Our current time zone: GMT +8 (We're home in Singapore!)

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Fantastic Tetonics

How Grand Teton Got Its Name:

Some 11,000 years ago, some nice Shoshone Indians (not the few present-day drunk ones who played with and drizzled spittle over our fries at BK - we dumped the fries of course) called the range the "hoary-headed fathers". With my vocabulary skills in regression, I looked up the meaning of "hoary" on Dictionary.com:

(1) gray or white with age (e.g. an old dog with a hoary muzzle)
(2) ancient or venerable (e.g. hoary myths)
(3) tedious from familiarity; stale (e.g. please don't tell that hoary joke at dinner again tonight)

I'm sure the native Americans were a respectful lot when it came to Mother Nature so definition (3) probably didn't feature in their naming of the mountains. Although the Teton Range is the youngest in the entire Rocky Mountain system (formed ONLY 10 million years ago), they must have seemed ancient when compared to itty bitty human lives, and maybe the snow-covered peaks gave the impression of an old father with a head of white hair, and thus the name "hoary-headed fathers". Fair enough.

Then along came this group of Frenchmen whose sole purpose in the mountain area was to trap wildlife for their fur. They must have been in the mountains for a REALLY long time cos they looked at this majestic mountain range and all they saw were breasts, and promptly dubbed the three most prominent peaks "Les tois tetons", meaning "the three breasts". Seriously. Two peaks, two breasts - fine. But THREE breasts?!?!

Anyway, the gawd awful name somehow stuck but thankfully the trapping stopped, leaving the Grand Teton area teeming with abundant wildlife - over 300 species of birds, 60 species of mammals and 12 fish species. Not that we managed to see alot cos most of the park was still covered in thick snow and closed to vehicles.

From Idaho Falls, we drove eastwards to the gateway town of Jackson, located at the south entrance of the park. It's a very nice town - similar to a ski village in the mountains (but takes on a different character in summer, I'm sure) - charming, and also expensive. I chatted with a couple of youths from Thailand working at the supermarket on the weekend and found out that they were in Jackson on a student exchange for 3 months. How cool is that?

The road to Jack and Grand Teton.

We were rather early for a visit to Grand Teton. The park opened to vehicles only fully on 1 May. We were there on 25 & 26 April - early enough to enjoy these wonderful temperatures and weather:

The weather man speaks

In Celcius speak, that's a daytime high of 2 to 5 degrees and a night-time low of -8 to -2. Which means it was still snowing buckets and all the campgrounds within the park were...

Doesn't anybody want our business?! Guess not.

The nice guy at the visitor centre told us that there were 3 RV parks open outside of the park - 1 was too expensive, 1 too far away and the third one warmly welcomed us with a "our mailbox is full" message on the phone. So we spent the night squatting at the parking lot of a supermarket back in Jackson. We were a bit relieved when another RV pulled up alongside (so that we wouldn't be the only guilty parties) but regretted it almost immediately when they started blasting dance music to the high heavens. Ah well. Love thy neighbour.

To avoid being chased out of the parking lot, we voluntarily scooted off at 5am to a quiet spot along a wetlands preserve nearer the park entrance to watch sunrise over the mountain range, to the noisy honking of early-rising geese. Oh, and to brush our teeth too, of course.

How often can you brush your teeth to a view like this back home? Never.

What the wetlands look like when the rest of the world wakes up.

The Teton Range was formed when a movement on the Teton fault generated massive earthquakes, causing the mountains to rise while the valley floor dropped. For you guys who took geography at 'A' level, it is pretty much exactly like the diagrams that you sketched over and over again in class. The splitting of the earth's crust created some 30,000 feet of exposed rock, which were further ragged by alpine glaciers and even more massive glaciers carved out the valley.

Peek-a-boo? The peaks don't want to play today.

With the main road closed to vehicles till 1 May, visitors could enjoy the rare opportunity to cycle and walk along an empty road. And boy, was it empty. Most of the time, we were the only ones along the road. Occasionally, a skier or people on a snowshoe trek would zip past us on the snow and wave gaily at us. The only other walkers we met were an elderly couple who marveled at the sight of the trail peeking through the snow (beats me, but they seemed pretty excited about it) and then proceeded to overtake us...

The road was so empty that we looked to info boards for company.

Still, it was a rare opportunity to have an entire national park to ourselves (well, not technically true but it seemed like it anyway) and the only sound we could hear was that of our own footsteps through the snow. Crunch, crunch, crunch....

We weren't the only ones feeling lonely out there.

No leaving for greener pastures at this place.

Naked trees. Very naked.

The red railings add a nice touch of colour to the wintry landscape

It's fallen and can't get up

We were the only animals by the river that day...

...but not the only ones who turned into icicles

No log flume rides in operation today

We had intended to drive north and enter the neighbouring Yellowstone National Park via its south entrance. Unfortunately, with the road closures, we had to loop around the parks by backtracking into Idaho and driving north into Montana, and enter Yellowstone via its west entrance instead (and chalking up alot of expensive mileage in the process.) Anyway, we got ourselves a fairly good deal at an RV park in Victor, Idaho, at US$25 for a full hook-up.

The idea of experiencing fresh snowfall was still pretty exciting to us then. So we went out to dance a bit in the snow.

No dancing shoes? Slippers will do!

We also persisted in our repeated attempts to photograph falling snow. The online photography tips instructed us to illuminate the falling flakes with a torch or lamp and photograph them against a dark backdrop. And not to use the camera flash. Well, it wasn't dark enough yet and the thought of wielding a torch in one hand and a heavy DSLR in the other in the strong wind and cold didn't prove very appealing. So I succumbed to using the camera flash to "light up" the flakes and took a few snapshots from the refuge of the RV.

Flashing shamelessly at snowflakes

Little white dots busily covering the whole world white

And yups, that's just another snapshot of our nomadic lifestyle in the snow. Snomads, we call ourselves.


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