Our Incredible ‘Yellowstone’ Holiday: Part II – Wild Life Safari at Grand Teton National Park

“I encourage everyone to travel and visit the forest, for they are amazing…there will be fewer and fewer in the future. That’s what I say to myself when I take every photograph…In my photographs, I let the animals and trees speak for themselves and hope other people will see the beauty I see.”

- Prince Hussain Aga Khan -

Introduction: In the previous post, Our Incredible ‘Yellowstone’ Holiday – Part I: Salt Lake City, we described our stay in Salt Lake City from July 16th until July 19th. As part of our trip planning, we decided that from Salt Lake City we’d first visit Grand Teton National Park to experience its natural beauty and wildlife before steering to its mighty sister to the North, the magnificent and unique Yellowstone National Park. Then after four days in Yellowstone we would spend the final two days of our holiday in Park City, Utah, which was the venue for numerous Winter Olympic events in 2002. This post begins with our drive from Salt Lake City to Teton Village, near Grand Teton National Park, on Tuesday, July 19th and describes our Wildlife Safari to the Park on the following day, July 20th. Photos may be clicked for enlargement.

We missed the sign for Montpelier and followed U. S. Route 91, then State Route 34 and met up with the Wyoming State Line near Freedom. The drive did not take us through rugged areas. There was much diversity of vegetation, and the entire route was scenic. We passed us through early Mormon settlements, pioneer trails and numerous historic points of interest. As much as we wanted to, we could not take the time to stop at many of the Pioneer Byway historical sites along the way. Photo: Nurin Merchant. Copyright.

Two primary routes had been suggested on the internet for the drive from Salt Lake City to Grand Teton National Park – one via Idaho Falls that some said was a flat drive, with the exception of the final stretch from Idaho Falls to Jackson, and the second, a more scenic route that would take us to Jackson via 89, through the towns of Logan in Utah, and Montpelier in Idaho, which is located by the scenic Bear Lake. We decided to take the longer scenic route. We took 15 North from Salt lake City, reached Logan but then missed a sign. When we passed the town of Preston we realized we were not going in the direction of Montpelier. We were on US 91. Would 91 Northbound connect us to 89 for Jackson or should we make a U-turn and head back to Logan? Pulling out the map – our car was not equipped with GPS – we decided to remain on 91 and then take State Route 34. Actually, a sign for Montpelier appeared later, but taking that would mean going South-East, thus adding more mileage and perhaps even more time.

Our scenic drive on the historic Idaho State Highway 34 took us past Targhee-Caribou National Forest. The drive did not take us through rugged areas. Photo: Nurin Merchant. Copyright.

Our new “scenic” route on State Highway 34 took us past the small town of Grace, and we finally reached Freedom. During the entire drive from Preston to Freedom we passed no more than two dozen cars. The two lane road was deserted but the speed limit was generous, around 65-70 mph. The drive was beautiful with lush meadows all around us, and mountains in the distance. Our only worry was the car breaking down on a deserted road, but then what are adventurous holidays for? We passed the Caribou-Targhee National Forest, and on the way saw numerous signs inviting us to visit places of historic interest. We admired that so much care and attention is taken to educate visitors about American history, even in the remotest of areas. If we had more time on us, we would have visited a few of them. The drive was carefree, no steep canyons to contend with. In one rare instance, we passed a sheriff who glanced at us but cared not – we were maintaining the ‘safe’ over the speed limit. Finally at Freedom, we connected with 89 and Jackson was another 70 miles away.

A close-up of arches made out of elk-antlers which adorn the entrances of Jackson Town Square Park. The Town Square is the picturesque centerpiece of the heart of Jackson – everything from a meeting place to shopping destination to relaxation spot. Photo: Nurin Merchant. Copyright.

Jackson has a great selection of shops and art galleries as well restaurants many of which to our surprise and disappointment offered very limited menu choices in mid-afternoon, considering it is a resort town. Our less than average lunch at a popular tavern was soon forgotten as we treated ourselves at Moo’s for some locally made ice-cream and a sweet crunchy nut bar – very much like the East African cheekie. We walked around Town Square, visited some wonderful art galleries and took photos of the spectacular entrances of the Town Square Park which are made from elk antlers.

Jackson, Wyoming sits at 6,500 feet above sea level. Jackson Hole is a common nickname for this place and refers to the entire valley which is surrounded by Yellowstone National Park on the north, the Tetons on the west, the Gros Ventres on the east and the Wyoming Range on the south. Photo: Nurin Merchant. Copyright.

With the Teton’s as a backdrop, the area attracts artists in every category of artistic work. A number of choice art galleries and museums lined the Jackson’s Town Square and offered great stopping points while strolling through town. Photo: Malik Merchant. Copyright

We came face to face with the incredible Teton Mountain Range in Jackson. We then proceeded for our overnight stay at the outstanding Teton Mountain Lodge in scenic Teton Village, about 12 miles North West of Jackson. When we arrived it was in the midst of severe lightning, strong winds and pellets of rain. The weather had changed dramatically in a few short minutes, and we were glad we had left Salt Lake by 10 am. Teton village is known for its large ski area in Wyoming. After our arrival at the Lodge, we cancelled a reservation Matt Cardis, the hotel’s concierge, had made at Il Villaggio Osteria, an Italian restaurant, which is a short walking distance away – but we didn’t want to get drenched. We decided instead to order from the hotel’s excellent bar-restaurant. The bar-manager even packed us some extra-large bagels with cream-cheese for our early morning safari. There was only one anxiety: “Would the torrential weather abate so that we might have the nicest time in the safari?” Nurin appeared to be unperturbed and even had the energy to use the hotel’s wonderful gym facilities. She decided to run on the treadmill.

Jackson’s Town Square Park – the four entrances are framed by elk-antler arches as shown above. The Town Square is the picturesque centerpiece of the heart of Jackson – everything from a meeting place to shopping destination to relaxation spot. Photo: Nurin Merchant. Copyright.

Robbie Schneider, the reservations manager at the Lodge had upgraded us to a two double-bed studio suite for the price of an alpine studio suite with a roll-out bed. This he did well before we even left Ottawa. Matt had at our request reserved us on a four-hour safari with the Jackson Wild Life Safaris for the following morning, July 20th. Readers may appreciate how excited we felt when Robbie included the following note in his email to us confirming our hotel reservation:

“We are anticipating some of the best weather of the year next week during your stay so you picked an ideal time to visit. Wildlife has been particularly active this year. I went on a wildlife safari a few weeks ago and saw a grizzly with her two cubs. Also saw two grizzlies stake out a herd of elk. It’s like National Geographic on your doorstep!”

The concern about the weather was put to rest when we woke up very early to bright and warm sunshine. We thought the morning would be cool and had come prepared with light coats and sweaters, but they were unnecessary. The Safari SUV, a grey GMC Yukon, with Kyle as our guide arrived at 7am. Kyle was friendly and we immediately formed a good rapport. He provided us with our own binoculars. He was also carrying a brand new telescope spotter, a great choice for safari excursions such as this one.

The spacious and comfortable GM Yukon Safari SUV. Photo: Malik Merchant. Copyright.

We set off at around 7:15 am and entered the Grand Teton National Park, paying the seven-day $25.00 vehicle fee which was also valid for Yellowstone. Kyle was warm to our enthusiasm and love for nature, and was eager to show some animals to us straightaway. He wanted the safari to start with a bang.

One of Grand Teton National Park's entrances. Photo: Malik Merchant. Copyright.

The beaver and moose ponds on Moose-Wilson Road would be our first stops. Kyle had spotted the animals on his previous day’s safari excursion. We did not see the animals on this occasion, as was Kyle’s hope, but we were not going to get disappointed that quickly. I recollected my first trip to Lake Manyara National Park with a bunch of teachers and students in the mid 1960’s when we had travelled to Arusha, Tanzania, for a nationwide Ginan/Waez competition. We didn’t see much wildlife then.

Nurin and Kyle, our safari guide, with the Tetons as the backdrop. Mountain peaks from left to right – South Teton (12,514 feet), Middle Teton (12,804) and Grand Teton (13,775, highest), Mt. Owen (12,928) and Teewinot (12,325). Photo: Malik Merchant. Copyright.

We were soon on the main 89 Highway, where we stopped to gaze at the mighty and majestic Tetons. Then, Kyle made a right onto a gravel road and took us past an Elk Ranch. Our first encounter with wildlife was here. We passed large bisons and elks and photographed them from close ranges. At one point, the bisons began running, and Kyle strongly sensed this might be due to a pack of wolves behind them. We waited for several minutes for the wolf pack to appear, but we were out of luck with the wolves. Once we exited the gravel road, we were on 89 again. The Grand Teton scenery changed with every yard the van covered. We then made a left turn at Moran Junction to enter the Park once again. We were now heading in the direction of Jackson Lake Lodge.

First animal on the safari and a bison’s penetrating, yet gentle, stare as we drove by it on the gravel road at the Elk Ranch, Grand Teton. Photo: Nurin Merchant. Copyright.

The Grand Teton Mountain Range in background with a pair of bison walking close to our Safari van. At the turn of the last century, the wild bison’s numbers had dwindled to about two dozen animals. The thousands of bisons in the Yellowstone region today are descendants of those survivors. Photo: Nurin Merchant. Copyright.

The mighty bull eating grass. Photo: Nurin Merchant. Copyright.

…joined by its partner.  Photo: Nurin Merchant. Copyright.

At Willow Flats, we ran into a major traffic flow problem. A grizzly, known as 610, and her 3 cubs were by the road. Nurin’s video started rolling. The Park rangers were notified about the traffic situation and showed up at the scene within minutes, demanding that motorists move on and that those who were out of their cars should be at a safe distance – 100 yards – from the grizzlies. Some of the younger rangers, perhaps new to the Park scene, appeared to impose their authority more than the more experienced Park rangers. Chris, among the senior staff, was calm and composed as he directed the excited visitors very professionally.

The mother grizzly, known as 610, near Willow Flats, Grand Teton National Park. Photo: Nurin Merchant. Copyright.

Kyle then took us to other areas where bears had been sighted. They were around judging by the number of cars that had been parked near the Jackson Dam but we did not see any. Next, we stopped at the historic Jackson Lake Lodge for some refreshments and fantastic views of the Teton range as well as to view animals and birds at both close and distant ranges. The telescopic spotter is a fine instrument indeed.

A collection of colourful stones on the banks of Snake River by the Jackson Lake Dam in Grand Teton National Park. Photo: Nurin Merchant. Copyright.

The stunning Teton Range as seen from the interior of Jackson Lake Lodge. Photo: Nurin Merchant. Copyright.

Jackson Lake Lodge’s backyard – wonderful areas to relax and view some incredible mountain scenery and the animals both nearby and at a distance . Photo: Nurin Merchant. Copyright.

The total domination of the rugged Tetons as seen from the compounds of Jackson Lake Lodge. Elks are seen at some distance from the lodge. Photo: Malik Merchant. Copyright.

But the thrill of the Safari was yet to materialize.  We proceeded to a pond near Pilgrim Creek where we saw the most distinguished animal of all – the moose. Its sighting thrilled us more than seeing the bears! The moose’s antlers brushing against the leaves, and its long snout gave it a great and distinguished presence. What a majestic and beautiful animal!

The beautiful antlers of the bull moose. We saw the animal during our morning safari with Kyle near Pilgrim Creek, not far from the Jackson Lake Lodge. Photo: Nurin Merchant. Copyright.

The moose then emerges from the bush. It is the largest member of the deer family. The animal has a long snout, bulbous nose and a dewlap under the throat that distinguishes it from other animals at the Grand Teton. Photo: Nurin Merchant. Copyright.

The safari with Kyle was scheduled to finish by 11 am but he showed no rush to return, and spent another extra hour. Finally, after a delightful and unforgettable venture into the Tetons he dropped us at our hotel but not before stopping at the ‘moose pond’ where we had passed earlier in the day. A male moose was now standing in the pond. We took some photos, knowing that we would return to the pond later by ourselves. We had an excellent and flavourful spicy lunch at the Teton Thai and as much as we wanted to take the highly recommended aerial tram to the of Rendezvous Mountain, we decided to forgo it in favour of our ‘own’ afternoon adventure to see the wildlife again. When we returned to the ‘moose pond’, the male had bequeathed his territory to a female moose. We got out of the car and made to it as close as possible to the pond, before a ranger arrived and asked us to return to safer grounds.

We saw this moose at the ‘moose pond’ on Moose-Wilson Road, on our return journey to the hotel. We would once again pass the same pond after our lunch at a Thai restaurant in Teton Village. Photo: Nurin Merchant. Copyright.

Within a short while, the male moose had left the ‘moose pond’ bequeathing its territory to a female moose. Photo: Nurin Merchant. Copyright.

We snapped one more photo at close range before a ranger arrived at the scene and asked us to move further away. Photo: Nurin Merchant. Copyright.

Then we traced our steps back to the second pond near Pilgrim Creek and past the Jackson Lake Lodge where we had seen the moose with Kyle. This time, to get there, we took the Teton Park Road. The Teton Mountain Range was at our left and we soaked in some marvellous scenery and were quite astonished to see well-constructed bike paths.

When we arrived at the pond, the traffic was very heavy and we knew there was some activity. We avoided the crowd and parked at a deserted service road nearby, and walked about 50 metres to the edge of the pond. One moose was crossing the lake at the far end. How wonderful it might be to see the second cross as well. From where we were stationed, we were literally talking to the moose – “head this way to us, head this way to us.” Our loud whispers were effective. Ears or instincts sharp, the moose was listening to our pleas and we remembered a quote of Prince Hussain Aga Khan who loves nature and is an avid photographer of animals:

“I encourage everyone to travel and visit the forest, for they are amazing…there will be fewer and fewer in the future. That’s what I say to myself when I take every photograph…In my photographs, I let the animals and trees speak for themselves and hope other people will see the beauty I see.”

The majestic moose at the pond near Pilgrim Creek listens to our call and starts moving in our direction as we venture into the safari on our own. Photo: Nurin Merchant. Copyright.

As it approached us, Nurin became alarmed. The moose then made a ninety degree turn to cross over. Photo: Nurin Merchant. Copyright.

The moose takes a brief break to savour some water and to give us more photo opportunity. Photo: Nurin Merchant. Copyright.

A magnificent view of the Tetons with the moose in the foreground making its away to the other end. Photo: Nurin Merchant. Copyright.

The moose has crossed the pond but not before giving us a great thrill as it crossed the pond very close from us. Photo: Nurin Merchant. Copyright.

We were trying to live upto Prince Hussain’s words of wisdom and his advice. We had come to the forest. We were by ourselves with the animals, the trees, the forest and the mountains around us. The marvellous animal – the moose – was indeed listening. He then responded and spoke to us in his own unique way. He started moving in our direction. Nurin was startled and became alarmed as the moose drew closer. She wanted to head back to the car, and I restrained her from doing so. I told her she was quite capable, if it became necessary, to make a sprint run to the car – her 50 metre dash would be as fast as Usain Bolt’s and I could do likewise, I assured her! I asked her to stay put and capture the moose on her video. She complied and the risk – if I could call it that – paid off. The moose came close – not to alarm me in any way – and then turned 90 degrees and crossed the pond to join his mate. That was simply incredible. After we left the scene we ventured further into the forest until we reached a dead-end. Nurin recognized bear footprints. It felt scary but there was some company around – a family from Europe who marvelled at seeing a marmot perched on a large trunk by the roadside. So did we, and spent some time with the ground-hog.

A marmot – the lone occupier of a large felled trunk. Grand Teton National Park. It was as exciting to see the little animals as the larger ones. Photo: Nurin Merchant. Copyright.

We stopped at several points on the ubiquitous Snake River, and saw a mother eagerly waiting for her daughter who was kayaking on the river. She soon came around and we were thrilled to see a kayak in the middle of a forest and in such a wonderful setting. Her adventure had commenced at the dam nearby.

What a thrill to see a girl kayaking in a wilderness setting. Her mother was waiting for her daughter to emerge from a bend on the Snake River. The girl had set off for her kayaking trip at the nearby Jackson Lake Dam. Photo: Malik Merchant. Copyright.

The ‘two’ Grand Teton Safaris were over. Yellowstone awaited us. Nurin had absolutely no idea about Yellowstone, and perhaps wondered why I had settled on this particular vacation with the question: ‘Why Yellowstone’? We followed the John D. Rockefeller Memorial Parkway to the South entrance of Yellowstone, with the magnificent Tetons and the Snake River by our side.

Just a stone throw’s away, we pass the Teton Range during our drive to Yellowstone. Photo: Nurin Merchant. Copyright.

We saw hikers and cyclists all along. These scenes of people enjoying the park so openly truly justifies the slogan “FOR THE BENEFIT AND ENJOYMENT OF THE PEOPLE” which appears on the Roosevelt Arch at Yellowstone’s Gardiner North entrance. This simple yet powerful message stands for all parks and is for everyone who loves nature and wildlife.

Date article posted: Tuesday, August 23, 2011.

Copyright: Simerg.com

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Please also see: Collection: Prince Hussain Aga Khan’s “Animal Voyage” Embraces the Living World

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Nurin and Malik pictured at the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone – story to follow. Photo: Simerg. Copyright.

About the authors: Abdulmalik (Malik) Merchant is publisher and editor of this blog. He consults in the Information Technology field as a systems analyst/technical architect in Canada’s capital region, Ottawa.

Nurin, his daughter, completed her high school International Baccalaureate program at the Colonel By Secondary School in Ottawa, and then proceeded to the University of Guelph where she is pursuing an Honours Degree in science with a special focus on Animal Biology.

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5 thoughts on “Our Incredible ‘Yellowstone’ Holiday: Part II – Wild Life Safari at Grand Teton National Park

  1. Wonderful! Fantastic.
    You are a born writer and ‘take’ us with you on your holiday. Fantastic photos by Nurin and descriptions.

  2. Excellent blog post! As a Jackson-native, this is a really great summary of everything there is to do and see, including the incredible wildlife that can be viewed in both Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks!

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