Iím up at 4:30 and get going in the dark. Itís a chilly 34 degrees and feels GREAT!
I have a quiet drive north into Hayden Valley, with just a little fog. I am the first arrival at Grizzly Overlook at 5AM. I have to wait a bit for the light to grow but as I scope around I find elk, bison and sandhills.
Visitors come and go, and I recognize a young woman, Helena, whom I know from Lamar. We chat a bit and climb Grizzly Hill together. A white plane flies over and we suspect itís looking for wolves.
After a good hour of no wolves, though, I climb down and head to Alum, checking the view from there. I find more sandhill pairs, including one with a single colt. The little thing trails behind its parents, occasionally receiving a feeding.
I drive back south and spy a great blue heron fishing in a pond near Elk Antler Creek.
At 3 Panel I watch the elk herd from last night. I donít see the playful pairs on this side of the road anymore. In fact, the whole herd has moved much higher on the hill and further north. I count 16 calves in the group.
At Mud Volcano I see a small group with a guide scoping to the west. I join them and see a sow grizzly. The guide says she has two cubs, but I never manage to see them. Apparently this family has been hanging around here for a few days.
I take a drive to the east, stopping on the east side of the bridge over Pelican Creek. I watch another elk herd from here, with at least one calf, grazing in a meadow full of wildflowers. There are dozens of geese on the creek plus six pelicans in a row, sunning themselves on a half-submerged log.
At Sedge Bay a marmot scurries over a pile of rocks. I drove up to Lake Butte and enjoy an amazing view. I scan the nearby hills for bears but find hundreds of beautiful blue lupine.
I drive back to the Lake to fill my water bottles and replenish my cooler ice. Now I set off for Teton.
Itís really fun finding myself back on the same route I took on my ďdiscoveryĒ visit to Yellowstone in 1998. I also work out that itís been 11 years since Iíve been to Teton.
The wildflowers are amazing. I had braced myself for crowds on this portion of the drive, but they donít show.
I marvel again at the vast blue of Lewis Lake, the drama of Lewis Canyon and the quiet beauty of the Lewis River. I also enjoy it when the view differs from my memory, mostly in the form of thicker, grown-up vegetation around the scars of the 1988 fires.
I reach the South Entrance gate at 12:40. The temp has risen to 73 and it looks like I may be driving into rain.
South of the gate I start to notice remaining damage from the 1988 fires, and perhaps some more recent. My first glimpse of the Snake River gives me a thrill, and I note the field of ghost trees nearby.
Shortly after I cross the Snake, the landscape turns lush, kelly green, and grows hilly. Itís cooler here, 66! Oh man, this is my kind of scenery, my kind of weather!
I start to see some salmon-colored flowers that I mistake for Indian Paintbrush. When I see them later, up close, I realize itís penstemon.
Oh, this is beautiful, just beautiful. There is a really great smell here, pine, I guess, but no, I think itís something else. Sweet and lingering.
My first view of Jackson Lake is kind of a shock. Both good and bad.
The enormous, distinctive mountains are still amazing, but where the Lake is much changed. Once the blue water lapped almost right up to the road but now I see a wide open flat of sandy mud, a thin layer of water too shallow to support birds and not nearly as attractive as the lake should be. In the distance, ducks and pelicans are abundant.
But holy canoli, the MOUNTAINS! The gorgeous, amazing Tetons. They are just as spectacular as ever. They demand your worship. I just sit here and gaze at them, just as magnificent as memory has made them. Holy cow. Gorgeous!
I have to force myself to get back in the car and keep driving!
I am eager to revisit my favorite pullouts: Oxbow Bend and Willow Flats. At Oxbow I find a muskrat, diligently swimming back and forth, carrying vegetable matter to its den. I see many ducks, pelicans, geese and a million wildflowers.
I drive the road towards Jackson Lake Dam, past the thick willows where grizzly bears 399, 610 and their offspring have entertained crowds over the years.
I continue on this ďinside loopĒ road where the most magnificent views of these iconic peaks can be had. I choose one and park at the end of the lot, lower my seat and relax, just staring out at these astonishing geologic marvels.
An afternoon storm comes in, with sudden gusts of wind and then hail. Chick-pea-sized balls of mushy ice splatter against my windshield and moon roof. Itís delightful!
I lower my seat further and take a nap.
When I awaken, the mountains are shrouded in cloud, making them more amazing to see. I scrounge up some lunch and enjoy the view.
Itís now past 3:30. The rain has cooled things off to a delightful 57 degrees.
I head to Colter Bay to check in, seeing bison, pronghorn and elk along the way.
I keep smelling this delicious fragrance and wish I could figure out what itís coming from. I begin to suspect lupine.
After a nice shower in my cabin, I find a text from Barb, alerting me that YNP has just announced it will open the northern loop road to visitors tomorrow at noon!
Now I am really torn. Do I stay here a second night as planned or go back for a chance to visit my more familiar roads? I have a chance to see wolves somewhere on the Blacktail or thereabouts. But I just got here, and Iím loving it. What to do?
For now, I decide to continue my Teton adventure. I go back to Oxbow Bend. This time I see a great blue heron fishing on the far shore. Then I explore the very next pullout (new to me) where I can see another loop of the Snake further west.
I set up my scope in this new lot, and to my delight I find beavers, going to and from their lodge at the end of a spit of low land at the junction of the oxbow and the main channel.
There are four beavers of them; two adults and two kits, all working hard bringing twigs into the lodge. A few people in blow-up tubes and kayaks float by on the main channel, oblivious of the critters just around the corner.
I decide to drive the ďouter loopĒ south on the main highway, to explore and enjoy those views. I go as far as the Cunningham cabin. Here the mountains are just as impressive but from a greater distance. The land is mostly flat, open range and I can see the trees and willow that border the Snake. I see quite a few bison and pronghorn, plus some deer and elk.
At one pullout I notice a herd of bison beyond an iconic western fence. I notice a gap in the fence that bison are filing through, walking in a single line towards the road.
Itís a gorgeous evening.
I watch the bison a while, and they all get across the highway safely. Next stop is Willow Flats, where I set up my scope just off the road in the same spot where I was lucky enough to see 610 and her cubs 11 years ago.
There are numerous cars of photographers driving the road back and forth, but none are stopping. I figure if they do, that will mean they are seeing bears. I do find several elk and calves among the willow thickets.
Itís a little buggy here, which is to be expected. Around 9PM I call it a night and drive the short stretch back to Colter Bay. My cabin is nice and cool when I get back because I opened several windows, letting in that lovely Teton aroma of which Iíve become so enamored.
Today I saw: 3 grizzly bears (including 2 cubs), 4 beavers (including 2 kits), bison, sandhill cranes
(including 1 colt), 3 bald eagles (including 2 chicks), elk (including calves), geese, 2 great
blue herons, a muskrat, pelicans and the spirits of Alison, Richard and Jeff