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My 2016 Nature Trek: Sights & Surprises En Route

IMG_2947For three weeks in May 2016, I was on the road, enjoying my annual Nature Trek.  This year my major destinations included Yellowstone National Park; Canyonlands National Park, Island in the Sky District; and Saguaro National Park.  I traveled 4,548 miles and stopped to play in five states:  Nevada, Utah, Montana, Wyoming, and Arizona.   The drives were glorious, filled with wonderful wildflowers, ever-changing clouds, and speed limits often posted at 70 to 80 mph.    And there were no mishaps:  no accidents, no tickets, no problems with the rooms, not even any rude or ugly encounters with fellow travelers.

I will eventually post some blogs about my major destinations, but the day-to-day travels were fun as well.  For one thing, gas was pretty cheap, especially in comparison to California prices that always include high local taxes and fees.  But mostly, the trip was punctuated with quirky roadside attractions and out-and-out surprises.

It is the fun of driving:  Seeing the unexpected!

IMG_9800Have you ever been to Baker, California, to see the World’s Largest Thermometer? It was initially built in 1990 by Willis Herron and then—after it was not working for several years—it was working again in October 2104, thanks to Herron’s daughter.  It stands 134 feet tall.   I get a kick out of it every time I pass en route to Vegas.  On this hot day, the thermometer recorded that it was a scorching 95 degrees Fahrenheit.

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IMG_0398When I think of Utah, my mind always envisions the brilliant red cliffs and canyons of so many of its national parks.  Thus I was pleasantly surprised to detour through Provo Canyon when I was driving from St. George to Salt Lake City.  Highway 189 North weaves its way through this cool, green, winding canyon, following the Provo River and passing at least nine local parks.  I also took the detour up to the Sundance Resort where snow and aspens dotted the route.  It was a glorious scenic detour!

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IMG_0513I was traveling in May and heading at various times into mountains.  I was expecting to see remnants of winter’s snow at some of the higher elevations.  I was staying several nights in Bozeman, Montana, which sits at an elevation of 4,820 feet.  As I was driving in late in my first day there, the clouds were getting darker and darker.  A storm was obviously on its way.  I had already seen rain the day before, but—still—I was not expecting snow.  It was great.

IMG_0535In fact, this odd spring storm continued all of the next day.  Downed trees knocked out a transformer, cutting electric for about 4,000 people—including those of us at my hotel!  While snow accumulation was only several inches in town, several feet of snow accumulated in the mountains.  Although it did not stick around very long, the snow-covered mountains were pretty the next day.

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IMG_1104mom with lilacsBozeman was the location for another delightful surprise on this year’s trip:  Lilacs.  Bozeman was my hotel anchor for several days as I explored Yellowstone National Park.  Every day, I drove several miles through town.  Those few miles contained literally hundreds of lilac bushes!  I counted.  They were everywhere:  outside the hotel, a row along a farm house, several bushes here and there by every other business.  I love lilacs in great part because my mom loved lilacs.  She would have loved this place.

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IMG_2277Have you even visited Moab, Utah?  It is a great little town, located just outside two national parks:  Arches National Park and Canyonlands, Island in the Sky District.  There is a myriad of outdoor recreational activities to enjoy in the area.  When you visit here, you do not have to be scared about anything bad happening along the road.  Moab seems to have its own security patrol.

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Have you ever driven south from Moab, Utah, on U.S. Highway 191 South, heading to Kayenta, Arizona?  Me neither.  I love Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park—it is one of my favorite destinations.  However, every time I have visited, I have accessed the park by driving north from Flagstaff through Kayenta, Arizona.  This year—although not stopping to visit Monument Valley—I drove to the area from the north, coming through Bluff and then Medicine Hat, Utah. I was officially traveling on U. S. Highway 191 S and then U.S. Highway 163 S. The route covers about 70 miles between Bluff and Kayenta, which is just south of Monument Valley.

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IMG_2313Oh my goodness!  That stretch of road is absolutely stupendous.  It stretches straight through open fields for mile after mile.  The clouds and flowers on this spring drive were spectacular.  The best parts, however, were the twists and turns and dips that sprang up occasionally as the road passed through various canyons.  At times, it felt like I could have reached out to touch the rock walls reaching up along the side of the road.  And then the open vistas would return again.  The view of Monument Valley as its iconic rocks and buttes rose in the distance was mesmerizing.  I have to drive this road again!

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IMG_2366DO YOU HAVE ANY FAVORITE SURPRISES FROM YOUR TRAVELS?

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A FEW QUOTES ABOUT SURPRISE

“Each day holds a surprise.  But only if we expect it can we see, hear, or feel it when it comes to us.  Let’s not be afraid to receive each day’s surprise. Whether it comes to us as sorrow or as joy, it will open a new place in our hearts, a place where we can welcome new friends and celebrate more fully our shared humanity.”   Henri Nouwen

“The moments of happiness we enjoy take us by surprise.  It is not that we seize them, but that they seize us.”   Ashley Montagu

“Life is the greatest gift which life can grant us.”   Boris Pasternak

“Searching is half the fun:  life is much more manageable as a scavenger hunt as opposed to a surprise party.”   Jimmy Buffett

“What a lovely surprise to finally discover how unlonely being alone can be.”   Ellen Burstyn

“How ridiculous and how strange to be surprised at anything which happens in life.”   Marcus Aurelius

“No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.  No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.”   Robert Frost

“Life is a celebration of awakenings, of new beginnings, and wonderful surprises that enlighten the soul.”  Cielo

“A story to me means a plot where there is some surprise.  Because that is how life is—full of surprises.”   Isaac Bashevis Singer

Grand Teton National Park

GT and YS mapGT mapGrand Teton National Park, sitting only 10 miles south of Yellowstone National Park, was originally created in 1929 by Herbert Hoover, preserving 96,000 acres.  In 1943 Franklin Delano Roosevelt created the Jackson Hole National Monument, preserving the unique features of the adjacent valley.  John D. Rockefeller donated public lands—lands that he had purchased over the years to save them from development—to the federal government in 1949.  In 1950, the three areas—Grand Teton, Jackson Hole, and the Rockefeller acres—were combined together under the name Grand Teton National Park, now covering 310,000 acres.  Today, it is one of the most popular national parks, visited by 3.2 million visitors in 2015.

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The first time I visited Grand Teton National Park was in 1993, but it really was not my destination.  I was heading toward Yellowstone and passed through Grand Teton because the road passed right through it.  To say the rugged mountain range surprised me is an understatement.  I was driving along and—boom!—the mountains were just right there. One of my first stops was the Teton Point Overlook that showcased the entire mountain range.

My Glued Together Panorama from Before Photoshop

My Glued Together Panorama from Before Photoshop, Teton Point Overlook

The Grand Teton Range, the youngest sub-range of the Rocky Mountains, is impressive.  What makes this range stand out is how it juts straight up from the valley floor, rather than ascending gradually through a range of foothills.  The tallest peak is Grand Teton, reaching 13,770 feet above sea level.  There are eleven other peaks, each one reaching close to 12,000 feet above sea level. Surrounding these peaks are numerous lakes and rivers, such as the Snake River and Jackson and Jenny Lakes. Remnants of glaciation are evident, including at least a dozen u-shaped valleys scoured into existence by ice-age glaciers.

Grand Teton Mt Names

On part of that long ago drive, I took the Teton Park side loop past Jenny Lake and then looped back towards Jackson, Wyoming, stopping at Oxbow Bend Overlook and Sleeping Indian Overlook.

Jenny Lake

Jenny Lake

Jenny Lake

Jenny Lake

Cascade Falls

Cascade Falls

Oxbow Bend

Oxbow Bend

Mount Moran

Mount Moran

Lupine with the Grand Tetons in the Distance

Lupine with the Grand Tetons in the Distance

Arrowleaf Balsamroot

Arrowleaf Balsamroot

View from Oxbow Bend Overlook

View from Oxbow Bend Overlook

Sleeping Indian Formation

Sleeping Indian Formation

Later during that same trip, I took the monorail ride available from Teton Village near Jackson, Wyoming, to see the glorious peaks from an aerial view. 

Elk Antler Arch in Jackson Town Square

Elk Antler Arch in Jackson Town Square

Monorail for Aerial View of the Grand Tetons

Monorail for Aerial View of the Grand Tetons

Some Aerial Views of Peaks within the Grand Teton Range

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Hanging Ice Glacier U-Shaped Valley, Mount Moran

Hanging Ice Glacier U-Shaped Valley, Mount Moran

Snake River

Snake River

This year, my main goal for my Nature Trek was–once again—to visit Yellowstone National Park.  This time, as part of the trip, I planned to spend several days exploring Grand Teton National Park as well.  Unfortunately, a day of snow in Montana as I was first heading into Yellowstone via the west entrance forced me off the roads and mountain passes, requiring an adjustment to my itinerary. I no longer had an extra day to spend at Grand Teton National Park.

But I still wanted to view these magnificent Grand Tetons again!  Thus, as I left Yellowstone out the south entrance, I traveled U.S. Highway 191, heading to Jackson, Wyoming. This route is also known as the John D. Rockefeller Memorial Parkway, named in 1972 for Rockefeller’s significant contributions to national parks, including Grant Teton National Park.

The scenic route showcases mountains, grasslands and wildlife, reminiscent of the area over a hundred years ago.  It was a late spring afternoon.  As the light was growing dim, I stopped at various pullouts and overlooks to capture some shots of the mountains that at times seemed to hide as the road twisted and turned along the route.

Along the John D. Rockefeller Memorial Parkway

Along the John D. Rockefeller Memorial Parkway

Along Jackson Lake

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On the Road Again

On the Road Again

Willow Flats Overlook

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Oxbow Bend Overlook

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Elk Ranch Turnout

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Teton Point Overlook

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The Cathedral Group

Middle Teton, Lower Saddle, Grand Teton, Gunsight Notch, Mt. Owen, Teewinot

Middle Teton, Lower Saddle, Grand Teton, Gunsight Notch, Mt. Owen, Teewinot

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I can hardly wait until I get a chance to come visit the Grand Tetons again.

Are there some places you hope to visit again, again, and again?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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