Trip Report - Wyoming Road Trip

Grand Teton at Dawn (Matt Pritchard) More photos below.

By Matt Pritchard

When in the course of the daily grind, it becomes necessary for one Person to dissolve the Occupational bands which have connected them with a soulless corporation, and to assume among the powers of At-Will-Employment, the separate and equal Station to which the laws of Self-Preservation and of Mental Health entitle them, a decent Professional Courtesy requires that they should offer a minimum of two weeks notice and steadfast work ethic to the end. But not first, without taking a nine day vacation to the mountains of Wyoming.

Wyoming had been on our "must do" list for quite some time. However, quitting my job the day before we left wasn't part of the original trip plan - nor the financial plan for that matter. But in the immortal words of Joel Goodsen, "Sometimes you just have to say 'what the fuck'."

We left San Francisco on Friday afternoon and promptly found ourselves stuck in Sacramento rush-hour traffic - lovely. Is it just me or does Sacramento just keep growing? It seems to stretch pretty much from Davis to Auburn now - solid town the entire way. Auburn brought a reprieve from the traffic and before long we were staring at the bright lights of Reno - or as our friend likes to call it "Las Vegas' retarded little sister."

After a quick dinner stop, we keep driving deep into the Nevada desert until we found a flat spot of dirt well off the Interstate that looked cozy enough for a short night's sleep. Early to rise, we got back on the road and pushed all the way through Nevada and into Salt Lake City for an early lunch. Sad to see my favorite Peruvian restaurant had closed, we settled for tacos next door and got back on the road, making it to Daniel, Wyoming by mid-afternoon.

My good friend Doug is 100% Montanan, but considers himself a de-facto resident of Wyoming just the same. Growing up, his family spent quite a bit of time at their cabin near the Hoback River in Wyoming - about halfway between Pinedale and Jackson. After many years, Jody and I decided to take Doug and his parents up on their offer to use their cabin as a base camp for exploring the mountains of Wyoming - an area they're happy to call home for five or six months of the year.

We met Doug at Daniel Junction and after some hugs and hellos, we were in his truck headed for Pinedale. After a quick stop by The Great Outdoor Store in Pinedale, we proceeded up to the Elk Heart Park area of the Wind River Mountains. We did a quick day hike, running into snow just a mile or two up the trail. The short hike felt great after nearly seventeen hours of driving. The hike was followed by a delicious steak dinner at the Half Moon Lake Lodge. We followed Doug back to the cabin and made plans for the next day.

Doug was only a couple of months into a new job and wasn't quite ready to take a week-long vacation. He compromised by coming down from Billings on the two weekends we were there - giving us the week in between to explore the Wind Rivers and Tetons on our own. On Sunday, Doug gave us the dime tour of Teton Village and then on to Yellowstone - a park that hadn't originally been on our itinerary. Jody and I were both very glad to have made the trip. We got a chance to see Yellowstone Falls, Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, Yellowstone Lake, Fishing Bridge, and more Bison than you can imagine - one of which caused a small traffic jam later in the day. The scenery was spectacular and we saw enough of the park to know we would have to return some day.

The drive back to the cabin that night was long and we got to bed pretty late, but that didn't stop us from getting an early start on the next day. Our first overnighter was going to take us into the Wind River Mountains - a range of such scale and beauty it is a real surprise how easily they're overlooked when compared to the more well know Teton Mountains. We stopped in Pinedale Monday morning to grab breakfast and consult the good people at the Pinedale ranger station. Our original plan to see the Big Sandy area was quickly kyboshed when we heard about the lingering snow in the area. Instead, the ranger suggested a trip into the Green River Lakes area, further north. The elevation was lower and the trail conditions were more stable.

The drive to the trailhead was a great chance for a nap - until we hit twenty-two straight miles of dirt road. The scenery was so incredible, that napping would have seemed like a total waste anyways. We started hiking the Highline Trail with no concrete plans on where we would camp, heading south along the Green River until we found a spot that would suit our tastes. We assumed this would probably be four or five miles at least. Captivated by the views and reluctant to put in much effort, the perfect site appeared just two miles down the trail, in a wooded area between the Green Lakes. The first spot we saw was taken by a large group of campers, so we hiked a short distance to another good looking site.

The mosquitoes were in full effect that night, but it didn't stop us from staying out well past sunset to take pictures of the river and Flattop Mountain. We slept well that night and woke up to another beautiful day. During breakfast, I spotted a cow Moose with her calf a few hundred yards away on the other side of the river. Jody saw this same pair the day before and I was bummed to have missed it, so it was great to have a second chance. As the two of them walked up river towards us, Doug's advice rang in my ears, "Don't get anywhere near a Mama Moose and her calf - that's just as dangerous as a bear and cub." OK - super. The closer they got, the more I tried to convince myself that everything was cool. By the time she was directly across the river from us, Jody and I were moving up river fast, trying to put some distance between us. I never thought she would cross the river with a calf so young, but sure enough they jumped in, made their way across, and proceeded to walk right through the middle of our campsite. From a safe distance, we waited a good fifteen minutes before carefully making our way back to camp. No moose in sight - good. We finished breakfast, packed up for a day hike, and got back on the trail.

A hike up the Porcupine Creek Falls Trail afforded us some elevated views of the river valley where we were camped. The swollen creek also gave us an opportunity to practice our stream-crossing technique. Moving through ice-cold, knee-deep water takes some practice. On our return hike, we noticed the sky was closing up and decided to a make a hasty retreat back to the tent, not wanting to get caught in afternoon thunderstorms. Within 30 seconds of jumping into our tent, the sky let loose with a thunder and lightning storm like none we've experienced first hand. The rain poured down hard and we resigned ourselves to our favorite backcountry activity - taking a nap.

A different kind of thunder woke us with a start - the sound of thundering hooves pounding through our campsite. A couple of deep snorts announced the return of Mama Moose, who seemed upset we were still around. The lightning and rain kept on and I got to thinking that I'm perfectly comfortable negotiating one mortal threat at a time. But when two arrive at once, I'm a bit out of sorts. The best solution seemed obvious - keep sleeping until one threat goes away. A half hour later, the rain had stopped, and I emerged from the tent pleased to see no pissed off moose. Nonetheless, we took the hint and quickly moved camp back up the trail to the now empty site we had seen the day before. No sooner did we finish dinner than the lightning and rain returned full force and we decided yet again that the best offense is a good defense - we retired for the evening to the comforts of our tent - chalking up our second day in the Wind Rivers as an exciting one. It is occasions like these that give you pause and some perspective. It makes you realize just how insignificant some things are - like a job as a professional data monkey for a market research behemoth. Did I really care that I was going to be unemployed in two weeks? Not really - at least I hadn't been trampled by a moose or struck by lighting. To quote another wise sage, Ice Cube, "I didn't even have to use my A.K. - I gotta say it was a good day." Indeed, Mr. Cube, indeed.

...Doug's advice rang in my ears, ‘Don't get anywhere near a Mama Moose and her calf...’

Wednesday morning came early after twelve to fourteen hours of sleep in the previous twenty four. We ate breakfast, broke camp, and made the short hike back to the trailhead, constantly turning around to catch one more glimpse of the serpentine river and the monolith of Flattop Mountain, standing sentinel over the area. After a huge lunch at the Wrangler Café in Pinedale, we made our way back to the cabin. Peter, Doug's dad, had arrived earlier in the day and was a generous host, offering warm showers and a chance to relax before our next journey into the mountains. We had a great dinner of Elk backstraps, Spaghetti Bolognese, green salad and some tasty red wine. After dinner, Jody and I sorted out our gear and got ready for a pre-dawn start the next day.

On Thursday, Jody once again proved herself the most understanding wife on the planet as she woke with me at 3:30 AM for the ninety minute drive to Schwabacher's Landing - the ideal spot for sunrise photos of the Grand Teton. I had read about the place a few months earlier and was determined to catch the good light while we were there. I felt like we were racing the sun as we drove through Jackson and proceeded north through Grand Teton National Park. We parked at the end of the Schwabacher's Landing road and moved quickly up stream to a beaver pond that provides a perfect reflection of what many call the most photogenic mountains in the U.S.A. The twenty foot stretch of beach was already crowded with four of five photographers by the time we arrived, but people made room and we had made it in time for the light. We spent the next forty five minutes peeling off photo after photo of the Tetons as the light danced across the sky and the craggy peaks. The crew on hand that morning was a fun cross section of photographers. Amateurs and pros alike, we saw everything from large format view cameras, to Hasselblads, to Digital SLRs and a few folks (Jody included) with point and shoots. It was a fun way to start the morning and we were done before 7 AM.

Contemplating our next move for the day, we decided to take it easy (once again) and car camp for the next two nights at Jenny Lake. We justified this by acknowledging that the snow level was still too low to permit the full loop trips we had been considering. After checking into the Jenny Lake campground, we set out for a long dayhike around Jenny Lake and String Lake, taking a short side trip up to Inspiration Point, which is well worth the effort.

The next morning, we woke up without any definite plans for the day. Since Jody had laid out our schedule for the previous day, I took the lead and decided to head for Teton Village. I've always been hopeful that I'd have a chance to ski at Jackson Hole one day and this trip just cemented the idea. After a walking tour of the shops and restaurants around Teton Village, we coughed up nineteen dollars a piece for a ride to the top of the mountain in the Jackson Hole tram - an icon in the world of skiing and one that, sadly, will be retired at the end of the 2006 season. I positioned myself carefully in the tram car so that I would get a bird's eye view of Corbet's Couloir - one of the most infamous ski runs in North America. The view didn't disappoint and I was once again amazed by the balls it must take to air ten to fifteen feet onto a 45+ degree pitch of snow with rock walls on either side. Unfortunately, the trail down to Corbet's was closed, so we couldn't get an up close look. But the other views from the top were quite incredible. We only did a short bit of hiking up top, but took advantage of the bird's eye view and spent the entire time planning future backpacking trips that would take us deep into the Teton backcountry.

After lunch, we swung through a village ski shop that had a daily showing of Teton Gravity Research movies. We had the "theatre" to ourselves and enjoyed a screening of The Tribe. After the movie, we raced back to the park and met up with some old friends of Jody's for dinner at Colter Bay. We enjoyed a nice campfire back at our site before retiring for the night - content that we had seen a slice of the Tetons, but aching to come back for more.

On Saturday morning, after a short drive back to the cabin, we met up with Doug and his family one more time and loaded all of our gear back into the car - an embarrassingly large pile of stuff we had toted along for the trip. After saying our goodbyes, we headed back down the dirt roads of Hoback Ranches one last time before turning south and starting our long drive home.

We pushed long and hard through the desert of Utah and Nevada before crashing late on Saturday night at what could only be described as the shittiest campsite on God's green earth. Our little slice of hell was sandwiched in between Intestate 80 (less than 100 feet away) and a very active train track (less than 50 feet away). It was just close enough to Reno to get sketched out every time we heard something that sounded like footsteps nearby. I'm not sure how long I actually slept that night, but I was only lying down for about four and half hours before Jody and I noticed the break of dawn and got the hell out of there.

Our poorly rested bodies bounced back to life after a delicious breakfast at South Side Café - one of Jody's old haunts from her Reno days. After a brief tour of her old neighborhood, we were back on the road - barreling down 395. It was Sunday, July 3rd and Jody's whole family was convening at the cabin in Twain Harte for the holiday weekend. Our goal was to get there by Sunday afternoon so we could get in as much time with them as possible before heading home the next day.

We spent most of Sunday and Monday doing what the Salsig clan does at Twain Harte - chilling out on the huge deck, reading books and newspapers, and enjoying the occasional frosty beverage. By the time we left on Monday night, we were ready to get home and enjoy our comfy bed. We both had to be at work in the morning, but for once I didn't dread the BART ride into Oakland - knowing I would only have to take that train nine more times before my gig was up. The trip to Wyoming had been a smashing success and we felt spoiled for the other mountains of the world. A return trip to Wyoming is inevitable and we look forward to spending more time in these incredible mountains - so full of life and beauty.

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