Friday, 31 August 2012

Day Two in the Tetons

Our second day, or first full day if you want me to be precise, in the Grand Tetons dawned sunny but windy. We had slept well in our cosy log cabin bedroom and wandered sleepily out onto the private veranda to sample the day. I confess I was very slightly disappointed not to see moose grazing the Wildflower Inn’s lovely lawns in the early sunshine, but I guess you can’t have everything.
No Moose on the lawn!
Over a truly wonderful breakfast of fluffy egg soufflĂ©, cheese, bacon, juice and coffee, we discussed what we might do that day. Our original plan had been to spend the morning exploring, and then go for a trail-ride at the Mill Iron Ranch. However, the ranch had called the day before to ask whether we could transfer our ride to the next day, due to booking numbers. We didn’t mind at all, but it did leave us with no real plan for this first full day. On speaking to our fellow guests, however, we learned that they had been on a wildlife watching trip the evening before run by the Teton Science School, a non-profit making organization. They had seen lots of fascinating creatures, including a grizzly bear and her cubs! I was stunned, and we immediately decided to try to book one of these trips for that very day.

We were in luck – they had a couple of places spare. I could barely contain my excitement but had to, as the trip wouldn’t leave until 5.30 pm. So we spent the day looking round the Rockefeller center in the National Park, and had a very pleasant walk up to Phelps Lake. There we met two of our fellow guests from the Wildflower Inn. On the way back, we took plenty of photographs of the lovely native flowers, and also some of the pretty butterflies that flitted around our heads.
Phelps Lake.
Then we drove over to Jenny Lake, intending to do another walk, but the weather had turned showery. Instead, we bought sandwiches and ate them in the car, and then strolled around the parts of the lake that were nearest the parking lot. One of the things that most impressed us about this entire National Parks trip was its value for money. In the UK, you would have to pay for every single parking lot you pulled in to. And many other things besides. Also, the prices of virtually everything inside the park or attraction would be inflated, and your pocket would take a battering. We had expected it to be the same in the US, but we were very pleasantly surprised. For a one-off fee of $25 (hardly a break-the-bank sum) we purchased a pass for the car, regardless of how many occupants it had, which covered both the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone, and which lasted for seven days. Provided we kept this in the car and showed it to the ranger each time we wanted to re-enter the Park, that was all we would pay regarding Park fees. It was excellent value. We were also very pleased to discover that the Park’s attractions had not been over-commercialized. Buildings were at a minimum, and most of them blended well into their surroundings. Road construction, too, had been minimalized, and in Yellowstone we learned that there were no more roads now than there had been when it first received National Park status. Good for you, US! Other countries could learn a valuable lesson from the way these National Parks are managed.
Ok – soap-box moment over.
On our way back to the Wildflower Inn to rest and change before our evening outing, we took the road where our fellow Inn guests had reported seeing the grizzly bear mother and cubs the day before. Of course, I knew they wouldn’t still be there – why would they? – but it would be good to see what kind of terrain they favored. You can imagine my surprise and delight when we rounded the corner and saw the huge “bear jam” that had formed along the road – the grizzles were still there! We had heard about bear jams from the proprietors of the Wildflower Inn, apparently they were the best way to find the bigger forms of wildlife, as they were the ones everyone wanted to see. Also, bears can be dangerous animals, and so Park rangers are always in attendance whenever bears are spotted close to roads. They are there to protect the bears from people, as much as people from the bears.

We didn’t get a clear view of the grizzly family, they were concealed among the sage brush, but we were told there was a mother bear and either two or three largish cubs. But it was still a thrill for me – I had never expected I’d ever get to see wild grizzly bears so close up! We finally returned to the Inn full of our news and even more excited to see what we would find with the help of an experienced guide.
Pronghorn deer.

Our guide pitched up just before 5.30, and we bundled into her vehicle. I wish I could remember her name, but I can’t. She was extremely pleasant, quite young, around 21 or so, and was a student at the Teton Science School.  She certainly knew her stuff, and was a mine of interesting information. I was surprised to find that Dave and I were her only clients that evening, but she told us that there were two other Teton Science vehicles out that night, and they were both full, so we got the benefit of her knowledge and commentary – plus hot chocolate! – all to ourselves. She headed out toward the ranger station, and there we discovered that we hadn’t thought to bring our Park pass with us. Naively, we had expected that the cost of the trip would include entry to the Park, but it didn’t. We paid for a second pass, but had it refunded the next day when we showed our original one. (Another thing that probably wouldn’t happen in the UK!)

I will cut what could be a long story short. We had a fantastic trip with our guide and saw bison with young ones (wild this time, not farmed!), beaver, osprey, pronghorn deer, a herd of female elk with young, and two more grizzly bears. These bears, we were told, were adolescents that shouldn’t really be away from their mother. The rangers were keeping an eye on them to check that they were finding enough to eat.

Bull moose.
All this was wonderful, but there was one more special thing that happened. Our guide spotted a big bull moose just on the opposite bank of a river. There was a high patch of ground close by and we pulled off the road to get a good view. Our guide had several pairs of binoculars and we could all stand watching the placidly chewing beast together. Our guide called the other Science School vehicles on the walky-talky they all carried, and soon they arrived to share our success. Then our guide noticed a second moose, further away across another bend in the river. This, she thought, was a female. We could just see her through a gap in the trees. But while Dave and our guide turned their attention back to the big male, I continued watching the female. Suddenly, seen only by me, a glorious Bald Eagle flew in front of the female moose and landed by the river. This creature was high on my wish-list of things to see, and I was thrilled. But by the time I’d let the others know, the wretched bird had disappeared. How annoying! Even more annoying was the joky way my husband looked at me, as if to say “You saw a Bald Eagle? Yeah – of course you did!”
But I was finally vindicated when Dave, trying for a better view of the female moose, shifted his stance slightly. A different view of the river opened up and there, sititng proudly on a dead tree, was my handsome Bald Eagle! And this time, the contents of both full tour buses saw it. It even flew across our field of vision a few minutes later, giving everyone a fine view. What a fantastic end to a wonderful evening’s wildlife watching!

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