|Grand Tetons snow-capped peaks rise 14,000 feet in northwest Wyoming.|
If there was anything missing at all this day in the massive park filling the northwest corner of Wyoming, it was the lack of wildlife. My brother Larry -- a tour guide extraordinaire -- had promised we'd be stumbling across a veritable zoo of beasts. Maybe not lions and tigers and bears, but plenty of elk and bison and moose.
We did spot the occasional chipmunk and squirrel but, apparently, Yellowstone's animals were on break, at least for the moment. That would soon change and the snap decision I had made only a few days earlier to drop all I was doing and fly 1,500 miles across the country would eventually register big in the winning category.
The adventure began with a cryptic text from Larry, asking if I was interested in visiting the Grand Tetons? Both parks -- the Tetons and Yellowstone -- were nestled atop my bucket list and, at the time, I was nestled atop a comfy couch in my den.
|Larry and me at Hidden Falls in Grand Teton National Park.|
Three days later, thanks and a tip of the cap to Frontier Airlines, I was meeting up with my brother in Salt Lake City. Another five hours and 300 miles later we were pulling into Jackson Hole after passing through parts of Utah, Idaho and Wyoming, three states that for me had been only distant blips on a map! A fourth state, Montana, would also drop into my "been there" basket during the trip.
The journey, especially through the Teton Pass -- 25 miles or so of twisting and plummeting drop offs that spill into rocky canyons and verdant meadows -- offered up a memorable preview of the next few days.
I got my first up close and personal look at the Tetons the following morning. The mountain range stretches to the far horizon of Grand Teton National Park -- 40 miles or so -- and its snow-capped peaks rise 14,000 feet above the valley floor. Because there are no foothills along the eastern side of the range, the view is, in a word, breathtaking!
Larry and I spent an hour or so orienting ourselves, driving along a twisting road in the park that hugged the landscape with a dusty embrace. We eventually stumbled across a trailhead that caught our attention and decided to hike into the nearby forest. We weren't alone.
|A field of wildflowers one of the joys of hiking in our national parks.|
There was much to see. The path was a cornucopia of wild flowers and evergreen trees, a trickling creek and gushing waterfall. Off in the distance, the Tetons stood watch, a hovering presence forever reaching out to the sky.
We stayed busy enjoying the bounty, following the marked trail that took us ever higher. Around each bend was a new find, often something small and simple like a field of Glacier Lilies or a ledge covered with Alpine Forget-Me-Nots. Occasionally there was something grand and memorable: a wooden bridge spanning a gushing stream or a picturesque meadow that stretched into tomorrow!
Only 40 minutes or so into the hike we hit a plateau, surrounded by trees and an assortment of flowers. High above, the Tetons remained a quiet sentinel, lightly mirrored in the chilly waters of a mountain lake that spilled across a distant valley. All was quiet. Only a passing breeze dared break the ethereal silence.
|Old Faithful popping off yet again.|
There were boiling mud pots, vividly colored hot springs such as the Grand Prismatic Spring and a host of regularly erupting geysers, including Old Faithful that faithfully popped off only minutes after we arrived.
We spent most of the day walking about these other-worldly sites while also taking in the other natural wonders of the park: gently rolling meadows and cascading waterfalls, fields of colorful wild flowers and acres of virgin forests. But the day was playing out and one of the park's main attractions, the animals, were still AWOL!
We had managed to work our way up to the Mammoth Hot Springs Historic District, the administrative and concession headquarters for the park, just outside Gardiner, Mont., where a park ranger seemed surprised we were having difficulty finding any wildlife. After all, more than 60 mammal species, including gray wolves, grizzly bears, black bears, lynxes, bison and elk have been spotted in the park in recent years.
|Finally we spotted a herd of bison spread across a field in Lamar Valley.|
After checking out the herd of elk -- amazing, simply amazing -- we were back on the road, racing against the clock and a pale blue sky filled with storm clouds growing dark on the far horizon. Only 30 minutes later we spotted several cars that had pulled off the road, generally a good sign that something interesting was in the area. And so it was!
Just 50 yards ahead, a herd of bison were making their way to a field, crossing the road in front of our car. They paid little notice to the attention they were receiving from a gaggle of tourists. Their young -- the bisons, not the tourists -- scampered about playfully while their elders focused on the good eats in the meadow.
|And after the storm this amazing rainbow appeared.|
The evening was upon us as we headed back toward Gardiner. I asked Larry to pull off the road as the sun began its final descent of the day and glanced about at the natural beauty of this place. A gentle and distant promise filled my soul and at least for a time I found myself a human, as the saying suggests, simply being ... and it was evening and it was morning and it was good!