Tag Archives: Yellowstone

July 2015 Bicycle Journey Day 3: Yellowstone’s Grant Village to Jackson, Wyoming


What a difference a day makes!  After the most exhausting bicycling day of my life, day 3 seemed like a breeze.  Everything seemed different, even in subtle ways.  Whereas on day 2 I felt like I had to struggle, even on the flatter portions of the ride, certain segments of this day seemed to breeze by.  It was almost as if there was some kind of invisible force that had been holding me back on the previous day, but now was helping me along.


We left the Grant Village campground having done none of the activities that are typically associated with camping (other than putting up and tearing down a tent).  We did not set up a fire.  We did not cook anything.  We did not even spend a significant amount of time at the campsite other than sleeping. The next morning, we got some breakfast, and headed South, towards Grand Teton National Park.


The day started with a climb, albeit a very small one, and one that event felt easier than a similar sized climb would have felt the previous day.  Only four miles into the ride, we crossed the Continental Divide, and immediately started headed downhill.  The next eight miles flew by as we reached our last major stop in Yellowstone National Park; Lewis Falls.

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I feel like I got a fairly exhaustive tour of Yellowstone’s waterfalls.  And, while I had seen several waterfalls while in Yellowstone, each one was different in characteristics.  Undine Falls, which I saw yesterday, was skinny and tall.  Lewis Falls is much wider, with a smaller drop.  It is shaped much more like Niagara.  At this point in my journey, 12 miles in, I was energized!  I felt almost as if I could have handled anything on that day.  In fact, I am 100% sure that I had more energy at that point in the day than I would have had I been resting over the last several days.  There is just something about getting through a really rough day of riding, and then riding downhill.

Until this trip, most of my riding had consisted of day trips.  Before moving to Colorado, those trips were pretty much about how many miles I traveled, as Illinois is flat.  Since then, I have begun to tackle some climbs.  In each of these rides, there is a similar theme, I go up, and then I go down.  There is a climb, and it is followed by a “reward”, a chance to go fast.  This almost felt like a way more stretched out version of this.  I spent an entire day pretty much climbing.  The previous day was my climb, and this day of primarily descending was my reward.  Therefore, the feeling of guilt that usually passes over me when I descend without having climbed first did not manifest.  The whole time I knew that I had earned this day of rapid riding through the exhaustion I had endured on the prior day.

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By the time we left Yellowstone National Park, we had already descended a significant amount.  That descent was interrupted by the days only climb, in the 6 mile space that separates Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks.  This is a strange place.  Although you are technically in neither National Park, signs posted along the road remind motorists that National Park speed limits and enforcement are still in effect.  Also, there is no official entrance into Grand Teton National Park from the north, at least not along US-89.  It is pretty much assumed that all motorists (and I guess cyclists too) had already paid to get into Yellowstone and do not need to pay again.

After climbing for a little bit, there is a rapid descent towards Lake Jackson, and the heart of the Grand Tetons.


This lake is gigantic, and one of the defining features of the National Park.  And, as one travels farther, into the heart of the Park, one can sometimes get some of the most stunning views of the Tetons from the other side of the lake.

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The Grand Tetons are the most photographed location in Wyoming.  The primary reason they are so photogenic is that this particular mountain range not only has a prominence (how much higher in elevation the peaks are from the area around them) of over 7,000 feet, but there are no foothills to obstruct one’s view of the mountains.

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There really is nothing like experiencing the Tetons, at a nice comfortable pace of 15-20 miles per hour, from the seat of a bicycle, up and down some gentile rolling hills, as the afternoon progresses. As was the case in Yellowstone, I decided not to push myself and hurry through the park.  Only this time, on a day that had been mostly downhill, it felt way more comfortable.  I wasn’t climbing up a major pass, putting my legs through all of that exhaustion.  I was just gliding kinda.

The final part of the trip into Jackson took me on a bike trail, where I encountered the last wildlife of my journey, a coyote.

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In the end, I once again rode over 80 mies on the final day of my journey.  However, the last part of the ride felt quite a bit different for me on day 3 as it had on day 2.  At some point, I came to the realization that on my final day’s ride, it wasn’t the energy I had left in my legs that was limiting the number of miles I felt like I could do, it was other intangibles.  It was how my butt felt about getting back on the seat.  It was how many times my right fingers had been used to shift gears, as well as the amount of weight I had placed on my forearms in general over the course of many hours on the seat.  In this case, I wonder if the strategy of biking a bit faster, but taking more frequent stops to get up and off the seat may be a better strategy for handling these long distance rides.

The last five miles of my ride, on the trail, headed into Jackson were counted off by little markers in the trail; white lines labelled 5.0, 4.5, 4.0 and so on, counting off the distance from Jackson at the end of the trail.  These markers countered down, pretty much, the end of my trip.  So while I was excited to make it all the way into Jackson, and really anxious to take a shower and have a coca-cola, it still felt bittersweet to me, knowing that this bicycle trip that I had been anticipating for so long was quickly coming to an end.

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Two days earlier, at Chico Hot Springs, I had refrained from eating chicken wings, as I was unsure if the choice would negatively impact my bike ride the next day.  Now, with no more bike riding ahead of me, it was time to finally fulfill that craving.  So, after showering and changing, we went to a place called Local, right in downtown Jackson, and, yes, I had my wings.  Oh, and they were amazing.  One thing I learned the first time I attempted bike travel, ten years ago, was that wings always taste better on a bike journey.

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That evening, we stayed at the Anvil Motel downtown, and watched the 4th of July firework show.  As I watched the fireworks light up the night sky, I thought to myself about how I had celebrated our Nation’s independence by traveling through some of the most beautiful places in the country.  I cannot think of a better way to honor The United States of America than that.

The only regret I really had was that the haziness of the day had seriously impacted the images I had taken of the Grand Tetons.  This regret was remedied, as we spent another day in Jackson before headed home, and got to see some more sights, including different images of the Tetons, under different weather conditions, both Sunday and Monday, as well as the iconic images that one encounters in the famous Mormon Row settlement to the east of the National Park.

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By completing this journey, I feel like I have entered a whole new league when it comes to bike riding, and bike travel.  Before this trip, I could only speculate as to what rides I would one day love to take on.  I could only respond to people’s own bicycle travel stories with statements such as “wow, that seems incredible”, or “good job”.  I was not truly belonging to the group.  Now, with this trip behind me, I have finally earned the right to consider myself a bike traveler.  I have earned the right to actually chime in with my own anecdotes, about biking long distances, road conditions, places to go, pannier setup, and all sorts of other topics bicycle tourists typically discuss.  I have reached the pros- sort of.

And, because of this experience, Montana and Wyoming now have a special place in my heart, something that someone born on Long Island, New York would never have expected.  I almost feel like Teddy Roosevelt this weekend, New Yorker in attitude and mannerisms through and through, but lover of the West, lover of America’s beauty and lover of the National Parks.

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As I rode home Monday, July 6th, it suddenly occurred to me how little I missed my regular life.  I think I missed some of the people and some of the socializing.  But I really didn’t miss the kind of stuff that many would assume.  I had yet to watch a single minute of television, and had yet to use the internet for anything other than looking up the weather and writing a blog entry on this site.  I certainly had not looked at the news or anything.  I definitely did not miss either TV or the internet at all.  As of the time of writing this blog, July 9th, my TV total for the month of July still does not exceed one single hour.  And, the odd thing is, I also knew that if I needed to get back on that bike again and ride more distance, I was more than capable of it.  Maybe that is the way I truly know I have reached a whole new level with regards to bicycling.

July 2015 Bicycle Journey Day 2: Chico Hot Springs to Yellowstone’s Grant Villiage


I was 43 miles into a 100 mile bike ride.  I had already climbed over 1,000 feet from my starting location.  I knew I had over 2,000 more vertical feet to climb before I would reach the high point of my day.  The road mercilessly took a turn downhill.  This was vertical height I had already worked hard to climb.  I knew that somewhere down the road, I would once again have to climb this several hundred vertical feet that I was now descending.  I sped up and continued down the road, already exhausted, knowing that I still had more than half my day left to go, both in terms of milage as well as vertical climb.


That was when I found myself going over a bridge, over the Gardner River.  The views in all four directions, including downward were spectacular.  Not only was I viewing all of the scenery in all directions, I was smelling it.  I was feeling the air around me.  It was at this moment that I realized that, despite how exhausted I already was, and despite how agonizing the steep hills I had in front of me were going to be, that all of this was worth it.  The effort of pedaling harder than I had ever pedaled before, and enduring hours of pure pain was worth it to experience what I was experiencing on that day.

Miles 44 and 45 would take forever, as I climbed up and out of the river valley and onto the Blacktail Deer Plateau in the Northern part of Yellowstone National Park.  Knowing that I still had so much painful climbing left to go, once again “This Summer’s Gonna Hurt” by Maroon 5, a song that I had heard many times this year, and, like most Maroon 5 songs, catches in one’s head quite easily, popped into my head as I pondered the pain that I was enduring, as well as the pain that would come.

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That morning, I woke up in Paradise Valley with a strange feeling.  I was half worn out from my first day of cycling, but also felt ready to go.  It is a feeling that people who cycle long distances probably experience quite frequently, but it was a feeling that I had not truly experienced before.  Sure, I had undertaken multi-day tasks before, but never one like this, where in my head I knew I was about to tap into pretty much everything I have, physically, but I also knew that it would make for one of the most exciting days I’ve ever had.


On the way out of Paradise Valley, we encountered the only other cyclist we would encounter that day, an Austrian gentleman headed for the Grand Canyon.  He was traveling fully self-contained, with all of his camping gear attached to his bike, and therefore taking it slower.

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After turning back onto US-89 South towards Gardiner, we entered an area known as Yankee Jim Canyon. It is here where we started to see some rafters.  Over the next few miles, we would wonder who was this “Yankee Jim” that this canyon was named after.

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Unfortunately, even the signage along the highway, the signage that eluded to both history and Yankee Jim, did not tell me anything about who Yankee Jim was.  After the trip, I did a full web search.  Nothing.  I still have no idea who was this man they call Yankee Jim. Maybe if I ever go to a Montana History Museum of some kind I’ll find out, but to this day, it remains a mystery.

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Luckily, several miles up the road, as we approached Gardiner, there was a distraction.  We encountered a place called Devil’s Slide, a uniquely shaped exposed area of red sedimentary rock that appears to lend itself to stupid, and potentially dangerous adolescent ideas.  I am quite thankful that nobody turned it into a cheesy touristy site.  There are enough overpriced alpine slides elsewhere in the West.

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We stopped for Ice Cream just before noon in Gardiner, Montana, and stepped out into much hotter air as we entered Yellowstone National Park.


Back when I lived in Chicago, I never understood why advertisements for Montana tourism would feature images of Yellowstone National Park, which is primarily in Wyoming, with the phrase “Gateway to Yellowstone”.  But, apparently, this was the original entrance to the National Park, and, when the park first opened up, the only way to get in.  This structure right here, that I found myself riding under, was the first entrance ever created to the first National Park established.

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And I knew the climb was coming, the first climb of the day, which would eventually take me past the 45th Parallel, into the State of Wyoming, and up to Mammoth Hot Springs, where I was now roughly 1000 feet higher than Gardiner.

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But, it wasn’t just the climbs that made the ride exhausting.  It was all of the other rolling hills I was not 100% expecting.


There are very few flat parts of Yellowstone National Park, and even the area between Mammoth Hot Springs and Tower Falls, which starts and ends at a similar elevation had many hills of different sizes.  It was around there that I decided that I was in no hurry to get to the campsite.  After all, I was in Yellowstone National Park, and in a part of the park I did not get to see the last time I visited.  I was gonna see some stuff.

After having to climb back up out of the Gardiner River Valley, I took a look at the Undine Falls.


Unfortunately, I did not feel I had the energy to add a mile of hiking (round trip) to my day, and see the Wraith Falls.


But, I stopped several other times to enjoy the scenery along the Blacktail Deer Plateau, and even got a chance to see a blue-billed duck through some bincoulars.

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In the middle of the afternoon, I reached one of Yellowstone’s more breathtaking, but underrated features, Tower Fall.


It was here I took a more lengthy break, as I knew ahead of me I had a climb tougher than any climb I had ever undertaken in my life.  After that exhausting 30 mile stretch from Gardiner, up into the park and then over the plateau and all of the rolling hills, I would climb over 2000 feet, to the highest point of any road in Yellowstone; Dunraven Pass.  But, it was here that I also realized that not only was I more than halfway through my trip overall (63 miles into today with 61 miles behind me yesterday), but I was now at a higher elevation than where I would end the trip (Jackson, Wyoming is at 6200 feet).  In every sense of the phrase, I was more than halfway there.

The climb, 12 miles and almost 2600 feet in elevation gain, took me nearly two hours.  It was exhausting, and intense.  I pretty much had to stop every mile.  Somewhere roughly halfway up the pass, I started to see some beautiful alpine flowers; yellow and purple.


But, signage told me that the presence of these wonderful flowers also signified that I was in Grizzly Bear territory.


So, it should not have been too much of a surprise to me that when I finally got to the top of the pass,  after two long hours of huffing and puffing, I saw my first Grizzly Bear!

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Just as I had realized 31 miles (and almost 3000 feet of net climbing) ago, when I was going over that breathtaking bridge over the Gardner River, all of the riding, all of the sweat, and all of the pain did have its reward.  To be honest, it would have been more than worth all of the physical exertion without even seeing the bear.  But, seriously, there was nothing like encountering this animal, so beautiful, so majestic, yet so dangerous and overwhelming, in the manner in which I did; from my bike, out in the open, yet at the top of a pass, knowing that if I needed to outrun it, I could by pedaling as hard as I could on the next downhill stretch.


By then, after hanging out with the bear for a little while, it was nearly 7 P.M.  I had neither the energy, nor the remaining daylight to take the walk down to Yellowstone’s iconic Lower Falls.  Luckily I saw those last time I was here, so I was glad to have taken the time to see the other waterfalls in the park.

The last real feature I visited that evening was Yellowstone’s Mud Volcano area.

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There I stood, with the water bottle I had filled up something like 6 times that day, and I came to the realization of just how geothermal Yellowstone Park is.  Like many of the geysers in the park, this “mud volcano” smelled like sulfur.  In fact, it smelled kind of yucky.  And, while I had spent most of the day looking at waterfalls, scenic river valleys, and finally those yellow and purple flowers, it is these types of features that make Yellowstone National Park unique.  We do have waterfalls, canyons, river valleys and the like all over the west, including within an hour or so of home.  All of these geothermal features … I cannot think of where else to see them!  It almost felt like this park was built on sulfur.

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After seeing an elk on the side of the road, near Yellowstone Lake, I reached the campground at Grant Village.

It had been, without a doubt, the toughest day of riding I had ever undertaken.  Going into this trip, I knew it would be, so I was prepared.  But, I was still pretty much without any residual energy at the end of the day.  In fact, I was kind of acting like I was drunk.  I guess my body had gone through an experience that some would consider “traumatic”, given how far I pushed myself.  But, for me, it is how you grow as an individual, and it is how you gain confidence.  I know that soon I will have to return to “regular life”.  In “regular life”, there is competition, there is conflict, and there are things that are just plain hard.  But, they become easier for those of us that are confident in ourselves.  Accomplishments like these simply serve as a reminder to ourselves that we are awesome.  In fact, I would love to market a bumper sticker that simply says “Smile, you are you, and you are awesome.”  Or, something like that.  There is probably a better, and catchier way to phrase that.  But the point remains that experiences like these do remind us that we are often capable of more than we believe, and are told, that we are.

Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons


Yellowstone National Park was the first National Park in the United States, created in 1872, which seems to be before anyone really cared about preservation or anything like that.  It also appears to be the best known National Park, the first thing people think of when they think of National Parks.  Oddly enough, though, it is one of the toughest to get to.  It is two hours away from the nearest interstate highways, both I-90 and I-15.  And, those highways are not frequently traveled.  Denver is something like ten hours away by car, and with the possible exception of Boise, I do not even want to imagine what it would cost to fly into a closer airport.  So, I would not want to pass up the opportunity to visit this park, even if it is for just one day on my way back from Missoula.

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Approaching from the West, via West Yellowstone, it is natural to enter the geyser part of the park first.  Old Faithful is the famous geyser that you see in all of the postcards about Yellowstone.  It is the biggest geyser, but not the only one.  In fact there are hundreds of them, maybe thousands, I don’t really know because I did not go everywhere.  All of these geysers, including Old Faithful, steadily emit steam whenever they are not “erupting”.  I am not sure if erupting is the right term for it, but as you know these geysers spew out water.  Apparently, it used to occur on a regular pattern, once every 50 minutes, but then something changed, likely the earthquake in 1959, and now the eruptions of this geyser are irregular.

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Having time before Old Faithful “erupts”, we checked out the Old Faithful Inn, which is a famous hotel built right next to the geyser about 100 years ago.  I think pretty much every article I have ever read about Yellowstone, as well as every special on the Travel channel or whatever, has mentioned this place.  It would be quite neat to stay at a hotel right next to one of Yellowstone’s defining features.  In fact, there is even a balcony on the second floor on this hotel where you can actually see the geyser from.  If I ever did stay at this hotel (which probably won’t happen as I am assuming it is hella-pricey), I would definitely make a point of watching at least one “eruption” of Old Faithful from the second floor balcony.  With a really good breakfast, and pleasant conditions as they were yesterday, the only thing that could possibly make the experience better would be a 711 slurpee!  For my first ever viewing of the eruption of Old Faithful, which was predicted to be at 9:04 A.M., and occurred roughly three minutes later, I viewed it from the ground along with everybody else who was there.


If a picture is worth 1,000 words, than seeing this in person would be worth at least a million.  Really, sorry to disappoint you, but it would be futile to even attempt to describe this.  I think all of the billboards in Chicago describe it as “three Buckinghams tall”.  That is a good start for anyone that knows about that place.  I’d say visit the park.

The geyser erupted for a few minutes, and after watching the eruption, we decided to walk towards some of the other features in that area of the park.  Still amazed by the experience of Old Faithful, headed toward this boardwalk with some other geysers, pools, and hot springs, we encountered a woman with her legs straddled across the ground, and a fancy camera shaking her head.  She made several comments to us about how disappointed she was in this Old Faithful eruption.  She eluded to previous viewings of this geyser being much better.  From what she was saying, it sounded like she was referring to something 15-20 years ago, in the 1990s, but I am not 100% sure because as soon as she started talking my mind began to wander out of sheer shock that someone could find something negative to say about this event.

To be honest, I do try to give people the benefit of the doubt.  Maybe the eruptions of Old Faithful in the 1990s were larger- who knows.  But, I can’t help but think of the possibility that she represents a certain type of people that we all have encountered at some point in time in our lives.  These are the people some refer to as “critics”.  No matter what happens, what goes on, they are always focused on the negative aspects of it.  They could be on vacation on a world class boat cruise in perfect weather around their favorite people ever, have a great time dancing by the pool, and get a call from their boss informing them of a raise and a promotion, and they would still focus on the fact that their hot dog came with yellow mustard instead of spicy brown, and embellish on that point.  More significantly, people like this can be a drain to be around sometimes.  Not only because of experiences like this, but anytime making plans with people like this, they are focused on what could go wrong instead of what could go right.  When you tell them about your ideas for what you want to do with your day, you week, your life, what they say to you undoubtedly plants the seeds of doubt and failure in your mind, rather than the seeds of confidence and success.  Maybe all of this is why this woman was alone.  But, once again, I do not want to make a judgement on someone who I met for only two minutes.  There are plenty of good reasons for people to take trips all by themselves, and I have known people to do this and come away with amazing experiences.  So, I am in no way going to make assumptions about this particular person.  I will only use this as a reminder of what kind of people tend to bring others down.  There is a book out this year that seems pretty popular called “Friendfluence” that actually addresses the issue of how the people you chose to associate with effects your personality and success in life.  I am lucky to have a lot of great positive friends that clearly do not fit into the category described above; some of whom I saw last weekend, some of whom I will get to see later in the week, some of whom I will see upon returning to Denver, and some of whom I hope to see again soon.

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The other interesting features in the vicinity of Old Faithful are hot springs and smaller geysers.  I put my fingers in one of the hot spring’s resultant rivers, and verified- they are hot!  Many of these smaller geysers are constantly erupting in a way.  I hate to gloss over these features, as they are really neat.  But, this is a blog about Yellowstone, and I do not want to make it 10 pages long.  I guess people do write whole books about this place.

Yellowstone is big!  I guess I should have realized that when I saw that it did not fit onto one page of my Wyoming DeLorme Atlas, but I guess I was still not thinking of it as being as big as it is.  I think the park is almost 100 miles long and 100 miles wide.  Either way, it is quite possible, especially with the number of people that stop to take pictures of bison, elk, moose, and such, for it to take over an hour to get from one feature to the other.  So, we had to have a clear plan to get to the most important features in one day, which involved seeing Old Faithful early, and then headed toward Yellowstone Falls via Yellowstone Lake.

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Yellowstone Lake is quite large, and surrounded by mountain ranges in all directions.  Overall, very picturesque.  It is also a good reference point when looking up weather information for the park.  At roughly 7700 feet in elevation, is is close to the mid-point.  There are plenty of hills that reach higher elevations, especially along the continental divide.  There are also some features, like the gorge of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, and even Old Faithful, that are at lower elevations.

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Okay, I know a lot of pictures, but Yellowstone Falls and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone also blew me away!  I later read (also in my DeLorme Atlas, they are really great) that these falls are actually much higher than Niagara!  Over 300 feet.  When the falls hit, they actually consistently cause rainbows to form, as water particles are projected upward significantly from the impact of the waterfall.  I do not think I even saw the bottom of the waterfall, as there was too much splash for me to actually see the bottom.  I bet Niagara is also like that.

In the same day, we also visit Grand Teton National Park, which is directly south of Yellowstone, with a gap of only a few miles.  I bet most people that visit one park visit the other one.  However, I bet the people that visit both parks do so over the course of several days to a week, not in one day.  This was definitely a hurried trip, but this leaves plenty more to be seen on a subsequent trip, which, now that I live in Denver, is not out of the range of possibilities.


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The main feature of the Tetons that stand out are the mountains themselves.  Grand Teton, the highest peak in this mountain range, has a height of 13,770′, making it only 34 feet shorter than the highest peak in Wyoming.  These mountains are actually visible from parts of Yellowstone park, and began to really appear as we approached the Tetons.  There is also a lake here, called Jackson Lake.  Jackson Lake is slightly smaller than Yellowstone Lake, and at a lower elevation.  In fact, it began to feel hot when we arrived here, well into the 80s.  It may have hit 90 somewhere nearby.

This whirlwind of a trip also took us to Jackson, which is quite a happening town.  It is probably best known for Jackson Hole ski resort, one of the premier ski resorts in the country, but is also less than 20 miles from the Tetons.  This provides the town with somewhat year round activity, and was quite lively in activity despite the ski resorts clearly being closed.

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It was kind of odd visiting an area known to be cold on a hot day.  On a day when Denver hit 99, it is nice to be up in the mountains where highs were in the mid 80s.  However, I did get an experience that is probably significantly different than a typical experience of someone that lives in this area.  The average high at Yellowstone Lake at this time of year is about 65.  It’s a few degrees warmer in Jackson.  Oh well, this warmer weather makes up for the 34 degree morning in Custer on Wednesday.

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The return trip also involves some more interesting features, all near a mountain range called the Wind River Mountains.  This mountain range contains Wyoming’s tallest mountain, Gannett Peak, and is home to the National Outdoor Leadership School.  And, with the town of Dubois (pronounced in a non- French manner, as I was repeatedly told) has a place called the National Bighorn Sheep Interpretive Center.  It would be interesting to see what really goes on there, but as of right now, I imagine a dog whisperer type character trying to figure out what Bighorn Sheep are saying.

Okay, well that was a lot to explore in one day, and I am 100% sure I missed some things, so hopefully I get to come back here.