By Darrell Berkheimer
Grand Teton National Park provided me with an attitude adjustment this year.
For years, I considered the Teton Mountains just something to look at as you drive north or south through western Wyoming. I did not consider it to be a destination national park – just one of scenic beauty. For me, it was just a place that could provide a short rest stop – time to take a few scenic pictures – and then move on.
That attitude was established back in 1971, when I first drove south from Yellowstone National Park into Idaho. But that attitude has been changed – just within the past year.
A best friend, Bette Wasik, had been telling me for a year that she really wanted to return to Grand Teton National Park to see more of it. She noted she had been through Yellowstone Park several times and now wanted to see more of the Tetons – especially to see the elk and moose for which the Tetons are so famous.
Then another friend, Diana Lee Dusek of Bozeman, surprised me with the gift of a book titled “Paddling Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks.” Reading that book promptly initiated and accelerated my reversal in attitude about the Tetons.
Bette and I enjoy kayaking – especially on lakes and mild river currents. The big lakes don’t appeal to us as much as the smaller lakes. We really enjoyed kayaking Two Medicine Lake at Glacier National Park in mid-September of 2007. But Bette opted to sit on shore and read while I paddled a bit on the south end of Lake McDonald, out from Apgar village. I was eager to return to the launching ramp, however, when the wind began whipping up waves.
So I was captivated by reading about the one-day paddling trips on the smaller lakes in the Tetons. Suddenly, an October trip to visit northwest Arkansas was switched to a late September week at the Grand Tetons. And it was the best time to see Nature dressing in her fall beauty as the elk begin their migration to the National Elk Refuge north of Jackson.
We found the campsites at Signal Mountain Campground along Jackson Lake to be just the right size to accommodate my small camping trailer and mini cargo van. And the Signal Mountain Lodge and cabins provide the only accommodations inside the park that offer breathtaking views across Jackson Lake from your cabin or room window.
The campground also stretches right out to banks above the edge of the lake that provide the same lakeside views of the looming Tetons.
Much of the enjoyment of any trip can come from planning it weeks and sometimes months in advance. And I’m sure Bette saw the sparkle in my eyes as I talked about kayaking five of the Tetons lakes and a short stretch of the Snake River. But the planning, no matter how much we enjoyed it, could not compare to the feelings we experienced when we actually paddled each of those lakes.
The first highlight of our trip came with a short drive south from Signal Mountain that evening after we arrived. It was near dusk and elk were along both sides of the road as they apparently were crossing from west to east, feeding along the way.
That’s when we saw a majestic bull who kept on moving about as he obviously had only one thing on his mind – a certain cow that kept walking away from him. We took several pictures of him. But all but one was blurred, and he was turning his head away from us in that one.
Already our trip was a success, and we hadn’t even approached any of the lakes.
String Lake was the first the next day. Our launching was delayed until late afternoon by cool, on-again, off-again drizzling weather. But the paddling book noted String Lake “is one of the most beautiful places you will ever paddle.” And I absolutely agree.
We beached at the north end of String Lake long enough to walk the approximate 100-yard portage to Leigh Lake – which I think is the real jewel of kayaking in the Tetons. Unfortunately, we failed to return to Leigh Lake later in the week as we originally planned. So for me, it may be the centerpiece of a return trip to the Tetons.
Then we kayaked Two Ocean Lake, and we were the only crafts on the lake all that day. But we had occasional glimpses of numerous hikers enjoying the trail that circles the nearly 3-mile-long lake. Two Ocean Lake and the four-mile drive back to it provided the best of the autumn splendor that we experienced during our Tetons visit.
As the week progressed, we paddled on Jenny Lake, the south end of Jackson Lake and 5 miles of the Snake River that included the Oxbow Bend. The calm water of the Oxbow Bend is much like paddling a serene lake. That’s where we got a close-up picture of a bull moose that is the envy of professional photographers.
Photographers lined the banks of the Oxbow Bend waiting for that moose to get up from its bed in a corner-like area created by a stream that appeared dry during our visit. But the great photos of that moose – at that time – were available only from the water where we were.
I hope to return to the lakes of the Tetons. I desire to make that portage from String Lake to Leigh Lake. I wish to paddle along the west side of Leigh Lake, where there are no hiking trails – just campsites accessible only by water.
I also want to paddle along more of the south end of Jackson Lake – again where there are no trails, only campsites accessible by water. And I’m as eager to spend part of another day in the Oxbow Bend of the Snake River.
I still have not seen near all of the animals that I know are there – especially the beaver, muskrats, otters, one or more bears, and perhaps even a weasel.
Finally, I’ve come to the conclusion that the Tetons can match even the majesty of the mountains in Alaska and British Columbia.