Monday, September 25, 2017

Idaho Falls and Heading South to Downata Hot Springs

We enjoyed a five night stay in the Juniper Campground at Ririe Reservoir. It's a comfortable 20 mile drive to Idaho Falls, and we enjoyed this little city. True to its name, there are falls right downtown.

There's also a paved walkway that goes for miles along the Snake River that flows through town. We would have surely ridden our bikes along this trail, but the weather was rainy and cold while we were visiting.

That kind of weather is a good opportunity to take care of business. Denisa is showing up in all the pictures today, because she just got a new haircut at a salon in Idaho Falls. It's her least favorite part of full-timing in an RV. She loves new hikes and new towns and new parks, but it is scary to face a new set of scissors for a haircut. She's sitting on one of the park benches by the river. Built by a variety of local artists, each has its own theme and style. But they are all interesting additions to downtown.

There is also a new Japanese garden along the Snake River. The pagoda style roof was painstakingly built to proper oriental architecture standards.

We also visited the giant eagle statue at the center of a round-about near the river. Denisa wanted to stop traffic to stand beside the sculpture just to provide a sense of scale to how big it was. But Mark does have limits to what he can allow. Let's just say that these are massive eagles, and we didn't cause any traffic jams taking this picture.

We even braved the cold to visit "A Taste of Downtown." It featured trendy restaurants offering samples of their food for purchase to pedestrians downtown. It was hard to eat cheesy potato skins and quinoa chili while wearing gloves, but we found a way.

On another (but equally chilly) trip to Idaho Falls, we stopped in at the Farmer's Market. We have visited markets all over the country, and this was one of Denisa's favorites. She bought plums, concord grapes, cucumbers, peaches, summer squash, corn, green beans, tomatoes, apples, cherry pie, and zucchini. We eat lots of fresh produce, and it's fun to buy it from the people that grow it. It's also nice when it's a good value. The local farmers are picking at a frenzied pace, knowing that freezing temperatures are upon us.

Mark's favorite part of the farmer's market was this pet wolf. We searched for wolves in Yellowstone, but this will be our only wolf photo. Raised from a 3-week-old pup, this full-blooded wolf is now 12 years old.

Another fun activity for cold and rainy weather is playing the piano. We stopped in at this music store when Denisa announced she needed some new music. Mark was bored, so he was taking pictures while she tried out some new books. The picture makes it look like there are two Denisas. Lucky for Mark, there is only one, but the rehearsal hall area had mirrors everywhere.

After days of wearing coats and gloves, we're ready to head further south. A 1.5-hour drive south finds us at a deserted campground at Downata Hot Springs. Even though this is a busy setting for vacationers and family reunions in the summer, the staff is breathing a sigh of relief that the crowds are gone now. We were the only RV in the campground when we arrived.

We took a walk to explore our new surroundings. From the hill above us, we can see the mountains to our east.

We are right in the middle of farm country, with a field of hay bales on one side, and a corral of calves on another.

The main draw to Downata is the hot springs and the pool complex that makes use of those warm waters. Busy on a daily basis during the summer, the pools are open only in the evening and early morning this time of the year. Denisa took advantage of the senior citizen water aerobics class that starts at 8 a.m. She didn't have a camera with her to picture the steam rolling off the warm water on a 40-degree morning. These tough seniors meet three mornings each week all year long. During the cold Idaho winters that means there will be frost in their hair by the end of the class.

Just two miles down the road is Red Rock Pass. It's hard to capture the size of this mountain fin, but the full-size electrical poles can barely be seen close to its base.

We climbed the steps to the top of a memorial to a Mormon settler that became a military hero. We normally think of Utah as Mormon country, but we see that many of the early members of the Church of Latter Day Saints settled in this part of Idaho as well.

This was a quiet and relaxing two-day stop at another campground that honors the Passport America discount. But with more cold weather in the forecast, we're continuing our faster-than-usual trek south to warmer temperatures.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Perfect Day in Teton National Park

We had planned to camp inside Teton National Park. But the colder weather convinced us to stay at a lower elevation, and just make a day trip to get a taste of the Tetons. We checked the weather forecast, and made the hour's drive to the national park on the perfect weather day.

We are enjoying blue skies today, but we see evidence of the recent snow as we start up Teton Pass. At the summit of the pass, we see that yesterday's snow-fall is still resting on the branches of the trees and bushes. This is the reason we are heading south. It looks like winter has arrived in the Tetons!

Where irrigation systems were running this morning, the grass and fences were decorated in ice. We include these pictures to prove how cold it was this morning, and to cool off our Oklahoma friends who are still enjoying temperatures in the 90's.

As we headed down into the valley past the summit, we literally drove into a cloud. The entire valley was filled with heavy fog. Now we worried that our perfect views of the mountains would be shrouded in clouds.

But we shouldn't have worried. After a stop at the visitor's center, we found that the fog had lifted, and we got some of our first views of these beautiful mountains.

We might as well apologize right now for including too many pictures of the signature mountains of this well-known range. Taking center stage in the picture below is Grand Teton, surrounded by her craggly-peaked sister mountains.

Besides being distracted from the beautiful mountain views, we are actually hunting for moose. We are driving on the eastern section of the road that loops through the national park. We stopped into the Grose Ventre campground where we had planned to camp.

Denisa was focused on the big bull moose, and almost missed the cow moose laying in the grass close to us. We took way too many pictures of the big bull, standing guard over the three moose cows that were in the woods close by.

The cow near us stood up, and we got a close-up look of her long-legged profile.

Then she started grazing on the tender shoots of the saplings around us. We watched as she stripped entire branches. These moose need to fill up quickly, as more snow is on the way.

We moved to a new location, to get a better view of the bull. He must be worn out from standing up to pose for pictures, because he's  now resting in the grass. Occasionally he raises his head and opens his mouth, but we can't hear any sound coming from him.

We'd like to take credit for finding this little herd of moose. But it was pretty obvious that there was wildlife when we saw the large group of vehicles and the cameras with zoom lenses when we pulled into this loop of the campground. We heard whispers of "magnificent creature" and "amazing rack" from the other by-standers. We would have to agree.

Sorry for all the moose pictures, but we took about 100 shots before we finally left the campground. One of our priorities was finding a moose, and we accomplished that early on this perfect day.

The Teton Valley was home to a thriving Mormon community in the late 1800's, and some of the buildings are still standing. This old barn makes a classic foreground for the mountain views from this valley.

We followed the advice of the volunteer at the visitor center, who suggested we make a stop at the Cunningham cabin. Built in the 1880's, this log home is still standing for visitors to get a glimpse of Wyoming life in the late 1800's.

It was a tough pioneer life weathering the cold winters in the mountains. But the views from the porch were some of the best in the world.

As we skirted the northern edge of the driving loop, we came to views of the Snake River. That's Mount Moran in the background of the winding river.

We stopped in at the Jackson Lake Lodge. There are several places for visitors to spend the night inside the park, but this is the grandest. The lobby has its signature 60-foot-tall windows that bring the views indoors on cold days.

We had read that Teton National Park is a beautiful place to be in the fall. We saw that some of the trees are turning shades of autumn even in September.

It's 2:15 as we drive the western side of the loop, and our clear blue skies are gone. After becoming accustomed to the long drives within Yellowstone National Park, we can see that Teton is much smaller and easier to visit in one day.

We happily discover that we have time for a hike during our short visit. We are close to the trail head of one of the park's most popular hikes--Cascade Canyon. Parking is limited, so we start at String Lake.

We have been enjoying mountain wildflowers since the spring. These tall stems once held rows of vibrant purple blooms. As the summer came to an end, so did the blooms. Today those same stalks are filled with the cottony seed pods, planting purple flowers for next spring.

We have now hiked to Jenny Lake, where another pair of hikers offered to take our picture. We are standing in the section of the park that burned in 1999, so we are surrounded by the charred trunks that are still standing. We have the lake beside us, and our hiking destination in the mountains behind us. There is a boat shuttle that runs the length of Jenny Lake. The boat ride can save a hiker several miles in steps, but will cost a generous price in money.

It also costs in flexibility. We met hundreds of hikers hurrying out of the mountains to make it back to the lake for the last boat of the day at 4:00. We'd hate to hurry past views like this.

It's almost 4:00 now, and we are enjoying the rocky tops of the Tetons around us. We have obviously wandered into another of God's wonders this afternoon!

They say you can predict how cold the winter will be from the caterpillars. We're predicting very pretty weather based on the stylish colors and flashy appearance of the caterpillar that crossed the trail in front of us.

We are on the Cascade Canyon trail, that winds between two of the jagged mountains we have been admiring from afar all day. It's certainly fun to be hiking between them now.

We like to strike up conversations with hikers we meet. We had gotten more than one report about a mother bear and her cub near the trail ahead of us. We hoped that we would arrive before they left. We were blessed with this view of the mountain and the stream, and you can also see two dark dots in the lower left corner.

Those dots were the two bears that we had heard about, grazing on the tall grass close to the water.

It was a perfect opportunity to watch them from a safe distance. They were out in the open, with a stream between us. Denisa is clicking away at the two bears in the tall green grass.

The mother was the classic black bear color, and she was enjoying mouth-fulls of the bright green river grass.

We knew that black bears can be several different colors, and her cinnamon cub was proof of that. 

There was a crowd of hikers enjoying the close views of this pair. We found out that earlier many people had watched as the bears were taking a nap close to the forest. They had just recently awoke and came to the water's edge to graze, so our timing was great.

We got to watch them up close for about five minutes. Then a jet flew over, and the rumble from the engine echoed through the canyon. It startled the pair, and we got to see how fast bears can move as they scampered across the logs away from us.

They stopped on a log to look around and re-assess the situation. There was also a moose in the valley with them, and they were watching her as well.

That moose wasn't afraid of the jet engine noise. She was now wading through the stream where we had first seen the bears.

We got more pictures of the two bears together, and we were hoping they would return to the stream.

But instead, they headed further away into the forest.

They kept watching the moose, though they didn't seem to be aware of the hikers in the distance. This perked-ear silhouette is the classic way to differentiate a black bear from a grizzly.

The mother and cub finally settled on a log in the forest. They were so far away now that most hikers headed on down the trail. But we were certainly glad we didn't have to leave in a hurry to catch a shuttle boat ride!

With the bears further away, the moose has now taken center stage as she wanders closer to the trail.

She stops to enjoy the same patch of lush grass where we first saw the bears.

She was so close that we could see the water drip from her muzzle as she drank from the stream.

Then someone in our group noticed movement in the trees, and we realized the mother and cub had climbed one of the tall trees on the edge of the forest. It was hard to get a picture, as we could barely see the mother bear in her perch 30 feet up in the tree.

With the bears hard to see, we got our last picture of the moose as she moved on down the creek. It looked like the wildlife show was over, so we prepared to hike back to the car.

We had been hanging out in this beautiful canyon for almost an hour. We were blessed with the beauty of the mountains and the wildlife on this perfect day.

We have a four-mile hike back to the car, and this isn't a fast hike with all the mountain scenery around us. You can barely see Denisa in the bottom right hand corner of the picture below, in awe of the wonders around her.

We were also enjoying the autumn colors, as the smaller plants on the mountains are turning red.

That's when we caught up with five other hikers. They were at a complete stop because of a moose in front of them.

It seems the moose from the stream had moved up to the trail. It's an easier walk down the trail than through the thick forest. She was nibbling and strolling, obviously in no hurry to get out of the hikers' way. After ten minutes, she veered off the trail, and we were on our way again.

Denisa has dawned her jacket and gloves, as the cooler temperatures of evening are upon us. We didn't take many pictures on the return hike. But the sun sinking lower in the sky was lighting up the surrounding mountain faces and we couldn't refuse this shot.

As we hiked closer to the car, we took this picture of those jagged mountain tops of the Tetons. We knew that taking this 8-mile hike would mean driving home over the Teton Pass in the dark. But at that moment it certainly seemed worth it.

As we drove out of the park at 7:00, we got this picture of the famous silhouette of the Grand Tetons against the evening sky.

In the fading light at the edge of the national park, we watched as a big bull elk corralled his large herd of females for the night. It was too dark for a good picture, but it was another perfect memory of a perfect day wandering God's wonders in Teton National Park.

While we were enjoying the beauty of the Tetons, our youngest son was proposing to the girl he's been dating for three years. Claire said "yes," so we'll be adding another daughter to our family in 2018. We talked to both of them this evening, ending this perfect day perfectly.