Our first two days off in a row came with welcome relief last week! While the retail work is not difficult and loads of fun, it is tiring! 😊
The company we work for, Grand Teton Lodge Company, offers its employees the opportunity to engage in some of the activities it provides for guests – for free. I believe this perk serves two purposes – 1. It gives us first-hand knowledge of some of these adventurous activities so we can recommend them to guests in our interactions with them and 2. It gives employees an opportunity to just get out and enjoy the park – in other words, good for moral!
Our agenda for our two days ended up working out to a day on the water (hence, the sea reference in the title) and a day of land travel visiting some of the most popular sites in the park.
Last Wednesday, we took advantage of two activities that are free to us, or very low cost. In the morning, we left on the first river float of the day with our guide “Jake on the Snake”, as he refers to himself. Jake has been leading guided raft trips on the Snake River for over 10 years. In the evening, we hopped aboard the dinner cruise on Jackson Lake. When we signed up for our water-related trips, the weather forecast for Wednesday was sunny and warm with minimal wind. Perfect weather for being on the water.
On Wednesday morning, however, we woke to rain and cool temperatures. Ya gotta love mountain weather! The best laid plans don’t always work out! So, in addition to our bug spray and sunscreen, we threw some raingear into our packs as we headed out the door along with a couple of extra layers of clothing. At our check-in location at Jackson Lodge, we were joined by 7 “paying” guests. Our guide was tracking the weather, and indicated to us that we could opt for a re-schedule due to the weather conditions. Keep in mind, also, that the river was high due to snowmelt from the record snowfall here over the winter.
Without hesitation, everyone in the group chose to tough it out, and stay on board with the float trip. Jake made sure everyone was dressed appropriately for the weather conditions before departure. He was also monitoring the storm cell online, and felt reasonably sure it would move off quickly. He was right. By the time our transport van and raft reached the Pacific Creek Landing site, the weather had cleared and it was looking like we would have ideal conditions for the 2 ½ hour float.
Jake was entertaining and informative. He was well-versed in park history, and educated in a field related to natural resources and the environment. He chatted with us during the entire float maintaining a steady narration about the fauna and flora along the way. We watched colonies of bank swallows darting in and out of their nests. Bank swallows make their nests in vertical banks along rivers and stream. They dig holes into the bank high above the water line and I read where these holes can be 5 feet in length into the bank! It was fun to watch them darting and diving back and forth.
We were also treated to three bald eagle sightings during our morning float. I loved Jake’s description of how best to spot a bald eagle along the river. Look for what appears to be a “golf ball” high up in the pines lining the banks. And it was true.
The white head of the eagle appears in the distance as if there is a giant golf ball resting in the pines – since the body of the eagle is often camouflaged by the pine background. We were treated to a great view of one bald eagle sitting on a branch near the river – preening himself and basking in the morning sun. Unfortunately, I did not bring my Nikon camera or my Canon with the telephoto lens due to the weather forecast. The cell phone camera just could not capture the eagles well ☹
Scenes from the Float:
After the float trip, we hung around Colter Bay for the afternoon waiting for our dinner cruise. The marina at Colter Bay offers scenic tours around Jackson Lake, a breakfast cruise and a dinner cruise. We decided to try the dinner cruise first as the menu looked too good to be true – grilled steak, trout, salad bar, rolls, roasted potatoes, beans, watermelon, peach cobbler dessert, hot tea, lemonade or coffee.
We arrived at the marina fifteen minutes ahead of schedule as requested and were organized and assigned one of two cruise boats. Jackson Lake sits at about 6,700 in elevation and is almost 15 miles long, and seven miles wide in some places. It is a deep, high-altitude lake and one of the largest of its kind in the U.S. It is breath-taking.
As we boarded the boats, the weather once again appeared ominous. By the time our captain pulled away from the dock, the wind had kicked up, and we were heading into the lake with strong winds and whitecaps. We were headed for Elk Island where dinner would be served outdoors. I learned that Elk Island is the largest island in the state of Wyoming, and there are about a dozen back-country campsites on the island accessible only by boat.
Half-way to Elk Island it started to rain. This was going to be interesting. As we taxied into the cove on the island, the wind was so strong it was lifting the dock up and down like a roller coaster. For the second time that day, we were thankfully treated to a fast and furious storm. As soon as we all donned our raingear and sheltered camera equipment, the clouds dispersed and the wind died down. For the second time today, the gods were with us and the skies parted and just in time for dinner! An extra bonus – the mosquitos we had been warned about did not make their appearance!
After a delicious dinner (and we both enjoyed seconds!), we had about an hour before boarding the boat back to Colter Bay. There were several trails around the island, and we hiked to the top of the ridge and wandered around enjoying this beautiful island. The island is named Elk Island because the elk will often swim to the island and have their babies here. Apparently, the bears do not inhabit this island and the elk babies are safe from predators here. After the hike, we were served our peach cobbler dessert and, while gobbling down the food, we chatted with one of the servers. He was a very personable young lad from Duluth, MN. Since we’ve spent some time there visiting relatives, we could appreciate his hometown and had some common ground on which to have a conversation.
The Island Photos
The ride back to Colter Bay was ideal. Jim and I sat outside in the back of the boat so we could enjoy the fresh air and scenery. Perfect end to the day!
Since our first day off was so busy with all those water craft activities, we decided to spend a leisurely second day off exploring the park via truck. I have so many customers at the store asking questions about the park, and some of the more common places to visit. So, we took last Thursday as a day to visit some of these most popular places in the park. With first-hand knowledge of these landmarks, I was confident I could then be more informed and answer questions more easily. You know – with us librarians it’s all about information!
One of our favorite spots is the short drive down into Cattleman’s Crossing. Part of this access is closed due to high water levels, but one can still get down to the Snake River. There is a field of Heartleaf Arnica growing down near the river, and I’ve been scoping out the area waiting for full-bloom! We started our days’ journey here. The arnica is still not quite there yet as far as bloom – but it was great to see the river nonetheless.
From Cattleman’s Crossing, we continued on down Rt. 191 until we came to the pull-off for the historic site of Cunningham’s Cabin. I had been asked by someone at the store how to get to this site, and at the time, I really had no idea! It was only my second or third day in the park – and I was still very unfamiliar with many of the places that visitors wanted to see. Now I know! The site of this remaining historic cabin was once the Bar Flying U Ranch settled and owned by J. Pierce Cunningham in the 1880’s. Cunningham and his wife took advantage of the Homestead Act of 1862 to stake a claim on 160 acres of land sometime between 1880 and 1890. The Cunningham Cabin is one of the few remaining examples of homestead cabins in Jackson Hole. Cunningham used the cabin for his initial shelter on the land – constructing it in the “dogtrot” style common in the west. It is basically two cabins connected with a center breezeway.
As the ranch prospered, he later built a larger ranch house and used the cabin for storage. Cunningham was one of the few ranchers who was able to eek a living out of the harsh environment, and eventually became a prominent citizen of the Jackson Hole area.
By the mid-1920’s however, cattle ranching had reached an all-time economic low and Cunningham was pro-active in petitioning for preservation of the valley ranches through incorporation into a public recreation area. He ultimately sold his ranch to the Snake River Land Company in 1928 – which was the company owned by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Rockefeller created the company as a means to purchase local ranches at fair market value, with the intent of donating the land to the federal government for a national park. In all, Rockefeller eventually donated more than 32,000 acres of purchased ranches to what would eventually be called the Grand Teton National Park.
It was interesting to walk around the property, and try to envision what it must have been like to operate a ranch here in the late 1880’s. These homesteaders were indeed a hearty bunch. You can still see the remnants of the irrigation ditches that were used to divert water from mountain streams and provide irrigation for cultivation of native grasses and hay that Cunningham needed to grow to provide food for his cattle.
Our next stop was Mormon Row. Some of the most photographic scenes of the Tetons are taken from this area of the park located out on Antelope Flats. Mormon families from Salt Lake City began homesteading in Jackson Hole in the 1890’s. There was, at one time, a total of around 27 homesteads in this area. The Moulton family settled in the area now known as Mormon Row. One of the philosophies that helped the Mormon families prosper here was their sense of community. They were unlike traditional homesteaders in the area who clung to a fierce independent, individualistic lifestyle. The Mormons worked communally to survive the harsh environment. Sharing tasks and chores, they were able to establish a thriving community in the area originally known as Grovont. Today, along Mormon Row, many of the barns and houses remain as an example of this early settlement. By the 1950’s, most of the Mormon homesteaders sold their land to the national park for the enjoyment and education of all. The two most famous barns – the T.A. Moulton Barn and the John Moulton Barn – are widely photographed.
Well, after touring the park all day, we were saturated with history and in need of some refreshment. We also needed to do some grocery shopping for the coming week. We left Mormon Row and headed into Jackson. Jim had spent some time in Jackson in the 1970’s and he was curious about some of his old stomping grounds. So, of course, we had to investigate these places and see if they had changed. The first stop was the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar.
It was warm outside and approaching Happy Hour, so we stepped inside for a look at this town relic and enjoyed a draft beer. Jim and I had visited the Cowboy Bar in 1981 and I remember well working up a sweat on the dance floor while listening to one of the many live bands that play here.
We left the Cowboy Bar, and headed around the corner to the Silver Dollar Bar. By this time, we needed something to eat along with a second draft! So, here we indulged in a Spinach-Artichoke Dip with Pita while sipping on our IPA’s. Actually, I enjoyed a glass of ice water with lemon, and Jim drank the IPA. (and I took an occasional sip on the brew) One beer is enough for me!
While sitting at the bar, we engaged in conversation with an elderly gentleman on an adjacent stool. Turns out, his cousin was Laurance Rockefeller’s wife and he recounted stories about the Rockefeller’s and their life here in the Tetons and Jackson area. And, he was a retired landscape architect so we had a lot in common talking about native plants and landscape photography. Quite a pleasant exchange!
It was fun to reminisce about our last time visiting the Tetons so many years ago. As Jim will attest, things have certainly changed. We did finally drag ourselves out of the Silver Dollar Bar, and get our grocery shopping done – with promises to go back and listen to some of the live music that each bar offers throughout the week.