Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons

July 14th, 2004

The summer of 2004 was my first full summer off in ten years. I decided to do a bike tour to keep myself occupied. I signed up to do an eight day bike/hike tour of the Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks with a friend and fellow biker Kim.

Pictures are included on most pages but if you’d rather skip the reading and just look at the photos click on the nice photo.

  • Tandemhearts' photo

June 25, 2004

Kim and I left my house at about 9 AM and drove straight to Truckee, CA where we had lunch. After an uneventful morning drive we stopped for lunch at a small Mexican restaurant and then Kim took over driving. We passed through Reno, NV and commented on its tackiness. We switched places again at a rest stop and I drove the rest of the way to Elko, NV. As I was planning the trip I had been emailing Kim with ideas about how to get to Jackson, WY and where to stay. Elko had seemed to be roughly in the middle of the drive. Kim said she had always wanted to see, “Beautiful downtown Elko.” Hmmm… right. We had some pretty big winds buffeting the car. We arrived at about 5:20, brought in the bikes and the luggage then ate dinner. Why does driving make you so tired?

June 26, 2004

We got up early and left Elko. The drive was really rather pretty crossing the Snake River many times. We saw a few fishermen. We arrived in Jackson around five and met the group of fellow cyclists. We had dinner with the group. There were nine of us riding with me the youngest person in the group. I am not quite sure who was the oldest, but one of the gentlemen, Buck, has a daughter exactly my age.

June 27, 2004

Today was our first day of riding. The morning was beautiful with a few big white puffy clouds in the sky. The temperature was perfect for riding high 60s to low 70s. Most of the time, the Grand Tetons were off to our left.

There are several mountains in the Grand Teton range, but there are four that are clustered quite closely together, South Teton, Middle Teton, Grand Teton and Mount Owen. (?!) They were formed by movement in the Earth’s crust and glaciers. As we cycled by, their profiles would change slightly as the light and our angle to them changed. As you enter the park on Moose-Wilson Road it turns to dirt for a couple of miles. It was pretty well packed for the most part, but quite rutted with a few sections of loose gravel. Once we got back to pavement we moved along pretty well. We saw a moose, but she was behind some bushes so I didn’t take her picture. We didn’t see any Wilsons. The group got back together at the Moose Visitor Center and rode together until the Jenny Lake loop.

We stopped to get some group pictures but after only one shot it began to rain. We all hurriedly threw on our rain gear and took off. The rain didn’t last too long, but was only the first of many showers. I was glad that Thom had put my rear fender back on before the trip. I couldn’t use the front as it got in the way of the racks on the car. We continued on to Colter Bay where we spent the night.

Normally you can rent boats at Colter Bay, but currently the water in Jackson Lake is being diverted to Idaho according to one of the other cyclists, Ron. The log cabins were very rustic and had linoleum on the floor. I slept with my socks on to avoid cold toes when I got up. The food was not very good. But there was a wonderful Native American museum to tour.

Total Miles: 48.8 Total Elev. Gain: 1601 feet

June 28, 2004

Today we rode from Colter Bay to the Old Faithful area. This ride started with rollers than a couple mile climb. The descent was amazing. I hit 41! That’s mph, not cars. Just before we began the descent we could hear a truck coming up the hill behind us and apparently he had been holding up traffic the entire ascent. A few of the motor homes behind it didn’t want to give us much room and there was not a lot of shoulder. It was a little bit nerve wracking. At the bottom of the hill construction workers had ripped up the road and were watering the dirt to keep the dust down. We rode through the mud for a couple of miles. When we got to Flagg Ranch we turned in to clean our bikes. There was so much mud between my rear tire and the fender that my tire would no longer freely turn. After Flagg Ranch the construction workers told us we had to load the bikes into the back of a pickup to ride over the rest of the construction. This seemed a little silly as the construction continued right up to the entrance of Yellowstone where we had to load them onto the tour van to ride to Grant Village. From there we started the climb up to the first Continental Divide. I expected that we would start descending right after the divide, but after a slight descent we climbed a little bit more. The descent was nice, but the climb up to the next Continental Divide came very quickly. Neither one was especially difficult, particularly with the very low gears I have. Before starting the descent to Old Faithful we put on jackets. About halfway down was Kepler Cascades and we decided to stop and check them out.

I wish we had had better light for the photograph as the Cascades were very pretty. Once we left the Cascades, Mother Nature decided to deluge us with torrents of rain and hail. There’s nothing like doing 30 miles an hour in a downpour. I had to take off my sunglasses since I couldn’t see through them. The hail was about pea size. I thought it might have nicked me a few times. We were totally soaked by the time we arrived at the Old Faithful Inn. Our rooms weren’t yet ready but one of the bellmen gave us towels while we waited about an hour for our rooms to be ready. Kim and I both thought our reservations were for the Snow Lodge so when we got separated from the group we made our way over there. No, they were actually in the main lodge. Once we found where we were supposed to be, we showered and by that time the sun had come back out. We watched Old Faithful erupt surrounded by a huge crowd. Then we hiked up to an overlook to get a better look and fewer people. It was about a thirty minute wait for the next eruption. I stayed to get some pictures and passed the time writing postcards and chatting with the other folks who had also hiked up there. The black flies were terrible. Note to self – carry bug spray.

Total Miles: 36.8 Total Elev. Gain: 2280 feet

June 29, 2004

The brochure said that today’s hike would go out to Mystic Falls and Fairy Falls. For some reason the guides decided to hike to Mallard Lake instead – henceforth known as Mosquito Lake. It was a bit overcast when we began the hike climbing up through areas that had been burned in 1988. It was amazing to see how much new growth there was. It was about a 3 and a half mile hike out to the lake which was fairly small with a few ducks, leeches and lots of mosquitoes.

At this point a group of us decided to do the hike as a 12 mile loop rather than as a 7 mile out and back. We climbed up above the lake and were treated to some nice views of it and the Tetons off in the distance. We didn’t see much in the way of wildlife but it was interesting terrain. After a few miles we came back down to the road and hiked along the Powerline Trail which was very overgrown and not very scenic. Later we found out that in the guides’ notes it recommends against this option because of the bland trail at the end. Powerline ends at Biscuit Basin. This was a fascinating area with lots of small pools and geysers.

We also had our first wildlife sighting – a small herd of six elk!

After the hike I sat in the lobby and wrote postcards, watching it rain. Lots of folks dashed out to watch Old Faithful erupt and then dashed back in. I had trout for dinner. It tasted a little weird so I didn’t eat much of it. I woke up around midnight with the worst stomach ache and didn’t get much sleep until 4. No more trout for me.

Total Miles: 12 (hiking) Total Elev. Gain: 1,582 feet

June 30, 2004

I was still feeling kind of nauseous at breakfast and didn’t eat much of anything. By the time we were packed up and starting out I was feeling a bit better. I grabbed a banana and some Chex mix from the van, knowing I’d be hungry later. We meandered along, stopping to look at Black Sand Basin, Upper Geyser Basin and Midway Geyser Basin. We took a little side jaunt on Firehole Lake Drive and then stopped at Fountain Paint Pots where I finished off the Chex mix. Normally I have lots of food in my bag, but I had moved the majority of it to my camelback for the hike. All I had left was a chocolate Power Bar (a gift from my students) so I ate that too. And still I was feeling hungry, an unusual occurrence for me on the bike. I figured we would eventually see the van and I could grab some more food. We continued on following the Firehole River and sighting an elk by the side of the road.

By the time I got to the optional side trip to go up Firehole Canyon Drive I was feeling ravenous. The descent to the start of Firehole Canyon Drive was pretty rocking and I decided that there was no way I was doing a climb back to the main road without some food. I rode down to Madison where the plan was to load up the bikes for yet another van shuttle (listed as “we’ll continue to…” on Timberline’s website.) The van was there, so I had a Red Bull (I brought 24 of them!) and some Oreos. Buck, one of the other riders, told me that the canyon was definitely worth the ride, after the guide said that it wasn’t really much of anything. So I got back on the bike and rode back to see it. The canyon road followed the river more closely and was a pretty easy ascent. It was shady and the river had lots of waterfalls.

When I arrived back at the tour van we all loaded up and “continued” to Norris Geyser Basin. By this time the skies were doing their typical afternoon darkening. We unloaded and headed off to Canyon Village. Before we had gone a mile, we were getting rained on. The van came up behind us and took a right, so we all followed. This was an optional turn that went along the Virginia Cascade. It was really beautiful, but because of the rain, I couldn’t get any pictures. The road climbed a bit here and then went down into the Canyon Area. I had my first bison sighting just before the Canyon Village. I was a bit cold when we stopped, so switched from rain pants to my knee warmers. I love wool! Dinner was very late as this restaurant doesn’t take reservations. The group headed over to it at 6:30 and we’re told it will be a 40 minute wait! I was extremely unhappy – no breakfast, snacks for lunch, I wanted my dinner, so three of us headed off to the bar. Two large, warm alcoholic beverages improved my mood. 🙂 Dinner was unremarkable, but when we returned to the lodge we had two bison dining on the grass around it!

Total Miles: 35.9 Total Elev.: 1621 feet

July 1, 2004

We spent the morning riding along the both rims of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. This was without a doubt my favorite place in Yellowstone! It was just amazingly beautiful. The Yellowstone River has carved its way down and left spires and falls in its wake.

I want to go back so I can get better pictures of this area – like at dawn or sunset. Kim and I decided that instead of riding the last little section, we’d walk along the Canyon from Uncle Tom’s Trail to Artist Point. The road was set back from the Canyon at this point, but the trail was right on the edge of it. We first went down Uncle Tom’s Trail about a 500 foot descent, formerly achieved with rope ladders, but now there were metal stairs. We had a wonderful view of the Lower Falls, which rewarded us with a double rainbow display. Stunning!

At Artist Point we were loaded into the van to “continue” to Lake Yellowstone. We stopped along the way to look at Mud Volcano and listened to a bit of a ranger presentation. The drive went through the Hayden Valley where we were treated to a herd of bison crossing the road.

When we got to Lake Yellowstone, our room was not yet ready so we had some lunch at the deli. Once we got our room we showered and did some laundry. Then I walked along the lake and ended up in the large observation area of the Lake Hotel where they had a string quartet playing! And it was now raining.

Total Miles: 5.9 (biking), 1 (hiking) Total Elev. 499 feet (biking), 420 feet (hiking)

July 2, 2004

We rode along Lake Yellowstone to the West Thumb area where there was another Geyser Basin. Some of the geysers are under water at the edge of the lake. I was a little late leaving this morning. The van had run out of powdered Gatorade mix and I stopped at a General Store to pick up some Gatorade for myself. Since I primarily drink my calories when riding, this seemed especially prudent. I caught up to Kim and Ron at the Geyser Basin and we toured the area together. We then rode on to Grant Village where, once again, we were loaded into the van. We choose to eat lunch here. I had a burger and a milk shake made with Moose Tracks ice cream. We vanned back across the Lewis Lake area, past the construction from the second day’s ride, stopping just before the big climb. The van ride hadn’t taken as long as I thought it would and I was wondering how that milkshake would sit on a big climb. Turns out, just fine. The climb wasn’t too bad either. We rode along Jackson Lake where I saw a tandem!

Joe and Susan Bousquet are riding from Oregon to Virginia. You can read about their trip at http://www.crazyguyonabike.com

I’m thinking milkshakes must be great energy food because I felt really good the rest of the way to Jackson Lake Lodge. The bar and restaurant there have the most amazing views of the Grand Tetons. Kim, Ron and I had a few drinks and watched the skies turn dark and the rain and hail come down. This hail was bit bigger I think than what we had previously ridden in. We were supposed to have a BBQ at the pool for dinner, which was canceled. Fortunately Kim noticed the cancellation sign and we let the guides know so that they could get us a dinner reservation at the restaurant.

Total Miles: 40.1 Total Elev.: 1719 feet

July 3, 2004

Today we took a boat across Jenny Lake and did an out and back hike to Lake Solitude. This will be a repeat on any return trips we make to the area. We first went up to Hidden Falls and then on to Inspiration Point. Those two places pale in comparison to the rest of the hike.

I think Ron summed it up best when he said, “I turned around to look back and it was so beautiful I wanted to cry.” This hike started off with a fairly steep section then climbed very gradually for a few miles. Once you got to the fork that takes you out to the lake, the climb began in earnest. We saw a lot of wildlife out here, deer, moose and marmots.

We knew we were going to have to cross a snow field to get to the lake. Trudging through snow at 10,000 feet is a lot harder than you might think. But we all made it. The lake itself was a bit of a disappointment since it was still frozen.

I did find a postcard showing lots of wildflowers and a beautiful pristine Lake Solitude taken from the opposite end of the lake looking back. None of us wanted to walk that far in the snow. We ate a quick lunch on a rock and then Ron and I started back down, marveling all the way at the views. As we got closer to Inspiration Point the crowds increased dramatically. I was glad most of those people didn’t have the energy or time to tackle the whole hike.

Total Miles: 14 (hiking) Total Elev.: 2401 feet

July 4, 2004

This was our last day. We essentially repeated the first day backwards, except that Kim and I decided to ride up Signal Mountain. This was a fantastic side trip. It seemed a bit steeper than the other climbs on the trip, but that could have just been the effects of the hike. The grade was easier than our local climbs. Everyone talked about how bumpy the road was, so we were both expecting something similar to Morgan Territory, a notoriously rutted and bumpy local ride. But it was nothing like that. We decided that bumpy is a relative term based on what you’re used to. There were two overlooks at the top. The first looked back towards the Tetons.

The second looked over the valley. Both were well worth the extra climb and mileage. The descent was a nice little added bonus. We then backtracked to the Jenny Lake loop and on to the Moose Visitor Center where we got a snack from the van and retraced our way on the Moose-Wilson road. There were a few pushy drivers this time who weren’t so eager to share the space. We also saw a deer. As we left Grand Teton I was feeling good, in spite of the headwind, and rode back to Jackson at 15 – 18 mph. It felt good to finish the tour strong. Kim and I had lunch at a local café. Ron joined us for a beer. We met with the rest of the group who were staying overnight in Jackson for dinner at an Italian restaurant. We had hoped to watch Jackson’s fireworks, but as on nearly every other day, the skies had opened up and we had a thunderstorm. Kim said the natural fireworks were quite impressive. I was asleep.

Total Miles: 52.2 Total Elev.: 1640 feet

July 5, 2004

We got up and met Ron for the continental breakfast provided by the hotel. A bagel, a banana and some juice hit the spot for awhile. Ron was staying on for a few days of fly fishing. I hope he had good weather and a good time. Kim and I were on the road by 8. We stopped in Twin Falls for lunch at Chili’s and were in Elko by 3. We cruised the main road to see if there was anything interesting to do. We had missed the Basque Festival. It was on the 3rd and 4th. But the billboard publicizing it had a picture of the Euskatel-Euskadi professional cycling team on it. We thought that was cool! We hung out by the pool reading, had dinner, read some more and went to bed.

July 6, 2004

Another day of boring driving, the stretch from Elko to Reno is not very enticing. We stopped at the same Mexican restaurant in Truckee, El Toro Bravo, for lunch. We were back in Antioch by 4. I was glad to be home and see Tilda and Thom when he arrived home from work.

The scenery on this trip was amazing.

It ranks with Death Valley, the lava flows on Hawaii and the Na Pali coast of Kauai in my mind. I don’t think my pictures do it justice, so I’d like to drag Thom back there next summer. I’m thinking I probably need a better camera too. I love my little Sony for its size, but I think I’m outgrowing its capabilities.

The tour company was adequate and I actually say that with hesitation. I never did get my packet of information from them in the mail. I e mailed them the second week of June to get it before we went to Hawaii. The guides were pleasant, but didn’t know much about the geology or the flora of the area. Neither of them had been there in years. They did not scout ahead each to see what we actually had coming up for terrain before each day’s ride. According to others on the trip the owner of the company does not want to update the tour guides’ notes to reflect actual mileage or add in guides’ comments and tips. We were supposed to receive narratives about each day’s ride or hike. These were practically non-existent. The description of the tour specifically lists only one day of van shuttle, when in fact we had four. So overall I was not really satisfied with the company. But I did get an opportunity to see two of our National parks that I would probably never have ventured to otherwise and the riding and hiking were spectacular.

If you’ve come this far in my narrative you probably think you’ve seen it all. But there are more pictures in the gallery. Any of the photos will link you there.

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