This is one of my favorite national parks. The mountains are too steep to traverse by car, so the roads through the park mostly go alongside the range, offering incredible views and access to beautiful lakes and trails. No twisty, high-up, hairpin roads with nail-biting drops like in the Rockies, so you can actually enjoy some of those breathtaking views while driving.
Visitor Center and the Muries
Our first day at the park, it was still so cold, we decided just to go to the Visitor Center. It’s a beautiful new building at the Moose park entrance, with a museum, movie theater, bronze sculptures, and an impressive wall of windows framing the Teton range. But my favorite part was the downplayed Murie Center, just a short hike through woods from the center. There we found a cluster of log homes and an enthusiastic docent who gave us a tour of the main Murie home. I’d never heard of the Muries before, but I loved their story.
In the 1920s two scientist brothers, Olaus and Adolph Murie, were working in Alaska studying caribou. They met two sisters, Mardy and Louise, who were equally interested in wilderness. Olaus married Mardy, Adolph married Louise, and the four of them dedicated their lives to the early conservation movement.
In 1927, Mardy and Olaus came to Jackson to study elk. Adolph stayed in Alaska, with Louise, to work with the National Park Service, studying wolves, coyotes, and grizzlies. But he and his wife would spend part of the year in Jackson with their other sibling set. Mardy and Olaus had three children; Louise and Adolph had two. In 1947, they all went in together on property just north of Jackson (in Moose) that had been a dude ranch. Mardy and Olaus lived in one log cabin, and when Adolph and Louise weren’t in Alaska, they lived in the other.
After retirement, Olaus became the Director of the Wilderness Society. Mardy worked closely with him on his fight to preserve America’s wilderness and after his death in 1963, she continued his work, playing a key role in the passage of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act and the 1964 Wilderness Act. She was dubbed the “Grandmother of Conservation” and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1998.
Mardy lived in the Moose cabin until her death at 101. Her sister, who was also widowed early, moved to Jackson and lived to be 100. Mardy and Olaus’s cabin is open to the public, preserved just as it was when Mardy last lived in it. We were the only visitors at the time, so our docent, Dan, gave us his full attention and even played a song that John Denver had written about Mardy and Olaus. It was fascinating imagining them living out there in the then-wilderness where in winter they had to snow-shoe or ski the two miles to the main road.
Our second day was sunny and much warmer. We drove through the entire park, stopping at pullovers for views and short hikes. The mountain range looked spectacular with so much fresh snow and a backdrop of deep blue sky and cotton clouds.
We kept our eyes peeled for wildlife, but the bear jam made it easy for us. About 20 cars were pulled off the road, and photographers lined the grassy bank on one side, an arsenal of giant pointed into the bushes like bazookas. Rangers patrolled the scene, making sure the roadway wasn’t blocked. We pulled over immediately, and I joined the ranks of the photographers with my puny Nikon lens, cursing myself for leaving the 300m lens back in Bessie.
Bear 610 was in the willow bushes with her two yearling cubs. At first I could barely make out their shapes in the distance, but eventually they all three came out and had a good look at the spectator scene we presented, then ambled out of sight again.
Neither of us had ever seen a grizzly in the wild, so this was an exciting find. And I must say I was impressed with both the rangers, who monitored the crowd in an easy-going but firm way, and the crowd, who accepted the boundaries without question.
The third day was even more gorgeous, and we drove through the Grand Teton park one more time on our way to Yellowstone. Because it was early in the morning, Lake Jackson was still and smooth, offering a perfect reflection of the mountain range.
We were driving through a three-mile section marked as a bear and wolf crossing when I saw what was clearly a wolf cross the road in front of me. I slowed and it stopped and looked back at me before bounding away.