Second Fiddle?

May 25, 2023  •  Leave a Comment

I find it mind-boggling that Grand Teton National Park, stunningly beautiful and home to one of the most picturesque mountain ranges in the world, is often overshadowed by its neighbor to the north. 

It's not unusual for people to fly into JAC, pick up the rental car, and make a beeline for Yellowstone. 

Do not pass go. Do not collect $200. 

Driving through Jackson Hole, the Yellowstone-or-bust crowds no doubt admire the Tetons along the way (how can you not?) and some of them might stop at an overlook or two on the main highway, but that's about it. GTNP isn't the destination. It's a means to an end, so to speak.

Both parks are local for me, and Yellowstone is undeniably a unique and wonderful place. But in my book, GTNP doesn't play second fiddle - not even to Yogi and Boo-Boo. 

Truth be told, I'd rather see the Tetons less crowded so it's all good. But people who race through don't know what they're missing.

Superficial visits to national parks are the norm rather than the exception so in that respect folks who spend only a few hours in GTNP are typical of many. The average park visitor doesn't linger. A recent study commissioned by the park service found that roughly two-thirds of the respondents said they were in-and-out in one day or less, regardless of the park in question.

(Photographers, what that statistic should tell you is that it isn't very difficult to get away from the crowds. Just leaving the parking areas will do wonders.) 

I love the Tetons. To me, that's not just a sign pictured above: it's five magic words. Like Dorothy when she opens the door and the world goes from black and white to Technicolor, I'm stepping into an enchanting, idyllic place when entering Grand Teton National Park. Being there is cathartic.

Late spring and very early summer are when the park is the most lovely. Even in this semi-arid, high-altitude climate, everything is green.

Like right now!

spring at Grand Teton National ParkSPOTLIGHT ON SPRINGAfternoon storms forming over the Teton Range create quickly changeable - and dramatic - skies. A few rays of light break through, highlighting the lush springtime foliage.

Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
Travel over the pass to the heavily agricultural Teton Valley and it's even more verdant. 

Also on the west side, Grand Targhee Ski Resort in the summer is a haven for hikers and mountain bikers alike. Bike trails open for the season on June 16th.  

Some of you have asked what the conditions are like currently in the park, especially given the harsh winter and late spring. We had four days with very poor air quality over the past week due to north winds which blew smoke from Canadian wildfires into vast swaths of the intermountain west. I was over there the day everything began to deteriorate, and watched Mount Moran disappear from view as the thick haze entered and began to drift further into Jackson Hole. That put an end to my photo shoot. Fortunately, the wind shifted and by Tuesday the situation was much improved.

The aspens and cottonwoods are leafing out now. I don't know what to expect in terms of timing for wildflowers on the valley floor. Logic would dictate they'll be delayed since everything else has been late, but who knows. We'll see. 

There's still a great deal of snow on the mountains; they're quite beautiful. Thanks to copious amounts of snow, Jackson Lake looks much better than it has in the past two years and is currently tracking above "full pool" status - but it still appears quite a bit lower than it should be to my eyes.

Speaking of low water levels, the Bureau of Reclamation is holding the flow out of the Jackson Lake Dam until the end of June. As a result, low water is noticeable at Oxbow Bend. I don't recall ever seeing the bend look in the late spring like it does right now. Go figure, after a winter with significant precipitation.

As for wildlife, this is elk calving season. If you're planning on visiting GTNP in the near future, remain alert and keep your distance. The animals are much more territorial this time of year. 

As mentioned last week, 399 is out of her den and has one cub. She has quite the fan club so there's been much rejoicing over this happy news. That said, please help keep her - and all bears - safe. All of Teton County, Wyoming is occupied grizzly habitat. Secure and properly store anything that could attract a bear into a campsite. Once habituated to humans, it does not end well for the animals.

While I'm on the subject of humans and wildlife, another "stupid human" incident occurred (this time in Yellowstone) over last weekend. A man disturbed a newborn bison, pushing it up from near the Lamar River and onto the roadway. Such interference almost always guarantees that the baby will be rejected by its mother, which is exactly what happened in this case. After trying - repeatedly and unsuccessfully - to reunite the little bison with the herd, the park service had no choice but to euthanize the poor abandoned calf. As usual, the animal pays the ultimate price for the human's reprehensible behavior. 

On a different topic, roads in both parks are now mostly open for the season. The only remaining closures in GTNP are the road up to the Signal Mountain summit as well as the unpaved portion of Mormon Row. The southern portion of Moose-Wilson Road remains under construction but is scheduled to fully re-open on June 30th (with delays). Until then, it's open to weekend traffic only. 

In Yellowstone, both Dunraven Pass and Beartooth Highway open tomorrow. 


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