Day 38 Salt Lake City
I had a different image in mind with regards to SLC, famed for its nearby salt flats and land speed records I expected a small town with not much going on other than over the top Americans doing wheel spins in 6 litre cars. What we discovered though was that the city is an extremely clean and modern city full of high end shops and cool hipster like restaurants. The city is also home of the Mormon faith and Georgina managed to twist my arm into taking a tour of the main church in the city, the Mormon HQ if you will.
Instead of booking us on a normal tour full of other tourists where we could escape any questions she booked us on a private tour of the church and all associated buildings such as the organ room (probably wasn't called that) with just us two and two young Mormon girls doing the pilgrimage/training. All very intimate. The tour was fairly interesting and the buildings were spectacular and immaculately kept but personally I just couldn't help thinking that this kind of thing with the girls only being able to call home once every 6 months a bit brainwashy, the kind of thing you see on the tv with the extremist cults, half expected Louis Theroux to pop out and say hello.
After our tour we wandered around the town on foot and hit up a local pizza place George had discovered, 2 slices of pizza and a drink for $5, bargain.
Another evening planning and researching in our hotel followed ready for the next stretch in the tent….or car.
After leaving SLC far far too late (lunch time) we made the long drive up to our next National Park, Grand Teton. I only discovered Grand Teton when researching the best way to get to Yellowstone and saw that it practically borders the latter so it then became part of our itinerary. The drive was long and scenic and criss crossed in and out of three states, Utah, Iowa and finally Wyoming for about 6 hours.
The park sits just on the edge of a smallish town, Jackson Hole, so after passing a few far out campsites we knew we had the fall back of a small motel in the town if need be. This was a fatal error as as we pulled into Jackson in the early evening we quickly discovered that there are NO cheap motels in the town, even the budget motels of motel 6 and super 8 were $200 a night. We quickly headed to McDonalds to grab some wifi and found a couple of campsites that would be our last hope.
We headed towards the park quickly, only stopping briefly to admire an incredible sunset along the way, the sky a strange half blue half orange with the greenery underneath.
We pulled into the Gros Ventre campsite around 8pm in the darkness and there was no ‘campsite full’ sign much to our relief, unfortunately the camp host had knocked off around 6pm so with the self registration process of the site it could have actually now been full. The only way to find out was to take slow laps of each of the loops trying to spot an empty pitch in the darkness. After a few laps without success I'd had enough and thought sod it, pulled up next to a pitch that only had a small tent and brazenly asked the couple sat there eating their dinner if we could share the pitch for a night as we had nowhere to stay. Luckily the young American couple were far too polite to tell me to piss off so we quickly put the tent up and went to sleep.
Day 40 - Grand Teton
Not wanting to outstay our welcome and knowing that the first come first served camping at Jenny Lake in the park fills up before 9am we packed up and headed straight there at the crack of dawn, spotting a moose along the way.
Jenny Lake campground in the south of the park was a pretty small camp, ran by a strict host who read us the riot act on bears and food storage before we'd even managed to think about our breakfast. At $28 a night it was also a bit pricier than what we had paid in other National Parks.
From the shores of Jenny Lake you can take a small boat to the other side of the lake ($15 one way, $25 return) or walk the couple of miles around on the trail - safe to say we didn't need to think about that for too long and took the free option.
Upon reaching the other side we walked up to the Hidden falls waterfall and Inspiration point lookouts, enjoyed lunch overlooking the lake and then made the couple of mile hike back to our camp.
Grand Teton has many easy access spectacular view points that also offer great chances of spotting the wildlife in the park such as Moose, Elk, Beavers, Wolves, Bison and both Black and Grizzly Bears. After a quick relax after our hike we headed out at dusk in full Attenborough mode in the search for all of them, first stop Schwabacher Landing next to the river in the hope of spotting some beavers. Unfortunately we didn't manage to spot any but we did spot a Marmot family collecting weeds for there home which was cute. We then drove up to snake river overlook but no joy their either so we headed out to Mormon row, a now disused row of of an old Mormon settlement where apparently a herd of bison can be spotted. Not by us though so we went back to camp. Bloody wildlife.
Not deterred by the failings of the previous night we headed out again at sunrise, packing the tent to move further up the park to another campsite and headed back to Schwabacher Landing as it was a good spot to photograph the sunrise and gave us a second chance at the beavers.
With no beavers in sight yet again we headed back round to Mormon row for the Bison. Result….. A small herd were out grazing not too far from the road so we both felt happy enough to drive up to our next camp, Colter Bay Village where we would book two nights, $30 a night.
Being a little bit scared of running into bears on the trails we opted to do a guided ranger walk (free) from the visitor centre out to swan lake and heron pond, which was about a 3 hour walk in total. We have started to enjoy the ranger talks as you get to find out so much more along the way and they help you spot things we would have missed such as the beaver lodges and bear claw marks in the trees.
After our hike we headed out to another so called prime wildlife spotting area, Willow flats overlook but were unsuccessful yet again so retreated back to the tent for the night.
With Georgina having her chances of wildlife spotting I took back control as I wanted to head out to a nice spot on the river to photograph the sunrise. Oxbow bend is a spectacular spot along the river with the Teton mountain range poking out in the background, all lit up perfectly in the morning sun.
Knowing that early morning was the best time for wildlife we had one last shot at Willow flats hoping to get lucky as we did with the bison on the second attempt. Luckily for us a couple near us had some powerful binoculars and thought that they spotted some bears in the distance, quite close to a road. After investigating on George's zoom camera we confirmed the spot and rushed back to the car to drive down towards the dam near to where they were.
As we approached a number of cars lined the road and people were all stood out on the grass so we knew we were in the right spot. We were quickly told that a Grizzly with two cubs had been spotted but they had now disappeared into the bushes. Bugger. After 45 minutes with no other sightings and being the last car there I thought it'd be better to move the car off the road and into a nearby pull in where a few other cars were parked further down the river. While we were there we thought we may as well go look at the river so headed down the path to the river and to our amazement spotted the bear and two cubs further down the bank just about to cross the river. It was amazing. Not being able to believe our luck we headed back to the camp for breakfast before setting off on a small hike to Jackson Lake.
At the river we met an interesting guy from Birmingham who told us a story about how he learnt to dive in the military and then sold everything to buy a small boat in the Cayman Islands to go treasure hunting. Claiming to now be a rich man after finding a $24m haul I never got the chance to call him out on it to see if he was full of shit but if he wasn't then fair play to the guy. I have since googled boats for sale in the Caymans but Georgina won’t let me buy one with the rest of the travel fund unfortunately.
After lunch we decided to splurge (spend my treasure boat money) on renting a double kayak to take out on the lake for a couple of hours, (2hr min rental, $23/hour) which was incredible but also reminded me of George's shocking lack of rhythm and inability to keep time paddling resulting in some frustrating zig zag movements along the coast. After taking in the awesome scenery and spotting quite possibly the biggest bald eagle known to man we headed back to shore for a well earned rest….. Georgina had a rest for most of the kayaking after I banned her from paddling so we could keep in a straight line! Ha!
After dinner we took the opportunity to do some much needed laundry and had an early night ready to move onto Yellowstone the next morning. It's fair to say that initially Grand Teton was only a convenient stop on the way to the famous Yellowstone but we both absolutely loved the place so much so that Georgina actually lists it as her favourite park out of all of the ones we visited. We heard a saying whilst we were there, something along the lines of “came for Yellowstone, came back for the Tetons” which we couldn't agree more with.