Day One of #ALEX14 at Phelps Lake was filled with inspiring beauty and set the stage for the remainder of the trip. The second day of the National Park Foundation's expedition brought even more inspiring beauty, but outdid itself by introducing us to inspiring people at Jenny Lake in the Grand Tetons.
I have been writing about and photographing gardens and plants since I was in my 20s. Whenever I have met others outside of gardening and garden writing, I got the impression that people were often surprised by the amount of gardening knowledge I knew and how I communicate it to others. "He's so knowledgeable," I've heard people say. Sometimes they commented on how "young" I was, as if being young and knowledgeable were mutually exclusive traits. Honestly, sometimes I wondered if there wasn't some kind of racial or ethnic bias behind the surprised at my "youth" and experience.
On this trip I had the privilege of meeting two Latin@ Park Rangers at Grand Teton National Park. Day two of #ALEX14 had us exploring and hiking near beautiful Jenny Lake with Ranger Ricardo and Ranger Millie as our guides. And you know what? I found myself being impressed by their ability to interpret nature and how eloquent they were when speaking about the park, its flora and fauna, but just in general conservation too. Why? In the weeks since I've been back and I've heard young people in my neighborhood communicate with each other I've begun to understand why Rangers Rick and Millie surprised me. Young people around here don't know how to speak, it's a sad state of affairs.
When I learned that Ranger Ricardo came in on his day off to lead our hike to Inspiration Point I was once again impressed. During the hike Ranger Ricardo told us that the group of eight Latin@ bloggers he was leading were the largest group of Latin@s he'd ever seen at the park.
Take a short walk from the Jenny Lake visitor center you find yourself at yet another pristine lake. On the shores of Jenny Lake Ranger Millie and our group of bloggers stopped to take pictures. You can hike around the lake and to the trail heads that take you up to Inspiration Point.
From the beach yo can see boats on Jenny Lake. At first I thought that these were just recreational boats, but I learned you can pay for a ride to the other side of the lake.
The Jenny Lake boat ride stops in the middle of the lake to give you the safety speech and some pretty spectacular views.
Jenny Lake Reflection.
The hike up the mountain is really pretty, but then you reach Hidden Falls and you're met with these beautiful waterfalls that are fed from the snow and glacier on the Grand Tetons. This particular spot was very crowded as dozens of hikers and tourists crowded around to take photographs.
Equally as impressive as the waterfalls, are the little rivers that flow down the mountain and into the lake below.
I had to keep reminding myself to look up during the hike because there were these beautiful views of the Grand Tetons above Jenny Lake.
Jenny Lake is the Grand Tetons most visited destination. We learned from the Grand Teton National Park Foundation that many of the trails are undergoing restoration because of the impact on the trails of 1 million yearly visitors. Many spots are degraded and they aren't accessible to people with limited abilities and hiking experience. And let me tell you, there are older people hiking up and down the trails at a pace that put many in our expedition (myself included) to shame.
Thousands of tons of rocks and stones were recently transported to Jenny Lake to restore trails. The work is being done by hand (and with limited tools) by young people through the Youth Conservation Program, a teen trail crew that works in Grand Teton for 10 weeks each summer. GTNPF gave us a tour of some of the closed trails so we could watch the kids at work. I spoke to a few of them and asked them what they did on their off time expecting to hear about drinking and partying, but they all seem to spend their time hiking and camping when they aren't at work. This seems like a great program if you're a teen or know of a teen that would like an incredible summer job next summer.
Ranger Ricardo points out Old Man's Beard lichen to us on the trail.
Huckleberries were out of season by the time we arrived for the expedition, but we could still find clusters of them on the trails and just off the busier areas. I foraged as many berries as I could during the hikes for a tasty treat.
Lodgepole Pine cones that only open up and release seeds after being exposed to fire.
Near one of the waterfalls I came across a clump of Purple Monkshood among some other plants I couldn't identify.
On the way up to Inspiration Point the trails you learned right away why Jenny Lake is undergoing a restoration project. The switchbacks up to Inspiration Point got pretty hairy, and I wish I had taken a moment to get over the fear of falling off the side of a mountain and taken some pictures.
I believe these two panos are of what the Rangers and guides from GTNPF jokingly referred to as "Exclamation Point." It's beautiful, but not as spectacular as as Inspiration Point.
Inspiration Point is at 7200 feet high. Definitely the tallest point I have hiked to. The hike that we were told should take an hour took our group three. I thought the trail up there was pretty crowded and scary, but we were told that it was nothing compared to an average day during peak season. And wouldn't you know it, I didn't stop and get a good picture of Inspiration Point save for a few selfies. I was too busy taking in the beautiful view so this half-panorama will have to suffice.
Grand Tetons from Inspiration Point were even more beautiful. But that beauty masks some real dangers. I took this photo just as a storm hit the area, sending dozens of hikers scurrying down the mountain. The brisk winds and rain drops were very motivational. We got down to the boat in 30 minutes. After that hike, a few of us took a six mile bike ride to Moose, Wyoming to meet the rest of our group who had gone ahead in the RVs provided by Go RVing. When I got off the bike at Moose my legs felt like jelly, but I was grateful for the padded bike shorts I got from REI.
Later that evening we stopped for yet another beautiful sunset, this time at Jackson Lake Dam.
During Day One of #ALEX14 we learned that that heyday of national parks was during the 1950s when Americans could take weeks-long vacations and they would drive across the country visiting national parks. Today the average American vacation is only four days long and national parks aren't a priority. The average national park visitor is in his or her 50s and they visited the national parks as kids, but their kids are not returning to the parks.
The aging white population that frequents national parks was evident everywhere we went. On this particular day I saw an older African-American couple on the trail up to Inspiration Point, but they would be the only African-Americans I would see for that week outside of Salt Lake City. The city of Jackson has a burgeoning Latin@ population and we were lucky enough to spend some time with the kids from the Latino Resource Center programs who are living in the greater Jackson Hole and Teton County area. Although, the kids I spoke to that evening said they didn't spend much time walking, boating or hiking in these natural areas that are literally in their backyards.
On another occasion, I spoke to a tour guide who told me of local Latin@ youth who go four-wheeling in Jackson Hole who refer to themselves as "Trail Mex." So maybe the forecast of Latin@ youth spending time outdoors isn't as grim as you would think. But one thing is for certain, youth like Ranger Ricardo and Ranger Millie are rare. They can both name all of the Latin@s who work at Grand Teton National Park. And if national park system is to survive, not only to older whites need to make sure their kids are continuing the tradition of visiting national parks, ethnic minorities need to be introduced to the park system and shown that this land is also theirs, and that they have a role to play in its enjoyment and conservation.
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@ bloggers 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.
See my post on Day One at the Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve and Day Three at the West Thumb Geyser Basin.
If you plan on visiting Grand Teton National Park, pick up a copy of Grand Teton National Park - Trails Illustrated Map # 202