It had been twelve years since I last visited Grand Teton National Park. I barely even remember it as it was one stop on a whirlwind tour of the Grand Tetons, Yellowstone, Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse, and everything in between. This time, however, we were “doing it right,” a weekend of camping, hiking, and touring with the family. I had seen many valleys, lakes, and mountains in my short eighteen years, but none of them compared to those in Grand Teton National Park. The valleys were luscious and full of life. The lakes were calm and brimming with activity. The mountains were rugged, yet so beautiful that they could have been carved by hand. I, who generally believed “if you’ve seen it once, you’ve seen them all,” was awestruck.
On our first evening in the Tetons, my family and I followed the crazy, misguided directions of a young ranger to a wolf look out. We followed back roads and drove through three streams to reach the secluded spot. Along the way we saw some cheerful bison who playfully bumped heads, a beautiful pronghorn who pranced alongside the car, and many prairie dogs scurrying all over. A short hiking path led to a lookout with a great view of the valley below. We settled in, patiently awaiting wolves, yet it was a mere five minutes before we spotted one, a beautiful, tiny, black spot in the distance.We found it miraculous to watch that tiny dot, and the two others that materialized as night approached, with our naked eyes. Luckily, we also got to view them up close with the borrowed use of spotting scopes. Knowing that real living wolves were standing in front of you was an unforgettable sensation.
The next day was full of driving, waterfalls, and more wildlife. We left from our campsite at Flagg Ranch and headed to the Jenny Lake Visitor Center, where we caught the shuttle boat across Jenny Lake to the Cascade Canyon trailhead. We first hiked the trail up to view Hidden Falls, a gorgeous cascade of water that twists through the wilderness, as naturally as the wind blows through the trees. We continued on the trail to Inspiration Point, which has an awe-inspiring view of Jenny Lake in its entirety. We literally gasped at the sight, in the midst of gasping for breath after the steep climb. After our return, we rushed to the Willow Flats Overlook, which is well-known bear country. Lucky for us, the rumors held true. A young black bear was eating roots just yards from the road.
Our adventure concluded the following morning with a hike up to the Phelps Lake Overlook. Jenny Lake had amazed the day before, but Phelps Lake was more naturally beautiful. Its shore was less developed and the trail itself was less popular and quieter. We continued on into Death Canyon, but just as we reached a beautiful waterfall, dark clouds began to appear over the mountain peaks. The rain quickly dampened our clothes encouraging us to keep up our fast pace. Right before we reached the car though, we came to a crashing halt.
Two moose were calmly grazing just off of the path. It was this grand finale that made me fall completely in love with Grand Teton National Park. When no one was looking or searching, nature surprised us all. As we finally drove out of the park, I realized that “doing it right” would take much longer than a weekend; it would take an entire summer, maybe even a lifetime.
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