It’s been eleven years since our last visit to Grand Teton National Park, and we looked forward to driving through again while we were relatively nearby. Although the crowds and traffic tend to keep us away from the national parks we’ve already visited (we skipped Yellowstone this time), our early arrival kept the crowds away until the early afternoon when we were leaving.
Our last visit was in the springtime when the range was covered in snow, and we really enjoyed the new perspective this summer journey gave us.
We thought of adding a hike to our tour, but the 60-mile drive from our campground at Thayne put us past our usual start time. Instead, we drove the scenic route counter-clockwise to experience the legendary beauty in a half-day visit. The spectacular Teton Range with snow-capped spires thrust toward the sky is a beauty to behold from every angle!
At the top of Lunch Tree Hill was a plaque commemorating John D. Rockefeller Jr., who created a controversy when he purchased “the entire Jackson Hole Valley” under a different business name in 1933. His intent was to donate the land to the National Park Service to bolster the acreage of Grand Teton National Park. While Rockefeller’s connection to the project was revealed during a hearing, the Grand Teton National Park vision was eventually realized in 1950 with the expansion of the park to include Jackson Hole. The term “Hole” was used early on by fur trappers to describe high altitude plateaus surrounded by mountains.
Pausing at each overlook along the scenic route, the striking magnificent views and wildlife did not disappoint:
We drove out to Colter Bay, where Grand Teton seemed to float on Jackson Lake:
By 1pm we couldn’t find a parking spot at Jenny Lake. I jumped out of the car and snapped a picture of the Cathedral Group Towers above the lake:
During our first visit in 2007, Grand Teton was shrouded in clouds. This time the weather was perfect to see the whole range on grandiose display. Except for the very popular Jenny Lake at the end of our drive, the summer crowds weren’t too bad.
On our way home we passed through the crowded and very touristy western town of Jackson. I captured one of the four dense elkhorn antler arches guarding the corners of Town Square. I preferred these over the larger one in Afton, Wyoming.
At first, I was scared to think how many elk had been killed to gather the thousands of antlers! But then I learned they simply fall off naturally from animals who grow new sets every year. Each of these arches is a mosaic of 10,000 to 12,000 pounds of antlers and replaced every 30 to 40 years.
Fort Bridger State Historic Site
We left Thayne the following day and drove 152 miles south to Fort Bridger, our last stop in Wyoming. Right next door to our campground was the Fort Bridger Historic Site where we learned that Jim Bridger and his partner, Louis Vasquez, established Fort Bridger to service emigrant traffic in 1842.
One of the plaques advised that Jim Bridger, the discoverer of Great Salt Lake, was a notable pioneer, trapper, fur trader, scout and guide. He’s been called America’s greatest frontiersman, so it’s no wonder a national forest has been named after him.
The historic site maintains and interprets historic structures and remnants from its 5 eras of occupation, including Jim Bridgers trading outpost, mormons, military, milkbarn/motel, and now a museum.
Little did we know that the area where we camped – now known as Bridger Valley – served as a crossroads for the Oregon/California Trail, the Mormon Trail, the Pony Express Route, the Transcontinental Railroad and the Lincoln Highway. We enjoyed the quiet campground, relaxing and learning some history at the same time.
Both of our stops in Wyoming, Thayne and Fort Bridger, led us off the beaten path to see a natural phenomenon and an historic site which used to be a major stopping point on the old west trails.