A Travellerspoint blog

Jenny Lake

sunny 29 °C

Rise time: 5.45am.

Why was I up so early this morning? I wanted to make a head start on getting a space in the most popular campsite in the Grand Tetons - Jenny Lake. I got to Jenny Lake about half an hour after I left the Gros Ventre campsite and I was still not the first one there. This morning at Jenny Lake was my first encounter with the reservation system in National Park campsites. There are no staff at the campsites at appropriate times (ie. when you are trying to get a spot). What you must do it drive around the narrow campsite lanes looking at the tags on each site. The tag indicates the date of departure, so you obviously want a tag marked with the date you are arriving. Now this process is frantic. There are only a limited number of people leaving each day so it is literally a race to find a site. But, no it doesn't stop there. You must then ask the site incumbents if they will be leaving (you see the current occupants have until 11am to decide whether or not if they will stay and they get priority). Asking anyone anything is pretty tough at 6am in the morning so the process must be approached delicately. Well I not only found a site being vacated today, but I also found someone up as early as me and they were leaving too. Tag placed, I had time to dry my tent on the car bonet. Or so I thought. I took a prudent check of my site and tag about forty-five minutes later - but my tag was gone and in its place was someone else's. Hmmm. Well I was sure this was a mistake that could be easily corrected with a little investigation. It turned out that the campsite 'host' had removed my tag assuming that I hadn't asked the site incumbent if she was leaving. I had. The tag now on the site was removed and mine replaced. Tough luck for the people who thought they had a site, I guess they didn't get a place at Jenny Lake in the end.

My first port of call was the visitor centre at Jenny Lake for advice on what to do on my two days here. Advice in hand I made off for my seven mile hike around Jenny Lake. Jenny Lake is a spectacular sight, sitting at the feet of the Tetons and reflecting them with great majesty in its waters. After very little time I was pretty exhausted (I put this down to my early wake up rather than my general level of fitness) and so I fought through the bushes and trees and found an isolated beach spot on the lake's edge. I ate/sat/lay/sunbathed here for about an hour just getting my sense of place. Before too long, well about when the waves were crashing up to where I way lying, I packed myself up and carried on. The rest of the hike really wasn't too challenging and before too long the seven miles brought me alongside the lakeside campground where I was staying.

Something about good housekeeping at the campsites. Everything has to be stored in large bear storage boxes; this is everything from toothpaste to that last bit of litter from dinner. Keep Britain Tidy has nothing in comparison to Be Bear Aware. There is nothing like the prospect of a bear storming your site to make you check and re-check for that last bit of litter.

Talking of bears - I phoned home today just to let everybody know I had made it safety up through Wyoming. We spoke for a while and I made the error of telling my Mum, not only about the presence of bears in this part of the world, but also the fact that I man had just been killed by one in the area. To hear my Mum question whether it had really been a sensible idea not to buy a rifle in Colorado made me consider censorship for her own sake in the future.

M

Posted by MattOGrady 18:21 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Wyoming

sunny 30 °C

I left Colorado today (although I will be back in a few weeks time to fly to Vegas). The drive to the Wyoming border took longer than I expected and once at the border you really wouldn't have none. The first border town I passed through was a microcosm of my first day in Wyoming - deserted. Today's drive to the Grand Teton's was no longer than any other day-drive I've done, but somehow it felt much longer. Wyoming's southwester and western areas are vast deserted expanses. I should I expected this as the Lonely Planet warned that the winds can gust so fast that the police shut down the roads. Were it not for the fact that I'm confident in my own company I can imagine this place to be intimidating in its isolation and potential for lonliness.

Speaking of company I should mention my car, which of course will be my principal company in my three weeks through the National Parks. So it's much larger than my Punto (it has five doors for a start and the boot isn't a hatchback). I've taken the back seat arm rest down and where it was once stowed are now a collection of guidebooks and other reading material. The front passenger seat is pulled forwards as far as it will go. This makes as much space in the seat behind as possible, which is where I tend to put myself for lunch or just a break from driving if there's no where else around me to sit. The boot is full of things for the next three weeks; tent, sleeping bag, food, gas burner, etc. So, yep I'm basically living out of my car, which is why you should get to know it as well.

I knew I was getting near to the Grand Teton National Park in north western Wyoming when I rolled through Jackson, a large town that thrives off tourism to the National Parks. I continued north and eventually made it up to the National Park entrance. I presented my pass and made my way in. Then they hit me - the Tetons. They are incredible snow capped granite spires that tower majestically over the Park. To be frank they are a driving hazard. It is very difficult to concentrate on the road because the eyes are constantly drawn to them. I knew I would be camping tonight, but I really didn't know where. The most popular campsites in the Park are often full by 8am and arriving at 8.30pm didn't help my cause. I knew that there was one less popular site in the Park, because of its distance from the main trails and shops, so went there. On my way a passed herds of hundreds of bison and their calves and got to the campsite. They had space, although I wouldn't have been too fussed about staying in the car. I was warned to be 'Bear Aware', a warning that I took seriously as on my way up the radio reported one man dead and two seriously injured in a bear attack in Yellow Stone National Park.

It took less than three minutes to set the tent up, an unnearving rather than gratifying period of time. Would this tent hold up? I certainly hoped so. As I drove into the Park the Tetons were silhouetted by an advancing thunder and lightening storm. It was certain to head this way so it was a case of fingers crossed. I was right. It wasn't too long before the immense crack of thunder was overhead and the lightening illuminated my orange tent. Then the heavens opened. The adage that you get what you pay for is accurate, as a small leak began around the zip. It was nothing serious and bearing in mind how big this storm was, I thought the tent held up well.

It was mission accomplished - Wyoming crossed.

M

Posted by MattOGrady 15:06 Archived in USA Comments (0)

The Undisputed Beer Pong Champion of the West

semi-overcast 29 °C

I did make my way back up to the Maroon Bells today. The weather was much clearer, but I was surprised with the humidity. The hike up to Crater Lake took about an hour or so. The route was steep and rocky and I was pretty pleased to sit down was I made it to the end. The end made the climb worthwhile. Sitting on Crater Lake's edge the towering Maroon Bell mountain peaks reflected in the water and the light breeze that cut down the mountain side helped with cooling me down.

I got back late in the afternoon and when I did so we went for a three mile or so run around the golf course that is part of the Snowmass Club where my friend lives. Needless to say the impeding fitness test I've got when I get back for my start of refereeing National League 3 is on my mind!

Enough of that though - to today's main topic, beer pong. What is this 'beer pong' I hear my parents asking? Beer pong is an American, usually university, drinking game. Let me set the scene. A table, approximatey 3-4m long by 0.5m wide is set up. At each end stand the two teams of two people. At each end ten plastic beer cups are placed in a triangle, in a similar formation to what you would see in ten-pin bowling. A few inches of beer is poured into each cup. So what happens in the game? Well the aim is to make the other team drink all of their cups before they make you drink all of yours. You do this by throwing a ping-pong ball into their cups from your end of the table. If you directly throw the ball into a cup, then that cup must be drunk and taken away. If you bounce the ball off the table and into a cup, then the other team must drink two cups (so a bounce is worth more). However, if you bounce it the other team is allowed to swipe the ball away. If you knock over a cup in the process of swiping that counts as one cup down. If you throw the ball into a cup that one of your opponents is drinking from, whilst they are holding it, it's game over and you win. Each team member has two throws per turn and they can be taken at the same time or in any order. Well I hope that explains it well enough.

I've wanted to play the game for I while since I've been in America, it is another quintessentially American thing to do. So as I see some people that we're with setting up to play some other people I ask them if there's a chance to let me have a throw. "Sure, sure." As if they're going to let an amature play. Well whilst I'd been chatting with other people I'd been keeping an eye on the game and it's at a stalemate and going nowhere fast. I then get a tap on the shoulder, "Matt, we're tagging you in for a VIP Celebrity shot." "Great." So, I come to their end of the table. There are two cups left to pot. Their opponents are doing their best to distract me; waving their arms, shining phones and holding their T-shirts over the cups so I can't see them (this is fine, provided that the shot is not obstructed). I was never going to make this. Even if I had played the game before, I couldn't even see the cup! Well I line it up; "God save the Queen, 1, 2, 3 .." and away. It's in! I couldn't believe it! By the looks on their faces nor could anyone else. The people I had just shot against literally had their jaws dropped, their hands covering their mouths and their eyes fixed on me in astonishment. One by one they came over the congratulate me. After that the deadlock ends, the team I shot for finished the last cup and I had won my first game of beer pong!

Well I couldn't just end it there. The people I had just shot for invited me and my friend to play against them. My confidence was high and I could tell they still underestimated me, so I went for it. For the first shot I wispered the plan to my team mate (as if I've been doing this for years). "Ok, you just aim straight and whilst they're focussing on your's I'm going to bounce mine in. 1, 2, 3." Away my friend sent her's and down the table I bounced mine. It went in! I couldn't believe it! They were already two down. The game went on and we each took away one or two. Then it was time for 'the move' again. "1, 2, 3," I said under my breathe. In again! This was incredible. I shot a few more in directly and my friend did two. They were now down to their last cup and we were still on six. All we had to do was get this one in and we've won, I thought to myself. I cocked my arm back and sent the ping-pong ball sailing through the air, to drop and settle in the pool of beer in their last cup. That was it! We had won! "No, no, no," came the call from the other end. They couldn't be taking this away from me now! Was there some technicality that I had infringed? Apparantly, as we had taken all their cups, they were now allowed to shoot at our six. If they were successful in getting their's in, they could continue shooting until we were all out. Once they both missed and we had cups left, then we won. "Miss miss miss," I hissed to myself. Their first shot, well past the cup. Their second bounced and was sent sideways. That really was it! Game over! I had won again! 2 and 0.

I was presented with the ping-pong ball as a momento of my victories and later in the bar was approached by some spectators who had watched and were impressed. I didn't know how serious this game was! Needless to say I am now out for hire as a beer-pong player.

M

Posted by MattOGrady 20:37 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Gun Shopping

sunny 31 °C

As we had planned we dropped by the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) this morning so I could get some form of ID and purchase a handgun. Why have I decided I want a handgun? For my safety in the mountains, because it is a quintessentially American activity and because I have absurdly attracted to the idea of having a firearm on my hip. The DMV is potentially the most dull place a human being can choose to spend their time. Imagine, I don't know, combining waiting in A & E with those last ten minutes of an exam where you've finished, checked your work, have nothing more to contribute, yet still can't leave - then you've got the DMV. We were there for about forty minutes an I was quite frank in rating my chances of getting any form of ID as being around 20%. Well I was right. We went up and asked after a while whether I was eligible. Yes I had the right visa. Yes I had the right form accompanying my visa. But, computer said no, I had the "wrong status". Darn, this wasn't good.

Nevertheless we pressed on. My friend phoned the gun shop and asked what the deal would be. He said that I wouldn't be eligible for a handgun, but I was quids in for a shotgun or a rifle. Interesting! We drove from the Glenwood Srpings DMV out of the Valley to the gun shop. It wasn't what I had expected. It resembled a small garage and inside was a hobbit looking man repairing a hunting bow. Oh goodness, did we have time to turn back. Nope. We were shown round and then the shop's owner got chatting about gun laws in the UK. "What will you all do when the Muslims invade? It's what kept them away in World War Two." I couldn't believe what I had heard. However, it was not the appropriate environment to make a comment. I found his ignorance of world history and perception of the world startling. On looking around it was clear I would not be able to afford a shotgun, rifle or handgun so all hopes were unfortunately dashed.

This afternoon we went up to the Maroon Bells, a recreational area adminstered by the US Forest Service (I get in for free with my pass) with the aim of hiking up to Crater Lake. I say 'aim' because as soon as we got out of my car it began to rain, the thunder started and the mosquitos arrived. An evac back to the Hyundai was necessary. If the weather's half good tomorrow, I'll be back.

Tonight I made dinner for my hosts as a thank you to them. They survived, so they have more than full stomachs to be thankful for.

M

Posted by MattOGrady 20:06 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Independence Pass

sunny 26 °C

Today would involve two activities; visiting Denver zoo and driving to Aspen.

Denver zoo didn't blow me away. It was much like any other zoo, but I was really surprised by how cramped the enclosures were. It didn't help that it was a very hot day and I was still pretty exhausted after a lot of driving.

The enjoyable activity today would be getting to Aspen! We set off at roughly 4pm for what should have been a straightforwards three hour journey. We carved a way through the Rockies, snaking up and down the moutain roads. These roads are very steep. Let me explain describe how steep. They are so steep that there are run-offs where out of control lorries can hurtle up the moutain sides to reduce their speed. We didn't see any being used whilst we were on the road, but the tyre marks in the gravel as we passed them indicated their recent use.

Independence Pass is a narrow road cutting up and over the mountains near Aspen. On the way to the pass I stopped us off reguarly to appreciate our breathtaking surroundings. Eventually Independence Pass came and I was impressed by well my car handled the steep climb. Then we hit the summit. I described our surroundings to this point as breathtaking and to use the word again here would not only be poor use of English, but would wholly fail to acknowledge how impressive it was up at 12,000ft. We arrived at the Pass' summit just as the sun was setting (8.30pm) and the setting sun painted the sky salmon pink and reflected itself in the summit's lakes. I scrambled to photograph the moment and was hit by the effects of the altitude for the first time. Nearly every step I took in the thin air exhausted me and I had to set a steady pace as I moved around. It was easy to spend twenty minutes up there enjoying the sights and the cold was easily ignored.

When the time came to descend into Aspen it was a case of both headlights and concentration on. This descent was perhaps one of the most enjoyable drives I've taken since passing my test some four years ago. I accelerated down the winding mountain path, passing a ghost town and rivers on the way. Jetting down the mountain, my breathe catching up with every metre down, I felt like I was in an episode of Top Gear, and for the record, the car performed very well. I think my passengers just appreciated us getting down to the valley in one piece.

Well it ended up being a very enjoyable day, but it's again been a long one I my mind more than anything else needs to shut down.

M

Posted by MattOGrady 16:10 Archived in USA Comments (0)

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