Day one of the National Park Foundation's #ALEX14 expedition was a good indicator of what I would be expecting on this trip. The National Park Foundation and the American Latino Heritage Fund conceived and organized an amazing experience in a national park for eight Latino bloggers of various backgrounds and niches. I was the only gardener on the trip.
The day before #ALEX14 officially started I had traveled from Chicago to Los Angeles and then to Salt Lake City to meet the rest of the bloggers that would be part of the expedition.
The evening before Day 1 we arrived in the charming town of Jackson, Wyoming. I wish I had been able to spend more time in this town because there were so many missed photo opportunities. The Million Dollar Cowboy Bar really deserved to be photographed a lot more. From Jackson, we drove about another hour in the dark to Togwotee Mountain Lodge which would be our "base camp" during the expedition in Grand Teton National Park. The Teton Range are referred to as the "Mountains of Imagination" because of what the name alludes to, but at night they certainly play with your imagination. Even though I couldn't clearly see them that night driving up to Togwotee, I could feel them.
I was told we would be sharing "rooms" at Togwotee. What I didn't know going in is that I would be sharing an awesome little cabin that would reignite my desire for a tiny house. This was my first time sleeping in a cabin and spending a night in the woods. The morning I took this photo I was pleasantly surprised I had survived without a bear attack or a spree killer breaking in.
The first day I woke up early. Watching the sky brighten, the sun rise and spill through the lodgepole pine trees, I finally understood why so many ancient civilizations worshiped the sun. It was one of the most glorious sights I have ever been witness to. It was a sign of things to come.
Later that morning we arrived at the Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve Center. Today we are more familiar with the Kardashians than we are with the Rockefellers. But there was a time where every move made by a Rockefeller was documented with the same obsession. The Rockefeller family is probably glad they are no longer in the spotlight, but it should be noted that without their generosity, this 1,106-acre preserve at the southern edge of Phelps Lake would not be possible.
John D. Rockefeller, Jr. purchased much of the land in the area starting back in the 1920s. It boggled my mind that anyone could have once "owned" the land I was walking on. It just seems to immense and an impossible feat. Imagine someone telling you that someone own the galaxy we reside in. That's what it felt like to me when the park ranger explained how the preserve came into existence.
This photo of Aspen tree bark may not look like much. I know it didn't look like much to me until after the park ranger explained how we could interpret the scarring on the tree's bark. Can you see it for yourself? The tree shows a lot of scars from being scratched by bears. Those long lines are made by the bear's claws. The threat of seeing bears in the Teton Range never materialized for our group. We kept hearing of bear sightings, but we never actually saw any.
There were so many paths, bridges, turns and bends where I was sure a bear would step out, but they never did. I wonder if there were time when we were very close to a bear and just didn't know it.
Here Alanna Sobel, Communications Manager for the National Park Foundation, stops to see if I'm being attacked by a bear. Moments before I took the photo I remember yelling something to the effect of "OMG, I can't believe this!" The reason was that the scene of the bloggers walking up ahead and through the trail looked like something out of a commercial for an organic, gluten free, fair trade, artisanal energy bar. I would have many moments where I was struck dumb by the beauty of the Grand Tetons.
Of the eight bloggers and social media types the National Park Foundation chose to go on #ALEX14 I was the only one that had anything to do with gardening. I must have missed about 30% of the entire trip because I was too busy looking at the ground hoping to spot plants and flowers. Unfortunately, early September is too late in the season for much flower-spotting, but I did see these charming blue bells quite often on the hikes.
And there were lots of rocks with lichen. So much lichen.
Although, I was really surprised by the mushrooms everywhere. I mean, they were everywhere! There must have been a rain event in the days prior to our arrival because there were fungi sprouting everywhere. It made me wish I was a mushroom blogger because I would have had a field day.
This was my first real hike, and the Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve spoiled me. There was no shortage of scenery and things to marvel at and photograph.
They say you never forget your first, and I'll certainly never forget Katie, my first park ranger. She taught us a lot about the preserve, the edible berries on the trail, the animals, and that drinking water is the best thing do to when you are out of breath because it replaces oxygen in your body. The hike to Phelps Lake is probably easier than it seemed to this hiking newbie, but I didn't have much to complain about given this view.
After hiking up and through what seemed like a forest that would never end, we reached a clearing where the Grand Tetons where in sight.
Every few feet was another view of the Grand Tetons that was worthy of being a postcard. And it just didn't stop until we reached the beach.
At Phelps Lake we stopped and had lunch and Katie kept dropping knowledge. These photographs don't do the view justice. I wish there was a way to present just how immense and fake it seemed. It looked as if an artist had been commanded by Hitchcock to paint the perfect background and he had come back with this.
I felt as if I could walk out to a point in the lake and I would touch a wall or the canvas this had all be perfectly painted on. How can those mountains looks so perfect all the time?
Remember the Rockefellers and donated land I mentioned above? Just a few years prior I would not have been able to stand on this beach and take this photograph of a photograph. Remember, this was all private property and owned by the Rockefellers and used as a vacation spot. When they donated the land they moved over 30 structures to allow for the land to be restored. Can you imagine just being able to pick up your vacation compound and moving it?
This view here at Phelps Lake was just so spectacular. I felt like at any moment a giant hand would remove a larger photo from in front of the photo I was holding and reveal this wasn't real. The water was so clear, the mountains so perfect, and save for the noise created by our group, there was no noise. I don't think I've ever had a more perfect lunch spot.
I commemorated the event by taking my first ever national park selfie.
Back at the Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve Center you can learn more about Mr. Rockefeller's legacy of conservation stewardship. The center features composting toilets and is the first LEED certified property in Wyoming. Ranger Katie told us that someone once asked Mr. Rockefeller why his father left him that land and he answered that because his father must have known he would do the right thing with it.
I'm glad both of the Rockefellers understood the importance of this piece of land because it is something that everyone should experience. The attention paid to detail in returning this land to as near pristine condition as possible is amazing. The site of the old Rockefeller ranch was bio-remidiated with seeds and plantings collected from nearby the site. Now that this is part of the national park system, many generations will be able to walk these trails and sit on the edge of Phelps Lake and wonder if the mountains at a distance are real.
What is #ALEX14 ? It is the hashtag of the American Latino Heritage Fund Expedition for 2014. In its second year, ALEX is an effort to introduce the national park system to a new generation of Americans who will in turn introduce the national parks to other Americans who have never been or are even aware that visiting national parks is even an option. Eight Latin@ blogger and social media influencers were selected by the National Park Foundation to tour the Grand Teton National Park and discover our role in the future stewardship of national parks. The trip was made possible through partnerships with Go RVing, Aramark, Columbia, Alaska Airlines and REI who generously paid for accommodations, clothing, food and travel costs.
If you plan on visiting Grand Teton National Park, pick up a copy of Grand Teton National Park - Trails Illustrated Map # 202 And a laminated copy of Mac's Field Guide to Yellowstone & Grand Teton National Parks: Trees & Wildflowers to help you identify the trees, plants and flowers you'll encounter.
See my post about Day Two at Jenny Lake and Day Three at West Thumb Geyser Basin.
Did you know that the national park system is prohibited by law from spending tax dollars on advertising? If they can't advertise like amusement parks and other travel destinations, how are new generations of Americans suppose to know learn about national parks? Have you ever been to Grand Teton National Park?