Being Mrs. Pierce

Life as a wife, hiker, wanna-be chef, book-lover, traveler, and now, mom-to-be

Grand Teton National Park: Sawmill Ponds Trail August 5, 2014

Filed under: Hiking,Travel — skpierce12 @ 1:58 PM

035

 

During our recent Wyoming trip, my husband and I hiked around Phelps Lake on a Friday, white-water rafted down the Snake River the following day, and then went horseback riding the day after that. Our double date with two horses named Rex and Whiskey was set for 2 PM that Sunday afternoon, so John and I fit in the easy, 1.4-mile hike at Sawmill Ponds late that same morning.

 

The Sawmill Ponds trailhead sits at an overlook off the Moose-Wilson Road. We stopped at that same overlook the morning of our Phelps Lake hike and had seen a cow moose and her baby wading in the water. Hoping for additional moose sightings, we decided to return and walk the short, out-and-back trail.

 

When the trail began, the walkway was wide and easily navigable, thanks to the crowds that pause at the overlook to spy on moose in the wetlands below. Few people (and no moose) were present when we set out on our hike, however, and we would not encounter anyone else (of the human variety, at least) until we returned to the parking area.

 

026

 

Shortly after beginning our walk, John noticed movement in the distance. Using our cheap binoculars, he found two brown spots far away in the trees. I found the same spots using our camera. Our best guess leaned towards elk, which would prove to be the case as we hiked nearer to them.

 

027

 

The trail followed the edge of the cliff that overlooked Sawmill Ponds, a series of small water bodies created by beaver dams.

 

030

 

Most of the trail was in full sun, so we paused for a minute by this tree to cool off in the shade.

 

031

 

There were actually two trail options for hiking above Sawmill Ponds. We stuck to the cliff edge path to better spot wildlife, but another trail (the remains of an unpaved road to and from an old landing strip) existed away from the edge. That trail was wider with less brush to scratch your shins, but it also cut off much of the wetlands from view.

 

032

 

Back by the drop-off, we came around a slight bend in the trail and immediately saw this dark figure in the grass below. What you see is pretty much the only view that we had of this hungry cow moose. Not once, on either the out or the back portion of our hike, did she fully lift her head away from her lunch.

 

034

 

Slightly disappointed in our wildlife sightings on the trail so far, John kept the binoculars poised and ready as we hoped for more.

 

039

 

We paused often on this hike to scan the landscape beneath us. When I tired of fruitless gazing, I turned to the mountains behind me for entertainment.

 

040

041

 

Just as we neared the end of the trail, a group of brown blurs came into view. With a little zooming courtesy of the binoculars and camera, we found ourselves in a staring contest with a small herd of elk. We felt confident that two of these elk were the two brown spots we had seen at the start of our hike.

 

042

 

Even though we were quite far away, the elk remained wary of us for as long as we were in view.

 

045

 

When we had our fill of elk stalking, John and I turned around and made our way back to the trailhead. We were still hoping to catch sight of a bull moose, but our grass-happy cow moose was the only one willing to cooperate.

 

We completed the Sawmill Ponds hike in under an hour, and we were glad to have done it–even with the lack of wildlife activity. Had we ventured out earlier in the morning, we might have had better luck. I would recommend this hike to anyone interested in a short, easy hike with wildlife-viewing potential. Just remember to bring your bug spray!  Those mosquitoes love the wetlands.

 

Grand Teton National Park: Phelps Lake Loop Trail August 4, 2014

Filed under: Hiking,Travel — skpierce12 @ 3:47 PM

053

 

After three days of hiking and sightseeing in Yellowstone last month, John and I drove south for our week-long stay in Grand Teton National Park. On our first full day in Grand Teton, the four of us enjoyed a lazy morning at Jenny Lake Lodge and then spent the afternoon floating down the Snake River courtesy of Barker-Ewing. The following day, John and I woke early in order to venture out on the trails in the Laurence S. Rockefeller (LSR) Preserve. We had debated which trail to hike first in Grand Teton, as we wanted to revisit last year’s lovely Jenny Lake hike but also desired to explore new terrain. In the end, we selected the Phelps Lake Loop Trail. It had similar features to the Jenny Lake Loop (easy-to-moderate hiking, stunning lake-mountains-trees scenery, 7 or so miles in length), but would allow us to take in novel sights in the southern portion of the park.

 

Driving to the LSR Preserve, we came upon a horde of cars and people at an overlook off the Moose-Wilson Road.  Haphazardly-parked cars and gawking, camera-toting tourists were clear indicators of the presence of wildlife.  Most of the time we drove on by, but we knew that moose frequented the area so we stopped, grabbing our camera on the way out of the car.  Sure enough, a cow moose was wading and grazing in the wetlands below the overlook.  We snapped our photos and returned to the car.

 

004

 

As I glanced back for one last look, a baby moose was carefully making its way through the water to join its mother!  I was glad we had stopped.  On our float trip the day before, we spied a bull moose chowing down in the brush along the river.  We had now fulfilled our moose quota for the trip: bull moose, cow moose, baby moose.

 

008

 

We arrived at the LSR Preserve early enough in the morning that we didn’t have to wait for a parking spot (thank you, lady ranger at the Moose Visitor Center, for that tip). We grabbed our hiking pack and bear spray and hit the trail.

 

010

 

On the way to the preserve’s trailhead, we paused to get up close and personal with some cascading water.  The snow-fueled mountain stream was not near as chilly as I had expected.

 

016

 

At the trailhead, John helpfully pointed us in the right direction. We would take the Lake Creek Trail up to Phelps Lake and the start of the Loop Trail.

 

019

 

Not surprisingly, the Lake Creek Trail followed the path of Lake Creek.

 

020

 

The path also could have been named Rocky Road, thanks to the many rocks protruding up from the otherwise-dirt trail. I needed to keep my eyes on the ground beneath me, but…

 

024

 

…this was not easy to do when the mini-rapids of Lake Creek kept gurgling my name!

 

026

 

As the trail neared Phelps Lake, John pointed out the specimens from which we should choose this year’s live Christmas tree.  Were it not both illegal (to cut down) and impossible (to fit inside our house), the perfectly conical shapes of these beauties would make for an impressive holiday display.

 

036

 

We snagged our first view of Phelps Lake as Lake Creek Trail met up with the Phelps Lake Loop Trail.  We would hike clockwise around the lake.

 

037

 

This metal boardwalk above a grassy wetlands area took us slightly away from the lake but gave us a scenic view of Mount Hunt.

 

039

 

Much of the trail, however, kept us near the shoreline of the lake.

 

044

 

We knew the LSR Preserve had its share of bears (hence the bear spray), but this marmot was the largest animal we came across while on our hike.

 

045

 

We detoured slightly away from the loop trail in order to visit Huckleberry Point. This was the closest I got to getting in the lake, although the clear, pristine water did look very tempting.

 

049

 

The trees closed in on the trail at several points in the hike, providing altering shade and light.

 

056

 

A unique feature of the Phelps Lake Loop Trail is the variety of walking surfaces to be found within it. Already we had tread upon rock-filled paths, metal boardwalks, and smooth, soft-pack dirt surfaces. Wooden boardwalks were our next surprise.

 

061

 

As we skirted the opposite side of the lake from where we’d begun, the trail moved up and away from the lake shore. The insect presence kicked up a notch as we came across a sea of wildflowers.

 

064

068

 

Up until now I’ve been full of praise about this trail, but one word of warning: large boulders teeter along the path, so you may need to hold them up for your hiking partner(s). Eat your Wheaties, folks.

 

070

 

Oh, and wear long pants. Unless you come armed with a machete (which is probably frowned upon by park rangers), you will have to wind your way through an area of lush vegetation that is attempting to reclaim the trail.

 

072

 

But once you survive these travails, you’ll be rewarded with the sight and sound of the babbling creek that feeds into Phelps Lake.

 

076

080

 

This grove of aspens was rather pleasant to look upon, as well.

 

082

 

A small strip of beach then beckoned to us, but a small family had already claimed the area for wading and we did not want to intrude upon their fun.

 

084

 

From this side of the lake, the sun shimmered splendidly off the water.

 

085

 

As we neared completion of the loop, we kept the lake in view on our right through the trees.

 

088

 

I especially loved the soft, reddish soil that made up the walkway on this section of the trail.

 

091

 

We took the Woodland Trail back to the LSR Preserve trailhead, and I took the opportunity to have one last bit of rock-related fun.

 

093

 

We hiked the 7-mile trail in 3 and a half hours, averaging 30 minutes per mile. Other than the inclines on the Lake Creek Trail and one section of the Loop Trail, the hike remained fairly level and easy. It turned out to be a comparable hike to the Jenny Lake Loop, as we had anticipated, and it had the benefit of being less crowded. While the Mount Washburn hike was my favorite of this trip, the Phelps Lake Loop would remain my favorite in the Grand Tetons.

 

Yellowstone National Park: Mount Washburn Trail August 3, 2014

Filed under: Hiking,Travel — skpierce12 @ 8:33 PM

100

 

After our warm-up hike at Storm Point the day before, John and I were ready to tackle the more strenuous 6.2-mile out-and-back Mount Washburn Trail in Yellowstone National Park. We parked (after a short wait for a parking place) at Dunraven Pass (elevation 8,859 feet) and set off on the trail at 11:30 AM.

 

006

 

It was a sunny and already-warm morning (by Wyoming–not Texas!–standards), and the flies were a-buzzing as we began our ascent.  It would be 3.1 miles of near-continuous uphill hiking, but luckily it would never be very steep.

 

When the trail began, grasses, wildflowers, and trees covered the surrounding hills.  We found it difficult to keep our eyes on the trail with such beauty before us!

 

012

013

011

 

As we made the turn for the first major switchback of the trail, we found ourselves amid lodgepole pines (which thankfully provided a little shade) and with a new view. The canyon of the Yellowstone River was now visible in the distance.

 

021

023

 

Also visible in the far, far, far distance (or so it seemed at the time): our destination, the fire tower on the top of Mount Washburn.  In the photo below, it’s the smudge on top of the far peak.

 

027

 

Now knowing EXACTLY how far we had to go, we hiked onward (or more accurately, upward). At the turn of another switchback up the trail, a patch of snow greeted us. It was but one of many fun surprises on the hike. Being the Texan that I am, I had to have a picture of me standing on snow in July. We never get snow this deep down south!

 

048

 

Also at this same turn – a closer view of the Mount Washburn Fire Tower. We were gaining on it!

 

045

 

The higher we climbed, the more clear some of our views became. The Yellowstone River canyon walls were now much more easily seen and admired.

 

054

 

While the patch of snow was one highlight of this hike, the most memorable moment came courtesy of a herd of bighorn sheep.

 

124

 

These guys apparently make this portion of the trail and the slope beneath it their home. Descending hikers mentioned the herd to us, and we had been smelling the sheep for at least a mile before seeing them with our own eyes. I had almost given up hope of spotting them, but they were impossible to miss!

 

071

082

 

It was obvious that the sheep were used to hikers; they barely moved when we passed by.

 

115

 

After taking a ridiculous amount of photos of the bighorn sheep, we hiked on. The fire tower was closer than ever!

 

091

 

This field of wildflowers was a nice surprise as we neared the 10,000-foot elevation mark.

 

095

 

After one final push up the spiraling trail at the top, we were on the peak of Mount Washburn (elevation 10,243 feet). The time was 1:15 PM; it had taken us 1 hour and 45 minutes to cover 3.1 miles. Not record-breaking by any means, but we took multiple water and photo breaks.  (We also spent 15 minutes marveling over the bighorn sheep.)

 

105

 

The views from Mount Washburn were unparalleled. Looking one way, we could see Hayden Valley and the Grand Tetons.

 

101

 

Looking another way, Lake Yellowstone shimmered and shone beyond the canyon.

 

102

 

It was a 360° scenic smorgasbord.

 

We spent 20 minutes at the peak – taking photos, eating a snack, and signing the register in the fire tower as proof of our triumph. Then we turned around and hiked back down the way we came. Going downhill increased our speed; we made it back to the Dunraven Pass parking area in 1 hour and 15 minutes.

 

I simply loved this hike, and it remained my favorite of the entire trip. Along with Storm Point, it’s another popular Yellowstone hike, and for good reason. I don’t know of anywhere else in the park where you can experience the sheer exhilaration of seeing Yellowstone all at once. (And did I mention that you get to see bighorn sheep up close and personal?)

 

Yellowstone National Park: Storm Point Trail August 2, 2014

Filed under: Hiking,Travel — skpierce12 @ 5:07 PM

034

 

 

Last summer John and I fell in love with Wyoming, so this summer we were thrilled to be able to travel there once again. We flew to Jackson on Sunday, July 20 in order to explore Yellowstone and Cody for a few days before meeting up with my parents in Grand Teton National Park for a week-long stay at Jenny Lake Lodge.

 

On Monday, July 21, John and I drove to Cody, Wyoming via Yellowstone National Park. We stopped a few miles east of Fishing Bridge in order to get in a late-morning hike on the Storm Point Trail, an easy, 2.1-mile (mostly) loop hike. It would be the first outdoorsy outing of our summer trip!

 

009

 

The trail began by Indian Pond, a small body of water surrounded by wildflower-strewn meadows.

 

 

011

 

A few Canadian geese swam across the pond as John and I passed by.

 

020

 

The trail then headed over a ridge, and we were soon greeted with an up-close view of Yellowstone Lake.

 

017

026

 

We followed the trail into a forested area nestled along the shores of the lake.

 

027

028

 

I had to get used to craning my neck in order to see the tree tops – the Texas hill country trees are runts by comparison!

 

031

032

 

We soon emerged in a rocky, sandy, windy spot: Storm Point. The gray clouds and gusts of wind added to the raw, desolate feel of the place.

 

036

042

 

The wind did not trouble this sleepy marmot, however.  In fact, he (or she) remained so still, we might not have noticed him except that some friendly hikers told us to look for him on the rocks.

 

048

 

The shoreline of Yellowstone Lake was jagged and rough along Storm Point.

 

056

 

Turning away from the lake, we entered a second forested area. This one was eerily quiet – apart from the wind and creaking trees. It was amazing how such a short trail could yield such a variety of landscapes.

 

064

 

Upon (gladly) leaving the spooky woods, we soon completed the loop trail at Indian Pond and made our way back to the trailhead. We finished the hike in under an hour, thanks to its short distance, relative flatness, and comfortable walking surface. If you’re looking for an easy hike in Yellowstone, I highly recommend this one! It’s a popular one, but we never felt crowded on the trail and the views of the lake from Storm Point were rewarding ones.

 

Grand Teton National Park: Taggart and Bradley Lakes August 17, 2013

Filed under: Hiking,Travel — skpierce12 @ 3:35 PM

031

 

Last month in Wyoming, the final major hike of our stay in Jackson was the Taggart-Bradley Lake Loop in Grand Teton National Park. We had yet to see a bear, which we were hoping to do (at a distance, preferably), and we had heard that the Taggart Lake area was known bear territory. Armed with bear spray (just in case) and a camera, John and I set out on the trail in the cool, early morning hours.

004

003

 

Very early in the hike, we could hear the sound of nearby rushing water. As the sound intensified, we came upon a grove of aspens – my new favorite tree.

007

 

Just around the bend from the aspen grove, we found this powerful, boulder-strewn stream. We now had a visual to accompany the noise we had heard. And what a visual it was!

010

014

 

We then veered away from the stream and headed in closer to the Tetons.

017

 

One mile in to the hike, we stayed right at a fork in the path to venture up to the southern side of Bradley Lake. The only view of the lake we were granted was one through the trees, seen below.

023

 

We followed the loop back down south towards Taggart Lake. This time, the trail took us right to the shore. We snagged a seat on a fallen log for a water and snack break. This was our fourth day in a row of fairly intense hiking, and we were wearing out! The break was a good excuse, though, to linger next to the quiet, still waters.

041

042

 

Before too long, we pressed on, keeping our eyes and ears open for the hoped-for bear sighting. We ended up in a large area of new forest, in which John and I were taller than many of the young trees.

046

 

As we completed the southern portion of the loop that would lead us back to the Taggart Lake Trailhead, we stumbled upon a sight that is all-too-common back home: an open field of dirt and low brush. Apart from the smattering of pine trees around the edge of the dry clearing, the landscape appeared to be straight out of Texas! Simply put, it was not the prettiest of spots.

050

 

In the end, the most beautiful and scenic parts of the hike all happened up front, with the magnificent stream being the highlight of the trail. We never did spot our bear.

After a picnic lunch at the Leigh Lake Trailhead, we completed one final, short hike up to Leigh Lake before calling an end to our hiking – for that day, at least. Next stop: Lake Tahoe, California!

 

Jackson Hole Aerial Tram and Rendezvous Mountain Hike August 14, 2013

Filed under: Hiking,Travel — skpierce12 @ 5:00 PM

307 367

 

While in Jackson Hole, Wyoming last month, John and I decided that we wanted a bird’s-eye-view of the Snake River Valley. We recruited my parents to join us, and thus we were a happy party of four that rode the Jackson Hole Aerial Tram from Teton Village to the top of Rendezvous Mountain one bright and sunny afternoon during our week-long Wyoming stay.

301

302

 

The tram ride is a speedy, 12-minute jaunt that ascends over 4,000 feet from beginning to end.

305

 

On our right during the tram ride, we got a good look at the trails we would shortly be hiking.

311

 

Once atop Rendezvous Mountain, we no longer had to crane our necks to see the apex of Grand Teton.

316

 

The views of the Snake River Valley were impressive, and I enjoyed the fresh perspective on the terrain that we’d been traversing for several days.

323

 

The wind roared in my ears, it was so strong, but even that could not dampen my enthusiasm at being on the tip-top of a 10,450-foot-tall mountain peak.

329

 

Sharing that moment with my husband and my parents only made the experience that much more memorable.

332

 

When we had our fill of mountaintop vistas, we embarked upon our hike. We first took the Top of the World trail, which would lead us to the Summit trail. Our plan was to hike down the Summit trail until it reached the Bridger Gondola, which we would ride back down to Teton Village. In all, our hike would be 3.4 miles in length. According to the guidebook, our chosen trails were either “easy” or “moderate,” but what the guidebook did not tell us was that the trail consisted mostly of large pieces of gravel, which were either uncomfortable or somewhat precarious to walk upon due to the steep grades of the path.

334

336

 

A few patches of ice and snow remained on top of the mountain. I could not believe that we could make snowballs in July!

338

341

342

 

I was so proud of my dad on this hike. He had knee surgery in March, but he worked hard all spring to get ready for outdoor adventures in Jackson. Armed with his knee brace and walking stick, Dad was able to walk down the steep and rocky trails.

343

 

Thanks to her dedication to walking regularly at home, Mom kept pace right with John and me. She is a true  outdoorswoman!

344

 

I loved the views as we descended, although the trail made me a little nervous at times when it abruptly fell away to mountain cliff.

348

 

This furry guy kept us company for a while.

350

 

What a feeling of satisfaction comes with looking back on the trail you’ve just crossed.

353

 

We came across a number of rock faces that sent my geophysicist Dad into geek heaven.

362

393

 

Eye-catching flora dotted the landscape.

372

379

391

 

Eventually we rounded the curve of Rendezvous Mountain and once again faced north. We spied the tram carting a new load of passengers up above our heads.

380

 

We also could see the remainder of our path before us. We faced continuing sharp descents before reaching one steep climb up to the gondola.

389

401

407

 

It was slow and painful on the ascent, but my toes were so grateful not to be going downhill anymore that I did not care! I was not the only one happy to reach the gondola seat and enjoy a relaxing ride down the mountain.

411

412

 

The views on this hike were among the best of the trip, and I loved having my parents along for the walk. Yet due to the roughness of the trail, I cannot say that this hike was my favorite one in Wyoming. Next time, I might just stick with riding the Aerial Tram both up and down the mountain, and save the hiking for somewhere else.

 

Grand Teton National Park: Snake River Float Trip July 31, 2013

Filed under: Travel — skpierce12 @ 1:34 PM

266

 

Prior to visiting Grand Teton National Park, I had repeatedly heard from my parents about two of their favorite activities to do in the park: (1) hike Jenny Lake and (2) float down the Snake River. John and I accomplished activity #1 early on, but it was a few days into our stay in Jackson before we boarded a raft and took to the water.

265

 

My parents babysat my niece, Katy, so that my sister, Julie, and her husband, Brad, could participate in the float trip, too. The four of us filled up one half of the boat.

268

 

The two-hour float trip took us past stunning vistas of the Grand Tetons.

269

 

It also provided glimpses of local wildlife. Look closely and you’ll spot a bald eagle below!

274

 

I especially enjoyed all of the Canadian geese that were to be seen up and down the Snake River.

261

282

 

I now can see why my mom and dad include a Snake River float trip among their Grand Teton vacation highlights. It was relaxing and serene on the river, and the view from the boat brought a new perspective to the nearby mountain peaks. The trip also gave us four “kids” a chance to sit and talk with one another for an extended period of time. Thanks, Mom and Dad, for making it all happen!