Blogging about a trip that’s more fun than work feels a bit self-serving, or like bragging, but I figure some folks might enjoy the pictures and a reflection here and there, so I press on. It’s easier to read than current politics, at least. Since wifi is not always available, today I’m playing catch-up.
Susan and I are traveling with 17 other folks on a “Nurturing Faith Experience,” a combination fun/fellowship/inspirational opportunity to see God’s goodness revealed on the wonders of nature and the hearts of our companions. When you spend hours together in a vehicle, follow each other on hikes, and share bathrooms back at the ranch, you can get to know people pretty well in a short period of time.
My last blog included pictures from a couple of frigid and sometimes rainy days in Yellowstone (traveling mainly north to south), concluding with our arrival at Colter Bay, on Jackson Lake in the Grant Tetons National Park.
Lakeside trails there offered amazing views of the mountains (see the previous blog), which got their name from early French explorers who must have been without female companionship for a long time. They thought three of the peaks looked like breasts. Using the French word, they called them the Tetons.
A lookout atop nearby Signal Mountain offered another perspective of the Tetons, with the broad valley floor between. I’m sure the name “Signal Mountain” is a coincidence, but a rare cell phone tower next to the lookout provided a signal for mobile phones, and had some folks more excited than the view.
One thing both Yellowstone and Grand Teton parks have in common is a severe lack of toilet capacity during peak seasons. Many popular spots will have just one or two one-person outhouses, so long lines were frequent and frustrating. I got an occasional chuckle from the experience, however. The parks are so popular with Asian tourists — especially from China, where many people are accustomed to floor-level “squatty potties,” that the park service mounts cartoon warnings against standing on the toilets. Every now and then a muddy seat would suggest that someone failed to follow the instructions.
We enjoyed a not-long-enough stop at Jenny Lake, a picturesque alpine lake at the foot of the Tetons, as well as a visit to the Church of the Transfiguration, an Episcopal church constructed of logs that has served the central area of Jackson Hole since 1925. We had learned along the way that Jackson Hole is not just the name of a ski resort, but a 65-mile-long valley bordered by mountain ranges.
The Snake River runs through much of Jackson Hole, and we had the chance to ride a raft along 12 miles or so of its more peaceful course. Along the way we learned that the river was not named after local snakes or its serpentine shape, but a misunderstanding between early French explorers and the local Shoshone Indians. The native folk used a sinuous hand motion to indicate that they were basket-weavers, but the French took the hand-signals to mean they were “the snake people,” and so began to call it the Snake River.
The raft ride was occasionally a bit bumpy but not overly exciting until we noticed the guide beginning to work the oars hard rather than just using them to guide the raft downstream. We soon realized that a dark storm was brewing in the direction we were going, and he was rowing hard to try and beat it to the landing. Fortunately, the storm skirted our path and we made it back without the threatened soaking.
After a second night at Colter Bay, we drove back north through Yellowstone, where we spent some time along the shores of Yellowstone Lake, the largest alpine lake (meaning above 7,000 feet) in North America. The lake, at 7,732 feet of elevation, encompasses 136 square miles, with 110 miles of shoreline, with parts of it nearly 400 feet deep.
Along the edge, at an active thermal area called West Thumb, geysers and hot springs appear both beneath the water and above it.
The iconic picture of Yellowstone, known from countless postcards and paintings, comes from a view of the lower falls of the Yellowstone River, which formed the “Grand Canyon of Yellowstone,” an impressive gorge consisting largely of stony yellow cliffs. We had hoped to hike there, but ran out of time.
Yellowstone is famous for its wildlife, and we did manage to spot several bison and a few elk. We pulled over at a “bear jam” where cars were stopped all over the side of the road, but the alleged grizzlies were so far away that we could only make out a black dot on a distant hillside. That was probably close enough.
Another drive through the west entrance brought us to the tourist town of West Yellowstone, and after another 10 miles or so we arrived at the Parade Rest Guest Ranch, our home for the next three days.
I find myself grateful, not only for the majestic beauty of these places, but for the foresight of those who saw fit to preserve them as national treasures, not to be exploited, but to serve as a source of spiritual refreshment for countless generations. We may not all be spiritual in the same way, but it’s hard not to be moved by the exceptional beauty of God’s handiwork.