Sheets of rain blew by in ten minute increments, a chilling breeze threatened the campfire flames in between, and dinner was slightly charred pork kielbasa and mostly cooked-through potatoes from tinfoil wraps. All together not ideal camping but I was happy to be back in one of my absolute favorite places -- the Teton Valley.
My girlfriend and I took a day and a half trip three and a half hours south of Bozeman to that rugged pile of rock that straddles the Idaho-Wyoming border. No matter how many times I see it, it never ceases to amaze me that natural forces of heat and pressure pushed millions of tons of material skyward to form the awe-inspiring, beautiful mountain-scape that is the Teton mountain range.
The morning and early afternoon were spent on a moderate 6 mile hike in Darby Canyon -- a narrow gash in the surrounding foothills on the western side of the range. With the east end abutting the Tetons, the Idaho based entrance feels like a backdoor into an otherwise inaccessible and remote section of Wyoming.
A warm afternoon made the fresh pine scents lift right off the forest floor and into our noses. If scents could heal (and maybe they can in a way...) this would be one to do it. There is an instant sense of peacefulness and relaxation that wafts along the breeze with that forest floor smell.
The hike leads to the mouth of a giant cave that opens a hole in the rock walls of the canyon. Due to lingering snow pack, our hike ended at the base of the waterfall that pours of the cave opening a good one hundred feet below. But for anyone every venturing around in the area, the cave sounds to be a worthwhile trip. A passing hiker warned us that were we to return in the future not to lose sight of the entrance once stepping inside. Evidently the cave spiderwebs into a labyrinth of tunnels and caverns that make it easy to lose one's way.
After the hike we drove over the mountain pass and out into the Gros Ventre Wilderness -- a 317,874 acre parcel of land that exists within the Bridger-Teton National Forest east of Jackson Hole. There, situated at the edge of a hill that overlooks the Gros Ventre River and the Teton Mountains, is a small campsite. It's not marked on maps and there are no road signs to indicate its location. Just a small pull-out on the side of the road that's inconspicuous and easy to miss if you aren't looking for it. Maybe it was the impending rain that kept locals away, but we had the campsite and view of the valley all to ourselves.
In between cutting firewood, sheltering beneath pine boughs during the rain, and enjoying our campfire dinner, I would take a second to look westward and smile. That view will never get old: rolling hills meet up and dip down perfectly in the middle; the Gros Ventre road rises up to that dip and disappears from sight; and the tips of the Tetons rest perfectly on top with that center peak tipped slightly to the right.
I think it's important for everyone to have a place like that -- a place they can go to and be perfectly content and absorbed in the environment around them. It doesn't need to be where you live. In fact, I think not having constant access makes it all the more special. It makes you soak in every moment while you are there and treasure the experience. Maybe it's in the deep woods of the East, or on wide open plains with a burning sunset, or on a rocky coastline of the Northwest, or even in a completely different country. But the more you travel and explore, the more likely you are to find that special place if you haven't yet.
So here's to more wanderings, and finding that spot outdoors that keeps calling you back again and again.