Once the two main reasons we were in Idaho (getting a new front bumper/winch and seeing the total solar eclipse) were finished we set our sights on Wyoming and the many stunning offerings within. Since we were planning on continuing up and into Canada we wanted to travel Wyoming from South to North so as to be able to visit their two National Parks, Grand Teton and Yellowstone.
When we drove away from Idaho Falls we took Highway 26 up and to the East until we found Highway 31 and turned towards Victor, Idaho. We headed away from Victor on Highway 33 South until we crossed the border near Stateline Canyon.
Once past the border we continued on Highway 22 (which used to be Hwy 33 in Idaho) and for the next 6.5 miles or so headed up a steep, windy, one-lane-each-way grade towards Teton Pass which forced our overloaded Tacoma to go slower than the posted speed limit. Engine screaming in gears lower than we normally like we annoyed more than a few lighter weight and larger-engined cars who were unlucky enough to find themselves stuck behind us. Sorry. Once at the top of the grade we found a little turnout half full of cars and people milling about taking in the expansive views and waiting their turn to take a picture in front of the old-school sign pointing the way to Jackson Hole.
It was about 4:30pm as we headed down the mountain towards Jackson and that ended up being bad timing. This was a Wednesday so at least there wasn’t weekend traffic but by the time we did the 12 miles down the hill, past the town of Wilson and entered downtown Jackson it was 5pm and the traffic, both vehicular and pedestrian was a, I believe the polite term is “Clusterfuck.” It took 20 minutes to get through the downtown area with people making turns against red lights and pedestrians totally ignoring any semblance of self-preservation instincts and walking through traffic regardless of what color the traffic lights were. Once we made it through that moving maze we headed out of town (Yay!) on Hwy 191 and quickly came to a sign indicating we were passing by a portion of the National Elk Refuge. We quickly pulled over into the turnout to decompress, get our bearings and take a picture of Willow at that large sign.
While we did not see any elk from that vantage point the sign also had a goose (I’m guessing) on it and we were able to see literally hundreds of those and other waterfowl hanging out in the crook of Flat Creek right below the sign and rock wall. As we took that picture and hung out for a few minutes we could see a line of cars, easily a couple of miles long, coming south into town on Hwy 191 at stop-and-go speeds, apparently dictated by how many cars could get through the first traffic light entering town at a time. Glad we were heading away from that mess.
A few miles up Hwy 191 and leaving the traffic jam in our rear view mirror we came to the Grand Teton National Park entrance sign.
Since it was almost 6pm now we decided to quickly find a camping spot and save our exploration of the National Park until the next day. The freecampsites.net site clued us in to a spot a little past the town of Moose which sounded nice called Shadow Mountain. We turned off Hwy 191 on Lost Creek Ranch Road (also known as Forest Service Road 30340) and headed up the less-than-well-maintained, wash-boarded, rutted dirt road. After getting pounded for about a minute we had had enough and made a quick stop to air down our tires using our Coyote Automatic Deflators. About 8 minutes later we were successfully aired down to about 18psi and continued on up the hill in a much more comfortable and plush stance. The first few campsite options were either already taken or too close to the road for our liking and so we kept going. Eventually we rounded a corner and immediately saw a turnoff up a steep incline to the left and in less good shape than the regular road. We took that and in all of 30 meters emerged at a nice, flat clearing with an existing fire ring and superb views of the surrounding mountain ranges.
Since this spot was on the other side of a 10 foot high berm we were insulated from most of the road noise from others looking for their own campsite. Because the little turnoff did not look easily passable and was not welcoming we had the place to ourselves for two days and not one person even attempted to come on up and check our site out. As a bonus the site had a slow but usable cellular signal so we could plot out our next moves.
The smoke from the numerous forest fires in Montana was putting in an appearance and making the normally stunning vistas more than a little hazy. This smoke would impact our adventure and force our hand and direction for the next two weeks. Because of both the visibility and health issues caused by the smoke we were somewhat forced to be more quick and efficient with our explorations than we usually would have liked.
Once we had decided on our next direction and course of action we packed up our campsite and headed down the mountain. We came across one last bit of excitement as we were braking to enter a narrow curve on the narrow, bumpy, dirt forest service road and came face-to-face with a mother bear and her two cubs! I was a bit surprised and took a few seconds to bring the Tacoma to a full stop, grab my phone out of its windshield holder, get it into camera and then movie mode before I was able to capture the last few seconds of our encounter. It doesn’t seem like much now but at the time it was a cool experience.
While we used this area more as a stopover point on our way to the more famous draws of Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks it was obvious that, had we had the time to spend, we could have explored this general area for weeks easily. The next time we are in the area we will make it a far more relaxed journey and make it a point to stop and smell the roses…or any other flower that catches our fancy.
See and Ye Shall Find…Something interesting most likely.