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Henna walking toward Moulton’s Barn in Grand Teton National Park which was part of a Mormon settlement that existed into the mid 20th Century.

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Chilling after a long day driving from Missoula, MT to Gros Ventre Campground (Grand Teton National Park). We spent one night here then six more at Signal Mountain Campround

 

After almost 7,800 miles, 48 nights (and 29 spent in a tent), 8 national parks, 3 nifty sand dunes, 3 bear encounters, 1 chipmunk encounter (the sucker ran up the mesh of the tent a few inches from my face), 1 poorly scripted fake gun fight (Dodge City, KS), 6 nights spent on the California/Oregon coast, 1 attack by falling rocks (between Silverton and Ouray, CO), and 1 prophet (outside of Kansas City, he warned of rain on the 4th of July) we are finally home. And by home I mean a place where every short walk results in several long conversations. Our home home. We do though have more stories to tell of our unscripted 2017 Great Summer Trip. Like the former Japanese American Internment Camp in Southeastern Colorado we visited. Or the funky opera house in tiny Eureka, Nevada. And of course more talking politics with strangers. But for now we leave you with a few more photos to look at while we unpack.

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The long gravel road leading to the Granite Hot Springs outside of Jackson, WY

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In the background is Mount Rainier and in the foreground is the White River which flows down from the glaciers

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Sunset at Gros Ventre Campground (Grand Teton National Park)

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Moose Falls near the south entrance at Yellowstone National Park

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Curious mammals looking out at Hayden Valley (Yellowstone National Park)

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All The Civilization You Need

 

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Hanging out at Taggart Lake located within Grand Teton National Park

 

About sixty miles south of Grand Teton National Park is Pinedale, WY. Their official slogan is “All the civilization you need!” Not so sure about that one, but the town does have a nice deli, a brew pub, and the very interesting Mountain Man Museum.

It was a wonderful week spent camping at our favorite national park. On Sunday we rolled into the less popular Gros Ventre campground then bolted the next morning to Signal Mountain. We arrived on August 7th which, given the fourteen night maximum stay, meant we could have planted ourselves right smack dab in the solar eclipse path. That is in fact exactly what many of our neighbors did. But after six weeks traveling the country we were itching to get back to our non canvas home.

 

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This bridge outside of Pinedale is designed to help give antelope safe passage across the highway during their annual migration

 

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Although at times smoky from the nearby wild fires, we do love the Tetons

 

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Henna watching the sunset a short walk away from our campsite

 

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Natural Bridge near the south entrance at Yellow Stone National Park

 

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This raven was not amused by the crazy crowds at Yellowstone

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Hike’s # 2, 3, and 4: Wind River, Taggart and Bradley Lakes, Lake Solitude

Did I mention that these trips move fast? Well, they do. And if some of you were worried that I would not reach my goal of 40 hikes for this trip, you can stop worrying. I will catch you up as best I can below:

Hike #2: Wind River hike in Dubois, Wyoming.

We had origionally planned on heading straight into the Tetons, but as usual we were lured by the beauty of a place and decided to pitch our tent. The specific lure of Dubois Wyoming, a cute town along route 26 with a few mountains separating it from the Tetons, was the wind river. I am a sucker for a quaint rolling river, that will lull me to sleep inside my tent. After setting up for the night, we took a walk along this river, albeit along a paved trail, (I do not plan to discriminate what I call a “hike” on this blog). We dipped our feet in this frigid river and made plans for buying an inner tube to dip into future rivers along our travels. On mine and Noel’s first trip together, we had rolled into this town at 11:00 p.m. only to battle the winding road down to Jackson hole in the pitch dark. We are wiser now, and have learned to listen to what calls us to stop.

Hike #3: Taggart and Bradley Lakes, Teton National Park

Although we have frequented this park many times, there is always something new to mix in with our old favorites. As we are all friends here, I can admit embarrassingly, that sometimes at Hennacornoelidays we make quick judgments’ about things. We have been known to mistake a busy trailhead along the main road in a national park as the “easy” hike those other tourists do. But, we were eager to get in a hike, and took a chance. As always, we were wrong about this being an “easy” tourist hike. We soon realized that us flatlanders were out of shape, and this 5 mile hike was a great start to getting us acclimated to the thin air and elevation gain. This hike took us from the meadows that lay at the foot of the Teton range, with the main road in plain site, to rise up over to rest at a glorious lake. We found our own secret rock along the edge, dipped our tired feet while one of us took an almost skinny dip. The plan was to then follow the loop up to Bradley Lake and back to the safety of our car. Well at least that was the plan. We did begin the ascent up to Bradley Lake, yes more climbing, but about half way there, Noel spotted a baby black bear cub about 20 feet ahead on the trail. And if we’ve learned anything from hiking it’s that if you spy a baby black bear cub, turn slowly, drop any plans you had and head back the way you came. With our hearts pumping, we arrived at Taggart Lake, to learn that folks we had passed along the trail coming towards us had heard growling…but they obviously did not think that was relevent. But, all’s well that end’s well they say, and I’m glad that we once again learned to not judge a trail by it’s presumed easy accessibility. This one made our heart pump for more than altitude reason, good lesson learned.

Henna and Corey on our own rock!

Henna and Corey on our own rock!

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Hike #4: Lake Solitude, Teton National Park

To be quick, this hike is an old favorite of ours. Noel and I initially back packed this hike almost 14 years ago. Then when we first took Henna here we travelled only part way. Last year we got just a bit closer. This year we had originally planned to back pack it with Henna. After realizing that we were not in mountain climbing shape just yet, we decided to go lighter, only carrying our food along. As we reached the place that we stopped at last year, and 2.7 miles from the beautiful Lake Solitude (all up hill), Henna decided we needed to continue. And then again, higher up the trail as we encountered a volunteer on the trail, to which he said something to the effect of knowing your limitations, Henna again turned and left him and her parents in the dust. When we finally made it to Lake Solitude, on the other side of the mountain, we all knew our painful descent was well worth the trip. Such is life I think.

Beautiful

Below is a poem that Henna to elouquently wrote about this hike.

Lake Solitude Trail

Switch backs, switch backs few.
To inspiration point whew.
Hidden water fall
In a canyon, wow.
At Lake Solitude, oh my!
Whew what a long day.
There is still more to go.
Feet hurt on way back.
Oh no catch the boat or else
we go two more miles.
We have walked 15 miles.
It was all worth it
We also saw a moose too.

Henna

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Determined

Corey

Cool Thing #4: Remembering How Cool People Can Be

People rock. A few roll, some tilt, but mostly people rock. They rock in the red and the blue states and everywhere in between. I think we (especially people like me who love to argue almost as much as they love watching politics) tend to lose sight of that.

Not in Illinois anymore

Not in Illinois anymore

Anyways that is what a fellow traveler said. Him and his wife are traveling America like us but with a couple of extra kids (they have three children age 2 through 7) and the family dog. Oh, they also are also traveling by bike. The dad has the dog and food and other incidentals, mom has the three kids on a type of tandem bike. The youngest can’t quite reach the pedals so he sits strapped to her back. We came across them at a park in Dubois, WY. Like a magnet they drew us in and in a short while we were trading stories while Henna played with the other children. We also asked them a lot of questions which I am sure they answer several times a day. The short of it is that mom quit her corporate job due partly to office politics and the dad is a pretty handy guy who, among other things, built their bikes. They tell their story a lot better than we do on their website thefamilyride.com

Thefamilyride.com

Thefamilyride.com

A couple of days later we met other corporate drop outs while hiking to Lake Solitude. That was yesterday and we are hurting pretty bad from the effort . Toward the end we met a structural engineer and his wife who decided to quit working for a while. They said they met others on the hike doing the same. Which leaves me thinking, are we doing it wrong it in America? Whereas most European countries have a minimum of six weeks of vacation a year (and shorter work weeks in general), most of my neighbors and friends are lucky to have two weeks. Maybe that is why there is so much resentment toward educators who mostly have the option not to work over the summer. A lot of the good, like the family ride people and the hikers I met yesterday, are just burning out and our society is the worse for it.

No pain no gain

No pain no gain

One more thing: there was another guy I met here too. Alone, he spends his summers camping in his modified van (with solar panels that keep the extras running when he camps). From what I can gather he spends a lot of time alternating between drinking Coors and mountain biking. He told me that he is 61 and spends every day just “pounding it.” The night after our death march of a hike, I called out to him on my way to the lake with Henna. “Man, we pounded it today”. Henna thought I was nuts. Noel

At Lake Solitude

I also want to give a shout out to our former neighbor here at Signal Mountain Campground, Kyle (or as he prefers to be called “The Preacher Neighbor”) and his very sweet and nice family who did not bat an eyelash when we told him of our non-religious views. He also seemed genuinely interested in what I am reading Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal by the awesomely witty Christopher Moore. Hope we get to camp next to you soon (and I am not just saying that because you owe me a beer).

Day 41 to 46: Grand Teton National Park (Part 4)

Our last day in heaven.  That’s what it felt like anyways.  After driving 5,500 miles or so in about 6 weeks it felt good to anchor ourselves in one spot.  In six nights here we hiked close to 20 miles and swam almost every day.  We also made friends with two families (both families included a Mike), ate out a few times, and slept in.  The storms came almost daily, but so did the sunshine.  We also visited Jackson Hole three times and by the final time (today) felt that we actually saw the small shell of a time shellacked by the great tourism world.  How we came about this core was through the usual methods; a haircut.

Woke up this morning around 5:00 AM and may have accidentally woken up Corey and Henna.  Instead of going back to bed we talked a bit and decided (with a strong dissent by Henna) to get up and take showers.  That is how stinky we were; Corey actually agreed to leave the tent before six in order to take a shower.  The nearest shower was Colter Bay (where we camped the first night).  So off we were a little after 6 watching the sun finish its rising and keeping an eye out for wildlife.  We saw many elk and a coyote and were clean and back at our campsite around 7:30.  I should mention it was in the mid-40s the whole time we were up.  I made coffee, Corey yawned a lot, and Henna went back to bed.  Around 10 we were properly caffeinated and full of yummy pancakes.

Feeling super clean I craved a haircut.  Back at the showers the nice lady in charge told me where all the locals went for a good, clean haircut (Teton Barbershop? It is on Gill Street).  There I waited my turn with a diverse collection of twenty year olds with long hair and tattoos (these are the ones piloting the tour boats, working at the hotels, etc.), older men with Stetsons, and the odd tourist (me).  My barber was nice, soft-spoken, and a little hard of hearing.  It did not matter as I did not give him any real directions as to what to do.  What counted with me was him not being intimated by my almost 2 month beard. Midway through my haircut he stopped and asked, “Can I ask you what I ask everyone from Chicago?”  Oh no, I thought, what.  “Do you ever go the Weiner Circle?”

After the haircut we hung out at the National Museum of Wildlife Art.  Although I was bummed my NPS pass did no good there and $12 an adult/$6 a child (or $30 a family pass) seems a little steep (my NPS pass which allows our family entry into any National Park for a year is $80) the museum really is cool and worth the money.  Henna got an almost hour long lesson on water colors with the resident artist and their exhibits are fascinating.  They are in the process of creating an art trail around the building too and when completed this will almost definitely be a premier destination as it is nestled just at the entrance to the park (and the building is a fascinating blend of stone).  I do wish they were more generous with their WiFi, but the people working there were friendly and the galleries were not crowded.  As the afternoon storm rumbled outside, I worked on these paragraphs while nestled into a plush leather couch with views of the foothills.  Not a bad way to spend my last day in heaven.

Day 41 through 46: Grand Teton National Park (part 3)

Before you call DCFS please read fully.  Today began with a plan to hike up Signal Mountain whose trail lies across the road from our campsite.  This hike was described by a campsite worker as short and ugly.  Knowing that nothing coud be ugly in this glorious place, we decided to believe only the short part.  So after a harrowing walk along the road to the trailhead we hiked 3 miles to the mountain summit (over two hours) only to be met by tons of tourists snapping pictures of the glorious teton range view (I should mention there also is road that will take you to this very spot.)  We must have looked mighty out of place among all these clean people; as we were tired, sweaty and eating scraps of squashed food from my camel back.  Henna was so tired she sat right on the ground not caring that people had to walk right over her.  A nice looking man asked incredulously, “Did you hike up here?” To which we proudly answered “yep”. What came out of his mouth next was the last thing we expected.  He looked right into our over tired and sun streaked eyes and bluntly asked, “Why would anyone walk when they could drive?” How do you reply to such a forward and insane comment?  You don’t.  I simply turned to Henna who at age 8 had hiked up this summit, not so pleasantly at times I might add, and asked her if she would do it again.  She replied without hesitation, “Yes!”  I thought that was all the response that was needed.  Her reasons can be best described in the pictures that follow.  Boy do I love this kid.

Day 41 through 46: Grand Teton National Park (Part 2)

Another day another hat.  My fourth hat of the trip (in case you are scoring at home) and this is the first one that would not look odd in Edison Park.  However, with my very overgrown beard, dark glasses, and Teton baseball cap I do look a little like a wanted bank robber.

Yesterday we hiked up to and through Cascade Canyon (which we also did last year).  This is probably the most popular hike in the park as it combines a short boat trip to the opposite shore of Jenny Lake, stunning views of the lake from Inspiration Point, and then even more amazing views of the surrounding mountains which form the canyon walls of Cascade Canyon.  You can take the shuttle boat and hike .5 miles to Hidden Falls then return back or backpack through the terrain for a month.  14 years ago Corey and I backpacked to Lake Solitude (our first backpacking trip).  Yesterday we hiked to a pretty cool water fall just past the Cascade Trail fork (round trip 9 miles).  We saw two very cool bull moose along the way and, even more exciting, made some good friends.  Our new friends are Grace (age nine), Mike and Kerri.  Grace is nine, loves books, is read to by her parents at night, and enjoys camping with her parents at various national parks.  Henna is almost nine, loves books, is read to by her parents at night, and enjoys camping with her parents at various national parks.  Both girls are also kind of shy and love digging in the dirt for rocks and such (although Grace might like bugs more than Henna).  A quicker friendship has never been.

Grace’s parents are also very cool and, amazingly, know William Least Heat Moon (or Bill as Mike calls him)!    Mike, being a professor of geography at Missouri (MIZZU) also knows a lot about rocks and other cool things (as well as Seinfeld trivia).  Kerri has a good sense of humor (she laughed at my jokes) and has a love for all things literature.  We talked books (Grace has read many of the same books at Henna), living abroad (they lived in China for a year), climate change (one of the few conversations related to the subject this trip that did not include calling our president a Marxist), and bug based ice-cream.  We barely made the last boat back to shore and ended up eating together at the Signal Mountain Lodge.  There we sat tired, filthy, and slap happy.  I could not have asked for a better time.

Day 41 through 46: Grand Tetons National Park (Part 1)

We have been living in Grand Teton National Park now for a couple of days.  I like it.  We have some great neighbors, lots of hiking and swimming options, and good mountain views in every direction at every time.  The town of Jackson (better known as Jackson Hole) is just a short drive away and that is where we went last night to fill up the tank, eat some Thai, and get new wedding bands.

After a couple of false starts that included a very handy salesperson who tried pushing 70s disco era stuff, we found our rings.  Sterling silver, they did not fit us exactly right but after some hammering they were ours.  We celebrated with some Thai food.

All was well at the restaurant until the gun shots started.  First it was one pop (maybe a car backfiring?), then a few more, and then finally a steady barrage of bangs that appeared to be occurring less than fifty yards from where we were dining.  No one else at the place seemed to mind so we did not panic.  Later I found out it was the nightly shoot out staged on Maine Street twice a day.  Funny, some people drive all the way to Wyoming to escape their urban woes.  Those same people then ooh and ah over a recreated shooting.  Maybe the nightly news should take Jackson’s cue and, instead of merely telling the news, use actors to recreate the daily mayhem.  It still might be depressing, but at least it would be more entertaining.

Before heading into town we made some friends and I picked up a nemesis.  I will tell you about the friends first.  A few sites down from us live Mike and Nicole who hail from Pomona, IL (the heart of one of my favorite places in the world, Southern Illinois).  Father and daughter they are the advance team for an adventure oriented co-ed youth group that plans on camping a couple of weeks in the Tetons (co-ed teens camping together for an extended period of time, what could go wrong?).  Mike has been here before and knows the park well.  He also knows quite a bit about camping in general and has the easy going knowledgeable manner that makes for a great neighbor.  His daughter is headed to Chicago in the fall with her husband with a theatre background and a desire to make it in the big city.  As cool and friendly as her father we hope she makes it big (and ultimately invites Corey, Henna, and I to NYC to watch her perform on SNL).  Mike and Nicole shared a few huckleberries with us and, more importantly, shared where they picked them.  Henna was enthralled and the hunt was on.

On the way to the huckleberry patch I met my foe.  She was walking alongside a trail with her young son and seemed sweet enough at first.  We asked her directions to the String Lake Picnic Ground area (an essential first step in our search for the elusive berry).  Her response, “you don’t want to go there.”  I did want to go there.  “Well, you can swim right here, I mean it is the same lake.  Over there it is just crowds.”  I felt a little defensive and told her about the huckleberries.  She did not respond to my excuse (and does anyone really need an excuse to go to a popular tourist destination?)  but instead added “I mean some people like that sort of thing especially if you have never been here before.”  “I like huckleberries,” was my response.   She again ignored my reason for searching out what to her must seem like the worst excesses of a National Park loving society.  What got me going was how defensive and competitive I became.  I suppressed it well, but in my head I was listing all the hikes, roads, and parks we have been just this summer where people were few and the views many.  But the thing is there is always someone who can trump us.  Mike for example has out camped and hiked us many, many times over.  Later on the trail we bumped into a family living out of a tent for a month (like us) but (unlike us) have three small children with the youngest about a year old.  We also have met people cycling, hitchhiking, and walking the same terrain we have driven.   And all the people just mentioned have grace.  They live the way they do not to gloat but to more fully enjoy life.  “Love the life you live, live the life you love” is on every e-mail Corey sends out.  That should be enough.