By Hartt Wixom
Don’t Rush Past on Your Way to Yellowstone
To those not familiar with the West, Wyoming’s Grand Teton Mountains stand as a spectacular pillar of splendor. You can’t pass by them (say, on the way to Yellowstone National Park) without gaping in awe. They rise straight out of the valley floor north of Jackson to 13,766 feet above sea level.
Ironically, as grand as they are (three peaks each rising a little higher) they are not highest in the Cowboy State. Gannet Peak in the Wind River Mountains soars a trifle higher at 13,785 feet elevation. But Gannett and for that matter, few other pinnacles in the United States, are as impressive.
Named by French beaver trappers in the early 1800s (who else would place this name on a map?) for female breasts. The appellation has stuck to this day.
I’ve fished in Jackson Lake below the Tetons several times and hiked to Taggart, Phelps and many other alpine waters in the region. But always, coming and going, one is apt to turn and take another glimpse of those towering peaks. The first time I entered Jackson Hole was on a fishing trip where my older mentor warned me the lofty spires were often shrouded in clouds. They were not this time. They were there in all their glory. But but on another trip to the region, I saw what I’d been warned. Even the foothills were not to be seen.
One time canoeing on Jackson Lake, three of us were casting to arm-long lake trout but catching big chubs. We found poor fishing on the nearby lakes but did catch a few 20-inch lakers. Scenery was beautiful at Jenny Lake and Cottonwood Creek outlet but fishing poor. Some of the alpine lakes are low in feed, biologists tell us. I did succeed in enticing some 16-inch Mackinaw (lake trout) from canoe in String Lake but few in connecting waters.
Jackson Hole has always meant wildlife. When I writing Elk and Elk Hunting, I relied on two national wapiti refuges. I took many pictures in the Dog Creek area because it was heavily timbered and natural looking. On the large federal feeding grounds, I found many bulls fighting with one another even outside of September mating season. It seems the males just liked to be constantly testing their vigor and strength. Take binoculars and camera.
On half a dozen visits to the National Elk Refuge, I found several bulls running off coyotes. But introduction of timber wolves to the scene has changed things drastically. Local retired guide Gap Puche tells me management is often chaotic because even if the wolves are not gnawing on an elk bone, they chase them away from the crucial feed they need. “It makes management difficult,” admitted one man tossing out hay. Incidentally, it doesn’t take much to make these elk stampede. “Stay on the wagon,” the ranger cautioned. “If you were to step one foot off this wagon, these thousands of animals would be in the trees.”
The Hole was once a stronghold of moose. I recall seeing a cow and calf moose twice dining on shrubs on the library premises in downtown Jackson. They are not seen as often today in the area due to a mysterious disease wildlife officials are trying to track down. Moose are on the decline throughout Wyoming I’m told. Mule deer can be found in abundance along Gro Ventre Creek up to the headwater lakes. Incidentally, I horse-trekked all day into a Crystal Creek camp owned by Puche and gathered many photos for my elk book there. A few choice ones: how Gap ties in wapiti quarters on a pack horse without any panniers “the way Jim Bridger does it.”
There many back roads throughout Grand Teton National Park and I have driven many of them looking for moose. And photo opportunities: old barns along scattered ponds and ox bows of the Snake River. A good starting point for such explorations is Moose, park headquarters. I remember some eastern dignitaries also startled here to have black bears running alongside the car.
One can find many camping opportunities in and around Moose. Also, several sites in the nearby national forest. I don’t like the clutter and expense of Jackson itself. If staying in a motel, I’d drive over to Teton Village. The ski lift there is worth riding. Incidentally, one March day when I was sent to Jackson to cover a regional ski tournament, I noted how steep the run appeared above town and soon, some competitors from the Central Ski Assn. (Kansas) noticed also. They withdrew.
If you desire to climb in the Grand Tetons, contact the park service at PO Drawer 170, Moose, Wyo., 83012. Over the years I have read of deaths on the attempt to scale the topmost pinnacle. Don’t try it without a experienced guide.
Plan to spend several days at least beneath the awe-inspiring Grand Teton Mountains. Get out and hike with binoculars and camera. A tip on capturing wildlife on film. They may be in a national park but these animals (unlike other national parks) are hunted during season. Be ready to shoot and then, don’t delay. If given a chance to stalk, advance at oblique rather than direct angle. And shoot the Tetons while the sun in on them. It may not last long.f