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Tuesday, August 24, 2010 : Bear Lake, Grand Teton, Yellowstone

 

We have spent just one night in the Utah state capital. It's time for us to hit the road again.

 

We could go to West Yellowstone, our destination today, directly with I-15 and US-20. But no, once more, we take the long way, not as direct but so much more scenic. We will cross 4 states in the same day : Utah, Idaho, Wyoming and Montana.


Salt Lake City, Utah State Capitol

Salt Lake City, Utah State Capitol

 

A last glimpse of the Utah State Capitol, and we are gone.

 

We leave I-15 a first time, in an attempt to get a glimpse of the famous Great Salt Lake. After a few twists in the middle of an industrial estate, and not much obstination, we give up.

 

Then we leave the Interstate for good and we are back on US-89 at Brigham City. The road already climbs. All day long, we will hop mountain ranges, one after another.

 

All those mountain ranges that crisscross North America have one thing in common : they are north-south oriented, hampering communications as surely as the Pyrénées between France and Spain. Unlike the Alps, cut by deep valleys leading almost to the crestlines, the Rocky Mountains are continuous, with no easy passages between summits, except for a few very high passes. Although not nearly as high as the Alps (Mount Whitney, the highest summit of the 48 contiguous states, is "only" 14,494 ft high), these mountains are uneasy to pass. Between Reno, NV and Sacramento, CA, I-80 crosses the Sierra Nevada thru a 7,200 ft high pass !

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Utah, Bear Lake

Bear Lake

 

After a 7,800 ft high pass, we stop on the side of US-89. From the parking lot, the sight of Bear Lake is beautiful. And, since the weather is really fine, we stay there for a while to enjoy it.

 

At our feet, we cannot yet see Garden City, a nice little town on the edge of the lake, that seems to live off tourism and leisure boat maintenance.

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Paris, Utah, Mormon temple

Paris Mormon Temple

 

In this region bordering on Utah and Idaho, the European influence can be acutely felt in city names. We cross Paris, Bern, Montpelier (with only one L !) and Geneva in succession.

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Montpelier, Idaho, historic trail of the Oregon Pioneers

Montpelier, historical trail used by the Oregon settlers

 

In Montpelier, we stop for some shopping. Back on the road, we see this historical sign. We are not in Oregon, but the trail the pioneers used to travel from the East Coast to this new territory passed here.

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Montpelier, Museum of the Oregon Pioneers

Montpelier, the Oregon Trail Museum

 

Just behind the sign is the Oregon Trail Museum. We take a picture of this reconstitution of a mountain crossing by the wagons. When we think about the pass we just went thru, 7,800 ft, we imagine what a challenge it could be for ill-prepared families in inadequate vehicles. For a second, let's salute their determination. Would we do it ?

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US-89, mailbox on the side of the road

Mailbox ... But where is the house ?

 

Later on, we take a picture of this mailbox on the edge of the road. In a circular glimpse, we look for the house it belongs to. No house, or way further. Here, the postman does not leave the road, the residents have to come and pick the mail.

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Between Idaho and Wyoming, beautiful country landscape

Between Idaho et Wyoming, beautiful country landscape

 

During a stop, we enjoy this beautiful country landcape. I can't help but show it to you. Between Montpelier and Jackson (and even further north), US-89 is really a scenic route, much nicer than I-15. Almost all day long, we see similar nice country landscapes.

 

After entering Wyoming, we overtake a house. You guessed it, we have just passed a big truck moving an average-sized house on a large trailer.

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Grand Teton National Park, the Teton Range

The Teton Range

 

We cross Jackon and enter Grand Teton National Park. Do not look any further for the meaning of the name, it's really what you may think. A really well-inspired French-speaking priest (a priest !!!)  gave all the mountains in the area names reminiscent of the female body. So ... there are Grand Teton, Gros Ventre, and a few more of the same flavor.

 

What is sure is that the view of the Teton range is absolutely gorgeous. Mountains very clearly stand out against the absolute blue of the sky. Promised, here too, we will come back.

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Grand Teton National Park, volcanic rock

A portion of French cheese ? No, a volcanic rock

 

In front of the visitor center, we can see this odd rock, with the shape of a portion of French cheese. It is actually a volcanic rock that found itself here somehow by chance. Grand Teton is not known for a particularly intense volcanic activity, unlike Yellowstone, close by to the North, which we are soon going to discover.

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Grand Teton National Park, visitor center, life of Native Americans

Exhibition about the life of Native American and settlers

 

At the visitor center, we spend some time visiting two exhibitions, one about the life of Native populations and settlers, and another one about flora and fauna. Much to my surprise, the relationships between both communities, Natives and settlers, were not fundamentally hostile. Of course, all that changed when external interests, political and financial, began to meddle. On all the displays, we can see that the two communities know each other and, to a certain extent, live with each other.

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Grand Teton National Park, mother bear with cubs

Here too, bear is the unchallenged master

 

At Grand Teton, bear also has its place. Unlike our so-called protected Pyrénées, where man reigns and hardly tolerates bear, here is the exact opposite. Bear is at home.

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Grand Teton National Park, local flora and fauna

Examples of local flora and fauna

 

Further on, Marie takes this beautiful picture of a butterfly on its flower.

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Grand Teton National Park, Snake River Overlook

Grand Teton, Snake River Overlook

 

After the visitor center, the road splits in two. US-89 proceeds to the North-East, whereas its branch goes to the Northwest, only crossing the main road again much to the North. We have to make a choice, we follow US-89, the most practical route. Anyway, we will not be disappointed by the superb landscapes. Once again, we make the promise to come back, were it only for that road, closer to the Teton range, which gives access to most trailheads.

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Grand Teton National Park, Jackson Lake Overlook

Jackson Lake, shades of blue of the sky, the mountains and the lake

 

Our last stop in Grant Teton is at Jackson Lake Overlook, a beach on the edge of the lake. We take several pictures including this one. I really love these shades of blue between the lake, the sky and the mountains, like water surface reflecting both the sky and the mountain.

 

Our visit in Grand Teton lasted only a few hours. This is way too short, by far not enough to really enjoy the beautiful landscapes of this uncongested park, at least when compared to its northern neighbor, Yellowstone. A few more miles through the John D. Rockefeller Parkway, a protected forest, and there we are, at last.

 

Yellowstone is the oldest National Park in the world. It was designated in 1872, when many states had not yet become states. Wyoming itself joined the Union as a state only in 1890. Oddly enough, this fiercely conservative state (it gave the Union former vice-president Dick Cheney) was the first US territory to grant women vote, in 1869. Not bad ...

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Yellowstone Natinal Park, brown bear

For bears too, it's dinner time

 

Further on, our attention is attracted to a long line of cars parked along the road. Moved by lurker syndrome, we stop as well, just in front of a park ranger, who warns us about the presence of a bear on the bank of the river. It's almost dinner time. The bear is there, highly concentrated on picking up the silvery reflections of fish at the surface of water. We see it from quite far away, the rangers having deemed not useful to let humans get too close to the animal.

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Yellowstone National Park, peaceful herbivores

Peaceful herbivores

 

Since this park has been protected for a very long time, a highly diverse wildlife has taken shelter there, away from hunters. These peaceful herbivores are only a few dozen feet away from the road.

 

Further on, we can briefly see the tip of an erupting geyser, most likely the famous Old Faithful. We will come back later.

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Yellowstone National Park, bison on the road

Bison or not, you have to keep right !

 

At sunset, with human presence a bit dimmer, animals leave their shelters in search of food and water. At Yellowstone, it is quite frequent to follow a peaceful bison on the road. The animal may be quiet, car drivers nevertheless pass it with infinite care. We took this picture through the open sunroof of our Ford Fusion.

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Yellowstone National Park, bald eagle

The bald eagle, symbol of the United States of America

 

I can't remember who, among the four of us, spotted this bald eagle on its branch, most likely not me, busy driving. This bird is actually quite common in Yellowstone, but its proverbial shyness makes photo opportunities very uncommon. Once again, sunset facilitates those precious sightings.

 

The grey background of this picture is not caused by the weather suddenly turning ugly. It's just that night is falling.

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Yellowstone National Park, sunset on the Madison range

Between Wyoming and Montana, sunset on the Madison range

 

We exit the park through the West entrance. Somewhere between Wyoming and Montana, we take this nice picture of sunset behind the Madison range.

 

Then it's West Yellowstone and our hotel. We are staying there two nights.

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