Grand Tetons

After a few days in Yellowstone, we headed south to the Grand Tetons. The summer crowds were really starting to pick-up, but we found a few reasonably quiet places. We hiked up to Taggart and Bradley Lakes, which were both beautiful alpine lakes nestled up against the Teton peaks. We took some time to wade around in the cold mountain water, and just take in the scenery.

The next day, we were up a little earlier to beat the crowds to the trail systems around Jenny Lake, one of the hot spots in the park. We hiked around the lake to Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point. Lara and I had seen both of these spots 12 years ago when we first came to the park, and wanted to show the boys.

I continued my early morning photography hunt, again plagiarizing some of the most common photos from the park. I started with the Moulton Barn, also know as the most photographed barn in the world. I also made my best attempt to replicate Ansel Adams’ photograph of the Tetons with the Snake River flowing through the foreground. Next time, maybe I’ll come up with some original ideas!

Yellowstone

We had to adjust our summer vacation plans due to the travel restrictions around the pandemic. Like many others, we decided to visit some national parks. First on the list was Yellowstone. We figured this was a good age to bring the boys to this American icon.

We spent 4 days and nights in the park, splitting our time between the Canyon Village and the Lake Cottages. Both areas were nice, if somewhat simple, cabins. Each with their own attractions within walking distance.

Our first day, we went to Old Faithful. As we approached the basin, we could tell from the size of the crowd that had gathered (what is social distancing anyway?) that the geyser was ready to erupt. We made our way around the edge of the crowd, pausing several times when it seemed an eruption was starting. Finally, we decided to hike up the overlook trail for a view from above. Naturally, as soon as we rounded the corner out of site, the geyser blew.

After hiking up to the overlook, the skies opened up and poured down rain. Despite our rain gear, we were soaked. We decided to hike around the basin to dry off a bit once the rain cleared. When we made it about half way down the trail, we could see Old Faithful gushing again in the distance.

The eruption of honeybee’s nest seemed to trigger a response from Old Faithful.

We hiked around the hot springs and geysers in the area, finally drying off. Just as we made it back up to the Old Faithful basin, we finally saw it erupt from close range. All it took was a full afternoon walking around the place to see it.

The next day we drove up to Mammoth to tour the hot springs and meet up with some friends of ours to explore the Lamar Valley to the north. It was a beautiful day. We spent some time exploring along the river, and saw a black bear foraging in a meadow on the drive back home.

On Tuesday we rode our bikes to the Osprey Falls trailhead, which led down a steep canyon to a secluded water fall. It was very tiring, but a wonderful visit to a much more quiet part of the park.

I fell into a habit of getting up to catch sunrises in various parts of the park. Alex even volunteered to wake up with me to hike down to an overlook of the Lower Yellowstone Falls. We got up at 5:00 to walk out into a wall of fog. We tried going down the trail, but couldn’t see more than 6 feet in front of our faces. I thought that would sour Alex on the experience, but he asked to wake up the next day to try again. We ended up with some nice sunrise pictures of the falls.

Alex and I had to bag our planned morning hike do to the thick fog

We also had several wildlife encounters in the park, including black bears, grizzlies, coyotes, elk, and of course the bison. We even saw some wolves in the distance. On my only other trip to Yellowstone, I had written it off as primarily a collection of the bizarre thermal features. This time around we discovered that it is so much more. It’s very much worth the time and effort. We’ll be back!

Camping on French Creek

We had another nice weather weekend, so we decided to drive up along the Georgia Pass road in search of a dispersed camp site. We needed our off-road ability again, as all of the sites near the road were taken by 2:00 on Friday. Luckily, we were up to the challenge!

We found a nice site down a steep path leading to French Creek, about a mile off of the road. It was secluded, and had just enough views of the surrounding mountains. Unfortunately a fire ban had been put in place so we were not able to observe most of the car camping traditions (no s’mores), but we still had a great weekend.

On Saturday we hiked up the trail towards French Pass. About 3 miles in, Evan declared that he was going no further. Try as we might to coax him along, he simply wasn’t budging. So we called it a day and hiked back to the trailhead. All in all, it was a nice location that is easy to reach from the Denver metro. I’m sure we’ll try this one again.

Clear Creek Boondock

With a warm three day weekend ahead of us, it was finally time to head out into the mountains for a camping weekend. I hiked up the Clear Creek Four-Wheel Drive road to the Lake Anne trail last summer. Along the way I saw a lot of potential car camping sites within the national forest, if we only had a vehicle that could handle the trail. With our new car, we finally had the opportunity.

It is still May, so the fear of potentially sub-freezing nights drove us to limit the stay to one night. Still, the prospect of getting out of town and spending a couple of days in the mountains seemed worth the effort.

When we bought our car, a lot of people asked why we wanted the air suspension and off-road package. After all, who would be crazy enough to take an SUV like this “off road”. We’re certainly far from extreme off-roaders, but a road like this is precisely the reason we wanted the extra capability. The video below is a sample of what the 4 miles up and down looked like.

We were not the only family looking to get away during the COVID constraints. The forest was busy – as busy as I’ve ever seen. But, thanks to the ability to get past where the typical family truckster could venture, we ended up at a reasonably secluded spot with fantastic views.

We camped in a meadow near the edge of Clear Creek. Not much for tree cover, but it provided excellent visibility to what we hoped would be some fine star gazing. The Milky Way core becomes visible late at night, with the rim of the galaxy almost 90 degrees overhead in the late spring months of the northern hemisphere. We set an alarm for a 3am wake-up call, and the entire family jumped at the opportunity. I’m not a skilled astrophotographer, but hopefully the picture below conveys the incredible view.

On Saturday we hiked part of the Mt. Huron trail. The family was split on whether to attempt to summit the 14,000 peak. By the time we broke treeline, our decision was made for us. We say the storm clouds rolling in, and heard the thunder rumbling through the valley below. Time for a quick descent back to camp.

This wasn’t exactly the most extreme mountain adventure, but I think it bodes well for the summer of 2020. We’re looking forward to several more excursions before the snow flies again!

A story about building a family