The Camping Trip – Salt Lake City to Grand Teton


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Published: June 21st 2014
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Salt Lake City (SLC) – Mormon Capital of the World

Having said god bye to the RV we’re once again in Hostel-land. Camelot Inn & Hostel is in a good location to walk into Downtown, it’s reasonably priced but has a unique self - registration and checking out service which operates on their systems online which is confusing for many and rather impersonal. (Their notices promote this as the way top hotels do things; we’re not so sure). The room is really small and can just about hold our stuff but its probably a good discipline as we’ll be living out of a car and camping for the next few weeks. We now begin the next chapter of our ‘US Road Trip’.

We make our way into town to explore the delights of SLC. We have decided to take a complete break from any of the admin stuff and this is our first time without Pete for about 5 weeks+. As we wander along the streets we come across a food truck & have lunch local style outside the Convention centre. It does great sliders – lamb (at last) and crackling pork – both really good @ circa $5 each. Later we chance upon Dicks Outdoor Store as part of The Gateway Shopping Centre and get 2 sleeping bags really cheap as they had the wrong price displayed ($40 each). It’s pretty hot (though less than the 90F/32C of yesterday). Some families with kids are at the musical fountains which sprays water & the kids have a great time cooling off. Unfortunately we have the worst Starbucks Coffee ever (definitely a substitute coffee brand used!).

What we notice is how quiet the city is and how devoid of people one would expect in a large city. SLC is like a ghost town and very understated about what it has to offer in most of its literature even at the Visitor Centre. Maybe it’s the Mormon way? We are impressed with the amount of free literature SLC provides though, including in many stores.

As it’s Thursday we decide to attend the (free) evening rehearsal of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir between 7.30pm to 9.30pm. It’s held in a large convention centre and the performance is very impressive– in between the speeches and retakes.

We decide to go for dinner at Gracies, a local gastro pub which has good reviews. We eat out on the terrace upstairs and have Kobe steak & Steak with gorgonzola + 2 Moab Amber Ales (25oz) which is so filling and delicious. The place has a band playing all Beatles songs, though the group members look like hippies from the 50s and should be playing folk songs instead.

We notice how multicultural SLC is compared to many towns & cities we have visited in the US – there’s a Greek Orthodox church & many Greek restaurants, an Indian & Pakistani Food store, quite a few Indian, Vietnamese, Japanese, Mexican and Greek restaurants in Downtown. They also have a Pride week festival coming up.

They have a thriving food scene - The Triple D Food Network programme has been here a few times. We try a take out from the Red Iguana (Mexican) on our last night there (an alternative to waiting 45 mins in a queue & supposedly one on Guy Fieri’s favourites list). We have the Cochinita Pibil which was pretty awful (unlike our experience in Merida, Mexico) and the Chile Verde which was really good - all washed down with Cross Fever Amber Ale (bottled) & $3.34 a pint from the Epic Brewery Company store 2 blocks away.

We spend a whole afternoon trying to reboot our Laptop as the DVD player isn’t doing too well. However, after a few hours – rather than fix it, the problem gets worse. Another call out to Sony! C then has a conversation online with a guy in Jaipur, India to reinstate our Norton Protection which he does by taking control of the system (with permission of course) and wings his way across the laptop screen. The wonders of technology!!

On our last day here as it’s a glorious sunny day - about 27 degrees – we decide to make for the Temple Square area of the city. This is HQ for the Mormons or the followers of The Latter Day Saints of Jesus Christ religion (aka LDS) founded by Joseph Smith in the 1820s aka The Prophet of the Restoration.

He was a guy from Vermont (later settled in Illinois) who had ‘a vision and message from God’. He & other LDS were persecuted because of their belief in polygamy. He and his brother were killed in prison 1844 and Brigham Young became The President and led the ‘flock’ to the ‘Promised Land’. When he got to SLC, he declared ‘This is the place’ and they went about creating the Temple Square & it became and still is the HQ for the LDS.

The US government would not recognise Utah until they renounced polygamy. They eventually joined the union in 1890 after Young had to give up being both President of LDS and the Governor of Utah. The US army were sent in to bring about this outcome.

We visit The Tabernacle, which has amazing acoustics. Next the gardens which are pretty beautiful and have some great modern fountains and sculptures. The Temple building is imposing but we are not allowed to visit inside. The compromise is that the South Visitor’s Centre has a replica of The Temple with the inside on show and alongside it an interactive video which allows you to view and understand the workings of the Temple rooms. It’s quite impressive.

Next within the complex, which is free to tour, is The Assembly Room – a large prayer room with a grand piano at the front. We pass the Beehive House – Brigham Young’s home and next door The Lion House (partly his house for his extended family – many wives and children + administrative offices). It’s now used in part for tours and in part as a Bakery/Café – like Sally Lunns in Bath. There’s also a 500 seated theatre name after the founder – The Joseph Smith Memorial Building next door.

There are many LDS volunteers around to help folk and many who speak different languages (circa 30 in all) to cater for tourists from abroad. They seem very committed and helpful. However, we can’t say we came away understanding the religion despite our research and on the face of it some of the beliefs and statements seem at odds with each other in terms of equality. This appears to be handled quite carefully by lawyers of the LDS church when we view their displays. There are definitely question marks about their views on race and sexual equality.

What is clear is that the Mormons were hard working and travelled significantly to spread ‘the word’.

So after a few days relaxing, it’s time to hit the road again. We pick up a car (SUV type Nissan) and stock up on supplies, then next day we start the 6 hour trip to Grand Teton. There are lots of options for routes, so we go for one that seesms to offer the best combo of speed and scenery. It’s Sunday, sunny & the roads are pretty quiet. We soon encounter some beautiful scenery. Lush valleys bordered by the Wasatch Mountains as we drive out of SLC. At the turn off to I-15 at Brigham City, the scenery becomes even better – there are snow-capped hills and rolling plains.

Just as we’re enjoying the scenery, M gets stopped for speeding doing 82 in a 65 mph zone. The car has a very powerful engine – 3.5litre - and is a very smooth ride, so it makes it easy to speed without realising it. He gets off with only a warning thankfully. The Sergeant seems quite impressed with our road trip and accepts M's plea that after the RV it was easy to speed inadvertently, which he says he understands as he used to be a truck driver and getting into normal cars was a problem for him as well. Phew!!

We drive through Logan which is surprisingly a very attractive town and then the scenery is even better. We have entered Cache National Forest (NF) where the road follows the Bear River, which is very clean and fast flowing. We notice lots of folk having picnics and fishing which is a great sight.

Eventually we get to Garden City - famous for its raspberry milkshakes. We stop here for a break and go to the local diner & stand in a huge queue and try a blueberry milkshake (almost a frozen custard) instead. It’s fab. We are now in Idaho and on the shore of Bear Lake which is amazingly blue. We are now driving along the Old Oregon Trail Scenic Byway as we go through Fish Haven which is very small but pretty and has a great mansion house similar to but better than Graceland

Most of the journey suggests that it’s an area where the Mormons live - most places have a Tabernacle. The land seems very fertile and summer is definitely in the air as colourful flowers are out; there are fields of green & yellow everywhere. The landscape changes to Alpine cottages & lodges in a place called Paris. There are old shed like buildings just about standing up, suggesting a time of the Mormon ‘pioneers’. We stop at Montpelier for gas. It’s a small village with seats decorated with bears all around; a taste of what’s to come. As we drive away we see Idaho cowboys going fly fishing in Caribou NF.

Soon we enter Wyoming on the 89. We see loads of sheep & Lamas, beautiful horses, the area is very beautiful with green hills & lovely streams. We enter Bridger NF where the roads seem devoid of traffic, next we enter the Salt River Pass 7630ft with scenic views of the snow covered mountains and typical US rural views. We then turn off the 89 onto the 26 at Alpine Junction, and enter Targhee NF. We see more steep sided canyons and the road goes along the Snake River. There are many access points for boats onto the river which is wide and fast with lots of rapids and very churned up. We see some folks river rafting - proper rafting with oars.

We clearly made the right choice for such a long journey – time flies by because the views are so great.

Then there are signs warning people to be ‘bear aware!’ The farms and ranches have gone as we go through the hills and we enter Bridger-Teton NF and eventually get to……

Jackson Hole

It's cooler as we get nearer to Jackson Hole but still quite pleasant in the sun. After nearly 6.5 hours we arrive in Jackson Hole – largely a ski town in Wyoming. It’s pretty in the centre and sells itself as a ‘Western Town’. Jackson (as it’s known) is an attractive adventure/outdoor sports town – it reminds us a bit of Queenstown NZ without the lake!. It has a stage coach that takes folks for a ride around town. The centre is a park with arches made from Elk antlers – unique if a bit peculiar. The shops all look like a Wild West town. It’s a bit touristy and packed.

We find a great coffee place called Cowboy Coffee Co: and then head to the Visitor Centre where we get loads of useful info on places to go in both Grand Teton (pronounced Tea – Ton) and Yellowstone and a recommendation to buy some Bear spray!Next stop is Smiths supermarket for the food we need over the next few days plus Bear Spray - a super-sized can!

There is still snow on the hills which makes it look picturesque. So it’s off to Teton village next where we have a one night reservation at ‘The Hostel’.

Teton Village

The road to Teton Village is wide valley with lots of cabin resorts. Teton Village is a ski resort in winter with ski lifts and still has some snow on the nearby hillsides. The Hostel is more of a rustic motel/ski lodge than traditional hostel. The wooden clad rooms are simple but fine though expensive at $90 but it’s convenient for our trip tomorrow to the National Park and a useful stop over after nearly 300 miles driving from Salt Lake City.

We had planned to go back to Jackson 12 miles away for dinner but as local restaurants have 2 for 1 offers on mains we decide to eat here at The Spur (by default as our first 2 choices are closed - as its Sunday). The food is definitely fine dining and we had a superb seared salmon with purple barley pilaf and a beef brisket cooked in beer with risotto. However, they didn’t warn you that they charge 18%!g(MISSING)ratuity and their tax structure is pretty odd and heavy. Never mind we did get to try Snake River amber ale and the food was good.

Grand Teton National Park

It’s up early to start our camping adventure and unfortunately the 2 camp sites we are interested in can’t be reserved and operate a ‘First come first serve’ policy. Initially we were going to stay at Jenny Lake & then Colter Bay, but as they are only 20 miles apart & the latter is larger, has more and better facilities we decide to go there first thing.

So after a quick shave (a new one for M), a shower and some breakfast at the Hostel we depart via a back route to GTNP, driving on a semi dirt road (quite windy) and enter the NP at Moose. This way we cut out quite a few miles to Jackson Hole and then up to the NP.

The road to Colter Bay then takes us out of the NP area and then back again – so technically we enter twice. Nuts really! We go to the campground by 9.30 am, it’s pretty quiet & we get out pitch No G139. The camp grounds seem ok on first inspection. It’s in the forest with a fire ring outside and a huge bear box – where we have to put all our food and stuff, as we are now in ‘Bear Country’ and they are out and about – mainly black bear & grizzlies apparently, which we hope to encounter but from a distance.

Unfortunately the fire pit by the tent was too close so unusable (without the risk of setting the tent alight), the facility for washing dishes was crap and non-existent (only cold water and no shelves for drying/draining etc.). The showers are near the Visitor’s Centre & cost $4.25 each – crazy! The other problem we encounter is mosquitos by the tent at dusk, just when we are setting up for cooking dinner – they attack!

The morning is spent sorting the tent (we haven’t used it in about 2 years now) and thankfully it works a treat, though it needed some washing and airing. It has travelled with us in a rucksack since Jan’14! The weather is surprisingly sunny and warmer than we expected. It gets to 69F but feels more like the 70s, the thin air perhaps?

At about midday after preparing a picnic lunch and armed with water and ‘Bear Spray’ for protection, we set off to Jenny Lake Visitor’s centre and stop off at the Oxbow Bend just by the turn off to the Lake. The view is great of the mountains – Grand Teton is about 13,500 feet. We had seen a host of cars & RVs parked at the lookout spot this morning because you could see the reflection of the range in the river, however, by pm it was not a good time - so we’ll be back tomorrow am.

The Jenny Lake Village is just below the mountain range and after a call at the Visitor’s Centre we set off quickly for a hike to Inspiration Point as the trail closes tomorrow for repairs. We get the boat across Jenny Lake to the Trailhead (5mins $9 per person one way or $15 return journey). The lake is pretty big and beautiful in the shadows of the mountains. The water is crystal clear and inviting. We get off at the terminal and walk a mile up to Inspiration point. The trail takes us over snow covered ground, slushy mud paths, bridges over a fast flowing river by ‘the hidden waterfall’. We walk about 420feet up to the point. The trail is pretty rocky and the climb strenuous in parts. The finale gives us a great view of the Lake and the snow covered mountains with the river running through. It reminds us of Bariloche in Argentina. Then we head back and take a right near the ferry dock to walk back to the Visitor’s Centre (another 1.5miles). Total miles 3.5, but it felt good at the end. The trail along the lake was much easier and didn’t take too long.

We head back to base camp where we treat ourselves to a Huckleberry ice cream – yummy. Then it’s getting the food & bed etc. sorted. It’s pretty good fun camping in the US even if there’s the threat of bears – most stay away from crowded areas and the ones here don’t break into the car (unlike in Yosemite apparently) – where we have to store out food and toiletries. The Coleman’s grill comes in handy again. The forecast for the night temp is pretty cool so we are glad we got some sleeping bags in Salt Lake City.

One item to comment on is the Huckleberry. In this part of the world it seems to be king and in most ice creams, jams, etc. It’s a berry apparently that the bears like and humans have to compete with them to get some. Most products with the berries in are pretty expensive. They essentially taste like blue berries.

Next day it’s overcast and dull so we take our time over breakfast and have decided to stay near the Colter Bay area if possible. We check out hikes etc. at the Visitors Centre where a Ranger ‘Jim Reeves’ (no relation to the crooner) is very helpful.

Suddenly at about 11.30am the sun appears and so does some blue sky. Quick change of plan – we have an early lunch (our own creation wraps with hummus, egg & salad – pretty good) and the take a drive towards Jackson Hole based on the tips Ranger Jim gave us.

First it’s a trip down Pilgrims Creek, where some bears have been sighted– a sort of dirt road but no bears. We do come across a pair of large Marmots living in a dead tree trunk. Also the views of the Teton Range are spectacular from here.

We drive onto Willow Flats again (we did yesterday) where some wildlife have been spotted as Elk are having young ones and this attracts the bears too we are told, but best time to visit are early am or late pm. So as it’s midday – no luck and it’s getting warmer.

We make a stop at the Elk Ranch pull out as wild Bison are roaming the area – even if they seem quite a distance away. We stop at Cunningham Cabin, an original homesteader’s cabin in the park. He was initially against the NP but later put some land into making the Park a reality. It’s a pretty basic log cabin but at a great location under the shadows of Teton Range. It’s now a historic site.

Next we stop at Snake River Overlook. This is a picturesque spot with the winding Snake River in front of the Teton mountain range and was captured on film and made famous by Ansell Adams a well-known photographer with a picture in black and white in1942.

We then visit Mormon Row. The Pink House and Moulton’s Barn are closed off as a Coyote has just had pups and we see two of them. Then it starts raining so we beat a hasty retreat homeward as does everyone else.

We stop at Jackson Lodge (about 5 miles from Colter Bay). It’s a place the Rockefellers used in summer. They then donated with 1800 acres to the NP and helped set it up. It’s plush and expensive but all are welcome. However, what is really spectacular is the view from the lounge – straight onto the Teton range (close up) and across Jackson Lake. It’s pretty stunning.

The piano players (there are 2 of them on rota) at Jackson Lodge made any visit there a pleasure and when the 2 guys played ‘Alleluia’ they got the biggest round of applause from those present. It was a superb performance. The lounge is beautifully decorated with lovely sofas, not always crowded and the front wall is made of large glass panels that frame the Teton Range in all its splendour. We get free Wi-Fi and there were charger points – so just the best place to be when the weather was not too brilliant.

We’ve been pretty lucky this afternoon as the sun shone for most of the stops we made. Just as we are leaving Jackson Lodge for our campgrounds, the heavens open for a while & the 70F degrees heat comes tumbling down. By the time we get to our tent, its cooler and we have short periods of rain and sunshine – enough of the latter to cook and have a meal but the forecast is for a cold night, however much warmer & sunnier days for the rest of our stay.

There’s plenty of Wildlife in the area and the ones we see include – Pelicans, baby coyotes, Pine Marten, Red Squirrels, Moose (from afar-we think!), Mule Deer, Pronghorn deer, Canadian Geese, Ducks, Marmots and a variety of birds.

The weather forecast for the day is clouds am and sunny pm so we switch plans and spend all morning in the laundry where they have free Wi-Fi and book some accommodation in Nova Scotia & PEI for our trip in Sept, while we wait.

We then go for a hike around Colter Bay which is lovely but it starts to rain towards the end. Later it becomes cloudy and grey so it’s off to Jackson Lodge for more free Wi-Fi, great live piano music and views of the Teton Range. We just hope that our last day is sunnier and warmer as we have a few more things to do before we make our way to Yellowstone NP.

Next morning it’s up at 5.45am to catch the dawn over The Oxbow Bend Turnout – likelihood of game? We pass some guys who had just seen a black bear go into the woods near Pilgrim Creek. We try the Jackson Lake Dam area where we had heard there was a sighting of a Grizzly and 2 cubs but no joy. Next to Jackson Lodge for some coffee to wake us up and a walnut & banana muffin (the best we have ever had). More game searching later – we do see lots of deer and elk but no more.

We take a drive to the summit of Signal Mountain and other than the good views of the area and valley we see only a randy male Sage Grouse trying desperately to seduce a female who another male apparently is trying to court. It’s a large and impressive bird.

We the visit the Chapel of the Transfiguration which is a very impressive church who’s altar window looks onto Grand Teton and the range, making it a grand setting.

We drive to Mormon Row again and bump into a professional advertising company who are shooting an advert for boots (cowboy variety!). We slater ee a coyote pup again and on the way out a solitary Bison very near by – it passes the car and crosses the road. No dramas!

We drive to the Visitors Centre near Phelps Lake and do the 3 mile Hike which every Ranger has recommended. It’s pretty hot by now (1.30pm) but we go ahead anyway. It’s an easy walk and at the end is a beautiful Lake in the shadows of the Teton mountain range. Unfortunately there were some mosquitos and bugs which were a nuisance. When we get back we pop into the Laurence Rockefeller Preserve Centre - a legacy from the family to the US NPS. It has some amazing video displays of different aspects of the NP (seasons, animals, birds, water flow etc. accompanied by the relevant sounds). It’s a pretty chilled out place to be and one intended to get people in touch with nature again & how it works. ‘The connection between the human, spiritual & natural’!

Next we drive to Jackson Hole as we have decided as we as so close to the place to pop in and have some dinner and do some shopping in preparation for the trip to Yellowstone NP (YSNP). First stop, our new favourite Cowboy Coffee Company – great coffee, service and free Wi-Fi.

We see a lovely picture of Olive and camera on Whatsapp from Louise. We check out the town a bit more and head for the Snake River Brewery (it’s Happy Hour between 4 & 6pm)! Other than a few pints of Amber Ale – they refer to as Lager, we have Bison Chilli (the best we have tasted) and Sausage sampler- Bison, Pork & Ale, Elk & apricot all with leek and cranberry + a portion of fresh sweet potato chips, eaten on the patio with the sun shining. A great way to end our stay in this part of the world!

After dinner it’s shopping at Smiths again for our stay in Yellowstone NP for 8 days. More discounts and 10cents off the petrol as well. We then travel back the 40 odd miles to base camp at dusk and see plenty of horses, Bison, deer, elk and geese on the way back (8.45pm), but no bear or moose. Maybe in YSNP eh?...... we look forward to our visit………


Additional photos below
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21st June 2014
Old Mormon Cottages at Mormon Row - GT

I took a similar picture...
at sunset with the barn surrounded by buffalo. Unfortunately, it was in the age of film and the developer lost the pictures. You should be able to find bears and moose in Yellowstone.
23rd June 2014
Mt Moran reflected in The Oxbow Bend - Grand Teton

Fab shot!
Tetons and Yellowstone--wow, what a journey through amazing country--sounds as if you're enjoying it already!

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