I awoke on August 16 full of the conflicting sadness that my family was leaving and excitement to see Yellowstone. I did want to get one more sunrise from one of the greatest sunrise spots on Earth. The boundary layer aerosol load over northwestern Wyoming may have disagreed, but that was neither here nor there. Once Elizabeth and Pam had rolled off of their air mattresses, I convinced them that we should go down to the lakeshore before our rendezvous with my family. Our original (now abandoned) campsite was in the last loop before the northern lakeshore of Colter Bay Village, so Pam, Elizabeth and I wandered out to the campground road and turned right. I think my original Google-Maps-aided plan was to take Loop O to the very end and cut through a few campsites until we reached the lakeshore, but instead, there was a small trail right at the end of the campground road. Perfect.
Except, as it turned out, it wasn’t perfect. The trail started out fine, leading northward toward the promised land of Jackson Lake. And then it stopped being so well-defined, forcing us to pick our way over downed trees. And then it almost entirely ceased to be a trail, forcing me to beat a path through pine branches and leafy underbrush. All throughout, Elizabeth felt the need to remind me that this was moose and bear country, as if I wasn’t already thinking of that. Finally, the trail rapidly descended through the underbrush until we hit a ledge – the high-water lakeshore. Now there was a new problem – there was a big old drop-off from the ledge to the rocky lakeshore beneath. Elizabeth and Pam called it quits here, but I was committed at this point, was I not? As carefully as I could in slides, I scrambled down the steep bank and onto the open lakebed. It was a little hard to actually reach the mid-August shoreline because the rocks kept sliding under my feet, but eventually I made it. The water level was depressingly low, the smoke content in the atmosphere was depressingly high, and it turned out to be enough to make a person wonder where the Earth was headed. Here’s the view of the northern Teton Range, for whatever it was worth.
The trek back up the slope to the campsite proved to be even more difficult than on the way down, if that was possible. I think Elizabeth was not too happy with me for dragging us all this way out, and the grouchies wouldn’t go away from there. They were quelled briefly when we got back to the campsite and I made one of the all-time great breakfast sandwiches. One of my favorite pre-trip purchases was a plastic egg carton to keep eggs in the cooler protected. The eggs I had bought at the Colter Bay general store the night before were sitting snug in the cooler, waiting for a perfect breakfast. I fired up the camping stove as the morning sky brightened to a milky blue and threw some bacon on the cast iron. Terri and Garrett walked over as it began to crackle cheerfully on the pan. Once the bacons were on a paper towel, I made some of the bacon-greasiest eggs in existence, topped them with cheese, and threw them on some cold bread. It was heavenly.
Now comes the part of the trip that is the hardest for me to blog about, because it was easily my least favorite part of the trip. In fact, I’ve been dreading writing this section for months, but with my Grand Teton blog series finally coming to an end, there is no more putting it off. The impetus for the unpleasantness stemmed from my promise to meet my family at the general store for a final breakfast before they boarded their respective planes for Michigan. In the meantime, Elizabeth was worried that we wouldn’t get everything cleaned up at our campsite in time to pass inspection. Her concern was well-founded, and I bustled around trying to clean up as fast as possible, but it became clear that we wouldn’t be able to finish packing up our campsite before we were supposed to leave my family. In my eyes, that was fine. Our check-out time was midday, which should give us plenty of time to say our good-byes and get back. Maybe Elizabeth didn’t realize that. I’m not sure, maybe she was just feeling ornery. What followed was Elizabeth outright refusing to leave the campsite until it was fully cleaned, even if it meant forcing my family to wait for us for an extended period of time or them leaving without a good-bye altogether. I wasn’t sure how to deal with it, and Pam was even less sure. Wheedling, pleading, and negotiating didn’t work, and eventually I lost my patience. I’m not proud of it, but eventually I snapped. And like, there is not a worse time I could have snapped than in front of my future mother-in-law to my fiancee of three days. I instantly felt embarrassed and apologized for yelling, but the damage was done. It was a glum mood in the car as we drove away from our not-cleaned-up campsite to the general store.
Maybe we just needed to shower our feelings off. Colter Bay boasts some of the nicest showers you’ll ever find in a national park, right next to the general store. We’d used them the day before, right before our kayaking trip down at Signal Mountain. This time, I knew what to expect in the shower stalls, but I couldn’t enjoy the hot water as much this time around. This was probably a bad call on my part, since it was my last shower for another 4 and a half days. Either way, what I really wanted was to talk to my family.
There they were, sitting outside the general store, where they’d been waiting for us for the better part of a half hour. After profuse apologies on my part, I sat down at a picnic table with them to share a cinnamon bun from the general store. They sensed my downturned mood (probably not hard given the circumstances), and of course, nothing makes you feel better after a fight like explaining it to your mom. I would still feel troubled over what had happened for the better part of the day, but from here on out I was able to breathe a little easier.
The time had come for final good-byes with the Meisters. My mom wanted a picture of everyone together with the mountains in the background, so we headed down to the end of the Colter Bay developed area past the visitor’s center to a place called Bathing Beach. Originally, my mom wanted to go to the marina, but the entire Colter Bay marina was sitting high and dry in the drought. So the beach it was. One last time to look at the Tetons – who knows if I’ll ever see them again? And one last time to hang out with the Meisters – after all, we wouldn’t see them again for like another 10 days.
And just like that, it was hugs and good-byes galore. My family was on their way back down to Jackson Hole airport, from which my parents would continue their trip down to Salt Lake City. I initially didn’t plan on them being part of our grand vacation plans, but in hindsight I can say that I’m so, so happy that all of them were able to make it. The trip is a cherished memory not in the least because of family being there. I hope to get to make more memories like that in the future.
On the way back to our campsite, Elizabeth and I made a stop at the Colter Bay Visitor’s Center to get two more stamps in her stamp collection quest. The Colter Bay Visitor’s Center was nowhere near the splendor of the Moose Village counterpart further south, although I suppose on a normal day the views from the back patio give a charming look at the marina. Regardless, Elizabeth was able to obtain her stamps for Colter Bay and for the Rockefeller Memorial Parkway, bringing her trip count to 3.
Elizabeth, Pam, and I headed back to the campground one last time. We actually didn’t have a whole lot of cleanup left to do, and with everyone a bit more cheerful the final cleanup flew by. Terri and Garrett finished theirs up as well, in time to beat the final inspection by the camp hosts. Soon, the only sign that we’d ever camped at Colter Bay was the trash bag full of the refuse of our stay, planted on the hood of Elizabeth’s car. I paused for a long moment, taking in the shady spot we’d called home for the last 72 hours. And then I jumped into the driver’s seat, eased around the loop, and pulled up to the dumpster.
Grand Teton had *one* final surprise for us. Following with the theme of the last 24 hours, it was an unexpected fauna visit that sent us off on the right note – in this case, a deer right on the side of the campground road.
Grand Teton – in some ways, disappointing to visit it at the time we did. But truly, nothing could fully mask the majesty of that mountain range, and the beauty of that park. I hope to be back someday before too long, preferably with clear skies. And this time I won’t have to arrive with a knot in my stomach from an impending proposal!
When we got back out to the highway from Colter Bay, I turned left. We followed the Rockefeller Parkway northbound along the eastern flank of Jackson Lake, with our view generally sheltered by the plethora of trees lining the road. Eventually, we came upon the Grand Teton entrance sign.
We were heading north, to Yellowstone.