Welcome to our Adventure!

Al and I are thrilled that you have found your way to our blog. We hope you enjoy reading our journal and viewing our photographs of the natural wonder of our United States of America. Let's hit the road together!
Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Beautiful Days

It's been an unusually warm and very dry summer here in western Wyoming. The dryness has been bad for the wildfires, and we have had several in the area since the beginning of July. Yellowstone currently has four or five, and we occasionally see the smoke from the Berry Creek fire in the northwest corner of the Tetons. It has made for a wonderful summer season for visitors, however, who have been enjoying the weather and participating in all kinds of outdoor activities in the park.

Last week , for the first time in what seems quite awhile, we had no set plans or chores scheduled for our days off. So we strapped on our Camelbak water packs, laced up the hiking boots, and set off on a couple of hikes :-).

Our first hike, on Tuesday, was a longer hike, eight miles round trip. We started off at the String Lake picnic area, hiked the shoreline to Leigh Lake, then followed Leigh Lake's shore all the way to the north end. From there it was a short way to another lake, much smaller, called Bearpaw Lake. We haven't done this hike before, but we have kayaked across String and Leigh Lakes.

String Lake is the beginning of this hike. I always recommend that guests head over to String Lake for swimming because it's so shallow that the water warms up quite quickly. It's a beautiful lake for any and all water activities and becomes packed with people quite quickly every day. We were here bright and early in the morning :-).

As we followed the shore of String Lake, we could look backwards and get a great view of the southern end of the Teton Range.

I like this hike because it's quite shaded, as well as following the lake shore. This makes for more comfortable hiking, especially when the sun is out in full force :-).

We crossed a short spit of land, about 100 feet, between String and Leigh Lakes, and had our first sight of the southern end of Leigh Lake.

Our first year here in the Tetons, we had paddled these lakes and went around this spit of land to approach the base of Mount Moran. Mount Moran is our friend Carol Herr's favorite mountain, and she wanted to "touch the base" of it!

About halfway around Leigh Lake, there is a sandy beach area. Up to this point, we had seen a few other hikers, but we left the last couple here at this beach. From here to Bearpaw Lake we didn't see anyone else!

The trail entered a more open area and it looked as if there had been a fire in the area at one time. We also started gaining some elevation at this point, although overall it was a pretty flat hike.

Four miles in, we reached Bearpaw Lake. Compared to the other lakes, it's relatively tiny, but it was so peaceful here. Our only company for our morning snack ad drink break was a pair of ravens and a bald eagle. I keep telling people, especially this year with the increased numbers of visitors, that all you have to do to find some solitude is get away from the overlooks and high-traffic areas. Once you strike out for the backcountry, you leave 95% of the people behind!

It was finally time to retrace our steps and head back to civilization. One more shot of the mountain views across Leigh Lake.

The next day, Wednesday, we had a day off together with Dan and Jonell. Jonell has finally been able to take the "walking boot" off of her broken foot and wanted to attempt a shorter hike. Our first year out here we did the Taggart Lake hike, so we set off to see how she would do. It was another beautiful day, not a cloud in the sky!

The hike follows a small creek for a while and then starts climbing at a moderate grade. 

I really like the great mountain views of this hike.

We reached the shore of Taggart Lake.....

and it did not disappoint :-)!

We relaxed for a bit, chatted with other hikers, and then finally moved off for the return back to the trailhead. We had decided to take the south loop trail, which goes through an area called Beaver Meadows, and once again, left behind a majority of the crowd. There was a pretty significant climb uphill before heading back down, and it probably scares off some of the folks. We didn't mind :-).

The trail also goes through many huckleberry groves, but we didn't encounter any bears. It was all quiet.

Altogether, the trail was about 3 miles, and Jonell said she did great. She'll be back walking circles around me again in short order :-). 

I had started this blog several days ago, and since then, we've had a pretty significant fire start up. We've had several throughout western Wyoming this summer, with dry weather conditions not seen since 1988. Lightning started a fire about 19 miles to our northwest, in a remote area of Teton National Park, and it was a pretty small fire, not causing any problems, until yesterday. Low humidity along with high winds yesterday caused the Berry Creek fire to mushroom from about 800 acres of remote wilderness to over 6700 acres, moving 5  miles in one day, jumping the highway. We are now cut off from the southern entrance to Yellowstone, necessitating an extremely long drive south to Jackson, west to Idaho, then north up to West Yellowstone. Fortunately, the fire is burning to the northeast, away from our area, but it will really impact our guests' experience. So far, people are taking it in stride. It has certainly been giving us some pretty eerie sunsets, though.
This is one of the prettier sunsets one night before the smoke haze started settling into the valley.

The sunset was just as pretty looking east behind our campsite.

We are keeping on top of the fire news, and there are no worries at this time for our area. I know it's a natural part of nature, but it sure is sad seeing all the burned land. That's all for now, and I'll be back soon with a special post about the 100th birthday of the National Park System :-).

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

July in the Tetons

I really can't believe how fast time flies. I think subconsciously I realized it's been a while since I last posted, but I really was genuinely shocked when I logged on and saw it has been close to a month! 

We are having an incredibly busy summer out here in the Tetons. The 100th birthday of the national Park system has really drawn in a lot of visitors, and Yellowstone National Park is totally slammed. So much so, that we haven't been up there once yet this summer. What's up with that??

We have been keeping ourselves amused, even without visits to one of our favorite playgrounds in the country. Our days off go by very quickly, but we have done a few things that are new to us this year. Actually, Jonell being restricted by her broken foot has forced us to slow down and tour some of the historical parts of the Grand Teton National Park. This is a good thing :-)

The Menor's Ferry Historic District and Chapel of the Transfiguration have been on my agenda for a while, so one beautiful Wednesday we all took the drive down to Moose for the Ranger-led presentation.
The Chapel of the Transfiguration is owned and operated by St. John's Episcopal Church in Jackson. It was constructed in 1925, saving the settlers in the area the 12-mile ride over rough roads to church each week. 

This is the view behind the altar; I can think of no better place to marvel at God's work here on earth. It was designed to frame what is known as the Cathedral Peaks of the Tetons.
The church continues to have services every Sunday in the summer. 

We then headed down to the Menor's Ferry Historic District, which is along the Snake River.

The wildflowers are lasting quite long this season.

This is the homestead of William D. Menor, who came to the valley in 1894 and took up residence here beside the Snake River. Rivers are important transportation routes, and the Snake River was a natural barrier that divided Jackson Hole. Most settlers prior to 1900 lived on the east side of the river. In dry months, the river could be forded safely in several locations, but during periods of high water, it was impassable. Bill Menor saw an opportunity, and built the original ferry and cable works, charging 50 cents for a wagon and team and 25 cents for a rider and horse for passage across the river. 

Today's ferry and cable works are replicas of the originals.

Another historic building in the area is the Noble Cabin. Menor sold the ferry to Maude Noble in 1918, who promptly raised fares to $1.00 for autos with local plates and $2.00 for out-of-state plates. She moved her cabin from Cottonwood Creek to this site when she purchased the homestead. 
The historic value of this home comes into play with the beginnings of the park itself. In 1923, a group of local residents met with Horace Albright, then Superintendent of Yellowstone National park, to discuss their concerns over commercial development in the area. With more tourists coming to the area, more facilities to serve them were popping up. Commercialization of the valley was threatening to destroy the scenery and wildlife habitat, the very things people were coming to see. The meeting took place here in this cabin, where the concerned citizens felt that some sort of preserve was necessary to retain the character of the valley, and decided to seek a wealthy individual who might be willing to buy private land to donate to this preserve. 

In 1926, Superintendent Albright met with John D. Rockefeller, Jr., and aroused his interest in saving the valley.  Through the newly-founded Snake River Land Company, Rockefeller provided money to purchase private land for future donation to the federal government. Despite decades of local opposition to the expansion of Grand Teton national Park, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. persevered and donated 33.000 acres to the park in 1949.

The current general store is the original homestead cabin of Bill Menor. Started in 1894, he added to the building in 1895 and 1905. Part of the building housed a store for items such as flour, tea, sugar, canned foods and some clothing. The store, ferry and a blacksmith shop provided a means of income, in addition to the subsistence living Bill Menor practiced on his homestead of 149 acres.

It was very hot the day we took the tour, so afterward we relaxed on the porch with some old-fashioned sasparilla sodas. Jonell is also excited as she is starting the "Junior Ranger" program in the park, working through the book to earn her special Centennial Junior Ranger patch. Stay tuned for the ceremony after she receives her patch :-).

This brings us into our next adventure the following week. Our friends John and Carol Herr were in the area, and we have always wanted to hike in the Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve. There is a guided ranger hike every morning, and we decided it was high time for us to see what it was all about. You must arrive fairly early in the morning as they do limit the amount of people who are in the area at any one time. 

"The trees, the animals, the streams, the flowers, preserved as much as possible in their natural state of beauty, will in turn help preserve our most precious resource -- the human spirit."
-Laurance S. Rockefeller's remarks at the dedication of the Jackson Lake Lodge, June 12, 1955.

John D. Rockefeller, Jr. had retained over 3,100 acres around Phelps Lake as a family retreat. This land, known as the JY Ranch, was passed down to Laurance S. Rockefeller, who eventually arranged for the transfer of 2,000 acres to the park. In 2001, he announced the gift of the remaining 1,106 acres to the American people to become a part of Grand Teton National Park.

Our ranger-led tour was very interesting, and we were the only five people on the tour (John's daughter Jen, who was visiting from Florida, joined us). Our ranger, Kathy, showed us this tree, and that we could tell it had been used as a scratching post by bears, some quite recently! The wide, gray marks are the old scratches; the skinny, brown, weeping slashes are recent marks.

The trail followed Lake Creek through the forest and sagebrush meadows. We made several stops to talk about nature and it's role in our lives; what is important, and how we view it.

Clearing the forest area, we came within view of the mountains.

The escorted hike ended here at the "Wow" spot, so named because people arrive at Phelps Lake and go, "Wow!" 

The water is clear and cold, and this is a perfect spot for a picnic lunch.

We decided to continue around Phelps Lake for a short while.

On the way to what they call Huckleberry Point, there are boardwalks across the wetlands. The wetlands provide an important function to the Preserve's ecosystem by preventing flooding and filtering the surface water. Wetlands provide food, cover, and nesting sites for a multitude of song and migratory birds.

Being that we hadn't brought our lunch with us, we decided to head back to the Visitor Center. We took the Woodland Trail back, giving us a three and a half mile hike altogether. 

We crossed the eastern end of the lake and headed back up the Woodland Trail. We saw plenty of birds and flowers along the way.

Cedar Waxwing

Calliope hummingbird

Western Tanager

Western Columbine

Indian Paintbrushes

Lupines by the cascades near the Visitor Center.

We really enjoyed the hike through the Preserve, but more than anything it was special because of sharing it with our friends John and Carol. They share our passion for this country and its natural areas, and one can't ask for more than that. They will be back this way in a couple more weeks and we look forward to doing more hiking and some kayaking as well :-).

On the home front, we have been doing pretty well. As I said in the beginning, we've been very busy at work. My blog was actually started last week and finishing it became delayed as we needed to work an extra day. I have been quite active in the office and have met some very nice guests. I truly enjoy talking to them and helping them plan their activities to ensure the best vacation experience. The staff as a whole is working very well this year, and we have been having a good time with a few potluck dinners and card games during the week. 

A not-so-good item to talk about is our refrigerator. Long-time readers will probably remember that we have been having a recurring issue with our Norcold 1210 refrigerator. Each summer for the last three years, it has decided to have a hissy fit and stop cooling. We thought we had it licked last year when it was discovered that the baffle had been installed wrong. It was not to be as about three weeks ago it stopped cooling once again. We are very fortunate that we have access to a fridge here at the ranch, but we decided to fix the problem once and for all. I don't want the uncertainty of not knowing if the fridge is going to have a fit at a most inconvenient time, and take a chance on losing a whole lot of food! We researched several options: replacing the cooling unit with a new Norcold unit, installing a residential fridge, or installing a new, Amish-built cooling unit. After much discussion, measuring, and writing to different RV'ers that we know who have had the issues, we decided to go with a new Amish-built helium cooling unit. I do not have pictures of the install, as I wished to stay out of the way, but yesterday Al, Brad, and Dan spent the day and got it done. So far, it seems to be doing pretty good! I'm very proud of these guys. 

That's about it for now. Life is moving along, we have a little less than two months left here, and we should be getting some new interesting adventures to write about soon!

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Life on the Ranch

We have been here on the ranch for almost six weeks now, and have settled into a regular routine. We are having a very strong season already, probably due to the 100th birthday of the National Park system and of Yellowstone itself. The increase in visitors has also led to many publicized stories of visitor misbehavior, many of them sadly ending in fatalities, both for wildlife and humans. There have been two human fatalities in Yellowstone, both due to carelessness. One woman was struck and killed by a car as she walked into the road, trying to get a picture of an eagle. In the other fatality, a young man in his twenties wandered far off the boardwalks in an active hot spring area, and fell into one of the thermal features; needless to say, there were no remains to recover.  But the one tragedy that really breaks my heart is the death of our resident celebrity grizzly bear 399's cub of the year, nicknamed Snowy because of his unique white face. Snowy was struck and killed by a vehicle late Sunday evening, along with another sow black bear about an hour earlier. I so wish people would heed the speed limits and slow down to enjoy our parks. How can you see anything when you're speeding through the park??

We've been very busy here at work, and enjoying our down time on our days off. It's been a while since I've talked about the work we do here, so I thought I'd show a little slice of daily life for any new readers I may have.

We are now in our third summer working here, and it still holds its magic for us, believe it or not. When we first set out on the road six years ago (six!!), we firmly believed we would land in a different spot every summer, as there are so many interesting and beautiful areas of the country that we still have to discover. We held to that formula right up to our fourth year, and when we were invited back for a second season, we promptly said, "Yes, thank you!"  It's hard work, but so satisfying to be a part of something so well-run, so clean, and so proud of what it is. The owners, Brad and Joanne Luton, are such nice, genuine people, and treat all of us so well, that it makes one want to work hard for them. Our coworkers this year are all really nice, and we enjoy getting together with them after hours; it's always a nice perk to make new friends. As far as the location, well, I can't say anything more about it than what my pictures show; fantastic scenery, lots of outdoor activities, and supremely quiet, at least here on the ranch. The park is quite busy, but we have a little haven of peace here.

This is the view from our front door this year. We are surrounded by willows on both sides, and a short path leads down to...

our screen room at the creek. I call this my "study hall," as this is where I've been retreating to do the studying for my class that I'm working on. 

It's really not too hard to get used to!

We are trying our hands at a little gardening this year. We have a container tomato plant, some pepper plants, and two trays of herbs. They've been doing pretty good so far, although tonight I will have to put them in our little portable greenhouse as it's suppose to go down to freezing!

Now that everyone is trained in their housekeeping responsibilities, we've settled into our regularly scheduled programming. Another person has been trained for office work, so now Jonell does three days in the office, and I do three days. The other two days of our work week we spend in housekeeping. Al is still doing laundry duty five days a week, as well as coordinating the housekeepers. A second person, Terry, has been trained for laundry on Al's two days off. So we are in a routine now, and we have Tuesday and Wednesday off this year. 

I really enjoy working in the office. I still have plenty of cleaning to do, as the office person is in charge of keeping the lodge clean and tidy, and I also assist the housekeepers on busy days by doing a couple of kitchens in the mornings. Office days, I work a split shift; usually from 8AM to about 12ish, then back in from 3PM to 7PM for check-ins. My mornings consist of paperwork, reports, returning calls and emails, taking reservations, cleaning grills (there are a dozen grills throughout the property for guests to use, and they get cleaned every day), inspecting cabins for check-ins, as well as the vacuuming, dusting, and bathroom cleaning in the lodge. The afternoons are mostly working with guests who are checking in, answering questions, and generally acting as a "concierge service." This year, so far, has been very busy with helping guests plan their itineraries, and suggesting activities for them to do. It is something I really enjoy doing, and I really feel that I am starting to know the area well enough that I sound like I know what I'm talking about :-)! 

We go to town, Jackson, once every other week for groceries and shopping. It takes about 45 minutes each way from the ranch, and it just seems like it's a least a half-day ordeal, if not longer. We decided early on during our first year that we didn't want to do it each week, so we plan and arrange meals for at least two weeks, leaving us one full "weekend" every other week for playing in the parks :-). It is really helpful that we are allowed to use a big refrigerator and an upright freezer in the maintenance garage to stock up on items, especially sale items :-). We do have a small general store about 20 minutes away for any perishables that we may need to restock during the second week. The system has been working pretty well for us.

It goes without saying that Honey and Casey love their walks here on the ranch as well! We've all been going out every single morning since we got here, before work starts, and I'm happy to report that we've both lost some much-needed weight :-). There are dogs here for them to run around with, so it's been a fun time for all.

Last week we had the pleasure of hosting Rick and Gail Houle, who used to write the blog "Gypsy Turtles," for the day. They are on a summer-long tour of the west, and we had met them back in 2011 at the RV-Dreams rally in Sevierville. We took them on a day-long tour of our favorite spots here in Grand Teton National Park. 

The historic Mormon barn, the Moulton Barn, is always a worthy Kodak picture spot. It's said to be the most photographed barn in the United States.

Schwabacher's Landing is another personal favorite, and I'm sure many of you will recognize this spot from previous postings.

We took a short hike along the river, hoping for some wildlife.

It was a little sparse, though, but we did see this flock of common goldeneye ducklings; they didn't much care for arrival, and scooted off quite quickly.

We had a long lunch break at Leek's Marina, and we're happy to report the pizza is once again very good. They were having issues last summer, but I noticed the manager from our first year here is back, so maybe he has things on an even keel again.

It's not remotely a good picture, but we were lucky enough to spot a mamma and baby moose as we headed over to Jackson Lake Lodge for the exquisite view.

We parted ways with Rick and Gail at this point, as we had to return to the ranch to feed and walk the dogs before heading out again, this time joining our coworkers for a fun evening at the Bar J Chuckwagon Show. We had gone to this show last year and enjoyed it very much, so we didn't mind going back again. 

So that's about it. We've been working, playing, and having a pretty good time so far this year. Soon our dear friends Carol and John Herr will be arriving in the area, and perhaps then I will have more exciting adventures to talk about. But for now, we're enjoying our daily life here at the ranch :-).