Our morning started with only a little wind, a lot of sun, and a fair amount of anticipation. After leaving Rawlins, we headed north on HWY 287, which is an open desert valley with mountains towering in the distance. Sagebrush covers the earth for as far as the eye can see. This is what people imagine the west looks like if they’ve never been there.
We stopped in Lander, Wyoming for gas at the first Shell station on the south side of town. We didn’t know how big Lander would be, but this gas station was on the right side of the road with an open gas pump. Inside the gas station’s large convenience store had all the snacks and quick foods available. If you are interested in purchasing fun, local beer such as Grand Teton Ale, this is definitely the place. Not only was the beer less expensive than in or near the national parks, but they gave us a bag of ice to go with our two six packs (one of Old Faithful Ale and the other, Grand Teton Ale). In the park, a small bag of ice costs more than $3.
We continued through this quaint western town of Lander which was bustling on Saturday morning. A large Safeway is on the north side of town. Sandwiched in the center are several local shops and restaurants. As we got closer to Dubois, the next town for gas before we started through the mountains, we saw familiar white streaks streaming from the clouds. It couldn’t be snow in June, could it?
Various rivers cut across this area and the steep cliffs on the side of the road make the drive breathtaking and nerve-racking. However, there are several well-marked turn-outs for a picnic. We kept going, determined to make it to our destination. As we started up the pass, gas tank luckily full, the gentle rain on the windshield quickly changed to large, wet snow flakes. The temperature was rapidly dropping until it reached its low of 24 near the top of the two-lane, windy pass.
Snow covered the fields and trees. The clouds were so low that we could barely see any mountains around us. When we finally saw them, they were jagged peaks that made us wonder how much higher we needed to drive before we were at the summit.
There was little traffic, which was not surprising as the snow began to stick to the road and got slushy as we gently weaved down the back of the pass. We thought that once we were over the mountains and dropped into the valley, the snow would stop. It wasn’t quite that simple. We got into what is probably a lush valley, filled with guest ranches, pine trees, and I am sure views of the Tetons that we could not see. When we arrived at the sign welcoming us to Grand Tetons National Park, thick snow was blowing in our faces. We stopped for a picture, but then jumped back in the car as the temperature had warmed to about 30 degrees.
We were now determined to get to the campground which is located north of Grand Tetons National Park in the John D. Rockefeller Scenic Byway. I had selected this campground because all the other reservable campgrounds were full back in October when I made these reservations. Getting to this campground requires driving through Grand Tetons National Park and out the north entrance.
Immediately after entering the park, there was a traffic jam as people stopped to look at a moose in the distance. We weaved through spitting snow to Colter Bay Visitor’s Center and found a large, open parking lot. Easily, we parked in an RV spot, had a late lunch inside the camper, and then went inside the center. People were in various layers of clothing, apparently as surprised about the snow as we were. This center is designed with a wall of glass windows facing Jackson Lake, the marina, and the Tetons Range. We could see only the boats in the marina, dense clouds, and bigger snow flakes.
After talking with the rangers, looking at displays and getting a junior ranger book, we headed to Headwaters at Flagg Ranch Campground. As we were driving north, we didn’t pass any cars traveling south. We couldn’t believe the lack of people in the park. I checked into the campground and discovered the south entrance to Yellowstone, just a few miles away, had been closed due to snow. This made traffic non-existent.
Check-in was pleasant, though a line was forming behind me. Several people did not have reservations to camp and the park was full due to the weather and inability for some people to continue their travels. The campground is densely wooded and all dirt. Roads are marked with simple signs and arrows. Snow and puddles covered the campsites.
We found our campsite, which is randomly determined by the campground and the size of your vehicle. This site was close to the bathroom, had full hookups, and included a nice, shaded picnic area and fire ring. We definitely did not need the shade that night. There was six inches of snow at our campsite when we arrived! We pulled in, hooked up (luckily I had a pair of boots in the car for the snow/slush/mud), and turned on our heater. We walked to the store and restaurant at Headwaters at Flagg Ranch to look around and enjoy the ambiance.
We still had not seen the Grand Tetons. Our original plan had been to go to dinner at the Mural Room at Jackson Lake Lodge, but considering the snow, our long day of driving, and that we would not see any mountains from the famous restaurant, we made dinner in our camper and enjoyed reading the Junior Ranger Book instead.