Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Day 14 - Snake River float trip and Teton Science School wildlife safari

Weather:  it started out very rainy and cold, but around 10:30am, the skies cleared and remained that way for the rest of the trip!  It also got up over 70, so we were grossly overdressed for most things
Steps:  Shaun - 7,775; Shan - 8,042
Varmints:  Red-tailed hawk, Cooper's hawk, pronghorn, bald eagles and then...wait for it...babies!(Shannon's point), common merganser, elk, osprey, trumpeter swans, kite (maybe), female blue dusky grouse, mule deer, bison, Clark's nutcracker, meadowlark, northern flicker, two kinds of warblers and three kinds of teals.  Seriously?  I was quite a day.
Points total:  Shaun - 22; Shan - 22.   Oooooo, we're neck and neck folks!  Who will pull it out in the end since we only have one more day? Stay tuned for the big reveal!

Our guide Hank from Moose

We had an action-packed day ahead of us, and the bummer was that we didn't know if we were going up in the balloon this morning, so neither one of us slept very well since we were waiting for the 5:15 am text to let us know if it would be an even more action packed day. Luckily (in my opinion), it was too overcast to fly, so we headed to the lovely Bunnery Restaurant and had a hearty breakfast to carry us through our next event...a float trip down the Snake River. We met our guide and seven fellow passengers, drove ten miles north to Deadman's Bar, and prepared to board our large inflatable raft. Just as we were waiting, the skies cleared and we saw two bald eagles, which were the symbols of nothing but goodness to come!

Our guide was a geologist who was the son of a park ranger from Moose and a very cool, no-nonsense kind of guy, so naturally I really liked him. The trip was great, and the view of the mountains couldn't be beat. I asked Hank if he ever got tired of it, and he laughed at me and said no, in all his travels, the Grand Tetons would always be his favorite place on earth.

We didn't see a ton of varmints here, but we did get to see three eagle's nests, and one even had babies in it!  I got a pretty good shot of it since she was in silhouette, but you can't see the babies without binoculars.  Oh well, Shannon still got the point for that one.

Given the weather in the morning, we had five layers of clothing on, no sunscreen, and we almost stewed in our own juices once the sun came out!  Once we got off the river, we stripped down and toured the Craig Morgan Visitor's Center, which was very cool.  Check out the view they have!

We were starving to death, so we headed back into Jackson for lunch. We ended up at the famous Million Dollar Cowboy Bar where Shannon finally had her Rocky Mountain oysters. Surprisingly (not!), they had very little for a vegan to eat, so I had my least nutritional meal of chips, salsa, and onion rings.  Nice huh?  Oh well, I ate a bunch of nuts as a snack. I will say that Wyoming has proven to be pretty easy to eat in as a vegan, whether the offerings were truly vegan or could be adjusted to become that way. I had to compromise on the cheese thing a couple of times, but all in all, it wasn't that bad. Our last meal was at a very cool place called Lotus Cafe, and I had vegan lasagna and Shan had elk lasagna.....the perfect place for us!

There's a gallery with several bronzes on benches, so I insisted Shan take my picture with Honest Abe.  She didn't like it because she said they were art waiting to be sold and I shouldn't be messing with them, but I say that if they put them on the street and on benches, they're fair game!

Our shadows on the attempt at art.....

After lunch we had an hour to kill, so we went back to our little cabin, sat at our picnic table, and read. It was heaven because we hadn't had a lot of time to read on this trip. At 5:00, we were picked up by Jean, our guide from the Teton Science School, which is a non-profit organization dedicated to educating people about the area, the environment, and how people can live within it while still protecting it. It ended up that we had a private tour, and we took full advantage!  This was billed as a sunset wildlife safari, so we had four hours to see whatever we could find (which ended up being not much, but we learned a ton from Jean, so we had a great time).  In the picture above, we were hoping to see the giant gray owl that had been hunting in the area, but we never saw him, even though we went back to this spot a couple of times.  Bummer.  That would have been so cool!  We did see a bunch of ducks, a heron, and a heron nest through Jean's spotting scope...which will definitely be on our next Christmas list, along with another pair of binoculars!

Once Jean found out we were both gardeners, she gave us all kinds of information on the local flora, which was great because we'd been checking everything out ourselves, but she had so much more info for us.  For example, we had noticed what we thought was a flower on the sagebrush, but she picked one and opened it to show us that it was actually a gall that the plant had grown to surround an insect that was trying to eat it. Isn't nature amazing?

We did see some pronghorn up close and then got a geology lesson on the Tetons. They are a very interesting mountain range since they're so young (comparatively speaking). Unlike the other ranges surrounding Jackson Hole, the Tetons are not considered part of the Rockies because they were formed so much later than the events that created the Rockies. This picture shows an exposed limestone wall where sea fossils have been found among the mainly granite surrounding rock, showing that not only was the Jackson Hole area under an ocean at one time, but that the wall, which is over 10,000 feet up, was at ground level at that time.


This is baby birthing time in the Tetons, so there are a bunch of areas closed to the public because various animals are nesting/denning in them, and Jean showed us a couple places where we might catch mothers and babies if we're there at the right time. A coyote was denning under one of the Mormon Row houses (which is where Shannon is in the picture above), but we didn't see  Do you hear the foreshadowing going on here?  Just wait for tomorrow's post!

Jean took us to the base of Teewinot Mountain (which means Many Pinnacles in Shoshone), and we could see the peak of Nez Perce, which looks like a howling wolf when seen from this angle, don't you think?  I loved it! There's also another peak across the valley that looks like a big bellied Indian laying down that has an interesting story behind it, but I didn't get a shot of it...sorry!

Our lovely day ended with this beautiful sky as we said goodbye to Jean and collapsed in a pile after this busy day. Tomorrow begins with a balloon ride (we hope), and then a hike up to Inspiration Point above Jenny Lake. We're keeping our fingers crossed!

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