Alex Travels California – Week 6

Alex Travels California – Week 6
Jason Nockels

Written by Jason Nockels

Grand Tetons to Yellowstone (Eclipse & Camping)

It’s 6am. The sun was just rising behind the hills and slowly casting it’s rays across Jackson Hole and the Grand Tetons towering above the landscape. It was a stunning sunrise and could have been like any other except for today. Today is the 21st August 2017 when the moon will cover the sun and produce a total solar eclipse. And we were right in the middle of the narrow band, where you get the best view of it. It was still four hours until the beginning of the eclipse which would last nearly two hours. There were definitely more people on this camp site than it was supposed to hold, but many have left to join another viewing spot up the hill. We decided to stay.
A couple from Minnesota drove up right behind us and started to set up their camera for this once in a lifetime event. “We found out about this place just an hour ago and drove here from Jackson,” one of them said as we all prepared to watch the eclipse. It was now 10am, a National Forest Service volunteer went around handing out free eclipse glasses and making sure everyone is comfortable and safe.
It was now 10:37am. “Look! The moon is starting to cover parts of the sun!” someone yelled and everyone followed suit by putting on their glasses and staring at the sun above.
It was now 11:04. “It works!” I said with a big smile on my face as we watched a shadow projection of the sun on a piece of white paper. “Yeah I can see it very clearly now. The moon is already halfway through the sun!”
It was now 11:34. The sunlight progressively lost its strength, whilst the air became colder by the minute. It felt like someone put a dimmer on the sun and slowly turned it towards the off position. Then it went so quickly: the entire landscape turned dark, like a sunset sped up a hundred times. The Grand Tetons were now barely visible. A beautiful twilight covered the horizon and up above us the sun was now fully covered. Only the glowing corona gave away some light. The stars and Venus appeared in the now dark sky. The only sounds you could hear were by humans howling like wolves or cheering on the event. It was a mind-blowing experience, and a humbling one at that.
The darkness lifted and slowly returned the sunlight as the scenery returned to normal. The most striking phenomenon was the shimmering of the light on the ground. It looked like some sort of heat obstructed it and was casting rippled shadows.
“And the first ones are gone!” Jarno pointed at a family who were packing up and headed out of the area. “Let’s wait a while until the traffic has calmed down before we go!” Meidan added.
The road was definitely not meant for RVs but we managed to find a camping spot. A sign said that it was full but we managed to negotiate with the people there to squeeze in as we didn’t need anything more than a spot to park the RV. Three hours later we were all gathered around the camp fire after sharing a meal together and talking about politics. “We will be gone tomorrow morning,” Kevin said. “It was amazing to meet you guys!”

Yellowstone

The general mood between all three of us wasn’t great. Sharing a tight space and traveling non-stop for many days had taken its toll and everyone was easily annoyed. But we managed by doing things separately and having time to ourselves. I did my own little morning hike close to our campsite, whilst Meidan went on his own and Jarno slept in.
 
We regrouped closer to lunchtime to leave for Yellowstone. A big queue had already formed when we crept closer the the park entrance. “Oh no, it’s going to be crowded!” One of us said. “It can’t be that bad!” I said whilst watching more cars piling up behind us.

Our first day at Yellowstone pretty much involved squeezing through hordes of people or trying to find parking spots in a sea of cars, everywhere we went. But after seeing Old Faithful and other geysers, we managed to find quieter spots in the north of the park on the second day and a wonderful hike along the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.

Finding camping spots was also next to impossible so we opted to leave the park at night first on the west exit and then the north exit for a free spot to park our RV overnight. Three days was pretty much enough for us to see most of the park before we headed back south to the Grand Tetons.

Taggart Lake Sunrise

After three days in Yellowstone we finally headed back to Grand Tetons. Yellowstone was a beautiful National Park, but also very much a busy one. You could feel that the Eclipse crowd has died down after three days and we were looking forward to properly exploring what the Grand Tetons had to offer.
It was night-time when we arrived at our free campsite, Meidan having driven most of the way here. He suggested that we wake up early the next day to start hiking, to which I suggested that we could do even earlier. “What time do you think?” He asked me. “I think if we wake up at 5:30 I could just about catch the sunrise at Taggart lake.”Let’s do it!” He said enthusiastically.
I am blessed with a very precise body clock, which means that I don’t really need an alarm to wake me up. I was already up at 5:15 and started getting ready by packing my camera gear. I looked over to Meidan, who was still fast asleep and debated when it would be best to wake him. At 5:25 I decided it was time and made some more noise, which did the trick. “Good morning!” I said to the still half asleep Meidan, but it didn’t take him long to get up and drive us to the trailhead.
It was still pretty much dark outside, the stars still visible. However a little shimmer of blue was visible at the horizon facing east, where the sun was slowly about to rise. I felt slightly tense as the twilight was getting brighter any minute and I didn’t want to miss the sunrise, after going through all the trouble.
“Turn left here,” I said to Meidan, who folllowed suit and pulled up on the half empty trailhead parking lot. There were a handful of cars parked here, most likely of hikers who overnighted on the mountain. Meidan proceeded to make a sandwich. “I think I’ll head off now,” I told him. “I really need to make sure I catch the sunrise in time.” “Go ahead!” He said. “I’ll follow.”
The stars had now vanished from the sky to be replaced by white clouds. The sky was dark blue and got progressively brighter if you looked east. Some clouds already caught the sun’s rays, glowing brightly golden and orange.
The moment I saw the lake I was awestruck by the scenery before me. The lake was perfectly calm, reflecting everything around it like a perfect mirror. You could see every little stone, tree and most strikingly the peaks of the Grand Tetons reflected within it. A thin layer of mist still lingered above the water, slowly dissipating as the warm rays gradually illuminated more of the lake. It was a wonderful thing to witness all by myself, when I realised that Meidan had also made it up here.
“It’s great isn’t it?” I said to him. “One of the most beautiful things I have seen in my life!” He replied with his stern middle eastern accent. Feeling tired I made my way back to the RV and spent the rest of the day sleeping.

The Great Grand Teton hike

“It doesn’t look that far!” Jarno’s words would come to haunt him as we hiked up to Delta Lake halfway up the Grand Teton.
Meidan had just done the same hike the day before and throughly recommended it for us to do as well. “It’s a bit tough at the end where you need to do some climbing, but you’ll manage.”
The first part of the trail brought us up to Taggart Lake, where I took my sunrise photos the day before. Jarno was taken in by the beautiful lake and decided to have a smoke on a rock at the edge of the lake. The moment he was about to light his cigarette, a deep voice echoed across the lake: “No smoking!” “I think it’s the photographer there.” He said pointing back at a group of people behind us. “No smoking then!” He packed away his cigarettes.
It wasn’t even 2 minutes after we sat down when a lady, who seemed to be the assistant of the photographer approached us: “Would you mind moving? Some people want to take a photo over there.” Pointing at the same group behind us. “Sure!” We said and moved on. “I think he has never heard of the healing brush tool before!” I turned to Jarno, who looked annoyed as ever for being told off not once but twice.
Our hike continued past Bradley Lake after which the incline picked up. “Let’s take it slow!” I said to Jarno. “We still have a lot of time!” One hour later we were still halfway up the mountain, and I was definitely exhausted. “Let’s take another break,” I said, out of breath, as I collapsed on the next wooden log around the bend. “I’ll be waiting at the next junction, before we have to turn off.” Jarno looked at me and continued further up the trail.
“Is that it?” I turned to Jarno as we looked down a well trodden but definitely unofficial path leading off the main one. “There are people over there, so I guess its the way.” If the path before was difficult, this one was definitely expert level. The trail slowly disappeared into a sea of rocks, where you could barely make out where you had to go. “There is another stone tower,” Jarno called me over. Meidan had mentioned that hikers had put up these little stone markers to guide others up the path, so we diligently followed them.
The hike now turned into a bit of rock climbing. I only managed to climb up by taking a 5min break after each 5min climb. The last mile quickly became the most exhausting part of the trail, but I was determined to get up to the lake, especially because we were so close. The map showed us that it is only 200 meters away, but looking up it looked like an eternity away.
Bit by bit I slowly made it up and with the last energy I could muster, I turned the corner and there it was: a turquoise blue glacier lake, shimmering in the afternoon sunlight. It was surrounded by the majestic peaks of the Tetons, towering above the lake. There were a handful of people relaxing on the big borders lining it’s shore, soaking up the sunshine and fresh mountain breeze. It was a wonderful feeling having made it up here, especially after going through the ordeal before. “It’s fantastic!” I turned to Jarno, who smiled back at me. “It definitely is!

Goodbye at Salt Lake City

We made it back safe and sound to the trailhead and were now driving to the Jenny lake visitor centre to pick up Meidan, who was already waiting for us at the parking lot. “How was the hike?” He asked us. “Exhausting!” both me and Jarno replied at the same time. “But one of the best things I ever did.” I added quickly after.
The next morning we were already packing up and driving south towards Salt Lake City. The Grand Tetons were slowly receding behind us as we drove south past Jackson. “I will miss this place!” I mumbled quietly whilst looking at the reflection of the mountains in the side mirror.
The drive to Salt Lake City brought us past all the towns we had crossed on our way here before. A small lunch break at Bear Lake was in order, before we continued down the 89. “Let’s stop at the next shopping mall.” I suggested, because I wanted to find a better SIM card to replace mine from MetroPCS. “Sorry we don’t allow Hotspots on our prepaid plans.” The salesperson apologized. “No worries.” I said before Meidan and me left the store. Even though MetroPCS had by far the best deal on their unlimited data plans, their coverage has been awful at best, but it seems I didn’t have any other choice as the salesperson at T-Mobile gave me the same answer as the girl from AT&T.
Out of luck we continued straight to downtown Salt Lake City for some grocery shopping at our favorite place: Walmart. “Seems like we can’t camp here!” Jarno told us after speaking to the security desk. “Let’s go to the train station!” I suggested, where we would have to drop off Meidan later in the evening anyway.
It was a short goodbye. We had just finished dinner and Meidan was walking off towards the Amtrak station across the road. “It was a pleasure to have you with us!” I said to him. “Thanks for the opportunity!” He said. And like that it was now only the two of us left in the RV…