The day dawned bright, beautiful and clear with heavenly fresh air. The wind and rain of the day before had blown out all the haze and overcast. We were off early for a fuel stop (more than a little painful!) and then 220 miles north on two-lane roads to Swan Valley, Idaho.
The first 175 miles were peaceful and easy with wide lanes, minimal traffic and absent of road construction/repair. The reality is that the roadwork can only be done during the same season that all the visitors want to be here, but Highway 191 was devoid of any of that. It was a delightful ride with amazing views of the mountains of the Bridger Teton National Forest. We smiled as we thought of our good friends, Dixon & Anne Bridger! The valley floor was full of sagebrush, interesting wildlife and ranches that spanned thousands of acres.
The last 45 miles brought us to the first “real” mountain roads with 5-6% grades. Contessa does extremely well taking the mountains, and she really loves to run downhill. Captain Bill is an extremely capable driver and manages Contessa well.
We ran along the Snake River for miles once we go to the Valley floor and then turned a bit north of Swan Valley. The Snake River Roadhouse RV Park was certainly NOT what the materials and reviews represents – we heard stories of new owners and lack of care, but the shock of seeing the site reserved for Contessa – 44′ and 4 slides was not short of taking my breath away!
With no one to be found in person or by phone, our only choice was to locate another facility for Contessa for the next 3 days. The first phone call was to an RV Park not 1/3 mile away – and Bobby said she had one site available for that period and only because the coach there had been forced to leave early due to a family emergency! The Park only had 8 sites – and we were blessed to get one of them. God does provide!
Contessa & The Captain at Sleepy Bear RV Park with a lovely view
Swan Valley is stunning and we settled in for three nights – our first time adhering to our 3-3-3 guideline of motorhoming (in by 3p, less than 300 miles per day and at every opportunity, stay for 3 days). With having to miss the Family Reunion in Dodge City, our first two weeks was purely just “getting to the Starting Point” for our next two months.
The following morning, we headed over the Teton Pass with an elevation of 8,432′ and 10% grade to Jackson and the Grand Tetons.
From Jackson WY (the town is Jackson, the area is Jackson Hole), we headed north 12 miles running along the Teton Range in the valley floor below.
On this first day, we chose to go to String Lake, which connects Leigh Lake to the north and Jenny Lake to the south. We planned to spend the second day on Jenny Lake, so traversing upstream seemed quite appropriate. A delightful 2 mile hike took us along the lake.
Just inside the National Park gate at Moose Junction, we found a real treasure! The Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration was built here in 1925, just one year before the cornerstone was laid at our own St. Philip’s in Brevard. Titled the “Spiritual Heart in the Park”, the church has continued to provide services and a sense of community for dude ranchers and visitors like. Two services are held every Sunday during the summer months.
We elected to return to Jackson for a late lunch at a local brewery (imagine that!) and enjoy the town of Jackson. There is a year-round tourist season with hiking/biking/camping in the summer and skiing/snowboarding in the winter.
The next day was dedicated to the Jenny Lake region of the Park. We packed a picnic lunch and headed out early in hopes of securing a precious parking place. It was a spectacular morning for hiking, so we snagged that parking place and headed off to the boat shuttle that would take us across Jenny Lake to the base of Inspiration Point.
Jenny Lake is approximately two miles long and four miles wide with a depth of 256′ encompassing 1,191 acres. It was formed as the glacier pushed through the Canyon Pass and over thousands of years filled a portion the valley floor below. The Grand Tetons themselves were created by convergent tectonic plates, where the eastern plate moved under the western plate, forcing the western plate up. This accounts for the lack of “foothills” on the eastern slope such that the valley floor directly meets the mountain base. On the western slope, however, are 25-30 miles of foothills between the Idaho valley floor and the mountain bases. This differs greatly from the well-known California divergent plates where the plates move apart.
The first portion of the hike wound up a rather unique outcropping gaining about 200′ of elevation to reveal Hidden Falls.
From the base of Hidden Falls, we would climb another 300′ to above the precipice that creates the falls to Inspiration Point. This portion was decidedly more strenuous with rocky, narrow trails leading to the pinnacle and a glorious view of Jenny Lake – well worth the additional mile!
Jenny Lake was named for Jenny Leigh, a Shoshone Indian woman who assisted the 1872 Hayden Survey. Their mission was to document the geology and topology of the Yellowstone area, particularly the Snake and Missouri Rivers. Jenny and her husband Richard were expert guides, who knew Jackson Hole well from their summers spent hunting, trapping and gathering native plants across the area. In her honor, the Survey team named both Jenny Lake and Leigh Lake to the north.
We enjoyed the returning journey down the trail – encouraging others that it was well worth the effort, albeit not everyone we encountered chose to try it!
The afternoon was spent on a boat. Captain Bill would have been happier captaining the vessel, but alas, Kyle did a great job both of boat handling but also revealing the history and beauty of this amazing area. Originally from Albany NY, he “retired” from teaching at 23 years old and came west in search of snow-skiing. He’s been here 19 years doing just that – and entertaining visitors when there is no snow!
The native American Indians called this mountain range Teewinot, meaning Many Peaks. Teewinot Mountain is front and center of Jenny Lake. To the south of Teewinot is Nez Perce, also known as Howling Wolf. As we cruised up the lake, we could see “behind” Teewinot to Grand Teton. She is grand indeed at an elevation of 13,775′.
As we reached the northern end of Jenny Lake, we found String Creek, which flows from String Lake that we had hiked the day before into Jenny Lake.
The “summer runoff” has not quite begun yet, according to Kyle. Beginning about July 1, the rocks we see here will be totally submerged, as will all the deadfall, as the “melt-off” from the winter snow begins in full force. By September, the water coming through String Creek will be down to not more than a trickle and one would walk across from bank to bank.
The deadfall to the left is, in large part, due to a wildfire in the mid-1990’s that burned approx 300 acres before it burned itself out. While it seems devastating, it is nature’s way of replenishing the forests. It takes ~1500 degree heat to allow the lodgepole pines to open their pinecones and distribute the seeds that will grow new and strong lodgepole pine trees.
We made our way back across the lake, stopping to admire all the people making the hike up Inspiration Point and then returning to the dock. A final drive over Teton Pass, a stop at Wildfire Brewing Co in Victor ID to quench our thirst and a return to Contessa to prepare for travel the next day finished our day. Tomorrow – Montana and the town of West Yellowstone.