Jackson, Wyoming – June 8, 2016

Then there were the Grand Tetons.

Floating down the Snake River, which was still turbid and swollen with snow melt, we called out jokingly about “rapids” ahead. It was calm enough to eat our lunches on board. I don’t think we even got wet, and I regretted leaving my Nikon on the bus. The young, jagged peaks of the Grand Tetons were a perpetual backdrop as our young guide navigated us 10 miles downriver from Deadman’s Bar to Moose Junction.

That morning we left Yellowstone unaware that, while we were touring the park the previous day, a young Oregon man had ventured 225 yards off the boardwalk of the Norris Geyser Basin and slipped and fell into an acidic hot spring.  Only his flip flops were recovered. Sue is reading the book “Death in Yellowstone” during this vacation, so she could fill in the grisly details.

We saw beefy tourists walking up to bison and elk looking for a better shot with their tiny cameras. Our guide was very conscientious, both about the dangers of wildlife (hence the name, “wildlife”) and about the thin crust barely covering the near-boiling plumbing systems serving the geysers, hot springs and other thermal features. The day of our tour, we had an excellent young guide, Miyeko, who grew up in Yellowstone, the daughter of two park rangers.

So we gradually wound our way out of the world’s first national park, crossing the Continental Divide a few times, headed south for Grand Teton National Park. Many say they prefer Grand Teton to Yellowstone, although I will not play the game of comparing one magnificent creation to another.

The mountain range is only about 40 miles long, and the tallest peak reaches almost 14,000 feet. The relatively young range was created by the earth stretching apart at a meeting of tectonic plates, pulling the mountains up to the west, while the valley or hole plunges underneath. A north-south fault runs along the eastern base of the range.

We stopped for photos at Jenny Lake and at the Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration (with the Tetons stunningly reflected in its altar window), but the highlight was definitely the raft trip. The weather for the entire trip was perfect, with only one thunderstorm while we slept in Jackson that night.

There were 48 people on our bus tour, mostly older, in various stages of physical condition and from all over the United States. There was a group of 10 New York cops and their wives, who always sat and ate together and, in this case, floated together but were friendly to all. There were two older gentlemen who probably should not have taken the trip. Complaining was minimal. I was determined to go with the flow and give our guide and fellow passengers the benefit of the doubt.

There was no one who yakked on their cell phone. We did not discuss politics, thank God. Our tour guide was a bit of a taskmaster, but he kept us all on time and well behaved with respect to the sites we visited.

In terms of tour bus camaraderie, the float trip was probably the high water mark, so to speak.  We floated rather quickly past nesting sandhill cranes, beaver nests, a bald eagle, mergansers and utterly spectacular scenery. It’s a good thing I was not paddling because I could barely take my eyes off the Tetons.

The day ended with several members of our group trying to seat themselves on saddle bar stools at the Million Dollar Saloon in Jackson and, later, that promised elk dinner at the Gun Barrel Steak and Game House. Actually, I had pan-seared Velvet Elk Medallions in red wine and Sue had the Cheyenne tenderloin. Easily the best meal of the trip and a reminder why I could never become a vegetarian.

Tomorrow: Salt Lake City