At 7:30 am we grabbed our breakfast sandwiches and loaded aboard a bus that took us to Jackson, WY. In past years we have taken a whirlwhind tour of Yellowstone Nat’l Park. This year, we opted for the closer Tetons and the advantages of smaller crowds and access to experts.
Everyone seems to have a story in Idaho … often having to do with almost meeting an untimely end in the vast wilderness. Our driver told us of how he canoed across the Snake on the trail of some elk and got turned over in a backcurrent. He managed to swim ashore and he had phone service. A chopper rescued him from hypothermia.
We met our tour guides for the day in Jackson, Grand Tetons Science Center. Two kind young ladies dressed in park-ranger attire showed us our two buses and equipped us each with a pair of binoculars. They showed us how to stand up through the massive sunroofs to view animals from the roadside. Before we were even out of the parking lot, they began demonstrating expertise about and genuine enthusiasm for the Tetons.
We started seeing small pronghorns, which they tell us can run 60 mph (but rarely have to). Then was a mountain goat, unfortunately not a native species. At a sweeping view we looked at wildflowers, eagle nests, and some roaming mule deer. One mule deer stopped to urinate in a stream. The guide Sarah told us that habit is to keep predators from tracking it.
And the mountains are everywhere around us. They are too big to feel “in,” as opposed to the mountains of North Carolina or our hills in Birmingham. The vivid angles of the peaks and the brush plains in between distort distance. Even our guide hasn’t been to the most severe peaks. She pointed us to a relatively unimpressive mound and says it’s a moderate 3 day hike up it. We saw countless bison in the distance as we rode.
Our second major stop was a beaver dam, abandoned years ago. We learned the significance of beaver dams, mainly to protect rather than to gather fish (beaver don’t eat fish). They also make important habitats for animals who like to gather fish … and animals who like to gather those animals. Multiple generations of beavers will live in the same home.
We then met up with a park ranger who was a bear specialist. Her job is to make sure that humans and bears stay safe around each other. She explained the rarity of a bear attack; in fact, there are no incidences of bears attacking 3 or more hikers! She then unveiled two bear pelts, one brown and one grizzly. They were the same color. Among other things, she explained the way to tell the difference between the two. The quickest indicator is the hump on the back of the Grizzly, but colors can vary. The best way to avoid a bear attack: keep food contained; make noise; walk in groups of 3; every other hiker needs bear spray. Then we learned how to use an inert can of bear spray. Afterwards, the kids were given badges and the title of “junior bear safety rangers.”
After lunch–too much lunch–we went out for a hike in what began as a riparian ecosystem and progressed into an alpine one. This means it was very flat and near water, and it got steeper with more hardwoods. Along the hike, our guide showed us different animal droppings and even gave us some idea of what time of year they were produced. We learned about the volcanic forces that shaped the entire region around Yellowstone, as well as the extreme seasons. Following the hike, we left the park to make it back to the Lodge for dinner.
I should mention that there’s been a television crew with us the entire time. Our friends from Anglers and Appetites have joined us again, intermittently interviewing campers, catching the big catches on camera from roaming float boats, and also just being one of the gang. One of our campers even took some special time to eat early breakfasts with them. We gathered for dinner outside for a special food segment. Chef Bob cooked pork chops rubbed in tea leaves with homemade macaroni and cheese and English peas. We finished with a decadent chocolate tart.
We said goodbye to the crew and welcomed another peer mentor for a devotional. She discussed the necessity of taking risks to trust others, as it must often be given before it is earned.
To close the night, we completed a new scavenger hunt-esque activity, “The Hunt for the Most Interesting Campers.” This exercise was introduced on fly-fishing Olympics day: each camper drew the name of one adult and one peer to interview. They were tasked with asking a series of questions to gather the most interesting information, as would later be voted on by everyone. To perform well, the interviewer had to ask meaningful follow-ups and take a genuine interest in the subject. Bizarre questions, funny stories, and idiosyncratic gems emerged.
The activity went well, unexpectedly calling on each camper to deliver their data publicly. Some questions and answers were sincere, and many were silly, but all the same, we learned to appreciate the diversity of experience among us.
Time for bed; we are thirty minutes over.