Up in the northwestern corner of Wyoming is Yellowstone National Park, with its famous Old Faithful, one of the many, many geysers in the park that randomly spout to the delight of the many, many tourists drawn to the place. Less well known, and just to its south, is Grand Teton National Park, with the two parks connected from top to bottom by the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway. Our expedition of the two parks began at the southern entrance of Grand Teton late on a Monday afternoon, and it was a bit of a scurry to find an available campsite. Our first choice, at Jenny Lake, was full, so we headed north along the parkway to Colter Bay and got ourselves a spot there. With that business taken care of, we were free to take an evening walk along the bay’s edge.
The park is named for its highest peak – Grand Teton at 13,775 feet, which rises more than 7,000 feet above Jackson Hole. And while the peaks of the Teton Range are breathtaking, it’s the park’s lakes that offer some of the most outstanding views.
We get more lake pictures in the morning as we head off to Jenny Lake, which, as we’ve been told, not only has a great campground (that books up really quickly) but also has a recommended hike along the lake’s shoreline and up to Inspiration Point. This is the new me – hiker of mountains, lover of trails. We’ll see how long this lasts, but as long as we don’t have to rappel Grand Teton and can stick to moderate climbs, I could get to like this new me. As it turns out, the new hiker me likes to stop and take lots of pictures – everything is a photo op.
We made it up to Inspiration Point and back, and hobbling across the parking lot to the car, my dogs were never so glad to get the boots off. And throb for the next hour or so as we drive north to Yellowstone National Park. We hope to find a spot to pitch our tent in the park tonight, but there is absolutely no room at the inn. It pays to reserve here in Yellowstone, or at least start looking for a site before 5 o’clock. We spend the next hour at the Lake House Restaurant overlooking Yellowstone Lake hunting down hotels/motels/inns/empty barns/hovels within a 50-mile radius of Yellowstone that have a room for the night. Finally! We find one in Virginia City, Montana – so that’s where we’re headed, but first we better go see Old Faithful. It’s one of those iconic American sights, like Mount Rushmore and Niagara Falls, that begs to be seen and captured, if only for a moment. And here’s our moment.
You can find rivers, lakes, mountains, canyons and waterfalls in the park, and there’s some spectacular hiking and watching out for wildlife, but most of the land in Yellowstone is covered in lava flows and volcanic rocks. The park is also home to a supervolcano, which has erupted several times over the last two million years. While we’re waiting for the next one, we can watch the steam erupting from the many geysers throughout the park. We’re told that while some of the other geysers erupt with more force, you never know when they will erupt; the good thing about Old Faithful Geyser (for tourists on a tight schedule at least) is that it erupts every 91 minutes give or take 10 minutes. If you know when it erupted last (and eruption times are posted on the board at the various visitor centers throughout the park), it’s hard to miss the next one. With bellies full after dinner, we head over to take in a late evening show that extends into sundown. Old Faithful constantly blows steam, sometimes just a waft, sometimes big bursts of it, and then there is the big blast of water that can last upward of five minutes. I read somewhere that when Old Faithful was first discovered by mountain men, they’d throw their dirty laundry into the crater when it was quiet, and when the thing erupted, out came their clothes, well-cleaned. Talk about a power wash.