Exploring the Grand Tetons

By Charlene  Mixa & Richard Mixa

Discover Majestic Mountains, the Wild West & Whitewater 

Grand Tetons (forest fires have all photos hazy)

Grand Tetons (forest fires have all photos hazy)

Majestic rugged snow capped mountains reach to the sky. The Teton Mountains rise abruptly above Jackson Hole Valley creating shimmering reflections in Jackson Lake. Extraordinary wildlife, pristine lakes and alpine terrain where you can explore hundreds of miles of trails, raft the Snake River, ride a covered wagon or just enjoy the serenity are all at Grand Teton National Park.


Mt. Moran at Jackson Dam, first views of Grand Tetons

Mt. Moran at Jackson Dam, first views of Grand Tetons

Driving into Grand Teton National Park from the East, we feel the aurora and grandness of these captivating mountains. We enter the Park heading south on Teton Park Road to Jackson, Wyoming and later take US 191 north for a different view of the National Park and Jackson Hole Valley. First stop is Jackson Lake Dam with terrific views of the monolithic Mount Moran at 12,605 feet. It rises 5,728 feet above Jackson Lake! Great photo spot! With no foothills the mountains stand regally above the lake. The youngest of the Rocky Mountains, it has ten peaks over 12,000 feet. Eight of these peaks make up the most photographed Cathedral Group. Grand Teton at 13,775 feet is the highest point of the Teton Range. At each stop we are inspired by the magnificent panoramic scenery of the Teton peaks and their shimmering images in the lake.

Scenic Jenny Lake as we hike along the edge.

Scenic Jenny Lake as we hike along the edge.

At Jenny Lake Visitor Center we enjoy our picnic lunch and evaluate options for crossing the lake to Inspiration Point. Do we do a round trip boat ride, walk the trail over and return by boat or take the boat over and the trail back? Walking out and returning by boat sounds good after a morning of driving. While the path begins gently the terrain becomes more challenging as it rises above the lake. The trail narrows and winds upward through heavy brush. It is a 3 mile hike over ascending moderate and often rocky terrain with no signage. Richard pulled a muscle in his leg earlier on our trip and the hiking trail is more than we expected. By the time we arrive at the dock on the west shore, we are not up to hiking up to Inspiration Point. Plus there is a very long line for the boat. The boat ride back is wonderful and cool! Great views of the Tetons! We suggest a morning or afternoon for this adventure. Take hats, plenty of water and sturdy walking/hiking shoes. Ride the boat over. Hike to Inspiration Point and other sites in the area before taking the lakeshore trail to the Visitor Center.

If only we had known of Gaperguide! In Jackson, we learn about GaperGuide, a rentable GPS based system. We plug it into the cigarette lighter outlet, sit it on the dash, and head north on US 189 through the Tetons to Yellowstone National Park. The GaperGuide picks up our location and a “guide” begins telling us the history of the Park, wildlife, and more. The “guide” gives information as we approach each turnout and recommends places as a “must see”, an optional stop, hiking trails, picnic areas, best sites to spot wildlife, and more. It’s like a “personal tour guide” in our car! Forget maps and bus tours! With different voices and even an animal character voice, it is informative and entertaining. Didn’t get what was said, just push a button and it repeats it. Push another button for “Fun Facts.” We can fits stops to our schedule, taking as little or as much time as we choose. Visiting the Park is a breeze and we explore many areas that are not shown on the Park Service Maps. Plus all we have to do is drop it off at any designated “Drop Off” station as we leave the park. We keep our GaperGuide for our entire visit of Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park. Wish we had a GaperGuide for all our travels! It’s terrific! 


Covered Wagons headed up to Cache Creek Park for a great cookout.

Covered Wagons headed up to Cache Creek Park for a great cookout.

It’s time for chow and some wild west action. Hungry after our full day we head to the Bar T 5 Covered Wagon Cookout. Climbing aboard our covered wagon, we chat with the other visitors as the wagons pull out in single file. Jake and John, the horses, clomp along taking us into Cache Creek Park. As the wagon jostles up the dirt road, we gain just a feel of what the ol’ settlers experienced crossing the country. Of course their roads were not this smooth. Chris, the co-owner of the Bar T 5 rides over on his horse, greeting everyone. Look out! The Injuns are coming! Sure enough Indians ride through among the wagons whooping and hollering. We’re safe! Chris and the cowboys chase them off. The kids love the wild west action.

The cookout is in a large open picnic shelter. We fill up on Barbeque Chicken, tossed salad, good ol’ baked beans and corn on the cob. As the sun sets the temperature drops dramatically and we gladly accept a warm blanket. Rich hot chocolate and scrumptious blondies, are welcome as we laugh at the antics of the Bar T 5 Band. They entertain us with funny skits and good old western songs. With full tummies, verses of favorite songs running through our heads, and memories of a fun evening, our covered wagon takes us back to town.


A Beautiful and Exciting Day Rafting the Snake River

A Beautiful and Exciting Day Rafting the Snake River

Now to get wild and wet! It’s a day long float and raft trip down 16 miles of the famous Snake River. At Sands Whitewater on the outskirts of Jackson, we suit up in life vest, grab a paddle and board the van. It’s early September and there are only six of us on the trip. Unloading at Pritchard Creek, Brook, our guide, gets us all in the raft and gives us basic rafting instructions. The first part of the trip is a gentle scenic float. We don’t even have to paddle on this section. As we take in the views, Brook shares information on the area and the Snake River. Lunch is a nutritious tasty sandwich and special treats at Pine Bar Camp, on a high shoal above the river. Picnic tables and tepees are setup for overnight excursions.

Now for whitewater! Brook prepares us for the upcoming rapids. Richard and I are in the front. Hearing the command, “All forward” we paddle through the first rapid. A huge wave of cold water drenches us as we hit the rapid. Yippee! It’s awesome! With adrenaline pumping we have a fantastic day going through the rapids with names of Lunch Counter, S Turns, and Big Kahuna. “Who wants to ride the Bronco?” Patrick, takes on the challenge. Sitting up front on top of the raft, Patrick straddles a rope and grips it. Rafting the turbulent Champagne Rapid he has the thrill of being on top of the waves as we run the rapid.   Fantastic!! He is terrific! What a rush for all! Going through the rapid we see the millions of tiny effervescent “champagne” bubbles rising from the depths below. Rafting the Snake River is a “must do.”

Our visit was just two days so we chose a variety of activities. We recommend staying in Jackson as there are plenty of restaurants, shops and activities. Teton Village is too isolated for a summer visit. Grand Teton National Park and the Jackson Hole Valley are wonderfully scenic and beautiful with plenty of outdoor activities.

If you go:

Bar T 5 Covered Wagon Cookout, 812 Cache Creek Drive, Jackson, WY 83001; 307.733.5386; http://bart5.com

Note: Chris realized a little boy, Sam, in our wagon was terrified of loud noises. Sam had his mother covering his ears the entire wagon ride. Chris immediately named Sam as his “No.2 in charge”. Then before the gunfire skit, Chris had Sam taken to a different area where he wouldn’t hear the guns. On the ride back, Sam was ecstatic. He said that this was the greatest event! Chris turned a potential bad experience into an exciting adventure for a little boy.

Gaperguide, 145 W. Gill Avenue Jackson, Wyoming 8300; 307) 733-4626; www.gaperguide.com

 Grand Teton National Park, 101 Moose  Jackson, WY 83001307.739.3399 ; http://www.nps.gov/grte 

Sands Whitewater River Trips, Jackson, WY83001; 800.358.8184; www.sandswhitewater.com


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About Charlene Mixa

Seeing new places, learning about cultures and seeing the sights has always been my dream. Growing up I was blessed with parents that enjoyed traveling and thought nothing of taking a family of seven on excursions. My career in Human Resources and later as a consultant for an international Human Resource firm offered some travel, but I knew as my husband and I approached retirement, my goal was to do more traveling and broader trips. The nine years since retirement has been filled with fantastic adventures from short local one day trips to several week excursions. Living in Florida, it is especially enjoyable to be away in the summer to cooler climates. Multi-week driving trips across the good ol' USA, settling in for a month in the mountains to explore the local area, or a combination of both fill much of our summer season. Our travels are predominantly self-orchestrated, bringing the fun and challenge of getting everything to click. It's all about doing and sharing! Experiencing a travel adventure is exciting. Reliving a special travel moment with a friend or family is exhilarating. I feel my heart race and pulse quicken, as I sharing that special moment. Thank you for joining in my travel adventures and allowing me to hear your stories.