All right, now we’re moving and grooving. We’ve got the driving part down, we can set up and break down in 15 minutes, we’re in the mountains, we’re meeting up with friends, the kids are still in great spirits, and we’ve got a total eclipse to see. This is exhilarating!
Left Bozeman yesterday late morning and followed an acquaintance’s advice to head to Grand Targhee via 287 (Madison River valley / Ennis) rather than 191, the two-lane, steep mountain road that passed Big Sky. Great call, though in retrospect I think Davista would’ve been up to the task. But the Madison valley is gorgeous, in a wide-open mountain vista sort of way. Saw many tiny roads that led miles to thousand-plus acre ranches likely being bought up by celebs tired of the Hollywood scene. I can imagine coming out there and doing nothing but fly fish blissfully for a week, if only I knew how to fly fish.
This pic somehow combined part of the previous day’s route with the one I’m referring to. Notice, though, that we’ve reached level 62. I have no idea what that means. Note also that we’re hanging out in the 6-8,000′ elevation zone now, where we’ll be for awhile.
Driving down route 287 I was reminded of (and refreshed Tacco’s memory about) a flight I’d taken in the P-3 back when I was Whidbey Island based that was particularly memorable. The majority of our flights were simply flight / landing currency hops, in which we were given the “keys” to the P-3 for 4-5 hours and left to our own devices, with the only real requirement being that we come back having logged several instrument approaches and touch&gos. I was flying with a good friend of mine that day who had grown up and lived currently in Missoula, and he suggested in his low key way that we fly out to Jackson Hole, then cancel our flight plan and fly VFR (i.e. we choose our own route / altitudes and don’t really have to talk to any air traffic controllers) back to Missoula via Yellowstone and the various Montana valleys, and he’d “give me a tour,” before re-activating our flight plan and returning to Whidbey. Sounded like one of the best ideas ever, so we did, and I wish I remembered half of what I saw and what he told me about the history of the area. Absolutely stunning. And I remembered flying up this very valley and seeing the whole thing from the air while hearing all about it. It had seemed so much smaller then.
Perfect weather (again!), and in my bliss I opened not only my large driver’s side window, but my screen as well. I guess I figured the screen was blocking some of the pristine Montana air, but what it was really blocking, or would’ve been blocking if it were closed, was Keeper’s new (favorite) swimsuit, which worked itself loose from the storage compartment above me in the wind, floated next to me for a split second, then darted out the window into the Madison River valley. Sorry son. (he was a little bummed)
We bypassed West Yellowstone to the west and entered Idaho just to the west of the Tetons. I like how much I’m getting to say “west” now — it’s been awhile. We had coordinated with the other families and learned that we would be the first to arrive, so we were taking our time. We were headed for Driggs, where we would turn east and head the last few miles up the mountain to Grand Targhee. Traffic was on my mind, as I’d heard several reports of hordes of people converging on the swath of totality (eclipse-wise), and I figured this area was about as prime as it gets for viewing. But nothing! Roads were wide open.
That part of the drive turned out to be especially scenic as well, with the Tetons looming jaggedly in the distance, and Driggs was a jumpin’ little town. They were clearly playing up the eclipse thing for all it was worth, but I did get the idea that it would be a fun place to hang out, even eclipse-free. We had planned to disconnect the Outback for the final haul up the mountain, but after talking to a gas station attendant who assured us it wasn’t a bad grade at all, we opted to stay connected. And sure enough, Davista had zero issues.
We pulled in to Grand Targhee and were somewhat surprised to be directed into an essentially empty dirt/gravel parking lot. The attendant squeezed us into a fairly tight line with the only other 4 motorhomes there, and when questioned about that, assured us that the entire lot would be full come eclipse time. Well ok then, at least we’re at the edge and have a view!
There were some much more inviting-looking grassy parking lots down below us where people were also camping, and we were told that we could venture down there if we wanted, but after scouting it in the Outback we realized that it was no place for Davista. Not only would we have a very difficult time getting level, but we’d likely bottom out multiple times on the rough road. The other two families, when they arrived, opted for the grass areas (like we would’ve had we been in something less cumbersome), but it was an easy walk or bike ride down there. The ski base area was a ¼ mile walk away and they had a restaurant/bar, lift-served mountain biking, and some kid-friendly activities there. Grand Targhee is a cool place! Small and low key, but just big enough to be interesting. I can imagine really enjoying skiing there, and what we were there for was even better. We all got together later that evening for some wine and a chance for the kids to get acquainted / re-acquainted. We had a 12 year old, two 11 year olds, a 10 year old, a 9 year old, an 8 year old, and a 5 year old, so it was a good grouping. Only damper was two of the kids (not ours) feeling sick, but in general they had a blast running and biking around the campsite with flashlights and headlamps, and it was good, no actually great, for the soul to see our friends again.
The next day we spent playing in the ski area. They had set up a two hour horseback ride for everyone, but Woodsprite was just under the minimum age, so I stayed behind with her and we opted to take a chairlift ride to the top of the mountain in order to scout out a good eclipse viewing spot for the next day. The ski area offered a package in which they’d take you by chairlift to the top of the mountain and back down again on eclipse day for a mere $150 (!), but they had been sold out of the chairlift rides for quite some time, so we were looking for a place we could hike to instead. It was Woodsprite’s first chairlift ride and she found it thrilling.
Even more thrilling was the view from the top. I mentioned having a view from the parking lot earlier, but that wasn’t of the Tetons; you really can’t see them at all until you reach the peak of the ski area, but once you do, it’s breathtaking. They’re such a young, jagged mountain range, it’s hard to compare them to anything else in the US. We wandered around, found a few snow patches and hiked down to one, and collected compliments on her My Little Pony sunglasses. I’m reminded how important one-on-one kid time will be this trip, and need to be sure to carve as much out as possible given our constraints.
Earlier in the day, Keeper and I had done some mountain biking with my friend and one of the other kids. I’d been looking forward to mountain biking with Keeper on some actual trails for awhile. We’d done some in Michigan, but this was the serious stuff. Though they offer lift-served riding, we decided that would be a bit much for the kids, never having done it and not really having the right equipment for it. A broken femur or collarbone would put a damper on all of our trips. The down side to not doing it lift-served of course was that all of the climbing would be self-powered, and heavy breathing comes quickly when you’re starting at 8000’. I had to laugh when I was filling the hydration packs and Keeper suggested we wouldn’t need any water.
The ride was glorious, though it did give me just enough of a fix to REALLY want to do the downhill stuff. Keeper did an excellent job with his old, heavy hardtail (my old bike). The climbs weren’t his favorite, but I think he’s getting the bug.
Another dinner and post-dinner wine session with the whole group while we strategized tomorrow’s eclipse viewing put an exclamation mark on our day. I’m a bit apprehensive about the family’s ability to do the hike, which is about 3.5 miles and 2000’ up (to 10000’), and unfortunately it looks like the whole group won’t be doing it. There’s still one sick kid (high fever… poor guy), so at least one kid+adult will have to stay down at the base, and the other family realized that they’re needing to make a drive all the way back to Seattle for work on Tuesday basically right after the eclipse, so they’re staying down too. Yet after Woodsprite’s and my trip to the top, I really feel like being up there will be worth almost any amount of discomfort, complaining, etc it takes to get there. This feels like a once-in-a-lifetime event, and to see it from a once-in-a-lifetime spot seems worth just about any effort. I’d like to hike up to the peak that is not served by the chairlift, however, as I think it would be more fun to be with a smaller group, one that had make the effort to hike up. I’m not sure exactly what the view from there will be, but I can’t imagine it will be anything less than mind-blowing.
I was going around and around in my head with all this and discussed it with Tacco, as I thought she might have some of the same misgivings, but she came through instead with a resounding vote for doing the hike “no matter what.” I love it. And her. So tomorrow we get up early and we hike to the top, eclipse glasses and hydration packs on our backs. Yes!