Saturday, June 30, 2012

Grand Teton National Park Day 1 - June 7, 2012

Taggart Lake.

Our first full day in Jackson Hole, Wyoming (or is it just Jackson) dawned bright, cool, and clear. While it was forecast to reach a high of about 70F when we first left the hotel it was only in the mid-30s. We decided that we would start the trip with a fairly easy yet hopefully scenic hike. After visiiting a visitor center and getting some additional information and a (perhaps) less-than-necessary small bear spray we drove out to the trailhead for the Taggart Lake trail. We are staying in downtown Jackson which is something on the order of 10 miles from that trailhead (and others like Jenny Lake; far more distant to places like Jackson Lodge). This means we have longer drives to and from our hotel but the upside is that our options for places to eat and perhaps things to do when not hiking are somewhat expanded. With one thing and another we reached the trailhead around 09:30.

The hike we planned would take us past Taggart Lake and up to Bradley Lake before turning around, closing a loop, and taking us back to the parking lot - about a 6 mile hike gaining and loosing about 975 feet. The trail is hardpacked dirt and, near the parking area, almost gravel-like. Within ten minutes we came to Taggart Creek which was a boiling mass of whitewater pouring under the footbridge. Once we passed the torrent our stroll would slowly ascend and take us past a small ranch where a couple mules were hanging out (and later being trained for something or other). It was here standing not far from a slowly rising hillside that we saw a couple differnt little critters. One may have been a ground squirrel and the other was clearly something different - perhaps a weassal according to park ranger Daniel. We were also in luck having already spotted quite a few different types of wildflowers inclduing lupine, arrow (?) balsam (leaves are a bit arrow shaped), and several others. Spring has come a bit earlier than usual. One thing we noticed about the flowers we recognized, like lupine, was that they were far smaller than what grow back home. I suppose the different environment here must have something to do with that though exactly what diffrences play key roles in this I have no idea.

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Perhaps you can tell what thus little critterbis. I am not surebif the chitter you hear is from it though that sound reminds me of a squirrel.

Not long after leaving the spot where we saw the animals we caught up with a ranger-lead hike. Daniel was taking a small group of people to Taggart Lake and imparting all sorts of knowledge about the park as they went. We decided to tag along and for the next mile and a half we very slowly made our way through meadow-like areas, recovering lodgepole pine forests that were barely older than the ranger himself (about 26 years old), and ever up and closer to the glacial lake. Daniel pointed out quite a bit about tree identification, the nature of various rocks in the region, and some talk about climate change. During that bit we learned that the pine bark bettles that are wreaking havoc on the white (and other?) pines are a native species that are in the midst of a population boom. That boom is a result of warmer winters. The bettles aren't having the die-offs they used to have. Of course, as they destroy pines that in turn affects food supplies for all manner of creatures up to and including bears. Another species that is being hit hard by changing climate is the tiny pika. Apparently if it rises above 78 degrees for even a short time the pika die. This means they're moving up the mountains where food is scarce and that can't be good for them. It was time well spent though you do have to accept a very slow pace and we were glad to say goodbye to the litle group at Taggart Lake.

A good view of some of the mountains. From right to left (moving southernly)I believe we have Mount Teewinot, Owen, Grand Teton, Middle Teton, and Nez Perce. South Teton may be peeking through on the far left.

Lake is surprisingly large. Your first glimpspe of it doesn't really give you any sense of the size of the lake or of its rich reflecting colors. You need to move further along the trail towards Bradley Lake to find a viewpoint where you get a much better sense of the lake's nature. I'm not sure if there is any camping around Taggart Lake but it sure looks pretty. We left that lake behind and began the gentle ascent up and around towards Bradley which is, I think, about 1.2 miles away and a couple hundred feet higher. When we got there and found a place for lunch we were happy to settle in for a spell. Bradley didn't gleam quite as wonderfully as Targgart did but it is a nice lake and I would be happy to spend a night there. I suspect people thoroughly enjoy fishing in these lakes and connecting streams.

The hike back to the parking area was pleasant too. Until you near a junction with the Taggart Lake trail you are seeing different stuff. The last mile or so is a repeat of the outbound hike except somehow it seems to take much longer and Mom and I both thought we were strolling along the creek for much longer than we had on the outbound trek. Perhaps it is simply the fact that descents, for me, are slower even when they are gentle like this one was. But in due time we crossed the two footbridges, passed the mule ranch, and the spot where we saw the little critters, and at about 13:20 we returned to the car. A nice first day's hike of about 9km with about 300 meters of elevation change (up and down) was over. We had plenty of time to still visit other places.

We got into the car and barely after pulling out of the parking lot stopped alongside a bunch of other cars. People were standing on the road shoulder gazing out towards the river. We had heard that a mother moose had calved about a week ago and the female moose we saw with a calf was likely that very one. She was comfortably ensconsed by a copse of trees at the edge of the river. Her calf was close by. It was a great sight and I do wonder if the moose care that people aren't all that far away gauking at them. I hope we weren't causing stress. I actually got some halfway decent imagery with my tiny lens on the Lumix and iPhone. I hope the fellow with the truly massive zoom got some great shots of the moose.

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Just beyond this cow moose is the river. Her calf is just off to the right out of view. I am no good at judging distance but i don't think they are that far away.

We continued on our way to check out Jackson Lodge which is a recent addition (less then ten years I think) to the histroic register. It's not a bad looking building though I understand it is built from materials designed to mimick local materials - sort of faux. The views from the second floor are great. The pie at the little diner was also nice even though the decor was rather lacking. It isn't that I think hanging farm implements and such on the walls is a bad idea especially if they represent some history which I believe they do but those painfully white walls and limp white curtains do nothing to give the endles counter top with its multiple soda fountains a good sense of place. Oh well.

All in all it has been a good first day. We topped it off with a very fine dinner at Cafe Genevieve (far better than the burgers at the SIlver Dollar - for $11.50 that burger should have been better; it would have been in Ann Arbor). We wandered about the downtown a bit marvelling that so many stores seem to shut their doors by 19:00 which strikes us as rather early for a tourist town. Tomorrow we will tackle another part of the park and see what we can discover in the vicinity of Cascade Canyon and Jenny Lake.
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