Sunday, August 3, 2008

July 2008: Grand Teton National Park

Out on the trail night birds are callin'
Singin' their wild melody
Down in the canyon cottonwood whispers
A Song of Wyoming for me.

--John Denver, from Song of Wyoming

The kids always know when we’re getting close to the campground.

That's because I change the music from whatever we’re currently listening to (an eclectic mix of new and old spanning Sara Bareilles, Sting, Keb’ Mo’ and James Taylor), to a collection of John Denver songs that I’ve creatively labeled: Camping Mix.

Yeah, I know that John Denver peaked in the late seventies and, at that time, you couldn’t look anywhere without seeing him to the point of nausea (Movies, TV specials, Muppet Shows, etc.).

But, I don’t know…it just seems appropriate.

And we’ve never pulled into a campground without playing a little JD.

So as we entered Star Valley, Wyoming heading north on US-89, it was time to switch the stereo to my Camping Mix. And suddenly the rolling, wild, mountain vistas of Star Valley bubbled up some long forgotten memories of watching a summer lightning storm split the skies of Yellowstone when I was kid.

It was a good memory...magical somehow.

And maybe it was somehow appropriate that I was currently reading John Krakauer’s Into the Wild.

We were heading to Grand Teton National Park—a park we’d never camped in before. Our specific destination was Colter Bay Campground on the shores of Lake Jackson.

A little luck had played a part in our scheduling the trip because our good friends Ryan and Kristy Lindstrom happened to plan the same trip at the same time—and they’re old pros at camping in the Tetons—so we just followed along.

As it turned out, their extended family had been coming to the Tetons every year for years and, arriving before us, Ryan’s sweet mom reserved a great camp site for us. We had inadvertently busted in on the annual Grand Teton Lindstrom family reunion—but they made us feel like family.

Before arriving in Grand Teton you pass through Jackson Hole, Wyoming—a sort of dude ranch town that conjures up images of Jim Carrey’s fringed buckskin get-up in Dumb and Dumber. But the moment you leave the town, heading north, you’re immediately transported to one of the most beautiful sights in the western United States.

The Teton Range raises its serrated edge to nearly 14,000 feet. It’s among the most rugged mountain ranges in the world—with blue lakes at its base and a meandering valley full of sagebrush and pine at its eastern side.

Occasionally we’re asked by non-campers, “What exactly do you guys do when you’re camping?” We have to chuckle at the underlying wonder that a family could entertain themselves out in the bush for 4 or 5 days and not go crazy.

And I’m not sure there’s a way to describe it in terms that a non-camper would understand.

Maybe it’s the fresh air, the clean skies, the green of the trees, the surprise of seeing a red fox, the lack of a schedule…time to catch toads or read a book or ride a bike. Maybe it’s popping Jiffy Pop on the gas stove, roasting a marshmallow, the hiss of a Coleman lantern, lying in a hammock….

Maybe it’s taking a night swim in a cool mountain lake or grilling mushroom burgers over an open fire. It could be the lazy afternoon naps or rowing a rubber boat or skipping rocks on a lake as smooth as a mirror. Maybe it’s having the time or the open possibilities to do whatever comes to mind—walking to the campground store for an ice cream cone, taking a golden hour drive to shoot a few photos, or laughing with the kids.

Game Boys, XBoxes, Wii’s and iPods are all banished. Cell phones are turned off. There isn’t a computer in sight. No work in the morning, no project deadlines, nothing on the schedule other than where your whimsy takes you.

When you’re tucked away in one of Colter Bay campground’s thickly forested camp sites you and a few easy-going neighbors could be the only people left on Earth. And a leisurely drive in the evening reveals a wild, rolling, Rocky Mountain setting where bison, elk, eagles and grizzlies are expected.

We spent a lot of time on three glacial lakes—Lake Jackson, Jenny Lake, and String Lake.

We bought a rubber row boat a couple of years ago. It sat in its deteriorating cardboard box, rolled up tight, unused and waiting for the chance to be inflated and lazily floated on lakes just like these.

So, yeah, anytime you want to go boating with us—let us know.

Here comes that big ole prairie moon risin’
Shinin’ down bright as can be
Up on the hill there’s a coyote singin’
A Song of Wyoming for me.


Jill Knotwell said...

So fun! You know the Knotwell's are always up for adventures with their favorite family!!

John Knotwell said...

Wow - great pictures Derek. I stand in awe each time I see them. Glad you had a fun trip in the Tetons, one of my favorite places. Miss you!

Jason and Diana said...

great vacation and great blogger! you have a way with words! i am sad you won't be at the byu game this weekend! i love you guys!