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BREATHTAKING TETONS

Photo by Bill Lundquist of Grand Tetons only happened after low clouds broke apart. ().
Photo by Bill Lundquist of Grand Tetons only happened after low clouds broke apart. ().

My free day in Yellowstone National Park was over. Now it was time to fulfill the mission I came for: get my son and most of his worldly goods safely back to college in Eugene.

With the car perilously overloaded, we headed for Oregon. We decided to leave Yellowstone by the south entrance and drive through Grand Teton National Park.

First, I couldnt resist a quick stop at West Thumb Geyser Basin. It has some beautiful blue or green hot pools, but the most interesting feature is Fishing Cone.

The cone, which contains a small hot pool, actually sits in the lake. Anglers used to catch trout out of the lake and drop them right into the cone to cook. The practice was always dangerous, and is now illegal, but it worked.

The road to the south entrance follows the beautiful Lewis River through the Lewis River Canyon and Lewis Falls.

For those who cant get enough of the name Lewis there is also Lewis Lake. All the names were derived, of course, from the Lewis and Clark Expedition which never reached Yellowstone.

A stretch of federal land called the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway now connects Grand Teton National Park to Yellowstone. The same ticket will get you into both parks.

Grand Teton is an entirely different kind of park from Yellowstone, however. It was cobbled together over time from chunks of land, which left a working ranch grandfathered in.

Where Yellowstone has an almost endless variety of ecosystems and natural wonders, Grand Teton has only the mountains and Jackson Lake.

Unfortunately, we could see neither. The long western drought had left the reservoir nearly dry. Well, not quite dry. It left a mud flat similar to when the tide goes out of a bay.

Low clouds had reduced the mountains to 1,500-foot hills. My son commented, This looks just like Coos Bay.

The ranger at Colter Bay told me clouds block the mountain view about twice a year.

I wasnt surprised. I usually go through life with a black cloud hanging over my head, but this was too literal.

We drove south to Jackson Lake Lodge, which has enormous picture windows with a breathtaking view, except on the day we visited, of course.

A hole opened in the cloud cover as we drove south to Jackson, Wyo., but the clouds stuck stubbornly to the mountains.

Finally, halfway to Jackson, the road turned briefly straight toward the mountains, and jutting into the middle of an opening in the clouds was a huge rock.

I blinked several times, because I wasnt expecting to see a mountain peak that high in the sky.

What I didnt know at the time was that I was looking at the smallest of the three main peaks in the range.

The South Teton, however, at 12,514 feet, is higher than Mt. Hood. The Middle Teton, when it came into view, was higher still.

When the Grand Teton, at 13,770 feet, finally broke through the top of the clouds, it took my breath away.

Natures subtle striptease turned out to be the most exciting way to view the mountain range.

The term striptease may be fitting for another reason. The peaks, carved from an uplifted block by glaciers, were named by French fur-trappers who had been deprived of female companionship for far too long.

Teton is French for a womans chest, or at least parts of it. Given that there are three major peaks, the name is a bit odd, but who can explain the French?

Jackson itself was a big disappointment to me. My wife had visited in the summer and loved the shoulder-to-shoulder crowds of trendy people squeezing into high-priced knick-knack galleries.

I couldnt wait to get through the stifling traffic and escape the town, but I couldnt find a way to do it.

I stopped at a Taco Bell and asked how to find the main highway east to Idaho, but the girl at the counter either didnt know, spoke only Spanish, or both. At least the enchirito was good.

We finally found the road over the Teton Pass, 8,431 feet, and it was well worth the trouble.

The view was spectacular, but we had to follow a car going 20 mph while ranchers in their diesel pickups kept passing us on double-yellow lines.

At Victor, Idaho, we took another small road which took us through a beautiful high mountain valley to the main highway running to Idaho Falls and the freeway.

From there, it was a quick 80 mph burn up the freeway through thunderstorms, killer side winds, and endless trucks to my sisters house in Ontario. Keep in mind that the legal speed limit in Idaho is 75 mph, and everyone goes faster.

Back in Oregon, we spent the next day driving through the Blue and Ochoco Mountains to John Day and Redmond. Sticking close to the Oregon speed limit, I was the only one not doing 80 mph.

The old McKenzie Pass highway gave us one last look at snow-capped peaks before we dropped down into Eugene.

I grew up in Eugene, the last bastion of hippydom and one of the most liberal towns anywhere.

We arrived less than a week after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, and I half expected to see the Palestinian Student Union marching at the University of Oregon in support of the terrorists, but it was just the opposite.

Id passed through many old-west righteous right-wing redneck towns on my tours across the west, but nothing prepared me for the patriotic display I found in Eugene.

Every car had an American flag or a sign taped to a window supporting the police and firefighters of New York.

Most of the homes and cars were also flying flags. I loved the guy at the mall who taped his flag at half staff to the antenna of his Camaro.

I never thought Id see those bleeding-heart liberals in Eugene bleeding red, white and blue, but then, I never thought Id see most of what I saw the week of Sept. 11.

The only part Id like to relive is Yellowstone. I wonder if I could outrun a bison with a snowmobile?

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