Leaving Yellowstone, it’s like turning off the tourist light switch as you enter Grand Teton National Park. Everything changes. And you suddenly relax.. The two parks are adjoined but couldn’t feel more different. For some reason, most people that head to the area seem to go directly to Jellystone and miss out on this other very spectacular place.
The Tetons is/are a pretty simple place. You’ve got the mountains and the simple land leading up to them.
The mountains were formed millions of years ago when two plates that had been butting up against one another started to move. Once flat together, they suddenly changed. One plate subverted and went down. The other went up. The one that went down went something like 17,000′ down. And the other, forming the Teton mountains themselves, shot over 13,000′ up into the air (Grand Teton itself is something like 13,700′). In total, the two plates, formerly even, had a net change of over 29,000′. Sediment filled in the area above the subverted plate so that now the land is flat as it hits the Tetons at their base. Because of this, there are no foothills – just flat land that runs into the base of the majestic mountains, resulting in this amazing view of these huge rock structures.
The mountains are the youngest major set in the US, I believe. They are a bare grey rock above about 10,000′. Mini glaciers live here and there, slowly melting with the rising global temperatures. Below that line, the forest line begins. At the base of the mountains, there is an area of wetlands and inland from that, sage flats which are relatively dry and sorta sparse. An interesting and diverse mix of zones in a relatively small space.
But enough about nature. This place is cool. Plenty of amazing vast views to soak in with little disruption from the masses. I stayed in a cabin at the American Alpine Climber’s Ranch, recommended to me by Anne, an Aussie woman I met the night prior north of Yellowstone.
Anne.. Another in the long line of kind and truly interesting people I’ve run into along the way, we met as we were both scrambling to find a camp spot before the sun went down. With so many people everywhere in the park, we had to leave and stake claim in a probably-not-so-kosher spot in a sage flat near a campground north of the park in Gardiner. We spoke for quite a while as the sun set and quickly learned how much we have in common. Was sort of like we were telling each other’s story. We’d both felt the call to nature (and travel in general in my case) as a result of the increasingly stressful lives we’d been leading. We talked about the hurried pace of life these days – with ever-growing piles of email and other new forms of communications and media bombarding us – and subsequent growing to-do lists. We’d both become entirely too busy and unhappy with the way we were living our lives, how that affected our time with friends, time to relax and enjoy life. Glad to hear I’m not the only one in search of a simpler life. Seems to be a growing phenomenon as things get crazier for everyone. We’re humans afterall – not machines! Exponential productivity and activity for technology/machines should not translate into the same for people. It ain’t natural!
But I digress (digress? is this the correct use of the word?) or something. As I was saying, the AACR is a series of cabins situated right at the base of the larger Tetons – Middle, Grand and a few others – where many hardcore climbers come to spend days, weeks, or the entire Summer climbing all day, returning to the camp’s social area to cook their own meals (the guy next to me was on a serious budget – Spam and Ramen noodles – lots o’ calories for next to no $) and relive the day’s (or multiple days for longer routes) adventures. There were definitely some talented climbers there – and some who have been coming each Summer for up to 20 years. Each of the cabins has bunks where you can throw your Thermarest and sleeping bag down for the night. Rustic and beautiful.
By the way, Eric W., if you’re reading this, I never made it up Middle Teton. I did get in a good hike in that general direction but that was enough for this guy on this trip. (Again, on that hike, some people coming down the mtn. told me they’d seen a bear just a mile up. I never saw him/her. There’s something going on here.. From Alaska to Yellowstone and the Tetons, I’ve still not seen a single bear, while everyone around me claims to have seen them a stone’s throw from me. Is this a conspiracy?? Do bears really exist in the wild?? I’m runnin’ outta bear territory on this trip..)