As part of the northern Rockies adventure, Eric wanted to be sure to see Grand Teton National Park. The National Geographic Guide to the National Parks promised spectacular beauty. Roadside Geology of Wyoming tells us that Jackson Hole is, quite literally, a hole. A thrust earthquake fault simultaneously pushed up the Tetons and dropped the hole. The contrast is quite dramatic.
We rose at an absurdly early hour to cross the Bay, catch a 6:10 plane from San Francisco to Salt Lake City, and then another plane from Salt Lake City to Jackson Hole. Not the City of Jackson, but Jackson Hole. There is actually an airport inside a US national park. National Geographic says that the airport is "a concern for environmentalists."
Not only did flying to the northern Rockies cost much more than driving would have (nearly an order of magnitude more), it was also undoubtedly more annoying. And the security people weren't even the worst. On arriving at the airport-in-a-park, we found ourselves on the tarmac with this amazing view.
How could you resist snapping a quick picture? In the middle of taking this picture, I was so rudely herded away by overbearing baggage handlers that I was forced into tripping over someone's rollerbag. "For safety," Eric declared. But these creeps wouldn't even leave us alone once we were off of the tarmac and just outside the terminal.
When I complained that I had already been herded into someone's luggage, one of the men started making some tiresome, authoritarian, "Ma'am...." speech. I just went into the terminal and ignored him completely. We got out of the airport as quickly as possible, because I really wanted to be in an environment where I could point out the fact that someone was treating us poorly without risking getting myself in legal trouble.
We were happily and enthusiastically greeted by a cowboy-hatted representative of Dollar-Rent-a-Car with a shuttle bus. After hours of air travel, it seems so incongruous to have someone treat us kindly that we almost didn't know how to respond appropriately.
I didn't know that "off-airport" shuttle actually meant nearly a half-hour's drive away in the town of Jackson, away from the park. They also told us that the shuttle back to the airport ran only once per hour, not exceptionally convenient.
Things continued to be awful when we got to the Dollar office. Of course they did not have the car we had wanted, which was a Subaru Outback, because we thought the four wheel drive might be useful. Instead, they offered us a Chevy Equinox, front wheel drive. This was disappointing but not, of course, wholly unexpected. What was unexpected was the agent's telling us that under the rental agreement, we could only drive the car within the borders of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. Eric stated that he had expected to be able to drive the car into Alberta, to see Waterton Lakes, which is adjacent to Glacier. They told us that the Canadian border patrol would not let us drive into Canada with a rental car. While we found this unbelievable, neither did we want to drive a rental car in contravention of our rental agreement, just in case we had an accident. After all, we did have the proverbial accident in a rental car back in January. We almost ripped up the agreement and had them take us back to the airport, when I found that Hertz at the airport would rent us a car that we could take to Canada, but that Hertz wanted more than $300 more for their car. We finally decided it would be cheaper just to rent a different car for the Canada day and drove off in the Equinox. I have to say that Dollar's representative was very nice to us under the difficult circumstances, and even gave us free satellite radio, which is pretty spiffy out in the wilderness. I later sent a message to Dollar saying that, while their corporate policies were reprehensible, their representative had handled a difficult situation very well and deserved a better job. (I also wrote a message to Delta complaining that they need to teach their baggage handlers to distinguish between baggage and passengers and handle them differently.) From now on, I am going to make all of my rental car arrangements through local travel agents who can anticipate all of these problems for us.
We went to a coffee shop for caffeine infusions, and made arrangements to rent a car for Canada. By the time we finally got into the park, it was 14:19, more than twelve hours after we had left the house. Google's listed driving time from Berkeley to the northern Rockies was twelve hours (although that of course doesn't include stops). Once we got out of the land of travel misery and into the park, our day got much better, and we were treated like human beings by everyone.
We stopped at the Visitor Center to ask the essential question: how long could we stay out before all the places that served dinner would close? The ranger gave us a list of restaurants with the closing times. We made a reservation at the Jackson Lake Lodge, our lodging for the night, for 20:30. Due to a distinct lack of signal, we had to use a primitive pay phone.
One of the big attractions in Grand Teton is Jenny Lake. You can take a boat across the lake and hike to a waterfall and a scenic overlook. We had Haagen-Dazs bars at the Visitor Center.
We were told that the last boat would be at 18:00. Eric was asking which was the chicken and which was the egg--whether there were no later boats because demand for them did not exist, or whether people did not take the boats in the evening because they were unavailable. I pointed out that, since the operation of the boats was profit-driven, they likely did not run boats in the evening because of insufficient demand. One of the boat operators asked me, "Are you a lawyer?" I found this hilarious.
The boat landed on the far side of the lake about 17:15. With a .8 km-hike to the waterfall, and then another .8 km-hike to the overlook, it was apparent that we would not make the 18:00 boat. We were told that we could walk back along the edge of the lake, about 3.2 km. It would be possible, but knuckle-biting, to make it to our 20:30 dinner reservation.
There were few other people on the trail up to the overlook, Inspiration Point.
We did see one later down the path who seemed less tame.
After what Eric described as a "death march-y" trot along the lake, interrupted by sending wistful responses to text messages from a friend telling us he was in the Bay Area for the weekend and wanted to see us, we arrived back in the parking lot in enough time, around 20:00.
The restaurant at the Jackson Lake Lodge was extraordinarily lovely, and the staff helpful and friendly.
We discussed whether this was the best view we had ever had for dinner, and we think it was. We did have a better view for our glacier picnic at Wrangell-St. Elias, but that was lunch.
The Tetons were beautiful, but as it was well after noon, we had to skip Colter Bay to get on into a bigger attraction, Yellowstone!
Distance driven: 120 km
Distance hiked: 7 km
Caches found: 4
On to Yellowstone National Park.