Saturday, September 12, 2009

Grand Teton Mega Post

Work drains me deeply these days. I read recently that job uncertainty is more stressful than unemployment, and I am beginning to believe it. After nine months of wondering whether I will still have a job or not, the stress is showing. I actually thought the other day that it may just be possible to grow tired of this life. (Nothing suicidal there, mind you, just a "maybe it will be OK to die when that time comes" kind of thing.) I have never thought that before, so needless to say, I was in need of a serious recharge.

Having just attended a wonderful Ken Burns lecture about the spiritual renewal that seems inevitable in our national parks, I pushed a reluctant family into a Labor Day trip to Grand Teton National Park. Of course, it started out as a complete disaster. Work required me to be in Houston all week, in a bad hotel bed, no less, and packing had to wait until the night before we left. It trailed into the following morning, and a planned 10:00 AM departure turned into 1:30, with a tired and cranky me facing recriminations for keeping Kate out of school when she could have been there, and arguments about whether we should have left earlier. A tense drive followed, worrying about getting a good campsite at Jenny lake, and arriving just before sunset to find that sure enough it was full. Gros Ventre, the other nearby campground, was open but seemed not ideal. Grumpiness and stress abounded.

Then out of nowhere, Keegan piped up from the back seat: "Dad, I want to see the buffalo." Where he came up with this I have no idea, as the last time we talked about buffalo was almost a year (half his life) ago, on Antelope Island. Where ever it came from, he may as well have said "let there be buffalo," because suddenly there they were, 50 of them, Tetons towering behind, right off the road leading to our second-choice campground.

We turned from the buffalo just as the biggest harvest moon I have ever seen peeked over the hills to the east. So big and bright that Keegan exclaimed, "look mom, its a SUNNY moon!" And indeed it was. We pitched our tent aided by its light, and just as we had finished, a pack of at least a dozen coyotes howled and yipped in delight, the song dogs singing for what seemed like hours into the night. It was the last sound we heard as we all fell asleep.

The next morning found me up before dawn, watching the sun rise on the Tetons just as that beautiful full moon set behind them. Here is a photo:

Sunrise here is breathtaking and serene all at once, pure magic. After sunrise I wandered down to Schwabacher's landing, and found a huge beaver pond with a perfect reflection.

The day was largely spent with the kids soaking in String Lake, while Kath and I lounged on the beach.

Late afternoon found us headed back to the beaver ponds where we watched at least three, and maybe four, beavers building dams, swimming, chomping on saplings, and generally doing beaver things. How cool is that? We watched for hours, until the sun set behind those magnificent peaks.

Sunday morning I was up before dawn again, photographing away. After a few snaps from the Snake River overlook, I headed up to Oxbow Bend, and had one of the best mornings in recent memory. The water was glass. Mount Moran was magnificent. Pelicans floated in the bend as the sun flashed through a mostly overcast sky, lighting up the foreground and parts of the mountain. People watching spoke only in hushed and reverent tones.

A pack of six river otters began catching fish, then squabbling over it on the far river bank. Suddenly, a beaver popped up in their midst, scattering them. They tried to chase him off, but were too scared of teeth and tail to be convincing.

Just as these shenanigans were concluding, Bald Eagles flew overhead.

How can you top a morning like that? Not easy, if you ask me, but a quick morning drive by glass-like String Lake added to the experience.

That afternoon the family took a boat ride across Jenny Lake and hiked past Hidden Falls to Inspiration Point. Each of the kids came back with blood on them somewhere from various falls and scrapes, but were real troopers, all things considered.

We proceeded on to Mormon Row, where we photographed this classic Teton view.

Afternoon found us less than 20 yards from 3 huge bull moose. Check these guys out.

Now that is a moose. Take a second look at that rack!

Sunday evening and Monday morning were much the same, with a stop by the visitor center for good measure. Keegan is such a goofball. Look at him, then note his T-Shirt in the following photo.

I returned still tired but very renewed. Ken Burns is right -- above all, these places are spiritual, where renewal inevitably occurs. In the past, Grand Teton has been a beautiful place that we drove by on the way to Yellowstone. That will no longer be the case -- it is a wildlife spectacle, with one of the finest backdrops on the planet; a place where the work-weary world recedes, and the energy of creation seeps into your bones. How grateful I am for our National Parks. Here's to you, John D. Rockefeller Jr., FDR, and all others who preserved this place against violent, anti-federal government opposition. Thank you for a wonderful gift.