Grand Teton National Park: A Smoky Visit
We rolled into the park at midnight. It had been a long day, getting up very early in the morning to fly into Salt Lake City. We had a couple of hours to explore the city - we visited the Cotopaxi store and Epic brewing - the got to pick up our Native Campervan! We met James and Vanis Joplin (our van), then had a long and windy drive up to Wyoming. We pulled into Gros Ventre campground near midnight feeling anxious about finding an open site. We've had a few too many bad experiences, mostly in Joshua Tree, of rolling into a campground to find it completely full. We got lucky, and ended up with a couple of sites to choose from. We picked what looked like an easy one to pull the van into and almost immediately crawled into bed. This “going right to bed” may sound like a normal thing, but usually being tent campers, who arrive and have to build a little home, this was incredible. Typically, we roll in, and have to set up a tent, blow up air pads and pillows, and finally crawl into bed. This isn’t always fun after dark. Pulling into a spot at midnight, putting the van in park, and turning around to climb right into bed was one of the best camping experiences we’re ever had. We slept so good. We decided to relax a little and let the next morning come when we were ready, no early sunrise alarm, so we could start off a week long trip with a good nights rest. We woke up a little after eight, well rested, happy, and anxious to see what was outside of the cozy van
The First Day - Camping at Gros Ventre Campground
Gros Ventre Campground is definitely a place we'll be visiting again in the future. We needed to get moving quick after sleeping in to go secure a site for the next couple nights closer to the middle of the park. This campground is at the most southern part of the park, right next to the Elk Refuge. It is surrounded by a lot of open space and some beautiful scenery. We had breakfast and coffee and hit the road to head!
The drive up to Colter Bay was stunning. The day was clear and the sky was blue... but sadly, we didn't know this was the clearest we would see the Tetons the whole trip. We didn’t stop to take photos because we decided to go claim a campsite, and then we planned to come back. The drive was stunning, and we got a great campsite, but the smoke from nearby wildfires moved in soon thereafter and shaded our view of the mountains for the rest of the trip. It took some emotional fortitude to get over this, as we had planned to see the mountains and take lots of photos, maybe find some water with some blue sky reflections, but those things just were not meant to be. It was still a unique scene and very beautiful, even with the smoke casting strange colors and haze on every thing in the distance.
A Couple More Nights - Colter Bay Campground
We enjoyed the Colter Bay Campground. It was bigger and more crowded than places we’re used to, but the sites are well laid out. We had a flat spot to park, a nice little bit of grass with a fire pit and picnic table, and a bathroom very close. The site was very quiet after dark, and made a good home for a couple of nights.
We got rained out over our first night here, so it was very nice to have the van and indoor kitchen. This happened to also be our five year wedding anniversary, so we went fancy with a Good To Go Classic Marinara and Penne and some local beers!
Rainstorms and Weather!
The most exciting part of our time in Grand Teton were a couple of rainstorms. The first day, we stopped for lunch and were quickly surprised by raindrops hitting the van. This is not a sort of weather that we experience much in California, so it meant we jumped out of the van and let it rain all around us. The rain turned to small hail for a few minutes, and that was even more amazing to us. The rain came and went that day, popping up for a hike out to String Lake and later at dinner. It was a beautiful thing to just be in the rain.
Hiking Around String Lake Area
Our only hike in Grand Teton was around String Lake. We didn’t plan a lot of activity in Grand Teton, due to being there for only a short time, and planning to go chase rivers and waterfalls and mountain views. Th smoke didn’t cooperate, so we improvised as best we could, and opted to explore a bit of water from a trail. We parked at the String Lake Picnic parking area, and the parking lot led us very easily to a trail. We walked through the woods for about a mile or so, then the water just couldn’t be avoided. Kim jumped in, despite the water being about two feet deep and very cold. It was refreshing I’m sure, but I opted to stay in the water from the knees down, and enjoy the rain falling around me. The trail in this area follows the edge of the lake, and you are rarely far from the shore. We watched for bears and wildlife at every turn, but didn't run into any creatures!
Drive Up Signal Mountain
We had not heard of this little drive prior to getting our park map, but noticing a little off shoot of the main road, we just had to give it a try. We were pretty smoked out from good views that day, but we wanted to see what the drive took us to anyway. It's a narrow and windy road, but easy to drive and paved. I imagine the views are just amazing on a clear day, but we got mostly smoke and haze. Still, it was a great spot to enjoy the views and take a little break from the busy park below!
A Wildlife Highlight - A Moose at Schwabacher Landing
We woke up very early on our second day in the Tetons, hoping to go find some amazing wildlife and scenery. Our first stop was at Schwabacher Landing. This is a small turnoff on the outside road, which leads to a bumpy dirt road. The van did just fine on the road, which led to a small parking area. We jumped out with cameras and binoculars, still in our pajama pants, and headed down a little dirt trail. Almost immediatly, we ran into a small group of people watching something in the distance... a moose! We think the moose was a lady, because it had no antlers, but we stood quietly and watched it enjoy it's breakfast, then wander off, walking right through the little river. This was the first animal we saw, and we were just in awe of it's size and how amazing it is to see wild animals in the wild like that. There were lots of ducks and birds around in the water, but we didn't spot any beavers or other creatures. The moose was enough.
Oxbow Bend - Where's The Wildlife?
We must have just had bad timing, we'd heard that Oxbow Bend is the place to spot animals of all kinds, especially moose. We stopped there a couple of times and watched and waited, but we only ever saw ducks. The place is truly beautiful enough without the animals. Early in the morning, the water gives off a layer of steam that makes quite a scene to take in. We saw a few elk at one stop, very far off with our binoculars, but not much else!
The Ansel Adams Shot - Snake River Overlook
Lots of people are familiar with that one photo by that famous photographer guy, Ansel Adams. It was one of my favorite photos back in college, when I was studying photography as a fine art, but I had no idea at that time what or where Grand Teton even was. Fast forward, and I found out that it was in this park, and we were visiting, and I was excited to go see that view for myself. Sadly, the smoke took over, and the view was hazy at best, and completely blocked out at the worst. Still, we were able to see the river, and the Tetons, and it was a fun moment to see the photo I loved with my own eyes - and of course, we took a few photos of our own!
The Highlight - In A Native Campervan Down By The River
Since we had to adjust a bit due to the smoke and haze, we opted for taking advantage of some rest and relaxation in our camper van. Kim found a winding road that led to the river, and ended up on a soft dirt road with a big parking spot. We parked. The river was just a few feet away, the vans doors were all open, the breeze was coming through, kayaks floated by every now and then... and we just relaxed. Vacation is meant for moments like this. We laid in the bed, read a little, drank a couple of beers, had some lunch, and just sat in the moment. Rolling with the punches of the wildfires, we ended up in a wonderful moment of peace and quiet, in a camper van home, with a river rolling by. It doesn't get much better.
Here is a video with some footage of our trip:
It's clear that our time in Grand Teton was not what many others experience, so it seems we may need to go back again in the future. Maybe not over fire season, next time. We would love to see those mountains against clear blue skies, maybe with some snow all around, and definitely from a Native campervan. This trip was fun and relaxing, but we're already planning for "next time!"
Have you been to Grand Teton? Tell us about your experience!
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