letter written to family 15 June 2016
Today Dave must return to life beyond ‘The Hole’ and catches an early flight. We leave for the airport as the cirrus clouds above the mountains glow with the first pink light of the morning. They are a funny shape, like inverted pink chocolate chips suspended in mid air. Along the driveway we upset an elk cow who stomps her feet at us as we roll past at 5 mph. Then I spot her calf in the sage on the other side of the road and understand her upset. The fox ducks into the brush searching for another meal.
This whole experience with Dave has been its own special gift. And now I have three days, on my own, in this special place. I have no specific plans for this unexpected lagniappe, just some general ideas — so we’ll see what happens!
After parting at the airport, the sun was still low so I stopped at the Blacktail Overlook to see if anything was stirring by the river. There was one photographer there with at least four cameras set up. There were SLRs on traditional tripods. There were GoPro-like cameras on bendy legs wrapped around the buck fence. Some were aimed at the river and glade below. Some were aimed at the mountains. He walked back and forth between his projects like an engineer tending to a Rube-Goldberg contraption. I hope I was successful in staying out of his shot(s), but I am not sure. He said not a word. The birds were loud and happy. The morning light painted with such vibrant greens that the bowl seemed to hum. Yet not a moose, goose, or bear stirred beneath our gaze. Returning to the car, a scruffy robin perched with it’s prize on the top branch of a sage and I grabbed her photo to my great surprise.
I return to the cabin to finish my coffee and contemplate the park map for a destination for today. I think Wednesday for String and Leigh lake — it will be the best lazy feet-in-the-lake day of the week. I decide the south side of Jenny Lake will do for a start. The sun will be on the mountains across the lake from me and I’ll be on the flat in the shade. Perfect. I am packed and at the String Lake trailhead by 8am (easier parking than at JL). Well, I take the wrong fork and walk the north side, but it was all to the good!
We’d had a cold night so the air was still cool. The sky was a bright blue. Dave had said there was a strong chance of rain in the afternoon. I should be able to finish this hike in the morning even at my pace! Honestly, to call it a hike is pretty aggressive really. More like a garden stroll. It would have made poor Dave nuts! I looked at flowers, studied swirls in rocks, whistled and clapped for bears. The first animal I see is a mule deer. The couple ahead of me signals to be quiet, but really, that deer couldn’t give a flying turd for humans on the trail — she was head down and eating baby!
The creeks draining the snow melt into the lakes are still very high and fast — and that means loud! It is amazing to hear the roar — but I am a little worried because my clapping to warn any possible bears of my single person presence can not possibly be heard over the water rushing into Jenny Lake. All those lovely ions thrown into the air from the jousting water seem to add power to your step. Oh yea, good day for a hike!
The trail on this side of the lake is more exposed to wind and sun. Massive boulders steer the trail on a winding path. To look to your right means to touch the back of your head to the nape of your neck and look almost straight up at the stone citadel looming over you. It is easy to see. A fire cleared much of the area in years past. The thick tangle of regrowth remains short enough to see over and let the sun shine in. All of this makes for the perfect places for yellow-bellied marmots to soak up the sun and keep an eye on things in general. Within 25 minutes of starting my walk I spot a marmot draped over the top of a stump. As I zoom my camera in to take a photo of his profile, a big face pops into my view finder! He (?) has been joined by another – who is keeping an eye on me. The one that was trying to snooze gets so annoyed with the newcomer’s shifting and active situational awareness activities that he abandons the stump. That is when I got the great profile. So cute!
Four minutes later, I pass a boulder with a fuzzy orange top. He fluffs his tail in my direction and then leaves. When I look back a few yards later, he has resumed his spot on his stone chaise lounge. Amongst the boulders there are wildflowers blooming. Some look like Queen Ann’s Lace. Some a version of a sun flower, some are tiny daisy like blooms. I see a new one that to me resembles an old fashioned white rose, though it didn’t have an aroma that I could tell. The flowers are in singles along the trail and in patches on the mountainside — but so far we have not found a field with a profusion of blooms.
The camera time stamp tells me that four minutes later I see more marmots! This time an adult with young, and then just her wee ones! I wonder how old they were?! They were busy checking things out — not just me by any means. I was most surprised that Mom didn’t really seem to care. Or Dad — I saw his tail going higher in the brush above me and dive under some logs that looked like they could have been home. I watched them for five minutes. I could have stayed longer, but thought I ought to keep going.
Hikers pass me and want to know what I am watching. They shrug their shoulders and walk on when I tell them. They also zip right past this little beauty —
The trail leaves the burned and sunny foot of the mountain and passes into a lush forest deep with knee-high ferns, plants with leaves like needles or broad as a spread hand. Streamlets dribble over logs sculpting the rich dark detritus of the forest floor into tiny oasis for moisture loving plants like ferns and columbine. The moisture clings to the tips of the tiniest needles.
Now I reach the section of the trail rich with choices. Do I hike 400 feet in elevation to revisit Inspiration Point? Do I go visit Hidden Falls? Do I take the boat launch to the visitor center and cut 2 miles off the loop? Go back the way I came? Keep walking the full circuit?
Well, I look at the sky. The wind has been picking up. There are dark clouds overhead, and I am being sprinkled on. Drat! While I am deciding what course to take, I spy another marmot. He is busy eating, so harder to get a clear photo. I look up and here comes a ranger — who asks me what I am watching. 🙂 I tell him, and he chuckles and says they can be a bit shy around groups. Then I see behind him a parade of 30+ people trailing after him. I let them go past, and then see that the ranger has stopped to gather the group. I hear him say, “There is a marmot in these rocks. Now they can be …” as I move off. Still thinking: it is 9:45, the walk hasn’t been too hard, I can probably walk the five miles back to the car. Somehow I find myself at the dock and dark clouds building around the peaks, I decide to cheat and take the boat across. It is a gray and windy ride. The construction around the visitor center makes picking up the trail a challenge. I end up in the campground and ask a camper if she knows where the path to String Lake picks up. As I talk to her, I see two mule deer come out from behind the tent. 🙂 She is so excited when I point them out that she yells to her husband to look at them. Yeah, the deer didn’t care.
Now all the sky I can see is dark and gray. It is windy and cool. Rain spits. I am resigned to getting a little wet. (I have bags for camera and phone, rain poncho, etc, but you never stay dry.) I have 3.2 miles to get to the car. Luckily, one of the reasons this is a popular trail is that it is relatively flat. Horses have come through this morning, but I can see only a single set of boot prints laid over top of the hoof prints. For being a popular trail, the only people I meet are a couple that ask me to take their picture as the trail passes through the chaos overlook we escaped from days earlier.
For following the lake, this trail does not have a lot of places for views of the mountains across the lake. But I do find one boulder that I crawl out on to get a better look at the sky up and down the lake. It’s crazy! Now the peaks are backlit with brilliant blue sky, and the east side of the lake is smothered in low, dark clouds! While I sit there, torn between taking in the gorgeous view in front of me and contemplating mountain weather I see two white dots flying on the far side of the lake. I zoom the camera and try to find them, follow them, and identify them. Harder than it looks! But I think they were two pelicans!
I reach the car at 11:30. The parking lot is full, there is a line of cars looking for a spot. The sky looks very bipolar right now. But I am surprised and pleased that I did not get drenched — despite the showers I see around me.
On my way back to the cabin I see one of the all time stupidest, irresponsible, self-centered, dangerous acts of Look-Where-I-Am photography. I kid you not. I saw a woman sit her little red butt down on the double yellow line of the highway!!!! to have her picture taken with the mountains behind her. The twenty parking space turnout along the open field wasn’t good enough for her. Imagine the surprise of the driver that came over the rise to see two people in the middle of the road. They were lucky there hadn’t been a driver passing on the double yellow so he could exceed the speed limit (as we have seen too often).
The reason I was witness to that lunacy was that I saw these huge mammatus clouds and wanted a picture for Dave.
The thunderstorms and at least three bands of heavy hail reached the cabin just after lunch. Nap. Write. Dinner. Too wet to moose hunt. No sunset. Write more. Holy smokes, I am slow — it is 11:30 pm! I gotta rest up for tomorrow!
A Blustery, Rainy Day
This was the lovely view from the bedroom at 6:30 this morning.
The chance of afternoon showers started at eleven this morning and continued all day. The wind howled, shook the bird nest box, and even blew stuff off the porch. The rain pelted the windows and obliterated the mountains. Then it would stop, a ray of sun might poke out and a gentle version of the wind would start drying things out. But just as you’d venture outside with a camera, the whole cycle repeated. But between downpours I’d still run out to see what I could find around the cabin. Magpies, a Peregrin Falcon (I think) and my buddies the bluebirds. I also saw, across the valley three white dots. Zoom and track — I think they might have been the pelicans again. 🙂
The rain finally held off around 6pm, so I trekked over to the Gros Ventre overlook to hunt for moose, but only saw a beaver and a blue heron. Ah well. Not the plan, but a satisfying day!
Final Day in Paradise
Fog?!? At 6:30 am? No, no, no! Today is supposed to be sunny and warm, right? 40 degrees? What kind of beach weather is that? Welcome to the mountains!
Spent the morning getting packing out of the way. Staged it all by the door. Wrote in the guest book. Disappointed the cleaning staff by not checking out today — despite what her worksheet said. I feel bad, she drove in from Idaho to work today.
Looking out the front door I am startled for a minute. It looks like a FOD-Walk outside! On a Navy ship with flight ops, before aircraft begin operating the crew forms a long line and walks from one end of the flight deck to the other looking for anything that could cause Foreign Object Damage (FOD). These guys are on invasive species weed patrol I think.
Fill the water bottle and drive to String Lake. Jenny Lake parking is jammed and people are all over the shoulder. I drive a half mile further to the picnic area and find plenty of parking. I plop my borrowed folding chair lake side — and shiver! The sun hasn’t come around to this side yet and the wind is cold. But I am determined I am going to spend the afternoon (until the forecast storms arrive) enjoying the lake.
I saw a blue heron, a bald eagle, Canadian Geese with goslings, male and female Common Merganser water birds, and a Scrub Jay. Just as I was going to take the Jay’s picture, one of the kids at the lake threw a rock near it and that was that. [After three hours, I was quite convinced there were no children in America that knew how to skip a stone. Just threw stones to hear the plop. Then, at last, a 12 or 13 year old boy threw one stone, and got five skips! No idea if he was American, but I applaud his skill! (Don’t say luck, I prefer to live in my illusion.) }
Lots of folks were out on the water, on everything you could carry: stand-up paddle boards, wooden, fiberglass, and metal canoes, tin row boats, inflatable canoes, and kayaks. Families were there, school/camp groups were there, high school threesomes, and retirees were all out on the water. Some clearly for the first time with a paddle in their hands, and others were patient teachers or pros.
I had imagined a quiet day, but silly me did not think about young kids having a good time — and having a good time in COLD water! My ears are still ringing from their shrieks!
At about three clouds were scraping the tops of the mountains. I was afraid these were storms rolling in — it was hard to see any kind of horizon. So I packed up and headed a little further north to the Jackson Lake Lodge — I thought their bar would make the perfect place to watch a storm from.
I got a front row seat on the patio, in the sun thank you! And people watched for a bit. The skies were dark behind me, but for my 30 minutes it was marvelous outside in the sun. A toast to missing friends!
I linger a bit, but finally tear myself away from the view. Back down south I tank up on gas and get a pizza to go. As I sit at the cabin picnic table munching a great pizza, I watch the falcon hunt over the sage to the west. The wind has picked up and shifted to the south. It is amazing to watch that bird maneuver with barely a twitch of its wing. It can hover, it can climb, it can dive like a bullet with the wind at its back. A photo won’t work — too far and into the sun. But Wow!!
At the last minute I decide to go for a last moose hunt. By the end of the night, I have seen two bull moose, but they were toying with us all night playing hide and seek. Got to chat with a couple from Florida that I had met there last night. Kind of like making friends at these places when you become a regular. 🙂
A little anti-climactic maybe, but that is how the story ends. The car is packed. Tomorrow: wash the windshield and take out the trash, then point the car east. I am bound for the Spearfish Canyon Lodge in Leads South Dakota. Some-thing Dave picked back when he thought he was driving with me. What an intriguing name!
It’s been fun having you all ride along on this amazing experience. Signing off,