The First Trip in New Baleau- Autumn of 1981 A Leave of Absence Leads to a Most Memorable Trip: Part XIV

I thanked Sam for offering me such a great time with some her friends, and said goodbye in an objective “I’ll see you when I see you” manner. I headed east on I-84 with a gas-saving tailwind behind me. Every now and then I would catch a glimpse of the Snake River’s sharply definable gorge which appeared as if the earth’s crust had been suddenly and violently rifted asunder. At Twin Falls I decided it was time to cross The Snake and take old U.S. 30 for a change of pace. The bridge connection was a magnificent steel structure tautly arched between the sheer canyon walls.

Looking down several hundred feet at The Snake’s muddy waters, the river’s flow was deceptively slow. Fertile fields bordered the old Lincoln Way and, as I was rounding a curve in the road, three statuesque anomalies, each with a prodigious proboscis and endowed with a stupendous spread of branched horn, were standing in a stupor in some farmer’s plowed furrows. I just had to stop and walk up to the fence to gawk at the majestic creatures which were only at a distance from home plate to second base from my vantage point. All I could guess was that they had somehow become disoriented, and the farmer’s field was where they stopped to regroup and plan their next move. I glanced back several times as I drove away, hoping to see them in a full gallop, but they were still standing as if carved out of stone.

The three “Bullwinkles” composed an incredulous sight for one who had not been blessed with the trained eye for “uncamouflaging” wild animals in their natural setting. Soon I was back on the Interstate and rubber-necked my way through Pocatello and continued on to Idaho Falls. I had my mind set on taking a peak at the Grand Tetons, so I headed east on U.S. 26 in the direction of Jackson Hole. I couldn’t resist stopping at The Saddle Sore Saloon in Swan Valley – a rustic, log cabin-style shack of a structure, not really that uncommon a sight in that neck of the woods. I could pretty much preconceive what the interior design mood was going to be: timbers and planking, a massive stone fireplace, wall-mounted bear and dear heads, and a vintage, stand-up bar.

Well, as soon as I walked in, I realized that I had hit the ol’ nail right on its head, although I had omitted the red and white checkered table cloths. It was a wintry day and the thought of an ice-cold beer seemed completely alien, so I opted for a white wine at room temperature and sipped it standing in front of the warm fire. I was the only patron in the place and the lady proprietor unashamedly let it be known that I was a sight for sore eyes. It was between the summer tourist tide and the winter ski crowds, and she admitted that it was downright lonely there for a couple of autumn months. As I was thanking her for the wine and conversation, I tried not to feel too guilty about leaving her in such remote solitude.

It was quickly getting dark as I climbed up and over Teton Pass (8429 ft.) and coasted and braked down to Jackson. The ascent and descent had to have the steepest grades of any paved summit roads that I had encountered up to that point.(8 to 10% as compared to the normal 6%). I located a legal and level parking area just outside of town after explaining to a local lawman my modus operandi. It was one of those intriguingly dark nights whereas it was my initial visit to the area, and I had no idea what would greet my eyes in the forthcoming daylight. I loved that kind of anticipation. I fell asleep wondering if the Tetons would be thrusting upward right outside the cargo door window. “Thank You, Lord, for getting me there safely”.

No lofty mountain breasts saluted me the next morning. Instead, I found myself parked adjacent to an eco-system that appeared foreign to that area…a motionless river bogged down in a grassy marsh. I remembered the serpentine blue line in my Rand McNally Atlas which represented the Snake River as it tailed off into the Teton National Park. Even so, it was discombobulating to discover that the raging, roiling river I had seen the day before had its genesis not far from that placid, swamp-like valley. It was just another example of my amazement at the geological phenomena of the wild west.

I drove into Jackson, circling the center park square, its four corner entrances outfitted with arched racks from deer heads, and encompassed on all sides by an accouterment of curiosity shops with their old-west, wood-planked sidewalks. As I was halted at a traffic light, I envisioned the peak summer season with its grid-lock jams and vehicles from all over parked lugnut-to-lugnut. But, it was mid-November, and activity around the square was almost non-existent.

I took U.S. 191/26/89 north in search of the most majestic mountain range in the country. I kept looking to the left, but the only thing visible was a gray, misty mixture of fog and light snow. I turned left onto a road leading into the National Park of the Tetons, doing a double-take at a sign that read: “Thisaway to Wanataka Peak”. Some joke: It was becoming excruciatingly apparent that the joke was on me. I finally stopped, got out, and peered into the snowy mist, only to barely discern the base of the 13,770 feet of The Grand Teton! I gave a hapless shrug and said to myself, “Oh well, what the heck. I’m quite sure the Tetons will be there a few more years. I’ll catch them the next time around”. With that, I drove away with a surprisingly undisappointed feeling. I was all the more eager to get on down the road in the direction of Denver.

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