Smoke Gets in Your Eyes at Grand Teton

Teton Range obscured by smoke from wildfires

Our first National Park was a drive by. Yosemite, 2011, after a three day whitewater rafting trip on the wild and scenic Tuolumne River. We had a steak dinner in The Mountain View Dining Room, snapping photos of Yosemite Falls from our table near the window. Our feet never touched a trail. For us, the national park was a great resort.

Blog v1.0

Our second was the Grand Canyon in 2014, on a triangle trip from Phoenix to Sedona, Grand Canyon to Vegas. The blog was in its second year, a chronicle of travels to help us remember our adventures when memories fade. We stayed at the El Tovar hotel, ate a steak dinner in the dining room overlooking the canyon. We hit more overlooks than trails on our south side excursion but felt like we saw it all. We had barely scratched its surface.

Grand Canyon

And then we didn’t visit another National Park until 2018. The third should have been Great Smokey Mountains, but when we realized we booked a dry campsite we panicked and cancelled. Who would camp without electric, water and bathhouses? Now, we think nothing of boondocking, even preferring it some of the time. So #3 became Carlsbad Caverns and the beginning of a pursuit to see the natural wonders of the USA.

Carlsbad Cavern Decorations

Two years later, Yellowstone was #26 and 10 miles south, Grand Teton National Park was #27. The Snake River winds its way through, separating the high plains of roaming bison from the rugged Teton chain of mountains. Photographer and conservationist Ansel Adams captured the iconic setting in a 1942 black and white masterpiece, so famous that Fleetwood RV company framed and hung it in the living room of our 2002 Pace Arrow named Betty. In 2019 we retired that photo, replacing it with a print from our #5 park, Zion.

Three Patriarchs at Zion

Yellowstone on a whim was bittersweet. We braved the crowds, drove the 64 mile loop, watched Old Faithful erupt and walked the boardwalks of the more famous “must sees.“ But we didn’t immerse. We did not have time. To make matters worse, we were literally going to do a drive by of Grand Teton, entering the north gate in the morning and exiting the east gate later that afternoon. This is not the way we do parks anymore, but we were close and at least we’d get the lay of the land for a return visit in a shoulder season.

Grand Prismatic Spring

It’s a modest entrance into Teton, one sign, no gate, no admission. Google revealed four soak up the scenery stops on the route – Colter Bay, Oxbow Bend, Snake River and Schawbacher Landing. We’d snap our best Ansel Adams copies and reconnoiter for Teton to-be-continued at a later date.

Low-key Teton Announcement

Somewhere in Idaho, California, and New Mexico fires were burning. Poor visibility in Yellowstone was worse in Grand Teton. As we climbed into the mountains, the smoke was thick enough to hide the enormous peaks right beside us. The Lakeside Trail at Colter Bay Village revealed a faint outline of the mountains on the other side of Lake Jackson. We could have been at Lake Wobegon for all we knew. Despite the views, visitors sunned on the shores, lunched at the marina and picked up literature at the closed visitor center.

Colter Bay
UV index still OK for a tan

Moving further down the road to Oxbow Bend overlook, the Grand Tetons were smoked out. The river, fields and valleys were still lovely, but without the dramatic backdrop, they were lovely like so many lovely rivers and fields we’ve seen across the country. While we didn’t get the dramatic shot, we did get the creative interpretation, Apple Pencil style.

Oxbend Overlook smoked out
Artists rendition of scene

After a small traffic snag for another herd of bison crossing the road, we entered the dramatic and iconic Snake River Overlook. We saw none of the weather effects that create the photo’s operatic quality. The mountains were barely visible, the trees a dull green and the Snake River a color of washed out slate. With the proliferation of editing tools and instagram filters we might have been able to Ansel up some drama, but here you see it as we see it and on this day the sweeping panorama known for its omniscient viewpoint was simply a hazy, wildfire filter of summer.

Snake River Overlook
as captured by A. Adams, hanging in Betty

Relieved we didn’t pony up big bucks to stay in the park’s Headwaters Campground, we skipped Schwabacher Landing and kept rolling along to a public lands boondocking area in the Whiskey Basin Wildlife Habitat on the outskirts of Dubois (say it like cowboys), Wyoming.

Whiskey Basin Wildlife Preserve – Can you find Roxie?

Ninety minutes east, the valley of the warm winds moved the air but the haze hadn’t cleared. The pink and red painted badlands shadowed the turnoff to the fish hatchery, where six miles down a four wheel drive dirt road the crowds were gone and the only sound was the wind and rippling water, proof that National Parks do not have a monopoly on outdoor awesome. We dropped Roxie’s jacks, put out the chairs and let the calm wash over us. In the middle of the night, we watched satellites and shooting stars in the black and twinkling sky. If we didn’t need to make Taos by the 28th, we’d still be camping where the magpies fly and the bighorn sheep migrate in winter.

The hard to photograph Magpie

Dubois feels authentically western. When you’re in town, you get lunch at Cowboy Cafe, try on $500 hats at Olson’s Cowboy Shop, drink a WY craft at the Rustic Pine Tavern and buy a bugger at Cut Throat Fly Shop to toss a line into Ring Lake to catch a trout. Or maybe that’s what you do when you’re a tourist like us.

Dubois Haberdashery

We overheard the Harley contingency at the bar talking about their $98 champagne breakfast. Doubt a local is doing that. They’re probably out shooting the animals whose heads are hanging on the walls.

Dubois bar wild life
Dubois bar wildlife

Leaving Dubois, we passed the National Museum of Military Vehicles, red rock bends and a handful of cyclists on the Chief Washakie Trail, a hot but flat and monotonously picturesque highway also known as Rt 287. Everyone is moved by their own thing and the secret to happiness likely lies in finding it.

Some me time on Rt 287

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