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Whistle while you hike

letter to family written 11 June 2016

As per the new routine, we check out the windows first thing. Sky is clear. Great. Bison have 100% disappeared. Huh. Time to pack up and head north — Dave has one last big hike he wants to do, and he says I can do it too. We’ve never done Colter Bay before…

As we pull out of the driveway, the fox is hunting along the road. I am not sure he even notices us. It takes a bit over 30 minutes to get there. The sky is blue and cloudless. The temperature is a perfect 63. No coats or gloves, just bear spray, skeeter dope, and PB&J sandwiches. 

fox hunting along sage brush

This is a hike on a large peninsula on Jackson Lake. The trailhead is at a busy marina where folks moor their big motorboats for the season, as well as put in the smaller pleasure craft like canoes and kayaks. The hike starts off with the usual warning to be alert for bears. The path is shared by horses and follows the shoreline south. Thick trees go down to the water’s edge and so screen the water from view for much of the going. Every once in a while we get a nice break and a spectacular view of the water and mountains beyond. There is a pairs of people paddling in bright red canoes across the reflection of Mt. Moran in the bay.  It must be magical to be out there on the water right now!

Hiking along this path today is like visiting an enormous mansion with dozens of rooms decorated in vibrantly different styles.

So far we had wide soft trail through dense rows of pines, a narrow trail skirting a bluff playing peek-a-boo between the aspens with the water, and now we are in a divine part of the forest where the underbrush is vibrant green with soft, lush grass and your eye can travel hundreds of yards in any direction across  the dappled light created by the forest canopy. It is one of my favorite parts of the hike. It is lovely, cool, and flat! 😉 

And then just like going through a doorway into a new room, we found ourselves climbing a sagebrush hill, brightened by larkspur and balsam root flowers. It is warm in the sun and we are thankful for the gentle puffs of breeze! Over the crest and through another wide open forest we come upon a pond.  Rafts of yellow waterlilies float on the surface. Canadian Geese patrol the edges of the lilies. The majestic Tetons crown the skyline. After a few moments spent in awe of the place, we press on. We start off on a narrow trail trough the woods which is criss-crossed with fallen trees (3” dia) that we call “knee-knockers” for the passageways aboard navy ships. The forest stopped abruptly and we wound our way through a sagebrush maze, only to wind up back north of the pond and looking at Jackson Lake. As Bugs Bunny would say, or was it Daffy Duck?, we seem to have taken a “left turn at Albuquerque.” We consult the map again and decide we need to back track — we followed a trail not drawn on the map!

As we turn around to start back up the hill I spot a blue heron at the edge of the lake. I zoomed in with my camera and saw her fishing — stalking in the shallows, pause, then spear the water. She must have caught something because I then see her lift her long yellow bill to the sky and seem to flip and swallow something before resuming her fishing. So cool!! Worth the detour I think.

Eventually we pick up the correct trail again. We meet another couple that is having a lively discussion over which trail to follow — at the same point we got sidetracked. We all have a laugh, compare notes and go on our way. Eventually we passed them on the trail — still arguing. haha! More sagebrush into open forest and then into dense forest with thick underbrush. You cannot see very far and so we sing out “Mr Bear, what do you eat?” as we walk and encourage any possible bears in the area that this is perfect napping weather. The footing is mostly very rocky, requiring a lot of time looking down at your boots and not at your surroundings. 

The birds are still singing and we see a few red squirrels chasing each other over logs, under bushes, and around trees. As far as other animals signs, we see of course ‘road apples’ from horses, and some marking scat likely from a fox. We don’t see any elk droppings so we are surprised when later in the day we spook a stag out into the open and watch him bound across a sagebrush field. And we do see some bear droppings, moderately recent but not like just this morning. Still, we try to keep one eye on the trail and one on the prime bear habitat we are walking through. 

Dave’s hiking app calculated how fast we were walking the miles and he calculated that we would reach our destination of Hermitage Point at 12:30. The temperature has risen and so has the wind. We can hear it in the tree  tops, and sometimes feel a little.

Back out of the forest we walk a sagebrush and balsam root flower covered ridgeline and begin to see blue water through the shoreline trees. As we go higher the vegetation is less and less able to protect us from the wind. It is blowing at 25-30 knots, creating  white caps on the lake, and beginning to push the water into waves. At last we come to the point! It is 12:30. Time for lunch. 

We pick a spot in the shade of a pine tree. The ground cover is prickly, like trying to sit on a steel brush, so we lay out our windbreakers and sit down to enjoy the view. The wind and waves sound like we are at the ocean. Very relaxing as we enjoy our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I can’t convince Dave to lay down and take a nap next to me, darn it. It felt so good to have the pack off and lay flat out. Oh well. 

we made it!

I crawl down the last six feet of the bluff to get to the water’s edge proper. I throw a bandana that I brought with me into the lake and soak it good in the nice cold, snow run-off water. Then I tie it  around my neck to help keep me cool. I wasn’t counting on the wind. Within a mile, it was bone dry!! But it was lovely while it lasted. This place was getting hot! 

We took a different route to return to Colter Bay. This one was much more open, long stretches through fields of sagebrush and exposed to the sun. And being tired already, I find every hill that I encounter on the walk north to be a personal affront and something to be despised. Fortunately, Dave lets me set the pace (crawl) and stop when I need to. We had a short break overlooking a beaver created meadow. We watched for animals, but I think they were all hiding from the high heat of the day. Very smart!

Eventually we make our  way to Swan Pond. Another break for me! We chat with a couple that was sitting there looking across the marsh with binoculars. I am too tired to dig ours out. We ask if they have seen anything interesting. No, they were looking for swans, but just saw Canadian Geese. We thank them and then resume the homeward trek. The trail skirts the edge of the pond for a bit. It is the first time I have a chance to get a reasonable shot at a photo of the bright yellow lilies. I duck down a short trail to the waters edge and stop short. “Dave, what is that?” I ask. It is a moose, shoulder deep in lily pads having her own lunch. We have to wait for her to raise her head to chew to get a good picture. It is amazing how long they can have their heads under water snacking! We get back on the trail that takes us even closer to her. I take a few more photos and now when she raises her head she looks at me. Uh oh. I stop taking pictures and we start walking again. Now, if you wanted pictures of animals the trail would naturally turn away from the object of your desire. Yeah, not this time. The path goes closer. We keep our heads forward, trying to not look at her and  keep an eye on her at the same time. She hasn’t really moved, but her eyes are locked on and tracking — and we get the message she would rather we were not here. Dave unhooks the bear spray and we keep moving. Oh, I wish she was in a better mood — to have been able to get something other than a super zoom photo! She tracks us as we go past, we check behind us to make sure she hasn’t left the water to follow us — and as far as we know she went back to her meal. But how cool to find one on our walk! 

We make it back to the car at 3:15, having walked 11.59 miles! The temperature has risen 20 degrees from our start to 82. I am pooped, and Dave is ready for more. I think I will pass.

The original plan at the start of the day was to go to Leeks Marina again for their pizza after our hike. During that last mile on the trail I announce to Dave that when this is all over I am having a root beer float!! Well, we did get our pizza, another delicious pie, but no float. Further south is Jackson Lake Lodge — and we know  their Pioneer Grill makes shakes and floats. So … we get our email updated on the phones and we indulge in a root beer float and a strawberry milkshake while we sit out on the deck and scout for more animals down in Willow Flats. (no luck)

When we get home, the fox is still hunting, and the bison have returned. About a dozen laid down for a snooze not far from the nest box. We unpack and sort photos. Oh, it feels food to sit down! 

At 7:30 Dave decides to go moose hunting over at our lucky spot and I go with him. It took more work and going further upstream to find Lazy Moose laying down near the river. Eventually he got up and another bull joined him. They made us all crazy hiding behind bushes. My poor zoom was maxed out and barely seeing them — but many of the tourists could only see him by looking at the back of my camera — and soon I had people asking if they could take a picture of the monitor on my camera! One moose walked down to the river and we lost him. The other one played hide-and-seek until 9pm. We both took about 130 photos and kept maybe 4. 

When we got home this time, there was neither hide nor hair of the bison herd.

All in all it was quite a day. Tomorrow promises rain, so we’ll see what we come up with then.

The days are just packed!


Another morning where the light is against us, so we head into town to revisit a great breakfast spot: The Bunnery. Dave refers to its location as on the best block in Jackson. There is Teton Mountaineering (a great outfitter store), Liberty Burger, The Merry Piglets Mexican restaurant, Thomas Mangelsen’s Images of Nature Gallery, and the Bunnery. Everything you could need! Just be warned — that if you order french toast, be sure to say just two slices please. The standard order apparently comes with four thick slices that would equal half a loaf of bread! But it was yummy — 

On the drive back Dave decides he needs to work off breakfast — on a 20+ mile bike ride from Moose to north of Jenny Lake. He gets suited up and I drop him off at the rental place just outside the park entrance. The businesses around the area seem to have rolling opening dates and flexible hours, so I could not resist taking a picture of the bike shop’s sign. 

The Grand Teton Association sponsors workshops for local artists, photographers, and writers to share their knowledge with the public over the summer. There was a photographer giving a workshop up at Willow Flats turnout — and Allison Brush, a mixed media artist was at the visitor center in Moose. I decided to stop there to check it out before going back to the cabin while Dave was on his ride. Ha, I never made it to the cabin.

I think the artist’s livelihood is portraits done in graphite, which she had on display. However, she came prepared to show different techniques she uses in her abstract paintings. She came with several canvases to work on — as one dries work on another. When I got there, the serious artists from the area were all front and center around her work table. They brought their own camp chairs and notebooks! I was not nearly so prepared!! 

Her predominate style uses layers of transparent color in abstract shapes and blends. Working in acrylics, she uses a lot of artists medium to make the colors lay on the canvas smoother and blend easier. She also uses brushes, palette knives, and paper towels to manipulate and remove paint she just laid down.  

To get a special effect on one canvas, she first painted a bright white paint, straight from the tube onto her brush in squiggles over a dark canvas. She let it dry for a bit, and then she put the whole thing under a water urn, turned the spigot on, and washed bits of the white paint off. That got everyone’s attention! When that had dried she added light colors on top of the remaining white.

At some point in the morning, she decided to let the kids that were watching help her out. Pretty adventurous to take a piece of art you have been working on, and then turn it over to the whims of six year olds and still try to find something to work with on it. From their faces, the kids clearly enjoyed playing, but they were pretty heavy handed with the paint and turned the canvas pretty much to mud. The parents were so excited they stood on a bench and video taped the whole thing!

While watching, I stuck up a conversation with a woman who was also watching the proceedings with great interest. Ann was born in Pennsylvania, moved to the area in 1963 and raised her kids here. Her husband taught avalanche safety and prediction. She used to be a potter, but when they moved to town, she lost her studio and is now learning to paint. She talked a lot about the culture scene in Jackson Hole — that big name speakers are always coming through. As Dave says, “Jackson Hole punches above its weight,” when it comes to attracting persons of note to come to the area to speak. She belongs to the local geology club and was very excited over an upcoming program — but I can’t remember it for the life of me. She talked to me about how Jackson is the cultural capital of WY, (heeheehee) and that there is always something going on. Even the library sponsors great programs. She also thinks I needed to speak to her friend Bobbi who had helped set up the artists in the environment program.

The next thing I know I am chatting with Bobbi! [a chipmunk just ran across my foot as I am writing this!!] Anyway, Bobbi is also enthusiastic about living in her town and tells me that there is always something going on. The “winters are brutal,” she warns. And then advises me with a conspiratorial wink that if we can manage two places, that would be “the wise thing to do.” I thanked her for her information and for her work on setting up the artist program. She seemed surprised and pleased. Turns out – she is the president of the local pleine aire painting group. 

It is just after noon, the program is over and Dave should be getting to the end of his ride soon. I head over to Dornans’ to fill up the gas tank and park to wait. Low and behold – who just arrived? Dave saw an elk in one of the parking lots and also a pronghorn crossing the trail — that almost got hit by a cyclist that thought the path way was a private speed training track. But he enjoyed the ride and the clouds that kept the temps cool.

Lunch was enjoyed on the top deck of the pasta & pizza place at Dornan’s. It wouldn’t be a bad place to have a glass of wine some night! We get back to the cabin just as the drizzle starts. It doesn’t clear enough to make us interested in moose hunting tonight. The sunset turns out to surprise us — we see red to the south and orange to the west. We celebrated the surprise sunset with hot chocolate & Baileys and a good book. No stars tonight.

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