*Not* Doing It All in the Tetons

The Tetons haven’t been a disappointment, but our experience hasn’t been what people talk about, for sure.

No Bear Bell

Pictures of Banjo and my morning walk are grand, yes. But we lost her bear bell at Yellowstone, and, mysteriously, not only does no one sell them around here, but all the shops say, “We don’t know anyone who does,” like suddenly bear bells have gone out of fashion and we’re idiots to ask. Dude, our dog barks at bears. I’d like to scare away the black ones first and at least not sneak up on any grizzlies as I’m trying to get Banjo to pose in front of the sunrise on the mountains.

I heard bull elks bugling to each other this morning, which is a glorious thing, and I kept walking because they were far off. But then I got to thinking about how quickly they can go from standing to moving and moving fast, at that. So I turned around.

So, no bell means I’m not walking as far as I’d like, and I’m not walking by myself for exercise, that’s for sure. Same goes for the hikes in the park, but for a different reason.

No Parking

Gah, the crowds! They were bad in Yellowstone and they’re bad here as well, and there are fewer sights to see here, so the same amount of people are cramming themselves into the few parking lots at trail heads and wandering the trails laughing and being loud. I know that if you hit the trails very early or very late in the day you can squeeze in before the others, but that’s easier said than done.

Yesterday we woke up early, packed a picnic lunch plus all our hiking gear, and got to the park to get a parking space at a trailhead we’d picked out the day before. But on the way to the parking lot, I lost us on the map, and we missed the turn and ended up driving along a narrow road with a million cars and trucks meeting us the other way, all taxing Tracy’s patience in this crowded place.

So we drove out of the park like we were fleeing a city, and we went to the town of Jackson for more errands, which was the last thing we thought we’d do.

We did stop on the way back for a short walk we could see from the road so we could eat our picnic looking at the mountains. Small, quiet moments when no one is around are rare for us here, and wonderful.


So, only the day before, we were in Jackson, and what a bust. (Jackson Hole is the name of the valley; Jackson is the town at the foot of the ski resort). Of course it was full of tourists, full of high-end shopping and extravagance. For example, the town square has, at all four corners, these giant arches made of elk antlers. Antlers are beautiful on their own, but crammed together to form these arches seems like an obscene way to display them.

On our first day in Jackson, I wanted to buy a hat and maybe boots, but all the hats were $300 or more. My friend Mary Margaret just told me that someone she knows had moved from Jackson because, “the billionaires are squeeezing out the millionaires.”

To be fair, my ex-husband’s second cousin (I think that’s right) lives in Jackson with her new husband, and they are young and probably not billionaires. I’m thinking they work on a ranch nearby; there are tons of trail-riding trips advertised for tourists here.

Also on a positive note, we waited for an outside table at a brewery that day, which turned out to be worth the wait (photo at the top is outside the brewery): good beer, great smoked trout dip, and a spacious outside area. Still …

We drove out of there saying, “Let’s never go into tourist towns ever again,” which made it all the more depressing the next day when we fled the crowded park to go back to the crowded tourist town. Tracy needed coffee though, and I held out hope for the chain store Boot Barn, which I’d been in in Helena. Thank you, Boot Barn, for scoring me an affordable hat and boots (next post).

Crowded Boondocking

I mentioned before that we’re boondocking on Forest Service land right outside the park, and we found a secluded little spot on a road with great views of the Tetons right on the other side. And people want those spots, desperately. They’re driving by in their campers all day long, plus into the night and before daybreak, looking for the exact moment when someone pulls out so they can have their spot. It’s a bit disconcerting, like being a fly on the wall during Black Friday at Walmart.

Add to this environment the fact that the FBI is here searching for a missing #vanlifer, and the scene gets more surreal. Apparently she and her fiancée had been arguing in Utah because living in such close quarters was wearing on their relationship, and the cops who were called by someone at a gas station actually ordered one of the couple to stay in a hotel that night. A few weeks later, the guy shows up in Florida without the girl. They were both last seen here in Grand Teton, so a search is on. Somehow that story feels like a microcosm of all that’s wrong with people flocking to national parks right now.


There is an abundance of wildlife here, and we’re told you can’t avoid it if you tried. But we’ve been in the wrong places at the wrong times over and over, and we’ve seen very little.

Here’s the YouTube couple who hosted a “meet and greet” at a park campground one evening; their presentation about how they started camping and how they became a YouTube phenomenon was actually entertaining. They said that when they first came to that campground, it was half empty, and you just picked a site, pulled in and set up, then walked to the host to let them know you were there. Now you make reservations months in advance to stay in a completely full park. I hear that hasn’t stopped the moose from coming into the campground every morning, though.

Couples sitting around us were talking about all the animals they’d seen and sharing photos on their phones. I grabbed the Instagram account of one photographer and am looking at the animals around me through my phone.

Now, I fully agree that we could make this stay better for ourselves. We could have:

  • Booked a spot in a campground in the park months ago, had we known we’d been here at a certain date;
  • Gone on longer hikes that are less popular (I would imagine, though am not sure);
  • parked at known wildlife areas and sat in chairs with binoculars and just waited.

But I’m a bit burned out from all this go go go, and Tracy has got to be frustrated with all the driving through Yellowstone and now here, so we’re hunkering down in our coveted boondocking spot as rain is in the forecast, and watching TV for a change.

Appalachian Trail Thu-Hikers call this a zero day (you hike zero miles, make zero progress), and I guess we’re having a zero day in terms of Grand Teton National Park. Those days are healthy for the soul as much as the days of grand views, right?