(Sep. 1 – 4, 2006)
Until a few days ago I
didn’t know where we would go on this 3 day Labor Day weekend. The weather in
South Florida was pretty miserable – as always this time of the year – hot and
humid, rainy with the occasional tropical storm rolling in from the
Friday, September 1, 2006
leave work in
After a 5 min drive we get to the rental place, receive our vehicle and drive another 10 min to our first hotel. We are wasting no time at all to check in and fall asleep within minutes.
Saturday, September 2, 2006
We get up before dawn and have a quick breakfast in the hotel lobby. Time with daylight will be precious today, so we start very early. At 6:30 we are departing just before sunrise. The sky is clear and one can already see the mountains to the SouthWest of Billings.
is still a bit sleepy in the backseats but this quickly changes when we turn
off the Interstate I90 in
road leads along the state border between
The first part of the pass the road climbs through multiple switchbacks on the Northern slopes which are in the shade and pretty cold in the morning.
We need to use the car heating unit, something really strange for us Floridian’s only used to car air conditioning… Soon we reach the very scenic Rock Creek Vista lookout point above 9000 ft.
We stop and walk around to take in the scenery. The slope drops to three sides and you feel like in a ship on the ocean. I’m also thinking: With this weather, it was definitely worth it coming out here across ¾ of the North-American continent, some 5.000 miles of flying and 650+ miles of driving.
short while after this stop the road climbs up to a high plateau and crosses
is even a bicycle rider who just sheds some cloths as the sun is warming up the
cool morning air at 8:45am. It is a long climb from Red Lodge over 5.000 ft
topping out at almost 11.000 ft near the
We stop at various points of the road to take in the view and to explore the local surroundings. Philip loves to throw rocks – into water, down a slope, wherever – like all boys his age I guess! I enjoy the view while he’s trying to find out how far a rock will roll down the slope of the mountain.
view now opens up towards the West with the mountains and high plateau of the
Yellowstone NP in the background. We park at the
I’m thinking that riding a bicycle here is definitely an ambitious undertaking. But you could hardly pick a better day for coming to the Bear Tooth pass than this weekend – the forecast was spot on with absolutely no cloud in sight anywhere near our location!
There are many lakes, dozens of big ones, and hundreds of small ones. Dropping down a thousand feet or so we again reach below the tree line. I stop frequently for pictures.
reminds me not to stop at every turn so we wouldn’t take forever to even get to
first stop is in
I also notice a bicycle rider with heavy loaded paniers. His progress is fast on the down-hills but slow everywhere else. Anyway, he can’t complain on a day like this… Shortly after this refreshing stop we enter the park.
At first the scenery doesn’t change noticably. While driving along we see occasional bison or deer. Bison have been nearly extinct in this area at the beginning of the twentieth century due to overhunting, down to around 100 animals. Thanks to protection and breeding programs, today’s population is back to about 3000 animals, which makes for various sightings of bison every now and then along the road.
we get to the beginning of the so-called Grand Canyon of the
About half-way into the canyon we stop at a popular overlook and hike down to the river, exploring a side-valley with a nice waterfall.
also play along the banks of the river, sun-bathing on boulders, and throwing
rocks in the water to the chagrin of a fisherman not far from us… The cold
waters rushing by and as a result the cool breeze provide a stark but welcome
contrast to the hot and extremely dry air, which cakes everything in fine dust
as you’re walking along the trails. In this regard, it is definitely similar to
the Arizona Grand Canyon with the ice cold
The drive continues with frequent photo stops. One thing we both notice is the evidence of wide-spread forest fires several years ago. I don’t recall the details, but I think in the mid nineties there were very large forest wildfires which burnt large parts of this park. Years later, you still see many trees tripped down to the trunks and new seedlings at the bottom.
next stop is at the
We decide to have a late lunch around 2:30pm. The chicken cordon bleu with rice, mashed potatoes and gravy sauce brings out a broad grin on Philip’s face!
He’s also drinking coke which makes him very alert, almost hyper at times. But I’m thinking he will probably be sleeping well tonight regardless…
There are several access roads to the rim of the canyon in close vicinity. We stop at one for a pretty spectacular view of the river and the colored sediment walls of the canyon.
Not far from this stop are the two big waterfalls called Upper and Lower Fall. A ½ mile path leads down from the main road and parking lot to the rim of the Lower Fall. At first we turn around after just a few minutes of hiking, as Philip needs to go to a restroom. Luckily there are facilities at this parking lot. So on the second attempt we make it all the way down to the river and the rim of the Lower Fall.
The water plunges 308 ft to the bottom. The roar is deafening. There is a cloud of mist coming out of the bottom being blown downstream from the wind generated by the fall. One can see green plants along the canyon walls within reach of the mist cloud, clearly marking the reach of this type of natural irrigation system.
there would be plenty more scenic points worth visiting and stopping for we
need to continue our drive through the park. Our next destination is the
I’m in the mood for a little afternoon nap, but on this side of the lake there is a fairly cool breeze of the water and no more sun. A short drive brings us around to a more secluded bay with the lake shore facing the sun and sheltered by the wind.
The sand and pebbles on the shore are dark gray and again of volcanic origin. The water is very clear. Its fish attract anglers in the boats occasionally passing by, but we are happy to just sit on the shores and play with the rocks and the water.
is about 5:30pm when we decide to move on. We still have 1-2 hrs of driving
before we reach the Grand Teton NP and our little town of
drive is quite scenic as we pass along the shores of
we reach the Grand Teton NP and drive along the shores of
remember stopping at this parking lot 4 years prior during my skiing trip to
would like to just sit there and take it all in, not having to move on after
short stops. Yet we drive on, down through the Grand Teton NP towards Doran
Junction. When we get there, we’re faced with the question as to whether to get
to our motel now, or perhaps first drive down to
driving along the
animals are remarkably nimble and can move swift and jump fences if they want /
have to. Here they just jumped one fence, crossed the road, jumped another
fence and continued in the field on the other side. I wondered what the fences
were for, actually, given that the bison could negotiate them with relative
ease. Nevertheless, magnificent creatures, up close, better than at the Lion
Country Safari in
we arrive in
We have dinner in the same Teton Steak Family Restaurant I also had stopped years ago. I guess they won a customer for life back then J
It is getting really late close to 11:00pm when we drive back ½ hr and finally reach our motel. Philip is of course long sleeping in the back of the car and I have to carry him from the car to the room. Sometimes I wish I was a kid again… It was a long day and I waste no time going to sleep in the cozy log cabin.
Sunday, September 3, 2006
I get up at 7:00am and look outside to see the dawn of another crystal-clear day. It is quite chilly when we walk from our cabin to the small restaurant for breakfast. There were actually some ice crystals on the roof of our rental car – some frost overnight! I was especially cold after I started taking a shower, washed my hair and then realized that there was no hot water in the shower – rinsing out the shampoo with ice-cold water, that was brutal! I should have used some water from the sink, where warm water was flowing…
warmed up over hot coffee and pancakes, served by a group of friendly
waitresses with strong accents. When asked about their country of origin, they
a short drive we came to the famous Snake River Overlook, perhaps the most
popular photo stop with the
There is plenty of wildlife here, despite the groups of people stopping and cars driving by. For example, we saw a weasel and many birds of prey.
is already 9:30am – a little later than I would have liked, because our planned
hike is on an East face fully exposed to the morning sun and also due to the
fact that we had a long drive ahead of us going all the way back to
towards our trailhead for the hike the
is about 10:15am when we get going at the trailhead. Our trail leads up to the
The trail is 4.7 miles long and climbs about 2500 ft. That’s a long march for Philip; I’m glad to see him make good progress in the bottom half of the trail. We stop every now and then and work our way through the bag of trail mix and the bottles of Gatorade we brought along for the hike.
Again we see plenty of wildlife, inlcuding a snake at the bottom, as well as some deer pretty close to the trail and of course plenty of birds and little squirrels.
Towards the top Philip gets a bit impatient and starts questioning whether this was such a good idea to come here… Hence I’m really glad when we finally see the slope leveling off and the amphitheatre coming into view. And after a bit more than 3 hrs of hiking we reach the lake.
It is a beautiful spot, with clear water, some trees offering shade and the panorama quite impressive. I hike around the lake hopping from boulder to boulder, rejoicing in the relative solitude and wilderness of the place.
takes a picture of me sitting on a boulder a few yards into the water – just
like a picture I had taken of myself some 20 years ago while hiking in
After about 45 mins we need to go – it’s already considerably later than I had planned, which means more night-time driving on the way back.
The way down is long; it’s dusty an hot, and our Gatorade runs out which leaves us somewhat thirsty. But at least it’s not as strenuous as on the way up, and we frequenlty stop to take in the vistas.
It feels really good when we finally reach the car back at the trailhead after some 6 ¼ hrs of hiking. The car of course is boiling hot, but we now have airconditioning and additional water. Plus after hiking half day we are happy just to sit in the car and continue our drive.
Passing the Jackson Lake Dam I am again reminded of the winter trip in 2002, when the ground was snow-covered and one could harldy see the lake, much less the distant mountains due to the low-hanging clouds.
time there are barely any clouds in the sky – except the occasional smoke plume
of a forest fire (as can be seen in the above picture the the left). In fact,
North we again crossed the Continental Divide and reached
the way back we take the Westerly route through the
Unfortunately we just missed an “eruption” of the Geyser by a few minutes, so we would have to wait another 1 ½ hours for the next big splash. We don’t want to wait that long, but we do walk around the general area for about ½ hour. It’s system of boardwalks is quite expansive, so there are many interesting little springs and smaller geysers to see. There are even herds of bison in the midst of things.
Philip enjoys this part of the trip, even though he is tired from the hike earlier in the day.
we get on the road again and follow the road towards the
Just around dusk we reach the Mammoth Hot springs, an area where hot mineral springs have created white terraces of salt and mineral deposits. The near full moon rises and sines in an eerie, orange color. (I later realize that the color comes from a layer of smoke and haze due to forest fires in the area.) We stop for one last walk in the cool evening air, where we spot among other things a large owl sitting on top of the white salt terraces looking out for a meal…
is obviously quite different from
We stop for dinner in a local fast food type restaurant / tourist place. It’s probably the most unhealthy food of the last couple of months, breaded fish dripping in fat with french fries and coke! Lots of sugar and fat! I leave the fries untouched, but need the caffeine and sugar the coke has to offer.
50 miles North to Interstate I90 and then another 110 miles to the East will
bring us back to
another reason not to fall asleep was the strange view of night-time forest
fires on the hills to the Sout of the Interstate. The full moon would in and
out disappear behind smoke clouds, which in turn would glow in orange light
from the flmes of the fire – while the view towards the North revealed an
extremely clear night sky with the milky way clearly visible. It’s not
surprising to me that they call
of course gets a lot more sleep on days like this, he just lays down and lets
Daddy do the driving. All told, we drive 670 miles in the 2 days through
Monday, September 4, 2006 (Labor Day)
course our Labor Day isn’t terribly exciting, basically we lose 2 hrs when
going back to Eastern Time Zone and we have two flights
To shorten the layover time we walk around and spend some time on the skywalk – a bridge between terminals tall enough to let airplanes roll underneath!
some phone calls and some more walking around we finally get on board the
United Airlines plane which brings us back to Miami in 3 ¼ hrs of flight time.
Another 1 hr drive back from the
It was a whirlwind trip with a lot of flying (5000 miles) and driving (700+ miles) involved. But we did see a lot of landscape and wildlife, we enjoyed the cool, dry air of the mountains and saw two famous American National Parks in picture-perfect post-card weather – in my book definitely worth a trip! What did you do this Labor Day weekend?