Bold and larger than life were the trappers, hunters, homesteaders, and prospectors who trod the ranges and ridges of Utah, Idaho, and Wyoming a century and more ago. On this drive you’ll travel in their footsteps, following them through still-untamed country that seems both remote and accessible, forbidding and beautiful. The reward at the end of the road is a relatively small but priceless jewel — glorious Grand Teton National Park.
1. Logan Canyon Scenic Drive
From Logan, Utah, Rte. 89 follows the Logan River northeast toward Bear Lake. On either side of the river rise the steep slopes and dramatic limestone cliffs of Logan Canyon. Among the intriguing stops along the route is the Preston Valley Campground, where a sign calls attention to a slab of quartz tunneled by tiny seaworms some 400 million years ago. Another is the Wood Camp Campground, from which a trail leads to the Jardine Juniper, an evergreen believed to be more than 1,500 years old.
2. Bear Lake Summit
After a climb of some 3,000 feet between Logan and Bear Lake Summit, the drive rewards travelers with a breathtaking view of Bear Lake, which shimmers with a shade of blue-green so vivid it looks like a tropical lagoon — or a suburban swimming pool. A mile farther on, another commanding view overlooks not only Bear Lake, but a horizon rimmed by the Sawtooth Mountains to the northeast, the Trump Range to the east, and the Uintas to the southeast.
3. Bear Lake
Turning north at Garden City, Rte.89 parallels the western shore of Bear Lake, whose aquamarine waters — colored by tiny suspended particles — straddle the border between Utah and Idaho. Because geologic upheaval long ago isolated it from surrounding bodies of water, Bear Lake has managed to nurture four species of fish found nowhere else in the world. The wide sandy beach at the lake’s northern shore, part of Bear Lake State Park, is a local mecca for swimmers and picnickers. Just north of the beach is Bear Lake National Wildlife Refuge, 18,060 acres consisting mostly of wetlands that provide nesting places for snowy egrets, white-faced ibises, and Franklin’s gulls.
4. Greys River Road
The fast way north to Jackson is via well-traveled Rte. 89 through the Star Valley, where the rugged mountains of Wyoming flatten and slide toward blandly bucolic Idaho farmland. A more adventurous route is the 80-mile, two-lane gravel detour by way of the Smith Fork and Greys River roads, beginning at a turnoff about six miles south of Smoot. Following a verdant valley tucked between the Wyoming and Salt River Mountains and cloaked with lodgepole pines (part of the Bridger-Teton National Forest), the road runs along the trout-rich Greys River. Frequent turnouts invite hungry travelers to pause for a picnic and tempt eager anglers to wet a line in the flowing waters.
As the road approaches Jackson, look down the highway and you’ll see a strip of retail stores. Beyond Jackson, look toward the Tetons and you’ll see a classic Ansel Adams image of natural grandeur.
These are the two faces of Jackson Hole, a broad valley surrounded by mountains (what 19th-century trappers called a hole) that serves as the opening corridor to Grand Teton National Park. Though Jackson is a welter of boutiques, galleries, and restaurants, it is a great base camp for the loop drive through Grand Teton National Park. Be sure to make reservations for the busy summer season.
6. Jackson Hole Aerial Tram
An effortless alpine experience is provided by the aerial tram that in 10 minutes glides to the summit of 10,450-foot Rendezvous Peak, offering a view north into the sharp-edged tableau of the Tetons. The tram operates daily, late May through September, from the Jackson Hole Ski Resort off Rte. 22, west of Jackson.
7. National Elk Refuge
Early in this century, Jackson Hole’s majestic elk were dying by the thousands in bitter-cold winters. Consequently, in 1912 the federal government established a winter range for thousands of elk, which evolved into this 25,000- acre refuge. Elk dot the snowy meadows from October to April or May but head for the higher elevations in summer. Rte. 89 skirts the refuge’s western boundary, often affording somewhat distant views of the antlered beasts. For a closer look, follow the signs from Jackson to the National Wildlife Art Museum and ride through the herd in a horse-drawn sleigh.
8. Gros Ventre Loop
For a lesson in the geologic history of Jackson Hole, take this 25-mile loop through a part of Grand Teton National Park overlooked by most visitors. Turn east at Gros Ventre Junction, paralleling the Gros Ventre River to Kelly. One mile north of Kelly, turn east on the narrow, winding road that leads to the site of a relatively recent geologic cataclysm: the Gros Ventre Slide. In June 1925 a mile-long layer of sandstone suddenly tore loose from Sheep Mountain and slid downhill, damming the Gros Ventre River and forming Lower Slide Lake. Two years later a part of the lake burst through its natural dam and sent a wall of water rushing downstream toward the town of Kelly, which was virtually destroyed.
9. Teton Point Turnout
The route follows Antelope Flats Road west to rejoin Rte. 89 (now called the Jackson Hole Highway) and then heads three miles north to Teton Point Turnout. While you are here, look up to an imaginary point three-quarters of a mile directly above you: that is where the surface of the ice lay when glaciers filled Jackson Hole. To the west is a superb view of the towering Tetons. Though the mountains are relatively young (less than 10 million years), some of them contain the gneiss and schist of far older rocks, nearly 3 billion years old.
10. Snake River Overlook
This turnout, atop a giant glacial moraine deposited thousands of years ago, affords a panoramic view across Jackson Hole to the Teton Range. The Snake River, as serpentine as its name suggests, is lined with willows, cottonwoods, and aspens — an ideal habitat for beavers, whose dams dot the myriad streams that feed into the great winding river.
11. Cunningham Cabin Historic Site
About a mile beyond the Snake River Overlook lies Hedricks Pond, a nesting site for rare trumpeter swans and other waterfowl. A bit farther along, an unpaved road turns west off Rte. 89, leading to the remains of a two-room, sod-roofed cabin that was once the home of Pierce and Margaret Cunningham. Exemplars of the pioneering spirit, the couple worked this harsh land tenaciously from 1890 until 1928, surviving in spite of the region’s harsh winters, short summers, and extreme isolation.
12. Oxbow Bend Turnout
Just south of Moran the drive crosses the tiny Buffalo Fork River, where Walter Delacy prospected for gold in the 1860s. He found no gold, so he journeyed north and discovered an even greater treasure, whose name at least sounds golden: Yellowstone. The map he made of the area inspired expeditions, which led in 1872 to the establishment of our first national park.
Far off to the west is 12,605-foot Mt. Moran, named for artist Thomas Moran, whose paintings of the West wowed the folks back east. Farther down the road, at the Oxbow Bend Turnout, moose and mule deer roam the thickets along the Snake River, and its whispering waters are home to beavers, otters, and muskrats. For a closer look at the meander itself, take the short unpaved road south to Cattlemans Bridge. Because the water is slow-moving here, plants are anchored to the fertile riverbed and fish gather in schools, attracting pelicans, great blue herons, cormorants, and bald eagles.
13. Signal Mountain
At Jackson Lake Junction turn south on Teton Park Road (closed in winter). A few miles farther along, turn east onto Signal Mountain Road, a paved spur leading to the top of SignalMountain, about 1,000 feet above the valley floor. The views from this road are perhaps the grandest in the Jackson Hole area. At the Jackson Point Overlook, half a mile short of the summit, a sweeping panorama faces west, toward the Tetons. The view was etched into the national consciousness when, from this exact spot in 1878, William Henry Jackson photographed Mt. Moran reflected in the surface of Jackson Lake. From Signal Mountain’s summit you can see all the way north to Yellowstone. Two gleaming lakes — Emma Matilda and Two Ocean — lie to the northeast , the Snake River loops to the east and south, and the Gros Ventre Mountains rise beyond a flat expanse of sagebrush.
14. Cathedral Group Turnout
At North Jenny Lake Junction, bear right onto the one-way road leading to one of the park’s most spectacular viewpoints. As though they had risen abruptly from the valley floor, the majestic trio of peaks known as Teewinot, Grand Teton, and Owen do indeed echo in granite the spires and symmetry of a great Gothic cathedral.
15. String and Jenny Lakes
An easy 3 1/2-mile hiking trail encircles String Lake, the narrow connector between Leigh Lake to the north and Jenny Lake to the south. In early summer the path winds past clumps of calypso orchids, which look like pink, spoon-tailed birds in flight. They are one of the loveliest of the park’s 15 orchid species.
Farther south, a turnout looks across cerulean Jenny Lake into Cascade Canyon. Down the road near the ranger station, you can take a summer shuttle boat across the lake to the Cascade Canyon Trail. Its lower section wanders through a wonderland of evergreens and wildflowers to such inviting locations as Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point, overlooking Jackson Hole.
16. Teton Glacier Turnout
At the south end of Jenny Lake the drive rejoins Teton Park Road southbound. From the turnout up ahead, you can view Teton Glacier, one of 12 still active rivers of slowly flowing ice in the range — a reminder that the natural forces that formed these mountains continue imperceptibly but steadily.
17. Taggart Lake Trailhead
Another of those natural forces is fire, and to the west at Taggart Lake Trailhead, you can see the scar of a 1985 blaze that burned out of control with such intensity that pines literally exploded and boulders cracked from the heat. Despite their seeming destructiveness, however, forest fires ignited by lightning cleansed and regenerated forests for eons and ecologists now question whether such blazes should automatically be quenched. An incidental legacy of the fire is unblocked mountain views and, in the summers, a riot of wildflowers.
18. Menor’s Ferry Historic Site
Exhibits at this site include an old homestead dating from 1894, a smokehouse, a well, Teton memorabilia, and a replica of the old cable ferry that operated here until 1927. Most important, at this site in 1923 a meeting was held among farsighted conservationists that led eventually to the creation of Grand Teton National Park. Length: About 240 miles.
When to go: May to October.
Nearby attractions: Fossil Butte National Monument (fossil displays), west of Kemmerer, Wyoming. Lava Hot Springs, Idaho (known for its hot mineral pools). Periodic Spring (the spring gushes every 18 minutes from an opening in a canyon wall), in Bridger-Teton National Forest, near Afton, Wyoming.
Visitor centers: At Colter Bay, Jenny Lake, and Moose in Grand Teton National Park.
Further information: Grand Teton National Park, P.O. Drawer 170, Moose, WY 83 012; tel. 307-739-3300, www.nps.gov/grte/.
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