Monday, June 23, 2014

US Hwy 191: Grand Teton National Park

Visiting Grand Teton National Park today was a bittersweet experience. I've been here four, now five times in my life, once per decade since my early teens. With each visit, I've found myself more melancholy in the aftermath.

Teton Park is an impossibly beautiful place, and easily one of the most visually stunning in the world. (You know I'm qualified to say that, right?) Besides the sweeping mountain vistas, it encompasses several ecosystems and is a mecca for wildlife viewing. A river runs through it and it is steeped in history and heritage.

The park is also easily and readily accessible from all points, not only of the compass but of the world. There in lies the problem, at least for me.

There's something disheartening about standing in a wilderness paradise and having a steady stream of commercial and corporate jets on final approach right over your head. Buses full of tourists noisily unload at every viewpoint. Cars, trucks and RVs in all shape and size fill every parking lot to capacity and beyond. The once sleepy little town of Jackson, WY, has become a tourist town on par with Vail and Aspen, CO.

There's also the problem of pace. Teton is only a few miles south of Yellowstone, and is often a place people "do" in a day on their way to that far larger, far more famous park. Hence, they are typically in a hurry to see it all and do it all. If you prefer to take your time and "be" in a place rather than "do" it, you're likely to be as frustrated — even annoyed — as I was.

Case in point: I started my day with a drive along the Moose-Wilson Road, a scenic, seven mile route from the south entrance into the park. The whole point of the thing is its remote woodsiness as a good place to see wildlife.

The speed limit is 25mph, driving at which would be like running your cart through a supermarket and calling it shopping.

I found myself moving at less than 10mph, and pulling over every minute to let a string of cars race past me. My guess is that they were in a hurry to say they "did" the road.

At my speed, I saw a half-dozen moose, twice that number of deer and what I'm pretty sure was a small black bear, all less than 25 yards off the road. Even my dog Happy got up from her usual back seat sleeping to stick her nose out the window and notice all the wonders of where we were.

What did all the racers see? My guess is not much. I can report, however, that I caught up to them when they were all clustered at a large, establish parking lot, viewing a single moose cow in an exposed bog at a distance of at least 250 yards. I'm glad they got to see their moose.

Nevertheless, I made it a good day moseying throughout the park, trying in vain to get an iconic panorama of the majestic mountains. Here are a few of the least disappointing: (Click to embiggen)

My biggest peeve about the park is its fascist policies about dogs. Here are just a few of the especially egregious rules:
• Pets must be kept on a leash not to exceed six feet in length.
• Pets are prohibited on park trails.
• Pets must stay within 30 feet of any roadway.
• Pets are prohibited from making unreasonable noise or frightening wildlife.
• Pets are not allowed on the multi-use pathway.
By all means, let your pack of wild kids make enough noise to clear a herd of bison, trample all the delicate flora in the park and jump out into traffic whenever they mindlessly please, but don't you dare take your dog more than 30 feet from the road, let alone for a nice little trail walk. Bastards.

I know this all probably sounds like a rant. That's not my intent. I'm just reporting my findings.

If you're a tourist, by all means visit Grand Teton National Park. If you're a traveler — especially one with a dog — I suggest you skip it. It's a stunningly beautiful place with horribly ugly conditions. Sometimes the gain just isn't worth the cost.

I'll be continuing north on US191 in the morning, transiting right through Yellowstone National Park. Based on my experience in Teton today, I seriously doubt I'll bother making any kind of re-visit to what's guaranteed to be a madhouse. But, you never know… Stay tuned!

Click here to see exactly where I am posting this from on Google Maps.

1 comment:

Mom said...

Making it possible for everyone to see everything results in nobody seeing anything! Let 's go back to walking the parks, seeing what we can... Even if it is not everything...but having a joyous experience!