Nauru Travel Diary

From Houston to Sydney 2013

From Houston

to Sydney



Grand Teton National Park lies just to the south of Yellowstone.  Compared to its more famous neighbour to the north, Grand Teton is much smaller (it is just 14% the size of Yellowstone), but has a long history (being incorporated in 1929) and a very different character.  Whereas Yellowstone’s identity is based on volcanic and high altitude hydrothermal features, Grand Teton is a spectacular series of mountain peaks that rise sharply almost 7,000 feet above the valley floor, which itself is over 6,000 feet in altitude.

It is an area of outstanding natural beauty, as the peaks rise immediately from the wildflower-covered outwash plain and glacial lakes to their immediate east without any intermediate foothills.  The result is a stunning panorama of mountain peaks that seem (to me) to scream out to be photographed.

Today’s weather forecast said that the morning would be fine with patchy clouds that would thicken as the day progressed before culminating in a thunderstorm at about 4 pm.  The forecast suggested that the skies would become clearer after the storm.

We planned our visit with the parameters of the weather in mind.  The drive from West Yellowstone (where we are staying) to the main scenic area of Grand Teton would normally take two and a half hours without stops, following the shortest and most direct route through Yellowstone National Park.

We set off at about 9 am this morning, and by 11 am (right on schedule!), we reached the northern boundary of Grand Teton National Park.  Soon after entering the park, the wonderful panoramic vistas began to open up before us as the peaks of the mountains rose above the blue waters of Jackson Lake.

Unlike most national parks, Grand Teton does not have a guarded entry point on its northern side, so after a few roadside photo stops, we called into the Visitor Center at Colter Bay to obtain a map and check out the detailed information available there.

With the promise of excellent views of the mountains across the waters of Lake Jackson, we decided to take the short drive to Oxbow Bend Turnout, where we were rewarded with views worthy of an artist’s painting – I make this claim because while we were there, we shared the location with a painter who was sitting in the shade beneath a tree at the water’s edge capturing the same scene that we had come to admire.

Our next planned stop was the lookout on Signal Mountain, but we had a very exciting unplanned stop on the way there.  As we drove back from Oxbow Bend Turnout, we noticed several cars stopped beside the road with people standing and pointing into the nearby grassland.  That was a sure sign that wildlife had been spotted, and this was confirmed when we noticed cones on the road and several park rangers controlling the growing number of onlookers.

The reason was that a grizzly bear was beside the road, and the indications were that it was about to cross the road.  Normally, the recommendations are that people should stay at least 100 metres away from a bear, but in this case, it was less than 30 metres away from the crowd of excited onlookers.

As the bear approached the road, we were herded back to give the bear enough room and to prevent the bear being attracted to food that any of the onlookers may have been carrying.  Although the bear had seemed sluggish and docile when grazing on the bush and grass beside the road, it crossed the road very briskly in what seemed like a skipping motion, causing the park rangers to shout out to everyone to get into their cars – quite dramatic!

We had been hoping to see a grizzly bear a little more clearly than was possible during yesterday’s roadside stop, and this chance encounter brought us much closer than we could have ever hoped or anticipated.  It was certainly an experience to remember.

We resumed our planned itinerary and took the short, narrow, winding roadway to the 7727 feet (2355 metre) summit of Signal Mountain.  Actually there were two lookouts on Signal Mountain.  The less interesting one was at the summit, where the view was towards the wide outwash plains to the east.  The more spectacular view was towards the south-west and the mountain peaks rising sharply from the waters of Leigh Lake, String Lake and Jenny Lake.

We descended from Signal Mountain, and drove south along the eastern edges of the lakes, the most beautiful views being from the shores of Jenny Lake.  We had wonderful, sun-lit views of the mountain peaks, including the glacially sculptured arêtes and cirques, some hanging valleys, and an especially clear view of Teton Glacier.  It was evident by the distance between the tail of Teton Glacier and its large moraine field that this glacier used to be considerably longer than it is now, and it would be interesting to research the relative contributions of warming temperatures and declining precipitation as causes of the glacier’s retreat.

By 3 pm, the clouds were darkening in anticipation of the thunderstorm that had been forecast to begin at 4 pm.  As things turned out, the rain (without thunder) began at about 3:40 pm and lasted for about an hour.  We used this period to start the long drive back towards West Yellowstone, following the same route back through Yellowstone National Park that we had taken that morning, stopping only to admire a small herd of elk in the valley beside the road near Grant Village.

By the time we reached Old Faithful, the skies had cleared and were largely cloud-free once again, so we took the time to visit a small thermal area that we had not had time to include on our south loop drive.  Known as Black Sand Basin because of its dark obsidian (volcanic glass) sand, the area comprised several small but extremely active geysers and three hot lakes with colourful edges caused by the thermophite activity.

As the sun descended in the sky, we drove back to West Yellowstone.  After a great dinner, we took the time to stroll through the streets of West Yellowstone, a service town for the National Park that is a curious mix of frontier adventurism and commercial tourism – perhaps summed up in a poster I saw for sale in one of the shops: “If you can read this, thank a teacher.  If you can read this in English, thank your Military”.

Day 7 - Grand Teton National Park


12 July 2013