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A Tour of Our Summer Neighborhood

Our Glamorous Volunteer Life

It has been a whirlwind since we arrived on 19 June. The first week volunteering at headquarters has both of us absorbing new terminology, command structure, and office tasks as quickly as possible. Our second week is largely spent on our own, doing double duty to fill in for staff on vacation, as well as our new responsibilities. Everyone has been patient and friendly. Sadly, no wild adventures, significant animal sightings, or crazy tales to tell. Yet.  

For now we thought we’d give you the lay of the land, in this place, our home for the summer. To start, we are camped in the Gros Ventre Campground, near Kelly WY. 

If you do not already know, Grand Teton National Park was established in 1929 which at first only protected the high peaks. Homesteads and ranches already existed in the valley. Over the years the park has expanded through acquisition and gifts, but a few ranches and ‘in-holdings’ of privately held land remain within the borders of the park. There is even an airport! The only National Park with an airport. The main thoroughfare between Jackson Hole Wyoming and Yellowstone in Montana runs through the middle of the park. To the west is a loop road which is gated and where the park controls access to the more sensitive areas. 

Gros Ventre (pronounced Grow Vahnt) Campground has just over 300 camping sites, filled with First-Come, First-Served campers. A few sites have power, but most are boon docking sites, arranged in six loops. It has a reputation of not filling up, but in this last week we have seen it fill everyday. We will find out if it is a phenomenon of the Independence Day holiday celebration, or a result of virus weary folks escaping to the great out doors.  [2021 update: filling before noon was a season long occurrence; all campgrounds have moved to a reservation system]

The sites are newly paved and fairly level, though not large. Many have comfortable space between them. You are never out of sight of your neighbor, but neither are you in elbow bumping distance, which we have seen at private campgrounds! Moose frequent this area of the river, so we expect to see them wander through camp from the sagebrush to the river as fall arrives. Many campers on the west side have ring side seats to mountain sunsets. As volunteers, we have been assigned a spot in the residential loop. The advantage to us is that there is limited in-and-out churn of new neighbors, and of course, a large site with two parking spaces, fire pit, picnic table, and bear box. The real gold however lies in the full hookups: water, 50 amp power, and sewer. The bath house and laundry is shared by just 12-18 sites. It is a wonderful place to call home after a day of volunteering!

Luckily we are lined up with the awning side of the trailer facing east. Perfect for shade in the warm evenings. And good place for reading and sewing.

The utility side of the trailer faces the path to the laundry. In a tree about 40 yards away is a Mountain Bluebird nest. I have seen “Mr.” fly out to a nearby branch, preen and clean, then fly back to the hole. 15 to 20 minutes later he flies back to the same branch and repeats. Naturally when I set up my camera, he invents a new routine and hides! 

If you have the chance, the choice boon docking sites are up in “A” loop. It is the furthest east part of the campground, and can ‘see’ around Blacktail Butte to just catch a glimpse of The Grand Teton and Mt. Moran.

These campers are all set with front row seats for the evening light show!

One afternoon after work I grabbed my camera and went to see what I could see in the sagebrush between the campground and the road to Kelly. Tree Swallows zoomed overhead gulping mosquitos as fast as they could (I could have used a few more birds!)  The spring wildflowers are almost gone here. The amazing thing is to look out over the sage brush, you would not know they were there. The sagebrush is knee to waist high, and the wild flowers are often less than 12 or 18 inches high. Here, wild lupine is nearing the end of its bloom time. A variety of yellow flowers in a multitude of shapes and tiny configurations are looking ready to pack it in for another year. Sticky geranium (no pix) however, are still going strong.

The ground is paved with river rocks in a rainbow of colors, necessitating attention to footing as well as the gorgeous scenery. I also pass a few piles of what appear to be elk droppings. We have not seen any elk yet. I expect they have all headed to cooler climes at higher elevations, so this is curious. I also spot a hoof print in the mud from this week’s rain, easily the width of my sneaker and half as long. 

I also come upon old fence posts and rails in random silver and black lumps amidst the brush. You can see this all through the park, as more and more of the old ranch fencing is removed to allow greater freedom to the migrating herds of elk, bison, and prong horn. 

from here, you really could not see the red, yellow, pink, and purple wild flowers, could you?

Speaking of large mammals, we have seen a pair of prong horn across from the campground on most mornings on the way to HQ. We’ve also passed a lone bison rolling in dust bath on the roadside. On two different nights I spotted moose down by the Snake River, not far from camp, but no easy way to pull over and observe. Soon, I hope!

We’ve had some cold nights, in the low thirties and some days that struggle to make it to fifty degrees. Two days later, for Independence Day we had a high of 81 degrees. Glorious!

Enough about camp for now. Next our commute! HQ is about three miles away as the raven flies, but about nine miles by road and traffic circle. I always keep an eye out for animals — I know where I have seen them in the past. However, so far, the weather has stolen the show, and in some cases, the mountains. From white puffy, fair weather clouds, to menacing towers of dark gray mammatus clouds, it just never gets old to look at.

our daily commute around Blacktail Butte

Although I am the rare person that actually enjoyed my reverse commute in DC, down the Rock Creek Parkway and a trip across Memorial Bridge past Lincoln Memorial and Arlington Cemetery, that view just cannot compare! We are the lucky ones!!

Five miles up, we turn left into Moose. We pass Dornan’s, which is ground zero for souvenirs, monster sandwiches for your hike, a pub and pizza bar, wine shop, gift shop, bike rental, chuckwagon burgers in a teepee, and outdoor outfitters & fly fishing shop. Then over the Snake River, where once a wooden ferry operated, the cable remains draped over the rushing water. Past the Post Office, and onto the headquarters campus. Home base to the Superintendent, Search & Rescue, Interpretive Ranger guides, fleet garage, dispatch (911), and Lost & Found. 🙂  And more I am sure! 

And this is where the magic happens. Golly, it feels very odd to be back in a cubicle! I’d love to trade for this empty office space though! On the other hand, while manning the warehouse, I saw half of a dozen pelicans fly over in formation — you just never know what treat will be framed by your window!

This coming week we hope will settle into an easy going routine where we can balance our efforts as volunteers with the ability to head out for adventures of our own. We will keep you posted if anything really fun happens!

Stay safe. Be well.

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