Monthly Archives: August 2013

3 Night Out and Back: Southeast Arm of Lake Yellowstone on the Thorofare Trail

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P1070757Night 1: 6.5 miles to campsite 5E8, Park Point

Pulling up at the nine mile post trailhead, we quickly realized that this might the least shady trailhead in the park. There was not a spot of shade as we set out packing our packs for this four day trip. We were sweating within minutes and our food was softening and melting away! Nonetheless, after about two hours we were packed, fed, and ready to venture down the Thorofare.

Sidenote: The Thorofare through-hike is the Holy Grail of Yellowstone National Park; It takes hikers 68.5 miles through the park, one-way, and reaches, at one point, the most remote spot in the lower 48. Whoa. This trail is pretty awesome. It’s been on the to-do list for quite a few years, but limiting factors in hiking this beast are always 1) time, because it takes a week or more, and 2) having 2 cars so you can leave one at the beginning and one at the end. So, we did not set out to hike the entire Thorofare on this trip- I swear we’ll do it someday- but we were lucky enough to get a permit for three nights in this beautiful (that’s a given in Yellowstone) area of the park!

The trailhead is on the east entrance road to the park, and it’s an area I haven’t spent much time in so I was excited to get out there, into Yellowstone’s quiet nether regions. We started out hiking in burnt forest, dusty and exposed. Within about half a mile of the trailhead we saw bear tracks (dun dun dun!!), but I will just ruin the suspense now by saying that besides a little scat, we saw no other signs of bear activity along this trail. Overall, this was a flat, easy 6.5 miles that took us in and out of burnt forest, over fallen logs, across a couple small streams, beside a meadow with mountain views, until we reached the spur trail for 5E8. This can be a bit confusing, as there is one ‘unofficial’ spur that you will reach before the ‘official,’ marked spur trail. We took the ‘unofficial’ route and walked along the lakeshore for about the 200 yards before reaching the site.

If I was holding onto any loyalties about any other site in this park, they were all gone once I saw 5E8. It’s definitely my favorite campsite in the park. There is an awesome fire pit with benches, as well as good tent sites. But what really did it for me was that this site is right on the shore of Lake Yellowstone; it’s just a few steps from the fire pit to the lake side. There’s nothing like a dip in freezing waters to wash away the dust and renew your energy after a day of hiking! And, to me, nothing says freedom more than getting in a high mountain lake. Ahhh yes. So, after some swimming we discovered the Yellowstone hot stone massage, where you lay your lake-numbed body on the warm pebble beach and let the warmth sooooaaakk into your weary but revitalized muscles. It’s as good as any spa treatment, I promise. After swimming and sunning came cooking on the beach and watching the vibrant sunset over the water. Our topic of discussion: the big-ness of Yellowstone and how you could easily spend your whole life here and not see it all.

Day 2: 8.2 miles to 5E3, Brimstone Point

Overall, the hike to this campsite was much more scenic than the first day. We started out hiking through thick forest before ascending a hill. We hiked along the side of this hill for quite a while, exposed in the hot sun but enjoying far-reaching views of the lake below us. Along the hillside we went in and out of meadows and forest. The ground cover was thick and lush, growing over the trail in some areas. The meadows were blooming with wildflowers: red, yellow, white, and purple. With the scenery of this day came elevation change; this part of the trail goes up and down a lot more. We had a few small stream crossings this day as well, but only one that required bare feet or a piggy back ride.

The second day, for me, is always the hardest. I don’t know why this is but it always seems to be. I was more tired and more sore. I could feel the bruises on my hips from my backpack. I could feel the start of pesky hot spots and blisters. It was starting to feel like a backpacking trip! Of course, a dip in the lake at the end of the day washed all these little ailments away. And an afternoon siesta propelled my body further into vacation mode. This site, too, is right on the lakeshore but didn’t seem quite as pristine to me as 5E8. The fire pit is in an open space with clear views of the lake, but it was a little harder to find a good tent site. Still, we got spoiled on this trip with our lakeside sites! The third day of our trip we hiked back to 5E8 and the fourth day we hiked out, for a grand total of 28.4 miles.

And the best part of this whole trip? Getting to show my fiance Alex the big,

Alex hanging our food on the bear pole.

Alex hanging our food on the bear pole.

open, quiet, beautiful, wild, free backcountry of Yellowstone. There’s no better place to vacation than Yellowstone’s backcountry.

 

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Hot Springs and Kayaking Around the Tetons

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Like Yellowstone, the Tetons can be crazy crowded and while visiting some of the must-see spots (Snake River Overlook, Jenny Lake) is, well, a must-do, we found some spots on the water that tend to be a bit quieter.

Kelly Warm Springs, north of Jackson, Wyoming.

Kelly Warm Springs, north of Jackson, Wyoming.

Kelly Warm Springs: First of all, I appreciate the naming of this swimming hole as a warm spring instead of a hot spring because this is truthful. It’s not hot, but it’s warm enough to be comfortable on a summer day when the sun’s out. We arrived in the middle of the afternoon and there were a couple families there with kids, but there was plenty of space to spread out on the grass next to the springs. There is one larger swimming hole that gradually narrows into the stream. Along with views of the Tetons, the smell of sulfur greeted us and we followed it upstream to see if we could find a hotter spot. We slipped over rocks and got stuck in the muck, stopping at times to look down on the goldfish and what we thought were cichlids. How these types of fish got into the warm springs…we don’t know. Failing to find a hotter area we returned to the main swimming hole where it was deep enough to float around. And when we’d had enough water time we laid down on the bank to soak up the sun.

To get here: Follow highway 191 north out of Jackson. Turn right at Gros Ventre Junction, following signs toward the town of Kelly. Continue north through the town of Kelly and follow signs for the warm springs, which will be a right turn.

Kayaking on Jackson Lake:  The first time we thought to rent a kayak on Jackson

Kayaking on Jackson Lake in the Tetons.

Kayaking on Jackson Lake in the Tetons.

Lake was 5 years ago, when I had blisters so bad from hiking that I couldn’t even bear the thought of putting shoes on my misshapen feet. Kayaking proved to be a worthy alternative to hiking in the Tetons, especially when we were able to observe a Bald Eagle at close range, so we decided to go on an evening kayak excursion this time around too. It’s $19 an hour to rent a tandem kayak on Jackson Lake and we ended up being out for about an hour and a half at the end of the day. Although you won’t be alone on the lake, you’ll have plenty of space to yourself as you paddle around the islands, enjoying uninterrupted views of the Tetons. If you have the time it’s always fun to pull your boat up on one of the rocky shores and spend a couple minutes exploring on land. We also figure that a quick kayak trip is a good way to keep the body balanced if you plan to do a lot of hiking in Yellowstone and the Tetons.

To get here: Take Highway 191 north out of Jackson until you reach Moran Junction. Turn left, following signs for Grand Teton National Park entrance. Continue to follow Highway 191 to the Colter Bay area. Rent your kayak at the Colter Bay Marina.

The small, natural hot springs pool below Granite Falls, south of Jackson, Wyoming.

The small, natural hot springs pool below Granite Falls, south of Jackson, Wyoming.

Granite Hot Springs/ Granite Falls: A little bit south out of the hustle bustle of Jackson, the Tetons, and Yellowstone Granite Hot Springs is the dead end of a dirt road that heads right into the Medicine Bow range. Ahhhh, sounds glorious already doesn’t it? We took the road to the hot springs to take a look and found that for a low rate ($6 I believe) you are granted access to a small, hot swimming pool. Having heard from Alex’s cousin that there is a hot spot in the river below the paid-entry pool, we set out to explore this option further. We didn’t find anything directly below the pool so went back down the road to Granite Falls (it has a sign and a small parking lot). We took one of the trails down toward the falls and saw two people soaking in a little nook on the far side of the river. Hmmmmmm….. After some debate about whether to pay $15 and stay in the nearby campground or pay $0 and stay in a national forest campsite down the road we …headed down the road. We ended up finding a free national forest spot nearby, set up camp, ate dinner, and organized the car. Then, first thing in the morning we packed up and headed up to the waterfall to get in that nook. We crossed the icy waters and stuck our numb feet- followed by the rest of our bodies- into a small, built-up pool just big enough for two. We were tucked in along the rock wall below the waterfall, with a hot springs waterfall flowing gently down into our little private pool. Oh, how I love Wyoming! We enjoyed quiet solitude here for about an hour and a half before dragging ourselves out of that little piece of heaven and heading down the road back to Colorado.

To get here:  Take Highway 191 south out of Jackson. Stay on Highway 191 at Hoback Junction. Follow signs to Granite Hot Springs. If you get to Bondurant, you’ve gone too far south.

There’s No Place Like Stone

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**Video credit to Alex Romanyshyn

Usually, I am a person who would rather go somewhere new than revisit somewhere I’ve already been. It’s hard for me to understand why I should go back instead of exploring something different. Why would I hike the same trail twice or visit the same city over and over? My usual mentality: there’s so much out there to see; there’s no time for revisits.

But then I start to think about the concept of familiar and unfamiliar vs. old and new. Going back to somewhere familiar? Now that’s different. Yellowstone is probably one of the most familiar places of all to me. After I worked there for the summer after high school I told myself I would make a little time to come back every year. I spent one more summer there and have visited every year since, except for one. It’s one of few places I feel compelled to go back to over and over.

First, there is about a thousand miles of trail in the park so most times that I go back I am able to discover something new in this familiar place. The second reason I keep going back, I realized this year, is that this place is familiar in feeling and emotion. To revisit Yellowstone in a geographical and physical sense is to revisit somewhere emotionally familiar. Have you ever forgotten a thought and tried to retrace your steps through the house back to where you first had the thought? And once you reach that place in the house you remember what you were thinking. Is my crazy brain the only that works like this? For me, physical places cause my brain to recall certain thoughts or emotions that were felt strongly in that place previously. Yellowstone is a physical place where I experienced a lot of personal and emotional growth-we’ll save that story for another day- so I suppose it makes sense that in most revisits to the park I have been overwhelmed with emotions and memories. And I usually shed a few tears and wallow in the painful nostalgia and strange feeling of being just another tourist in a place I’ve called home.

This year though, it had been two years away from the park instead of the usual one year. This year it was kind of like visiting an old friend. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, right? Emotions aside, I just wanted some Yellowstone time. And I didn’t even cry on this visit J Mostly what I felt was gratitude for this place that is a part of me, that is so much bigger than me , and that is permanent; Gratitude for a place and a feeling I can always revisit.