tavern) so Alan could enjoy some football while I was too weak to protest. I was sick, but I’m still myself, so I ordered a crappy beer and pulled out my laptop (free wifi, the best thing Town Square Tavern has going for it). Alan also ordered a beer, and when the waitress came back, no sooner than she dropped off the glasses did she say, “can I get you anything else, tequila shots? Jager bombs? Car bombs?” The glasses hadn’t hit the table, much less our lips. Um, no thanks. I’m not cool enough for that anymore. Clearly. The waitress clearly picked up on our relative uncouth early and decided to not ever bring us the waters we asked for nor come to our table ever again. In case you’re wondering we opted against ordering food from this classy establishment. Sorry waitress, bet you wish you knew you were serving a pair of travel bloggers 😉 If only we were that bad ass. But can you imagine one day? Where like, if you gave us crappy service your establishment would hurt when we post??? Haha, OK I fantasize.
Anyway, we drove over to Jackson Hole ski area afterwards and meandered the green slopes for a bit before checking out the various restaurants on site in search of the proper one for viewing the Giants season opener. We picked one of the lodge restaurants where the bartender was a fellow Giants fan and wound up seated next to a group of 5 guys also watching the game and eating “307 fries” (a large plate of fries soaked in braised elk and buffalo gravy, smothered with cheddar and of course Alan had them add bacon on top). Alan was in heaven: meat, dark beers, whiskey, manly men and football. Except for the Giants’ pathetic loss. I sat on the corner with my salad and iPhone and prepared myself for a terrifying drive home (yes I was sober but we drove through Grand Teton National Park on this practically unpaved and extremely winding road in the pitch-black darkness, rain and some of the most opaque fog I’ve ever seen. EEK.)
The next morning we set out to do some hiking along those rugged Tetons. We went up to Jenny Lake (obviously you can tell from the name that it was lovely). We spent $12 on a round trip boat ride that cuts out about 4 miles of non-vertical trail up to the base of the mountains. We then hiked along a beautiful valley trail which kissed a small creek along the way. Not much in the way of wildlife other than some pika. It was a bit cloudy but we got some decent views of les Tetons Grand (did you know the French men named them after tatas? Them ladies musta had some pointy lady parts). We stopped to eat our picnic lunch a few miles deep, and the trail having lost it’s vertical entirely by that point we decided to head back and see if we couldn’t find this granite hot spring our bartender had told us about.
After about a 30 mile drive south of Jackson we arrived at the turnoff, which lead to a 10 mile dirt road. This would probably take an SUV a couple of minutes, but in Sven? An hour. Each way. But boy was it worth it! We arrived at this gigantic pool filled entirely by a natural supply of hot water that flows out into a waterfall below. You pay $6 a person to use it and it’s incredibly refreshing. Added bonus, it does not smell like sulphur because the water is heated from some sort of mineral composition in this location.
Coming home we neared our campsite around sunset and stopped at famed Oxbow bend to snap a few pictures. One must come prepared to throw some bows at Oxbow bend, as the photographers there are serious and even more serious about the vantage points they’ve sought out and don’t intend on sharing with an amateur with a point and shoot.
Alas, we made it back to camp that night in time to cook and enjoyed some teriyaki pork tenderloin and baked potatoes on the hibachi grill.
Driving out of Jackson we encountered what Alan coined “the most unexpected magnificence.” Brooks Lake National Forest, leaving Shoshone National Park we saw some beautiful mountains. A bit further the landscape changed again and I swear I thought I was driving through Arizona. We stopped to check out Hell’s Half Acre, which is like a little Grand Canyon where the Indians drove herd of buffalo to slaughter. The caves and pigeonholes reminded me a touch of Cappadocia. It goes without saying the drive through Wyoming was a pretty one. Alan made the astute observation that almost all the towns’ elevations were much higher than their populations. Our foreign car stuck out like a sore thumb on a road filled with all American pick-ups. To the point that we invented a new road game where we tried to spot vehicles that were not Ford pick-up trucks.
Pronghorns and buffalo dotted the otherwise sparse views along the highway the rest of the route. Mind-blowing numbers of these pronghorns. You know how when you first see something exciting you go, “Oh my god, a [blank!] Look, it’s a [blank]!” and you feel the need to point it out first to anyone in your vicinity? Well, it started like that with pronghorns, and by the end we were pointing pronghorns with an incredulous, “Oh my god, another freakin’ pronghorn! Pronghorns everywhere!” Who needs Yellowstone when you can go to Gillette, Wyoming?
And lastly in Wyoming we arrived at Devil’s Tower (America’s first national monument!). This was probably the happiest and most serene I’d been yet on this trip. Maybe it’s the relaxation that comes when you exit bear country on a camping trip, maybe it’s the view of the tower and the spectacular sunset we had from our picnic table, the cows mooing in the distance, or perhaps the family of deer that wandered sheepishly into our campsite, or maybe just the Norah Jones and bottle of wine that I shared with my love. But whatever it was, this was a moment that caused me to step back and truly appreciate the incredible opportunity and experience this is for me, for us. (And then the septic pump picked up and our moment of zen was somewhat diminished by the overwhelming presence of poo scent.)
We went up to the tower itself the next morning (our first of three national monuments that day!), driving all of 100 yards and then cashing in the full value of our annual national parks pass (thankfully early, as the national parks are now shutdown!! Thanks government. But really, how third world must the tourists who’ve come here to see our national parks think we are??).
The valley around the tower is home to a city of black tailed prairie dogs. Uber cute. Closer up, I had an embarrassingly frightening wildlife encounter with… wait for it… a squirrel! That thing ran at me so fast and with such gumption that I literally yelped and started running the other way!!! Hey, it could have had rabies. It gave me a sense of what it might be like to be under attack by a wild animal of legitimate size and why someone might pee their pants in that situation. Once I braved it enough to pass the squirrel we checked out the tower in closer detail. I adored the folklore about how the tower came into existence. Scientists themselves can’t agree on how it was actually formed, so I’ll choose to believe one of the Indian stories. Legend has it that two young girls were being chased by a big bear so they ran as fast as they could and then prayed to the gods for help, the gods then raised a section of the earth below them and the bear’s claws left the grooves along the sides as he tried to reach them. It’s not until you get some context that you realize how large each of those grooved columns actually are. Luckily we got to see some climbers making their way up. Incredible! Check out the pictures below, it is so hard to comprehend the size of the rocks until you see that little man tackling it. I have much respect for any climbers that can do that climb. 1280 feet of practically sheer vertical.