Back in August, Julie and I took a road trip out to Wyoming to check out some of the sites in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks for a couple days and then head to the Wind River Range for a backpacking trip. My friend Dave also flew out from the east coast to join us. We picked him up in Salt Lake City on Saturday afternoon and then headed up to West Yellowstone where we would spend two nights. As we approached the town, we were welcomed by a bear and a cub that darted across the street about 100 feet in front of us. Not a bad start to our trip, but those would be the only bears we saw while we were there.
On Sunday morning we headed into Yellowstone for a tour of the upper loop. Most of the park was quite hazy, which someone told us was due to some wildfires in Idaho. Our first stop was Norris Geyser Basin. There were a few geysers erupting while we were there and I really enjoyed the assortment of colors created by the acidic waters.
After taking a stroll around the boardwalk in the basin, we headed east to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. According to the NPS website,the canyon is roughly 20 miles long, measured from the Upper Falls to the Tower Fall area, depth is 800 to 1,200 feet and width is 1,500 to 4,000 feet. A short hike down to the “Brink of Lower Falls” led us to some outstanding views.
Looking up the canyon with the Lower Falls just below us
We went to a couple other viewpoints in the area to get some different views of the canyon and the waterfalls before continuing on up to Lamar Valley, which is a short drive off the upper loop towards northeast entrance. This was one of the highlights and we were able to relax for a few hours on an otherwise rushed day. As we approached the valley we saw a bunch of cars and people on a hill near the side of the road, so we drove for another minute or two to avoid them and found a nice little spot that we had to ourselves for most of the time. The valley is home to herds of elk, bison, several packs of wolves and apparently grizzlies are also seen in the area, but we were only lucky enough to see the bison while we were there.
As we headed back the upper loop, there were about 50 people on the side of the road. Many of them had what appeared to be really nice cameras and lenses set up on their tripods and were just waiting for something, so of course we had to find out what was going on. After all, we were in a national park, so I guess the herd behavior was only natural. It turns out there was a carcass close by and there were wolves feeding on it the prior evening, so a lot of people came back hoping there would be a repeat performance. Being somewhat limited on time, we didn't stick around long enough to find out if they returned, but I'll just assume that they didn't so I don't regret the decision to leave.
Once we got back to the main road, we completed the loop by droving west to Mammoth Hot Springs. This was definitely an interesting area, but I was a little bit too tired to really enjoy it, so we just took a short walk around the terraces, took a few pictures, then headed back to West Yellowstone.
The next day our destination was Jackson Hole, first stopping at Old Faithful on the way. We were lucky enough to arrive about 10 minutes before it erupted.
We also stopped at the massive Yellowstone Lake for a walk on the beach.
We originally had a day hike planned for the afternoon in Grand Teton National Park, but since it was so hazy we decided to just have lunch near Jenny Lake and then get to Jackson Hole a little earlier to check out the town and get ready for the backpacking portion of our trip.
On the way out of the park, traffic slowed down and we noticed a bunch of people on the side of the road. Someone told us they were all looking at a couple of Moose, so we pulled over to see for ourselves. They were mostly obstructed by the bushes (and the other people that would walk up and stand right in front of me), but they emerged just long enough for me to get a few pictures. This was probably the least obstructed shot of them....
On Tuesday morning, we got up early, had some breakfast at the hotel, then drove about 2 hours to the Elkhart Park trailhead. The route we chose was based on "Route #29: Indian Basin to Cook Lakes" in Nancy Pallister’s book, which incorporated a few relatively easy off trail sections. We weren’t sure if it would be just as hazy in the Wind River Range as it had been in Yellowstone and Grand Teton, so we went in hoping for the best. When we arrived at Photographers Point it was obvious that the haze was just something we were going to have to deal with.
Fortunately, the weather was great and visibility varied over the course of our trip. Some sections actually weren’t impacted very much at all by the haze, so it definitely could have been much worse.
After a short break at Photographers Point, we continued on, passing a few lakes, including Hobbs Lake, Seneca Lake and Little Seneca Lake. We then arrived at the beautiful Island Lake, where we stopped for a little while to enjoy the views, have a snack and fill our water bottles.
I was starting to run out of steam and could have easily been convinced to set up camp there for the evening, but Dave still had plenty of energy so we ended up hiking a little bit further and into Titcomb Basin. Despite dragging along for that final stretch, I was pretty happy with that decision once we arrived as this was a spectacular place to call home for an evening. We found a nice spot about halfway into the basin near one of the lakes where we set up camp.
As we were preparing our dinner, I spent several minutes looking for the spoon that Julie and I normally share. Eventually I gave up and admitted to myself that I left it in the car. Oops! I guess that's one of the downsides to sharing the spoon -- if I forget it, we're both out of luck. The funny thing is we originally realized that sharing a spoon was the better option after I forgot mine on a previous trip. Anyway, we spent a few minutes trying to think of a way to improvise the spoon, but ending up going with the easiest option and just sharing Dave's spoon.
The next day we were not in any rush to leave the basin and spent a few hours there, which was another benefit to arriving the night before. I could have spent all day there, but we eventually packed up our stuff and headed over to Indian Basin, which was only a short hike away. We set up camp near Lake 10,813 in the early afternoon, had some lunch and then day hiked up to Indian Pass to check out the other side of the continental divide. The hike up was full of nice views and wildflowers, but I found the views over the pass to be mediocre in comparison. The trail was a little bit difficult to follow, but it didn't really matter much as there was a pretty clear line of sight both ways. On the way down we ended up taking a very different and more direct route than on the way up, effecitvely turning our out and back day hike into a loop. About a mile into the way up, we saw one other group camping, but other than that it seemed like we had the whole basin to ourselves.
Wildflowers along the trail as we head up to Indian Pass
The peak just south of Indian Pass
Looking northeast from Indian Pass to the other side of the divide
The following day is when we left the main trail and headed to Cook Lakes. We started off by hiking around Elephant Head and then over towards Wall-Island pass. At the bottom of the hike up to the pass, we stopped for a snack and to refill our water bottles and we noticed several people hiking up towards the pass. On our way up we chatted with them for a while as they were coming back down from their day hike and one of the guys was kind enough to give us a few tips on the best route down. As we headed down, we reached Wall Lake and continued around the eastern end of the lake, which we were expecting to be a little bit difficult based on the description in Nancy Pallister’s book. There ended up being a few slightly tricky spots, but nothing too bad. In fact, I found that it was more difficult getting around Elephant Head earlier in the day.
After getting around Wall Lake it was only a short hike further to Cook Lakes. This ended up being a shorter day than we originally planned after skipping one of the side trips mentioned in the book. We considered continuing on, but the Cook Lakes area was such a nice setting for a leisurely afternoon, so we decided to stay there for the night. Dave took a nap on the beach by the lake while Julie and I wandered around a bit. Other than one group that hiked by in the early eveing, it seemed like once again we had the whole place to ourselves.
After the sun went down, we found a nice big and flat rock that we were all able to lay down on, so we hung out there for a while, gazed up at the night sky with plenty of shooting stars and talked for a bit before finally going to sleep.
The next day we would head over to Spider Lake before connecting with main trail again. We got off of our intended course a little bit, but the area was pretty flat and wide open, so we eventually ended up at Spider Lake anyway.
Once we got back to the main trail, we headed south and around Mt. Baldy. The scenery wasn’t quite as dramatic in this section, but it was enjoyable nonetheless. After getting around Mt. Baldy, we headed north again and ended up at Elklund lake, which set us up for a short hike back to the trailhead the following morning. As we approached, the peaks in the distance were visible above the trees lining the lake, but those views were shortlived as we descended to the lake and into the trees to set up camp. There were quite a few people closer to the trail junction on the north end of the lake, but we found a nice secluded spot on the south end, with easy water access and another nice big slab or rock where we could eat dinner and hang out for a bit before going to bed for our final night of the trip.
On the way back to the trailhead the next morning we had a couple options -- we could either retrace our steps from the beginning of the first day or take a different route past the Sweeney Lakes and Miller Lake. Normally we would choose the different route, but since the visibility was so bad at Photographers Point on the first day, we decided to check it out again on the way out and we were glad we did. The views were much better this time.
After getting back to the car, we headed straight to the Wind River Brewing Company in Pinedale for some lunch and beers. Then it was off to my cousin’s house near Salt Lake City for a shower and some rest before the long drive home the next day. All in all, it was a great week and it was nice to finally spend a little bit of time in the Wind River Range. It’s easy to see why backpackers love the Winds so much and now I can’t wait to head back there when I have more time to explore some of the many areas I did not get to see this time.