Monday, July 4, 2011

The Great American Road Trip - Part 4

Grand Teton National Park

The French speaking explorers who named this mountain range called it "les trois Tetons" or The Three Breasts. I studied that mountain range long and hard and I think they must have been some pretty lonely trappers.

I've already told you that we first glimpsed the beautiful mountain range and the surrounding national park on our drive through to Jackson, WY. After the pizza and the shootout in town, we actually got to spend the night in the national park. Lodging in the national parks is not particularly abundant and they sell out quickly. There are campsites, cabins and rooms in the beautiful historic lodges. Though the lodges are generally quite posh, most of the rooms don't have private baths, as they were mostly built 100 or more years ago and have been kept as original as possible.

I delayed my planning too long to get one of those rooms. In fact, the only lodging I managed to secure within the parks was a "tent cabin" for our one night at Teton. I'd never heard of a tent cabin before, but I was told it was just one step up from tent camping. Our tent cabin had two walls and an awning made of canvas and two log walls. For most of my family, three of whom are what I like to call "avid INdoorsmen," it looked pretty grim. And, truthfully, I prefer the tent camping that we do once a year to our experience in the cabin. The canvas was cut and finished with holes too generous for the supporting poles, leaving gaps beckoning an invitation to the huge flock of mosquitos outside. We had to buy firewood and kindling to burn in the iron wood stove to keep us thawed during the 40-degree night. And we know the quality and cleanliness of our own air mattresses we use in our tents - not so the nasty striped ticking on the cots provided. I have to say, though, the family went from stomping about over the conditions to laughing about the conditions (and laughing about the stomping) very quickly. I know we'll remember it and smile always.

We wasted no time packing up and moving on the next morning. We were none too comfortable and, besides, we had an appointment at 8:00 for a rafting tour of Snake River.

Our guide was named Mike and he was born and raised in Teton National Park. His father worked for the Park's concessionaire so Mike lived in those beautiful surroundings until he went away to college in Hawaii. He was certainly knowledgeable about the park and it's wildlife, but I was most fascinated about the things he shared about living in such an isolated environment. He asked Ava how many kids were in her class (24) and how many different third grade classrooms there were (3). He was one of three kids in his third grade class. All six primary grades met in one building with two teachers, younger kids downstairs, older kids upstairs. That school is on the park's grounds, but when he advanced to middle school, he went to Jackson and rode the bus 1.5 hours ONE WAY. When he got his lisence, it cut down on the commute time, but he put 300 miles on his car every week. When they went on vacations, they went to cities - practicing not talking to strangers and learning how public transportation works.

River Guide Mike also recommended a hike to Hidden Falls, which sounded good to us after our three-hour raft trip and lunch. It was a very ambitious hike and probably not the right one to introduce hiking to the kids. By the way, what is the difference between hiking and walking? I'm not sure I know, but I do know I wished for my family to have their eyes up to enjoy the scenery on this hike. We started the day with five bottles of water in our bag and two of them were gone during the raft ride. I wasn't concerned having just three bottles for the hike, but when two of them were guzzled before we got to the falls, I knew we'd have to seriously conserve on our return.

(This hike afforded us really rewarding views, and really unrewarding photos.)

Halfway through our two+ mile return hike, Ava started lagging behind. Mike slowed up with her while I charged ahead with the olders. Only one problem: Mike had the one and only water bottle with the paltry inch and a half of remaining water. The last mile was grim. Mouths were parched and sticky, muscles were straining, tears were shed. And it was pretty hard on the kids, too.

When we got back to the Visitors' Center and the drinking fountain, Brooks said between gulps, "This is possibly the worst thing we've ever done." On the plus side the view of the waterfall was very spectacular and we even spotted a baby moose who stepped into our path and then scampered (as much as a giant thing can scamper) into the wilderness before I could get my camera out.

(Look closely for the moose.)

But more than anything was a sense of accomplishment. I read in one of our guide books that a national park vacation should be mentally relaxing but physically exhausting and that they should be the chance to find out what you can do. And I hope that my family can all fully absorb that a five-mile hike in the dehydrating heat over rocky terrain is not our limit. It's good to know that and to understand that you can go further yet.

That was some great-feeling pain.

1 comment:

  1. "great-feeling pain" - I am adding that to my vocabulary.

    Loved the local color of your river guide - so neat to hear that when I'm afraid Americans are turning into a homogeneous bore.

    That tent-cabin is a really dumb idea with 40 degree nights AND mosquitoes. Sheesh. Glad you only had one night there.


I write my posts imagining that I am already in the middle of a conversation with you. I hope you will comment and be a part of the conversation.