As we drove south into Grand Teton National Park, eight miles from the southern entrance of Yellowstone, the snow at the side of the road was often higher than the roof of our car. The fog and rain obscured any views of the Teton range when we arrived late in the afternoon at Signal Mountain Lodge, on the shore of Jackson Lake.
We were upgraded to a lakefront suite because the hotel had few guests and met our first moose when we left the nearby restaurant. It was feeding on a bush and oblivious to tourists and employees. A ranger soon arrived to make sure no one got too close. We saw many more moose during our two days in the park but missed sightings of a bear and her two cubs, feeding across the street from our hotel.
The next day dawned sunny and cold, and we gasped when we pulled back the curtains and saw the Grand Tetons. With no foothills, the jagged peaks rise from the valley, and the snow provided a sharp contrast to the rock. The tallest peak of what some call the Cathedral Group of five principal mountains is the Grand Teton, at 13,770 feet.
Grand Teton park, at 309,994 acres, is not large, and while the mountains are the top attraction, hikers, fishermen and boaters also are drawn to Jackson Lake and the Snake River. It is recommended that only experienced floaters go down the river alone, but several raft companies offer trips, and it can get crowded on warm summer days. On our 10-mile float trip, there was only one other couple in our 16-person raft, and we were the only craft on the fast-moving water. We dressed for winter, including gloves and hats, and enjoyed the eagles, ospreys, animals and historic highlights pointed out by our guide.
We later drove south to Moose Junction, site of the impressive Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center, which opened in 2007. It includes many interactive exhibits and breathtaking views of the mountains. Nearby is Mormon Row, one of the most popular areas of the park — and some say more photographed than the mountain range. The stretch of historic barns built by Mormon homesteaders in the early 1900s are framed by the mountains and prairies.
While a boat ride and trail to a waterfall were closed because of snow and ice at usually crowded Jenny Lake, we were entertained by a large bull moose feeding in the nearby woods. More moose were grazing in the fields off the deck of the Jackson Lake Lodge. While the lodge is not as architecturally pleasing as the historic inns in Yellowstone, its second-floor lobby’s massive picture windows frame the Teton range.
We did not drive to Jackson, Wyo., five miles south of the southern boundary of Grand Teton. Instead we headed north, back to Yellowstone, lured by the geysers, the wildlife and all the attributes that led us to understand why its original nickname — Wonderland — is so apt.