Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

June 2015

Grand Teton National Park was the first of two places Kathy and I were scheduled to visit. The first of two places we had to visit during our time together. What a gorgeous place it was! Yeah, this was going to be pretty “rough”. 😉

Grand Teton Half Marathon

While I was spending my 6 months in Austin, Kathy was talked into running the Grand Teton Half Marathon and its sister race the following weekend in Yellowstone. The friend that did the convincing (though, I am pretty sure it was an easy sell) was going to join Kathy and me for the Teton race, until she was unable to go. But Kathy was still up for it, so we had to be in the Tetons the first Saturday in June.

After rolling into town and setting up at the most gorgeous spot I have stayed at to date, we headed into Jackson to get Kathy registered and check out the course.

Saturday was race day, and a work day for me. After getting up way to early (in other words, my normal wake up time), we headed off to the start line and waited with the masses. This was my first marathon experience so I had questions for Kathy about what in the hell was going on. So much to learn about this world! One thing I did learn was that one needs to hit the porta potties before they tell you to head over to the start line, otherwise you will be waiting, and waiting, and waiting your turn. See, it is learning useful information like this that makes standing around in the cold worthwhile!

Once the race was started, I headed to the Jackson Hole Golf and Tennis Club, also known as the finish line. Here I found a seat by the outdoor gas fireplace and worked. I had a view of the finish line and was able to saunter over when I saw that Kathy was getting close. How did I know where she was? Technology, my friend! I was stalking her via the Find Friends app on my iPhone.

She crossed the finish line with a smile and had a time that was probably twice as fast as I could have done it in. If I rode a bike.

Biking

Speaking of riding a bike, turns out there is a beautiful 22 mile paved multi-purpose trail that runs from the town of Jackson to Jenny Lake (inside Grand Teton National Park). This type of trail is why Kathy brought her bike on the trip, so she was a very happy camper. She rode the trail several times, including one day where she put something like 40 miles under her tires.

I joined her for one of the days. And by join her, I mean I dropped her off in Jackson at the start of the trail, drove up to approximately the mid-way point, and took off towards the other end of the trail at Jenny Lake. I was hoping that she wouldn’t pass me on the way, and she didn’t. Only ‘cause I got a 10 mile head start! We ended up doing a bit of a hike in the Jenny Lake area and then rode back to the car. I did about 22 miles that day, while Kathy did half again as much. And would have gladly done more.

Menor’s Ferry Historical District

During our bike ride, we swung through the Menor’s Ferry Historical District on the way out of the park. Here is where Bill Menor had a general store and a ferry across the Snake River that operated from the late 1890’s until 1927, when a bridge was built over the river.

Maude Noble bought Bill Menor’s place in 1918 and operated the ferry until the bridge put it out of business in 1927. She sold the property to the Snake River Land Company in 1929.

The Snake River Land Company was a front owned by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and was used to acquire 33,000 acres of ranch land in the Jackson Hole valley that was then turned over to the National Park Service in 1949 to expand Grand Teton National Park.

This brings us back to Maude Noble and her cabin that resides in the Menor’s Ferry Historical District. Maude’s cabin was the location of a meeting held on July 23, 1923 between Yellowstone National Park Superintendent Horace Albright and local businessmen and ranchers to discuss the creation of Grand Teton National Park. The story of how the park came to be is fascinating, and I cannot do it justice, so I will give you the Cliff Notes version.

The local businessmen and ranchers discussed with Horace Albright their desire to have a park separate from the nearby Yellowstone National Park (that Albright was the head dude at). Albright was all for this, so he got the ear of Rockefeller who signed on to the plan and created the Snake River Land Company to purchase most of the valley.

One thing led to another and Grand Teton National Park was created in 1929 and later expanded to include the Snake River Land Company’s land and additional acreage from the Teton National Forest. Or something like that. If you want the real story, you can read that here.

OK, back to the historical district. The Chapel of the Transfiguration is also located here, and one of its claims to fame is that the window behind the altar frames the Cathedral Group of mountains (the tallest in the Tetons). This is a pretty impressive view and one that caused Kathy and me to spend some time in a place that neither of us frequent.

Hiking

Grand Teton National Park has a lot of hiking opportunities. As in more than one could hope to do in a week. Or a year. Or maybe even a lifetime. OK, maybe you could cover it all a lifetime, if all you did was hike in the Tetons.

Faced with so many possibilities, we chose to hike up Paintbrush Canyon until we didn’t want to hike anymore and then come back. As it turns out we hiked until we lost the trail due to snow blocking the path at 8300 feet. It was a great hike with around 1500 feet of elevation gain and an out-and-back distance of just under 11 miles.

Fun fact: At 8300 feet in elevation, where we could go no further so we stopped for lunch, I could have worked. Turns out that I was getting a smoking fast Verizon LTE signal. That would have been a spectacular place to work.

On the way up Paintbrush Canyon we noticed something rather, um, unique in the middle of the trail. Kathy thought it was a fresh kill, but I immediately said, “Placenta!” Not sure where I pulled that out of as I have never seen a placenta before (or if I have, it is blocked from my memory). Turns out I was correct when we looked downhill to the right and saw a mother moose and her newborn. As in just a few hours old and walking on unsure legs.

Talk about a spectacular experience! We observed mom and child for a bit as they slowly made there way downhill away from us. They didn’t get far by the time we figured it might not be wise to stick around (even though they were down a very steep bank from us), so we continued up the trail. They were still there on our way back down, but we cruised on through this time, not wanting to upset momma.

Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve

We felt that the hidden gem of Grand Teton National Park is the Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve. This is a very quiet, tranquil part of the park that is actually the newest addition, having been donated in 2001.

The preserve originally was part of the JY Ranch, which was acquired by John D. Rockefeller during his Snake River Land Company buying spree. The JY Ranch was kept as a Rockefeller family retreat and originally consisted of 3100 acres around Phelps Lake. 2,000 acres were donated to the park over the years, with the family retaining 1,100 acres for their personal use.

Laurance S. Rockefeller (John’s fourth child) was the curator of the property and had a vision for the final 1,000 acres. He wanted it to be a model for the National Parks and methodically planned out how to restore the land to its natural habitat and create a preserve to be enjoyed by the public.

All the buildings that formed the family retreat were removed from the property (distributed to other parts of the park and the new family retreat), the land was restored to its natural habitat, and nine miles of hiking trails were created. A Platinum rated LEED visitor center was built (the first LEED certified building in Wyoming).

Laurance passed away before the preserve was opened to the public, but his love of the land is very present to this day. There is something very special about being there. Part of it has to do with the limited access. Only a small number of vehicles are allowed to enter at one time, which means the preserve isn’t overrun with people like many of the popular areas in the park. But this isn’t the only reason the preserve is special. Not sure I can put my finger on it – you have to experience it for yourself. It is truly a special place that we spent several hours over two days.

We spent a week in the Tetons. Not nearly enough time to experience all that it has to offer. We would love to go back and do a lot more hiking. And biking. And enjoying.

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