Maybe it’s because I grew up near freshwater lakes, or maybe it’s because I don’t have great personal hygiene or something, but I didn’t shower after jumping in Jackson Lake.
I felt rejuvenated, refreshed, and wholly cleansed after the tough hike through Death Canyon and chilly glacier-water swim. I drove the hour south back to Jackson so Sam could enjoy the mountainscape for once. We blasted Local Natives and I let the air whipping in through the windows dry my hair. My mind and heart wandered to a peaceful, calming place.
Reality sunk in as we pulled into Jackson around dinner time. With the total solar eclipse less than 40 hours away, there was a noticeable uptick in traffic around the park. When we finally made it back to our hotel, we set off to buy a few more groceries to get us through the next couple days.
We weren’t sure what food supplies would look like as we headed west, into rural Idaho, for the eclipse. Surely there were hundreds—if not thousands—more people occupying this part of the country than normal. Would we even be able to find food at grocery stores or would they be bare?
We cooked up some quick tacos in the hotel room. (Since we don’t own a microwave, it always feels like a weird 1950s luxury when we get to use one.) After dinner, we tried to stay awake long enough to plan our next day.
There were two plans we considered for our last day in this region and we hadn’t made up our minds. Here were the options:
- Drive north to Yellowstone and spend half a day in the most popular National Park in the country. Neither of us has been to Yellowstone so it would be cool to cross it off our list and experience this place. The downside to this plan was that it was nearly two hours out of our way to drive so far north (we were sleeping three hours west-southwest of Jackson tomorrow). We also weren’t sure if spending only a few hours in such a vast place like Yellowstone actually did the park any justice, or if we’d be selling it short by basically treating it like a drive-thru attraction.
- Wake up early and cram as much as possible into a few hours at Grand Teton National Park. We were positively entranced by this park and could easily spend more time exploring its trails. Plus, it required less driving and put us closer to our evening destination in Idaho. True, we wouldn’t check Yellowstone off our list, but hiking Grand Teton for one more day did not feel like a consultation prize at all.
We read about Yellowstone while packing up, weighing our options. In the end, we determined that Yellowstone deserved to be its own trip so we could appreciate it to the fullest extent. Hiking in Grand Teton was the way to go.
While we were at the hotel and had access to wifi, we revised our camping plans in Moab. It was supposed to be 98 degrees while we were there and only drop down to the high 70s for sleeping. I don’t camp with bears, and Sam doesn’t camp in hot weather. To keep us both happy, we booked an Airbnb in Moab. It was the second change to our sleeping accommodations despite only being four days into our 14-day trip. Spoiler alert: it wasn’t our last change.
We woke up at 5 a.m. and loaded up the car. The plan was to hit Antelope Flats way before sunrise and capture the expanding light instead of arriving after the sun was up. Even though we arrived almost an hour earlier than yesterday, there were so many more people. The eclipse crowds were real, and they were here in full force. Sam and I agreed that we’d made the right decision to leave Grand Teton before it got really crazy. Of course, at that time, we really didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into at our next accommodations. More on that later.
As we watched the sunrise and let our phones collect time-lapse videos, we chatted with some of the photographers around us. We discussed the crowds, photography, our lives back home, what brought us here, how we’d explored the park so far. It’s always so cool hearing other people’s stories. In the hour and a half that we talked with a few fellow sunrise chasers, I was proud of us for taking the time to visit this part of the country and hear these stories.
The sun came up, more people arrived to photograph the barn, and Sam and I were starving. We said goodbye to our new photographer friends and headed towards Taggart Lake. It was supposed to be an easy, flat stroll to Taggart and Bradley Lakes, with the option to hike up towards Garnet Canyon if we felt so inclined to go further.
We’d spent 15-20 minutes talking to another hiker on Death Canyon, and he said the hike to Amphitheater Lake was his favorite one in the park. This route was the way to get to there (even though we wouldn’t be able to make the 15-mile round trip). Our bodies were sore and fatigued after strenuous hiking the last three days in high altitude, so we figured sticking to flatter ground and a shorter hike was best.
We covered ground quickly and made it to Taggart Lake without any difficulties. The view was awesome, as was the clear reflection of the Teton range on the calm water.
After getting our fill of the landscape, we headed up and over some hills to Bradley Lake. It wasn’t as accessible as Taggart Lake, but still a sight to behold. We were feeling good, so we went around Bradley Lake and continued up the trail towards the canyon. On the far side of the lake, it was much easier to get on the lakeshore and take it all in.
If you do this hike, don’t stop at the trail fork that directs you back towards the parking lot. Continue on for another half mile or so and catch the views at the north side of the lake, just past the bridge. So worth it!
From there, the trail started ascending. Fast. We hauled our way slowly up the steep, rocky route and dodging massive piles of horse droppings. (That’s one way to tell it was a steep climb: all the horses decided to start pooping in the exact same spot!) I think we went on for another half hour or so before stopping for some water in the shade. Sam calculated how long it would take to make our way back down. If we were going to make it into Idaho at a decent time with the other eclipse visitors, we figured we should start heading back.
The first part of the trail was already flooded with tourists when we approached the trailhead again. To our surprise, the half-empty parking lot we’d departed from earlier in the day was filled with cars and spilled out onto the road. As far as we could see in both directions, vehicles and RV campers lined both sides of the street near the parking lot. Yeah, eclipse hype was REAL.
Even though it was one of our shorter, less grueling hikes, it was a great finale for our trip to Grand Teton. The mountains towered over us in all their glory for our entire hike, and because it was a flatter route, we could talk about the things we had seen and what this National Park meant to us without gasping for air.
I know I will always carry this place in my heart. Even with grizzlies wandering around (more so in my mind than in reality), Grand Teton is one of the wildest, breathtaking, and astounding places I’ve ever seen. Sometimes when I travel, it’s sad knowing I’ll never return to a particular place. There are so many places I want to see, it’s unlikely I’ll make it back to places I really enjoyed.
With Grand Teton National Park, it was easier leaving because I know that we will most certainly return someday.