In my opinion, there is no place as grand or as beautiful as Elk Lake. I believe many, if not all, of our guests would agree. While some places can be replicated elsewhere or at least you can find a close facsimile, Elk Lake has some unique qualities which cannot be found together in one place anywhere else. It is the rare combination of quiet, serenity, an almost 'other worldliness', a wildness which allows one to feel close to nature yet without giving up the comforts of home. All this combined with the glorious beauty of our setting makes for a completely unique and not-to-be duplicated location.
So, when I even think of ever leaving Elk Lake, I feel a bit hollow. Once you've lived in such a special place, everything else seems a bit - well - second class. Nonetheless, the Greater Yellowstone EcoSystem and its surrounding countryside does take in some of the most unique and breathtakingly beautiful landscape in the lower 48. So, when we take some time away (never to escape Elk Lake but sometimes to escape Elk Lake's enthusiasts :-), we search for other special, off-the-beaten-path, and beautiful places.
While you probably don't care where I spend my free time, occasionally Elk Lake guests will ask about other areas to which they can make a day trip or where they might spend a day or two at the beginning or end of their stay with us. So, for those of you who have ever wondered, here are some photos of a couple of my favorite spots - within a day's drive, yet, quite honestly, worth a day or two (at least) of your time.
Anyone who has visited Yellowstone National Park, has gone hoping to see at least two things - animals and geysers. The geysers are predictable, stuck in one place, and easy to view. The animals, like all animals are quite the opposite (some in every aspect). Thus visitors to Yellowstone can 'plan' to view the geysers but must 'prepare' to see the wildlife.
Visitors to Grand Teton National Park (Yellowstone's neighbor to the south) plan to see the geological wonders but rarely do I visit with anyone preparing to search out the Park's wildlife. In fact, having spent a few days in the Park, I would say it is rare to find anyone who is focusing on the wildlife. Of course, with such a majestic backdrop, visitors can't exactly ignore the grand landscape. However, as we have found, the landscape is the icing on a potentially fantastic wildlife cake.
Like anything else of value, even the geological wonders do not give up their best to the casual bypasser. Yet, if you are willing to get up before the sun and head for the most scenic spot you can find, a typical sunrise will provide you with numerous photo opportunities. These Park rangers paddling toward Leigh Lake added just the right amount of action to Mt. Moran's morning face.
If you just can't drag yourself out of bed that early, all is not lost. While, personally, I believe the sunrise photo opportunities in Grand Teton National Park are the best, a good sunset photo is still a possibility - especially if you can manage to get some good reflections. The photo which follows is of The Teton Range (from the north end) reflected in Coulter Bay.
The Tetons are so spectacular you really don't need water to set them off. Granted a good reflection never hurts (like this morning picture of the Cathedral Group reflected in String Lake):
But gorgeous country is gorgeous regardless - whether viewed across a sage brush covered field:
Seen through Jackson Lake Lodge's windows at mid-day:
Glimpsed through the trees on a cloudy, wet day:
Or even looking the other way:
But like I mentioned above, the scenery in Grand Teton National Park, as grand as it truly is, is not the only reason - for me not even the primary reason - for visiting the area. It is the wildlife which bring me back time after time - particularly the elk.
I have mentioned in previous posts the thrill I get whenever I hear a wolf howl. There is truly nothing like it. And, while the wolf may be the supreme definition of 'wild', the elk (oddly enough the wolf's favorite prey) will always be another major symbol of wildness in my mind. Just thinking about an elk's bugle can send goosebumps up my arns.
If you have never had the privilege of standing in the woods, listening to a couple bulls scream their challenges back and forth - you have missed something incredibly wild and incredibly special.
While Yellowstone is home to numerous elk and while I have heard them bugle there as well, Grand Teton is the place I head if I want the supreme experience. Perhaps it is the lack of wolves. Perhaps it is the geographic formations which amplify the sound. Perhaps it is the geological format which forces the elk into a central area. I do not know the reason, I only know if I want to hear a LOT of bulls make a LOT of racket - Grand Teton National Park in the fall is the place to be.
Of course wildlife are harder to photograph. That is why the best wildlife photos I possess were taken by someone with more time, more patience, and better equipment than I. However, I did get a few shots - not the best - but proof the animals were there in abundance. This photo is of two bulls who were screaming their defiance at one another (and any other bull who would consider responding) just across the lake from our location:
This bull had already made his stand and, by the time we wandered his way, appeared to be making his way toward a nice cool spot where he planned to spend the day.
Of course there were the bull moose, but they were not nearly as visible nor as vocal. However, we did manage to glimpse a very large bull courting his lady the evening we arrived (but where does one put a big RV when they want to make a quick stop along a busy road?)
Anyone who has visited this beautiful section of the country south of Yellowstone probably has seen and experience much the same. In fact, I know some of you have better photos than I do. However, we are the exploring kind (go figure - we live in the middle of nowhere - how, exactly, did we find Elk Lake Resort anyway :-) So, it comes as no surprise we took a day to explore.
Sometimes explorations lead to something one could have done without. Sometimes they leave you saddle sore and uninspired. However, our explorations that day may have left us saddle sore, but we were definitely NOT uninspired by our find.
On the north end of the Wind River Range, tucked up on the Continental Divide, is Togowetee Pass. Now, I must admit, I wasn't overly impressed with that area. However, just to the east lies a beautiful group of mountains called "The Pinnacles". Tucked at the base of these unique mountains just a few miles off the main highway we found a lovely little lake in a pretty little meadow surrounded by beautiful mountains. Next time you take a trip to the Grand Tetons, I'd recommend a side trip to Brooks Lake.
And while I'm usually a lot more fond of rocky, rugged, 'majestic' mountains like the Centennials or Madisons, I found the painted hills near Dubois, WY beautiful in their own right.
In reality, there are just too many beautiful places to see. However, the real proof of how well you like where 'you' live is: how anxious are you to go home? I must admit, even in the face of all the natural grandeur and beauty we enjoyed on this trip, I could hardly wait to get home. And, when all my excursions are compared, my favorites are those I take out my back door - just my two hiking buddies and me!
Lady of the Lake