Yellowstone - Southern Entrance Road
After spending the night in Jackson, I planned to spend Day 2 taking beautiful pictures of the sparkling blue waters of Jenny Lake, at the foot of the Tetons. Instead, I awoke to this:
Grey, cold weather had moved in overnight. The blue skies that made the drive up to Jackson so enjoyable were gone. It wasn't raining, and aside from a little sleet and snow later in the day, it stayed dry. But, the temperature struggled to hit 50o. Spending time on a hike at the foot of the Tetons would have been downright miserable. So, I made the decision to save Jenny Lake for another day, drive through Grand Teton National Park, and on into Yellowstone.
Two roads take you through the lower part of Grand Teton National Park: US 26/89/191 is the faster of the two, and runs farther from the mountains, while Teton Park Road provides access to the lakes and trails. Both roads join up about halfway through the park, and then US 26/89/191 takes you on to the northern entrance. After you exit the park, you'll pass through a few miles of scenic, but non-NPS land, then you arrive at the southern entrance of Yellowstone. It's still another 21 miles before you reach the bottom loop of the figure-8 made by the park's roads, and the first services at West Thumb.
At first glance at the park map, it looks like there's not a lot to see on the extreme southern end of Yellowstone National Park--the part below the loop roads. But there are a few places worth stopping.
Wildlife can be anywhere. I probably would have driven by this mother and baby moose, had it not been for the dozens of people standing at the side of the road, looking through binoculars and pointing. (You can clearly see one moose, the other is in the brush just to the right of the other.) This was only the second time I had seen a moose (the first was after riding the Route of the Hiawatha trail in Idaho), but I would see them several more times during this trip. That's one great thing about Yellowstone: you absolutely will see plenty of animals, in their natural habitat.
I'm not sure if this spot was inside Yellowstone, or just before it. The Tetons were still visible on the horizon, but fading fast into the clouds.
As you make your way up Yellowstone's south entrance road, you're driving alongside the Lewis River. You're also passing through a portion of the park that was ravaged by the devastating fires that hit Yellowstone in 1988. The damage is still evident today, as skeletons of burned trees stick up like porcupine quills on the hillsides.
In 1988, 36 percent of the park's acreage was scorched. More than 410,000 acres burned from just one fire, started by a cigarette. Of course, it's all part of the natural order of things. Some of the park's lodgepole pine trees can't release their seeds, unless the cones are exposed to extreme heat. Fire stimulates regeneration of other plants as well. But the summer of 1988 turned out to be extremely dry, and by July, the fires were getting out of hand. On the worst single day, 150,000 acres were scorched. The last fire wasn't extinguished until November, when the park's ample snowfall finally put it out. Animals died, two firefighters lost their lives (outside of the park), and some park buildings were damaged or destroyed. The fires brought about changes in Yellowstone's fire management plan--specifically, the policy to let naturally-occurring fires burn themselves out.†
About halfway between the southern entrance and West Thumb (and at roughly the spot where you cross over into the Yellowstone Caldera), you'll find Lewis Falls. You'll get a distant view from the road...
... but a short trail will bring you much closer.
From the bridge, there's a nice view of the meandering Lewis River here, which on a cloud-free day would make for a great picture. Not today, though.
The next waterfall on the drive northward into the park is Kepler Cascades. You can't get very close to this waterfall, and there's only one spot that will give you a good view, looking down into the canyon. It makes for a good 5-minute stop, but much greater scenes await.
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