The 3:45 am alarm wasn’t as shocking as I anticipated, since I actually awoke at 3:15 am. Despite my best efforts, I couldn’t fall back asleep, so I lay in bed thinking about the adventure ahead of us.
When we landed in Denver at 7:40 am MDT, the sleep deprivation caught up with me. Hard. I left my library book on the plane and couldn’t process a coherent thought during the train ride into Denver from the airport. Sam was being patient, as always, as we lugged our bags through downtown to get our rental car. I finally begged Sam to hop on the free bus towards the rental car agency, even though we were only five blocks away.
An hour later, we had our car, a table at the Denver Central Market, and caffeine. I only drink coffee a few times a year because caffeine takes a serious toll on my body. Luckily, this was one of those instances when I needed it to take its toll and bring me to life. I chugged my almond milk cappuccino in about three minutes and lost myself in a DELISH breakfast burrito from Izzio bakery. Our friend Hannah recommended the Central Market—and joined us for our meal—and we slowly began to feel more settled and revived.
Denver was filled with errands: pick up a cooler and some chairs from our friend Andrew’s house; go grocery shopping for at least a week’s worth of food in case everything near the eclipse path of totality was out of stock; organize our cooler with said groceries and sort out the other foods; drive to the flagship REI for some last-minute supplies (we had to drag ourselves away before losing ourselves in its outdoorsy glory).
Six hours after landing in Denver (it was already 2 pm MDT), we were on the road and heading north. It wasn’t the scenic route to Wyoming, even though we were told to take the roads through the mountains, but it was far more scenic than driving through Illinois. We were entranced.
This whole bit—leaving Denver the day we arrived—was a change to our itinerary. Two days before our vacation started, we took another look at our plan and realized it left too many possibilities for things to go wrong.
The biggest issue we faced was that there are very few campsites in Grand Teton National Park that can be reserved in advance. It was a huge risk, and hundreds of thousands of other people were taking the same risk: drive to Grand Teton a few days in advance to secure a campsite for the eclipse. Since people can’t camp at the same site for more than seven days, this meant the earliest anyone could arrive was Monday. The park was bound to be packed by Friday, if not before that.
Our first plan had us crashing with Andrew on Wednesday night, picking up a rental car Thursday morning, driving the full eight hours to the National Park in one day, and hoping to grab a campsite Thursday night. The more research we did and the more we weighed this risk, we realized it was cutting it too close. The odds of getting a site at night were slim-to-none. The sites normally fill by noon in the summer even without a national natural phenomenon. We had to shift gears, fast.
So, less than 48 hours before our trip started, we booked a new rental car for Wednesday morning and found a hotel halfway between Denver, CO, and Jackson, WY. Turns out, the halfway point is a little town called Green River, WY. After a long day (18 hours awake and counting) a quick stop at a local Mexican food joint was just what we needed before passing out at the hotel. Since we had five days of camping planned ahead of us, we mutually decided the best choice was to sleep separately so we could each sprawl out on our own queen bed. It was a solid choice given what was ahead for us.
Despite setting the alarm for 5 am, we were both awake at 4:30 am and decided that we may as well get started. Our room included a free breakfast at the 24-hour diner attached to the hotel, so we ordered carry out and took our eggs, hash browns, and pancakes on the road.
It was another three and a half hours to Grand Teton but we felt confident in our early start. We called the NPS Visitors Center (as soon as they opened at 8 a.m.) when we were less than an hour away. Everything in the park was full: the largest campground, at Coulter Bay, was backed up for over two miles. Things weren’t looking good. Limited cell service meant we couldn’t exactly gauge how far out we were from Jackson, and we couldn’t do any research for alternatives.
The city of Jackson was as crowded as we anticipated, congested with massive RVs and fifth-wheel trailers and tiny rental cars packed to the brim. Luckily, we spotted the Bridger-Teton National Forest station and decided to stop. The helpful rangers there helped point us in the direction of some sites we could try and find camping, even if it was all overflow and outside the actual campgrounds. Armed with a bounty of maps and a renewed optimism, we headed back to the car and took off to Grand Teton.
And that’s when our real adventure began.