GRAND TETONS (pictures on Facebook – Thomas Michael Foote. Instead of taking 2 hours to upload 21 pictures, Facebook can do 39 in about 10 minutes)
Monday. We just drive down and out of Yellowstone all day. The Tetons are a National Park, and everything is closed except Signal Mountain, so we don’t have to pay to get in. The views begin changing as we approach the jagged, snow covered peaks of the Teton Range. Dark teal colored lakes dip down in the valleys between the forest of barren, white Lodge Pole Pines. They look like pickup sticks up and down the sides of mountains, perfect size and straightness for teepee poles. It’s $20 to park and have a fire, which kind of sucks, but it was our only option. The area had a convenience store for beer, a gas pump, and a bar with a sick view for more beer. The bartender tells us some free places to camp and has an epic beard.
After a big spaghetti dinner, I search for a bathroom, where we also heard lots of laughing and singing. From the looks of it, there was a camp up the hill on the other side. I wander through the bushes and yearlings in the dark towards the exterior orange light of the building. The first door is unlocked. The second door is unlocked. I access a hallway to my surprise that looks like a college dorm. One gaunt snowboarder looking guy with a really good Indian face paintjob tells me this is where the camp employees live and laughs hysterically. I get directions for a bathroom back at our campsite and tell Jeff about my findings. Armed with only 4 beers, we charge the hill looking for cool people. The first dude we see outside tells us to go inside to the first dorm on the left. Stu, the crazy face paint kid is in there and laughs some more.
We end up listening to music and playing a Midwest drinking game which is a bit like beer pong except you use only four cups in each corner and bounce a dice. The residents are really excited about us being able to have a fire, because the entire season was on too high of a fire risk. Stu comes back to the fire and we laugh all night about the ridiculous beauty of the area. Stu spent only 20 nights sleeping indoors from now back to May, when the season started. At the end of the night, he took off into the dark wearing only Chockas (sp?) on his feet. It was about 38 degrees. He goes to a place in the woods by a lake a few miles away where his hammock and sleeping bag are. The only times he met some wildlife was one day in the early summer when he woke up to a couple of teenager black bears. It freaked him out a little, but he clapped them away and went back to sleep. This dude has got it going on. A little misunderstood by his outrageous, drawn out laugh, but if you can pick the words out of his strong surfer accent and nomenclature, his descriptions of the mountains is brilliant poetry. “Your standin by a lake, alright, and you look to the left and this slab of shale just shoots up right next to you, seven thousand feet into the sky. You turn to your right and boom! Another straight up ramp of rock just launches straight the f^@& up. AAAAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAAAAA!”
Tuesday. Jeff destroyed his shin on a wooden, knee-high piling that was driven into the ground next to the parking space. They have these all over the park. Jeff wakes up in a bad mood after finding a warning for leaving one beer can out and not fully extinguishing the fire. I feel blessed that the dude didn’t give us a ticket, but also proud that we cleaned up that well after as long a night as we had. Jeff decides to get even by posting a note telling the staff that they need to cut down the stumps and that he could have broken his ankle. This creates a bad element in our relationship that needs to be addressed. I don’t ever want to be a contributor to our already ridiculous over-regulation. I believe this is what made our country weak.
Lawsuits for burning yourself on a cup of coffee. I like the fact that if I’m stupid at these parks, I can actually kill myself. That is what makes it an intense experience. That’s what I liked about living in New York. They have naked steel bridge columns in the middle of the roads in Brooklyn. It makes people think and therefore there are no accidents. I don’t want to wake up in a bubble-wrapped world covered in warning labels. But I digress. So I talk to Jeff about my thoughts and he says that he is not the type of person that participates in the frivolous lawsuits. He just wanted to let them know, and he is probably not the first person to have that problem. Being a surfer, he is used to taking responsibility for his safety and feels bad about the note. We go to take it down, but it has already been taken by the campsite attendant. I’m just happy that Jeff doesn’t follow the safety over freedom ideology. We hash out the differences and are back on an even keel. I tell him, anytime he wants to kick me out of the van, I hold no objections and will give him my share of gas money for the rest of the trip. We laugh about the nature of confrontation and drive to the Teton National
Forest where camping is free.
Sweet lakes, sweet peaks, and we look at both from our ranch-side highway leading us east. Between campsites (some wouldn’t allow fires) there is a pull-off for a glacier view. There is no glacier and the information sign is scratched off. I think, “Maybe because I’m not influenced by melting ice caps, I don’t feel like climate change is a big deal. If I had a glacier in my backyard, it might be more alarming.” Our destination for the day becomes a lakeside campsite off Gros Ventre Road that is closed, but only for collecting payment. There are a few campers here and there, and we pretty much have the shore to ourselves. After some Kung Fu and a freezing cold bath in the lake, we invite some neighbors for a drink and some music. Brian is a dude with a cool black lab named Harley, and we hang out at the fire playing music and looking at the stars. This will be the first time we’ve stayed somewhere for a day since Kentucky.
Wednesday. This is our third week on the road. Pancakes in the morning and we wash clothes and dishes by the lake. I climb the big hill behind our camp, to get a better view of the lake. Jeff thinks it is a dumb idea, but I’ve been talking about climbing something since South Dakota. I want to inspire more off the beaten path activities, too. We did good Kung Fu while the clothes dried. Brian and Harley came back over for dinner and chill sessions by the fire.
More gathering wood and burning wood the next day. That night we go to Jackson Hole, WY.
Friday morning. The van gets an oil change and tires rotated after hittiing 5,000 miles for the trip. While we wait for the van, we find a mom’n’pop pizza shop that tastes just like the Hut. Afterwards, I get my dreads started at a lady hair salon (they started naturally a month and a half ago on the sailboat) and then we drive to Salt Lake City. Jeff jumped down from the Idaho state border sign and sprained his ankle. It’s late by the time we get to Salt Lake, so we pass out in a Walmart parking lot.
Saturday. Jeff grabs a couple ankle braces in the morning. He tells me people tend to stare when someone in their 20’s scoots around in a Walmart Rascal power chair. I go downtown and sell some silver coins. This is how I keep from spending all of my money too fast, otherwise it would have been gone by the end of week 2. Jeff is having a tough time hobbling around with his bamboo cane, so we jump on Salt Lake trolley lines while Jeff helps me finish my dreads. Eva’s, a tapas restaurant, was recommended and did not disappoint. I don’t like Brussels Sprouts (sp?), but they were damn good. At night we hung out with some wise, young locals at Twilite bar and drank a few Mexican Restaurant sized mugs. With the van parallel parked right in front of the bar, it was funny to wake up confused yet convenient.
Sunday. We tried driving to the super salty lake so I could dip my dreads and accelerate the process. Much of the shoreline is covered by farmland, so I make salt water in a bucket. We take Utah 191 through Arches Nat’l Park, past Canyonlands Nat’l Park, to Mesa Verde Nat’l Park. There’s lots and lots of parks out west. It’s dark when we arrive and we make ramen on the fire.
Monday morning. Kung Fu and crazy views at Mesa Verde. There are also ancient ruins from the Pueblos. I think they sound dumb and am in a bad mood this morning because of how far behind I am on the blog. (Seriously, I take this thing seriously. Thanks for reading J) Alas, they are freaking sweet. We want to take a closer look, so go to buy tour tickets for 3 bucks a pop. A young dude with a golden retriever walks into the ticket office. The lady says, “All dogs must remain in vehicles in the parking lot.” The dude tells her it’s a therapy dog. She cuts him off by saying, “All dogs must remain in vehicles in the parking lot” with robot-tone repetitive precision. Great. One of these people. It’s like her logic is so strong, she can’t move forward with new information or processes if something doesn’t line up with her programming. I can’t take it and buy the dude’s ticket for him. Aaron is a cool, cool dude and we hang out for the next couple days. He’s on his way back to Denver to start several grow houses. Colorado is a little different than Georgia when it comes to the general image of marijuana. He tells us if he gets an edibles license, his grow capacity increases from 5 plants to 99. We have an awesome dinner at a Japanese Steakhouse in Durango, CO. Aaron buys a couple rounds of sake. It’s a constant game to be more generous than our guest.
After dinner, we head to a nearby campsite where we meet more cool people. Jenny and Nick are our new camp neighbors. Jenny is training to become a Shaman. Nick grew up in Argentina, spoke Russian his whole life and then finally moved to the states and has absolutely no accent. He’s around 35, works at a ski resort and brewery in the winter and spends the rest of the year bartending, travelling and camping. Even with his hockey player haircut, he’s so clean-cut, you wonder if he just stepped out of an American Eagle poster. It’s hard to believe he’s been camping since March. His power is only exceeded by his mystery-kind of guy. Doesn’t share anything but good energy and a level demeanor. Between all of our new friends, I have a waterfall of inspiration and information to work with. After all, I’m shopping for some lifestyle design changes out west.
Tuesday. Pancakes on the fire. Aaron and I talk philosophy and physics until the middle of the afternoon and then he takes off for Denver. The dude is like my partner in crime from a different time.
Jeff and I talk about leaving all day and night. We give the van a thorough cleaning and I teach Jenny some guitar stuff. Jeff is exhausted and crashes before the sun falls. I chill with Jenny til Nick gets off work at the brewery.
Wednesday. Jeff and I finally leave Durango and Colorado. The state is cool, at least the part we saw. The residents have got style. Every house and mailbox is customized, but not in the tacky East Jersey kind of way. Lots of solar panels, lots of greenhouses. You don’t have to cut the grass in southwestern CO. It just doesn’t grow like back east. My brother, Steve, and I have discussed many times the folly of maintaining grass. Why would you spend money, time, and anguish on a crop that doesn’t benefit you in any way? – Back to the story. Colorado is truly a colorful place. Blue lakes, glaring leaves (we are moving with the foliage now), and silver mountains jutting and rolling up the walls. Not to mention all of the hippie inhabitants and classic cars. It looks like Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder started a brawl in finger painting class.
The landscape changes steadily to the desert as we head through the 4-corners. I am not a fan of imaginary lines and see no reason to stand in four imaginary places at once unless I’m doing something noteworthy. I think borders caused by the natural separation of people due to the landscape are cool. I think straight lines drawn in the sand to say that sales tax is 7.3% here and 9.4% here is silly. We don’t have to send troups to fight Santa Anna’s army for silly, meaningless straight line borders. I guess that’s the West. Used to cost a nickel an acre out here. Probably talking out of my ass, but I think I’m on the right track.
We are back in Indian Country and alcohol is a bit scarce. We have been told by several people along the journey that Indian reservations are always dry, meaning no alcohol. Aaron’s deduction is that they were only first introduced to alcohol when the white man came and have not yet adapted. Europeans have been drinking for millennia. Jeff is googling whether anyone has ever seen an Indian with facial hair that could hold his liquor.