From a mighty thunderstorm over the Grand Canyon to the strange and rare rain in Arches National Park, we were starting to see the weather at its formidable and breathtaking best.
From Moab we turned the car north; a four hour drive had us in the heart of Salt Lake City by lunch time.
Through the flatlands of the Navajo, where the orange-red dust of the earth gives rise to the mesas and buttes that punctuate the landscape and the straight road shrinks into the distance, we drove on. At the horizon, storm clouds had begun to gather, and soon dark streaks of rain and lightning were coming down. A cow lay dead in a field, its neck arched all the way back. Savage and hungry crows jounced and scattered all about it, flapping their wings and tearing at its hide. We were, unmistakably, somewhere out west.
Eventually, however, the wilds became the metropolis. Our agenda in Salt Lake City was a simple but busy one: walk a few blocks, feel the vibe, see the city, visit the Mormon Tabernacle, and finally pop into the Family History Library if there was time before it closed, then press on. Maybe, just maybe we would spend the night in SLC if the onward drive didn’t seem appealing after we were done with the library. We would see how we felt.
It was nerd time again. In the late afternoon I sat down in the Family History Library for what I thought would be 5 minutes, to see whether I could possibly find anything to do with my lowly little family in there, not expecting much. What I found astounded me. It’s of interest only to immediate family, but suffice it to say I got swept into the past, and spent the night in Salt Lake City so I could be back in the library when it opened. I had to be dragged from it in the late afternoon, having sat in the same chair all day. The Family Library is a big, strange and wonderful place, full of happy and helpful people ready to assist you in exploring their enormous database — billions of birth, death, marriage, and census records, newspaper archives and other such materials.
We were in Jackson, WY by nightfall. We found a great and almost deserted campground on the banks of the Snake River about 10 miles outside of Jackson, where sleep came easily at the sounds of creek water rushing over small pebbles. Early the next morning we crossed into Grand Teton National Park.
From the beginning, the mighty Tetons loomed bright and clear — a not altogether common sight, as they’re often obscured by cloud and mist. On this morning, however, the clouds had lifted and shifted back behind the mountains, revealing them to us in all their grandeur. It isn’t hard to see why Grand Teton (the giant centerpiece of this subrange of the Rockies) is a Mecca for so many mountaineers and adventurers.
We were quite taken with the splendour of Jenny Lake, and made the 7 or 8 mile circumference of it our goal for the day. It started out splendidly. The clouds dissipated further, the sky was a crisp azure, the lake even more brilliant, ospreys were soaring and shrieking above us. Dead trees — killed in bygone fires — jutted up out of the green grass, their branches burnt away so that only the ashen-grey stems remained, a foreground to the ever-present Tetons.
We shouldn’t have been surprised, given what the weather had proffered over the past few days, but when the clouds turned from white to grey in an instant, and rolled back in over the mountains, we had to stop for a moment. Could the weather really be changing this quickly? In an instant, the whole landscape — the trees, the lake, the mountains, the skies — was cast into black and white; the clouds darkened and for a brief moment the wind flared up and then stopped completely. A blinding flash of light streaked across the sky and then three cracks of thunder, each report growing louder and louder, burst out, seemingly right above our heads. And yet not a drop of rain had fallen.
Two things were certain. One, it was about to start raining very, very hard. Two, we had no hope of making it back to shelter before it did. There was nothing to do but grin and bare it.
On nights like these, thoughts of tumble dryers and duvets and sheets and towels can begin to creep into the conversation, and in a way it makes the camping a little more fun. We were huddled around a fire, doing our best to dry our wet clothes and keep mud out of the tent; our hands enveloped steaming mugs of tea as we looked forward to another day of mystery and wonder in the great American west.
We were up before dawn the next morning, packing down our tent and getting on the road out of Jackson before daybreak, headed once again for Grand Teton National Park. A few miles on, a thick and low mist lay over the ground as the first signs of light appeared in the sky. We entered the park as the sun began to peek over the horizon, and counted what happened next among the most spectacular things we’ve seen on this whole journey.
The sun’s early red rays struck the rocks of the Tetons in a shape-shifting glow that made them look surreal. The layer of mist stayed low and thick, but shone with a luminous brilliance now. The ground was cold. Behind us, a herd of bison grunted and stomped their way to better grazing.
It was a fond farewell to the Tetons, and it felt like a fond farewell to us from the park, as we drove on farther north, bound for Yellowstone.