Thursday, September 12, 2013

Grand Teton to Utah

Grand Teton NP is a bit to Yellowstone, what Tasmania is to Australia, that small appendix just below it. Also just like Tasmania, Grand Teton is beautiful. I know I've used those words before, but the English language has a chronic shortage of words to describe the beauty of nature. Despite being that close to Yellowstone, Grand Teton is very different. Yellowstone is all about wide open spaces and volcanic landscapes. Grand Teton about rugged mountains and tranquil lakes. Both offer unbelievable beauty.

Leaving from Madison in the Yellowstone NP we met a couple from Scotland, Bruce and Stella. They were here as a sort of prologue to their trip. Next year they want to do Alaska to Argentina as well; on two Yamaha XT250s. The BMW1200GS parade will laugh at them, as apparently did a lot of Horizons Unlimited groupies they met, but I bet they have the last laugh. Doing a trip like this on a small bike that you can handle makes a lot more sense than climbing on board an unwieldy monster. 

The opposite we found just outside the park. Same brand bike but a 1200cc version. Have no idea why he bought it as it's a dual-sport, all he was interested in is how fast it could go… and how he could get it to go even faster…!
We took the mugshot of the welcome to Grand Teton sign and rode in. Being warned about campsites being full we decided to ride on to the campground, pitch the tent and then come back. It would have been a great idea, but the campground host on the National Park site of Grand Teton wasn't managing it very well. It wasn't full but we still couldn't camp there as the only two available spots were for RVs. Never mind that there were RVs parked on tent sites… National Park campgrounds show their friendly attitude, again… 

Luckily there is a private enterprise with more sense and one that offers a good shop at Signal Mountain Lodge. Mind you it was unfortunately also an exception to the rest of lodges and shops around Yellowstone and Grand Teton. All this riding around, trying to find a campspot meant it was now too late for photos as the sun had sunk behind the mountains. Luckily the Lodge had another surprise for us... the shop sells food (and some souvenirs instead of mostly souvenirs and a little bit of food as we were used to see lately) and Angus burgers, the best burgers around! As they were frozen, and we didn't had the patience to let them thaw out, we had a rather spectacular amount of water mixed with cooking oil leaving the pan in a hurry :-)

The day after we went back to make our photos, i.e. the ones you see here. The best time to make photos in Grand Teton is early in the morning for most of the park. The sun will then be behind you, skimming over the lake and brightly illuminating the sharp mountains behind it. It's a view you can look at for hours, it won't get boring! Looking at the sharp peaks, the trees in their orange/yellowy autumn coat and the pristine lake and river in front of it, makes me wonder what I would have been doing at this moment had I not started my bike that morning in Tasmania, now almost a year ago. I probably would have been on mainland Australia somewhere, looking for or going to work… Hmmm. Back at the parking area we found that Mike had lost his motorbike key somewhere. Backtracking where he had been resulted in nothing, scanning the ground millimetre by millimetre didn't locate it either. In the end we found it…after a search of 20 minutes… in one of his hardly used pockets! Aaargh
On the map we found a route marked 'scenic', as if any route here isn't scenic… A beautifully sweeping one-way system past rivers and a series of viewpoints. Everywhere you look in Grand Teton you see Grand Mountains, Grand Views and have a Grand Feeling! Even the road leaving the National Park is a beauty, right to the very end. 

Early morning campground visitors in Grand Teton NP
Leaving Grand Teton, we picked up the new tent for Mike, a Hilleberg Staika. A more than welcome replacement for the Vango. The Vango Tempest 300 seemed like a decent tent when we bought it. Vango sells it for the serious hiker after all. When the aluminium tentpoles started snapping one by one, the stitches came loose and the once green fly started to become a slightly greenish white, we knew it simply wasn't up to the job. The Hilleberg Keron 4GT had taken us around Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Alaska and was used often as a barrier to keep the wind off the Vango too. We knew there was only one tent up to the job: Hilleberg. Mike wanted something different and opted for the Staika. Yes, it's an expensive tent, but worth it.

Riding across the border into Idaho I noticed two things. The first is a pathetic white on blue sign that welcomes us into the state. The second is the pitch black sky closing in on us. We hardly had time to get the rain gear out before we got a real drenching, accompanied by a great lightshow and thunder. Idaho has a serious lack of imagination. They are apparently only famous for their potatoes…  Despite having set-out a route that is an amalgamation of scenic byways, the route through this part of Idaho is… boring! Yet there is something familiar about it that I can't put my finger on. The landscape, the houses… but what is it? I punish my brain trying to find what it is, but can't work it out. Then a big banner that says tells all… that's why it looked familiar. Not that I'm a Mormone, or have anything against Mormones, but it reminded me of one of the houses nearby us in Tasmania.

The landscapes are extremely monotonous. In short: wheat. Occasionally the massive wheat fields are interrupted by a small settlement of 3 houses and a wheat silo. One of these places was called Freedom and just behind their sign was another that advertised for guns, rifles and bullets. Freedom comes at a price I presume.
Just before Soda Springs, Monsanto has a gigantic operation that's hardly an improvement on the already boring landscape. It's a filthy looking black soot. Monsanto calls it: 'elemental phosphorus, a key component to ensure that the farmers are more productive, something that’s becoming increasingly important in our growing world.' Funnily enough Idaho farmers have filed a lawsuit against the same Monsanto when genetically engineered wheat was found in an eastern Oregon field, contending that Monsanto's development of 'Roundup Ready wheat' resulted in increased production costs and lowered prices, because the genetically engineered wheat is likely to infiltrate the non-genetically engineered wheat supply. Looking at all the pollution and the scenery around it makes me think about the movie Erin Brockovic...

We're filling the tanks and our stomachs at the General Store in Soda Springs and watch the locals coming and going. It's raining cats and dogs so we're not in a hurry. They all drive big pickup trucks, wear camouflage clothing (which is understandable as I wouldn't want to be seen there either), leave their engines running while filling up and look like at least three generations of inbreeding. 

I'm trying to find some self adhesive velcro or double sided tape in the store to secure one of the headlight protectors, but they don't have any. They do sell every brand of cigarette available to man... and bullets, but no velcro and no tape. A poster on the wall tells about a raffle ticket you can buy. Win the jackpot and you get a… gun!

Happy with his new Hilleberg Staika!
Happy to be leaving again we find the tourist info closed, how fitting. We can't find any campgrounds along the way. Not even along Bear Lake (where even the town Fish Haven is not at the waterfront). In the end we left Idaho and found a campground in Utah. Jeanette's stomach doesn't agree with the famous Idaho potato in french fries form that we had at Soda Springs, maybe Monsanto was working on the potatoes too.