Nine Days in Wyoming

By on October 7, 2015

 

The Wild West Crew, all from Lititz and Manheim Township, consisted of (left to right) Kerry Nye, Jim Verga, Doug Carpenter, Drew Hassara, and Mike Shull

The Wild West Crew, all from Lititz and Manheim Township, consisted of (left to right) Kerry Nye, Jim Verga, Doug Carpenter, Drew Hassara, and Mike Shull

 

We are five local guys, ages 50-65, who continue to hold on dearly to the “outing” part of our Boy Scouting backgrounds. Every other year our goal is to backpack/tent camp for 8 to 10 days somewhere spectacular in the western half of the United States. To date these destinations include Yosemite (twice), Grand Canyon-North Rim, Zion NP, and Bryce Canyon NP.

Along the way, we have picked up a few trail-induced bruises and dealt with a few of Mother Nature’s rumbles. Mother Nature, after all, has a way of whipping up a Wild West maelstrom when you least expect it. We have learned to trust each other implicitly and keep five sets of eyes scanning for more than just beautiful terrain.

Back country bottom line: Be mindful of the dangers, enjoy the perks!

Our pre-planned and long anticipated 2015 adventure began in late August when the wheels of the SkyWest commercial jet touched the runway in Salt Lake City, Utah. With all of our backpacks and carry-ons crammed nicely into the back of our spacious Chevy Suburban LTZ rental vehicle by noontime, our GPS had us on a 275-mile northeasterly course toward Wyoming’s Bridger Wilderness. With all of our food pre-packed in bear proof canisters, we made one stop primarily to buy canisters of bear pepper spray and fuel. Bear spray, $45-60 dollars per canister, is a must in Rocky Mountain bear country.

A Yellowstone bison steps into the Madison River to dissuade visitors from encroaching into his territory.

A Yellowstone bison steps into the Madison River to dissuade visitors from encroaching into his territory.

By the end of day one, we backpacked the six miles from the Big Sandy Trailhead (9100 feet) to our campsite destination at Big Sandy Lake (9700 feet). We woke up on the morning of day two to a bit of frost on the edges of our tents. Without a doubt the temperature at this elevation was in the lower 30s. Packing our cold weather sleeping bags for this trip proved to be a wise move. The sparkling morning weather on day two also provided our crew with an opportunity to tackle a rocky trail hike to Cirque de Towers (10,600 feet). Although this route through rock strewn areas above the tree line is not considered technically difficult, our route-finding skills were not up to the task. A safe return to base camp was in order and we all enjoyed a glorious sunset and prepared for a second chilly night in our sleeping sacks.

The Oxbow Bend in the Snake River reflects the beauty of the Teton peaks that stand guard in the background.

The Oxbow Bend in the Snake River reflects the beauty of the
Teton peaks that stand guard in the background.

Day three opened with a hike back to the Big Sandy Trailhead and a departure for Signal Mountain Campground near Jackson Lake in Grand Teton National Park. This 200-mile segment of the journey took longer than we expected as the grandeur of the Teton peaks became more captivating. Every stop along the way brought on another adjective to add to the growing list of scenic terms. As the day waned, we transitioned from backpackers to tourist tent campers. Away went our stout hiking boots and out came our rugged day hiking sneakers. Delicious smelling foods were now stored in a steel campsite bear box. And yes, finally, heated showers!

Day four put us on a tight early morning schedule. By 6 a.m., we were on the road to photograph the iconic Mormon Row barns as the sun peeked over the distant horizon. The rusty glow on these restored wooden structures, originally built in the early 1900s by T. A. Moulton and his brother John Moulton, draw a small army of photographers nearly every day during good weather.

One of the iconic Mormon Row barns, at sunrise

One of the iconic Mormon Row barns, at sunrise

The position of the mountains, the barns, and the sunrise location in the east presented a perfect east-west tennis court setting. I looked over my shoulder to see the continual brightening of dawn and then quickly looked forward to see if the sunrise glow was increasing on the tops of the Teton peaks. My neck took a beating from this continual series of 180 degree owl-like rotations. A small price to pay considering the circumstances. Speaking of circumstances, a local badger living near the John Moulton barn provided us with fair notice that we were encroaching on his ground.

This photo of Grand Prismatic Spring was taken after a treacherous climb up the ridge behind Yel - lowstone’s Midway Geyser Basin. It is the largest and most colorful of the national park’s hot springs. Grand Prismatic is 200 feet in diameter with an average water temperature of 160 degrees F

This photo of Grand Prismatic Spring was taken after a treacherous climb up the ridge behind Yellowstone’s Midway Geyser Basin. It is the largest and most colorful of the national park’s hot springs. Grand Prismatic is 200 feet in diameter with an average water temperature of 160 degrees F

The majority of Day four, however, was spent hiking numerous trails on the far side of Jenny Lake. These somewhat strenuous trails provided spectacular views of a waterfall and the lake from the lower side of the Tetons. A return trip on the Jenny Lake Ferry was a welcomed addition after a perspiring trek up to Inspiration Point. We nicknamed it Perspiration Point for the obvious reason.

Day five opened with a repeat visit to the T. A. Moulton barn. With only a few sunrise photos taken of this barn on the previous day, we returned to capture it under cloudy conditions. The clouds provided a whole new 3-D dimension to the images. What a treat on the last morning in Grand Teton NP!

We added a stop at the iconic Oxbow Bend along the Snake River before leaving the park. With clouds and Teton peaks gracing the water’s reflections, our crew shared the first of many speechless moments. Onward we went to Old Faithful Geyser and Madison Campground in Yellowstone National Park.

A local badger living near the John Moulton barn provided us with fair notice that we were encroaching on his ground

A local badger living near the John Moulton barn provided us with fair notice that we were encroaching on his ground

Days six, seven, and the first half of day eight were spent exploring what arguably is the most scenic and diverse national park in the lower 48 states. In my humble opinion, no photograph laden book of less than 100 pages could adequately cover what we saw in our short stay in Yellowstone. New geysers and steam vents are constantly changing the lay of the land. The magma deep below Yellowstone is continually speaking to us on a daily basis.

So, by telling you less I am telling you more. Should you be of a mind to take the advice of a 65 year-old, here’s the Shull Don’t Miss List for Yellowstone:

  • Mammoth Hot Springs
  • Fountain Paint Point
  • Norris Geyser Basin
  • Midway Geyser Basin (home of the incredibly colorful Grand Prismatic ‘hot’ Spring)
  • Canyon (home of the Yellowstone River Upper and Lower Falls)
  • Lamar Valley (home of numerous herds of bison, antelope, and a wolf pack)
  • The magnificent wild animals/birds wherever you see them from a safe distance

Finally, get there while you have the legs and stamina to enjoy this natural treasure.

Mike Shull is a freelance photographer and correspondent for the Lititz Record Express. He welcomes your questions and comments at mshull@ptd.net.

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