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Grand Teton Park Grand Mesa

16th June 2010

Moose by Phelps Lake Accompanied by Horrendous Storms

    It rained all night and stopped at 7am. Ah, the sound of rain on the roof of a van, it was like sleeping in a drum. The plan today was to have a hike around Phelps Lake towards the bottom of the Jackson Hole, that would put me in prime position for my trek south. As I headed to the lake, storm clouds were gathering over the Tetons, and I drove through a patch of rain. It cleared up by the time I got there, though I suspected not for long. But, hey, a little rain didn't do anybody any harm.
Phelps Lake
    The temperature was a little cooler after the passing rains, which suited me. I have noted over the last year or so that my performance drops dramatically with temperature. About 15 months earlier, I was walking in the Lake District: Thirlmere to the top of Helvelyn, down Striding Edge to Glenridding, then back over Helvelyn via a different route and drop down to Thirlmere. The distance and height gains were well within my capability, but I suffered dreadfully. It was a hot day, and I couldn't get enough liquids down me. When I reached Glenridding, I went into a coffee shop for coffee and sandwiches, and drank 10 glasses of water! Now I did plan on this trip to walk down to the floor of Grand Canyon and back up via a different route, something I could tackle easily in the UK, but common sense and literature told me to allow a day down and a day up. However, the fact that it would be extremely hot when I got there, and I'd need to carry at least a gallon of water, might make me think again. But there again I do some pretty stupid things at times.
Beautiful Blue Flowers
    The walk started in sunshine, and I met plenty of folk on this popular route. I asked one couple what all those tiny creatures were that scurried about in front of my feet. They were chipmunks, the animals that is, not the couple. Again I came across swarms of beautiful, small, blue butterflies. However, the skies were darkening and there was a constant sound of thunder up in the Tetons. A big storm was imminent. I increased my pace hoping to get back to my van before the rains came. I passed a group of sweet old ladies sauntering along gossiping away as they tend to do. They asked me if I was trying to beat the rain, I replied in the affirmative. "Good luck!", they shouted.
    Half a mile further on the corner of my eye caught sight of something down by the lakeside. I turned to look, and there about 10m in front of me was a moose. It didn't seem to be bothered by my presence, and the creature casually strolled up the bank, across my path, and up into the forest. Once 5m up in the forest, it just stood there and stared. It was a magnificent beast, and I considered myself extremely fortunate at having seen a moose. I wasn't sure it was a moose at the time, but when I showed the photo to an official in the visitor centre at Jackson later in the day, he told me it was a moose, and the antlers had not yet grown. About 100m further on I also came across an adult and baby deer that again were not particularly perturbed by my presence.
Blurry Moose
    I continued my hike with thunder and lightening crashing everywhere. Then, all of a sudden the breeze got up to almost gale force and the light level dropped dramatically. Within moments the rain started, and then the hail. The suddenness of this surprised me. It reminded me of the scene from the Exorcist; the priest walking by the Thames when all of a sudden a storm whipped up from nowhere, and he met a gory death.
    I donned my waterproof top and carried on hiking, but by now the ground was turning white with hail. I whimped out and sheltered by a tree, a stupid thing to do in a thunderstorm I thought. 15 mins. later, along came the old ladies with not a care in the world, and as they passed by, one raised her eyes to the heavens and said, "Welcome to Wyoming". Those old dears put me to shame. I hung on hoping for some respite, but it didn't appear, so I took the plunge and carried on my hike. I had shorts on, and soon my legs were stinging with the cold and wind-chill, but I had no option but to trudge on. I reached the van just as the rain and hail stopped, glad to have some dry clothes to change in to. Despite all the vagaries that the weather has thrown at me over the trip, I had been lucky in not catching a cold, yet.
    I drove down to Jackson to pick up some lithium ion batteries at Radio Shack, and remembered that I hadn't had a square meal for some time, so I popped into a Chinese restaurant near Radio Shack. The entrance was rather unique, a mountain of suitcases, hold alls, backpacks and handbags cluttered the entrance lobby, together with ties and other stuff I'd label as junk for sale. Once that was negotiated I joined the throng of customers into tucking in to the all-you-can-eat buffet, and I tucked in with great gusto. I found it amazing that all this came to $7.50, about �5 in UK speak!
    I anguished over my next course of action. I had just driven about 50 miles, and done a hike, and my next target was Rock Springs 256 miles south. I thought I would be shattered, and I didn't relish a lot of driving in the rain, so I though about stopping off at a campsite 77 miles down the road.
    I set off along a steady 20 mile climb through deep gorges following first the Snake River, then the Hoback River. Whilst making this climb I encountered one of many road works. In both America and Canada, all roadwork signs clearly indicate that fines for speeding or whatever are automatically doubled if incurred within roadwork areas. Good idea. The other noticeable feature is that when a road is being resurfaced, whereas in the UK traffic has to temporally drive on "scraped" surfaces, in both America and Canada I have ended up driving on compressed gravel. This gets bumpy in places, but when it is pouring, it turns into a quagmire. My navy blue van was now khaki coloured.
View West from the Plateau - Exciting
View East from the Plateau - More Exciting, 120 Miles of it
    Eventually I reached a high plateau, with mountains in the distance on either side of me. I came to the junction to reach the campsite, but thought do I really want to reach a site early and spend time cooped up in the van because of rain. I decided no, I would do something useful and carry on in the pouring rain. 70 miles further and the mountains were out of sight, I was driving along an almost level plateau with slight far apart undulations. It could best be described as driving through the North Yorkshire moors, just replacing heather with sagebrush. However, this stretched for the next 120 miles. I could see curtains of rain sweeping the desolate landscape in all directions, and the high winds were buffeting the van. This journey was extremely monotonous. There was only a handful of collections of wooden bungalows along this route, but why anybody would want to live out there beat me. There were herds of cows and horses dotted along the route, so perhaps that was how people made a living. The altitude of the plateau averaged 7,200', so the winters must have been horrific, and the residents would have had to go into semi-hibernation.
    The road eventually started to descend, and the long 20 mile descent took me through a different terrain. Now I was encountering buff coloured low hills, and the surrounding ground was almost desert like. I would have classified it as desert if it hadn't been for the incessant rain. I rolled into Rock Springs, thinking that I had missed the turn off to a campsite. I knew there was one at Green River, 12 miles west. Just to make sure, I called in at a garage and asked the girl cashier, "Excuse me, but do you know if there is a campsite near here?". She gave me a funny luck, so I repeated my question. "No, I don't know of any concert around here", she replied. I explained to her the concept of tents, and then she cottoned on, and just shrugged her shoulders and said no, whilst thinking 'do people really stay in places like that'.
    I took the road off to Green River, and after a couple of miles spotted a camping sign. By now it was almost dark and miserably wet, I just homed in on it. The site was almost completely RVs. I had difficulty explaining to the girl at the desk that I didn't need electricity, and I have my own huge flagon of water, I just wanted space to park my van. She classified my van as a tent and then she was happy. The site was like a beach, all pebbles, with smaller pebbles for those who pitch in the dozen spots allocated for tents. Next to me was a motor cycle with trailer plus tent, and we were the only 'campers'. The rest were gigantic RVs, many with trailers on the back so that 4x4s could be taken for the ride too. How the other half live.
    But I was content, after a wet hike and 300 miles of driving in the pouring rain, I had found refuge for the night. The site had toilets, and that was all I needed. Washroom and showers were a bonus too. It also had WiFi access, hence my typing what you are reading, in a cold van at 11pm. And the huge RVs kept rolling in after their long hauls through the driving rain. Hopefully the sun might shine in the morning.
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Grand Teton Park Grand Mesa

Uploaded from KOA campsite, 86 Foothill Boulevard, Rock Springs WY on 16/06/10 at 23:15

Last updated 19.6.2010