Paddling to Darien

In an earlier post, we described and illustrated what the flooded Altamaha was like on our Georgia Conservancy paddle trip.  This post will take you down the river and through the marshes to Darien.   Remember the water is still up.

We left camp headed for Darien, with most of us leaving our gear up to dry knowing that we’d be shuttled back to camp to pick up cars and belongings.  On the water, we passed under the abandoned  bridge that had threatened to be a boat magnet on the day before. Once we were safely downstream from the bridge our expert leaders from the Georgia Paddlers Association and the Georgia Conservancy gathered us up for the paddle to Darien.

Kayaks regrouping on the Altamaha

Kayaks regrouping on the Altamaha downstream of camp

The Altamaha is a big river and on our day on the river it was moving fast so we could easily spread out to an unmanageable degree.  To prevent this, the lead boat stopped our forward progress occasionally, however the few stops did little to dampen the enthusiasm of the group

Georgia Conservancy kayakers heading for Darien on the Altamaha

Georgia Conservancy Paddlers enjoy the morning sun on the Altamaha River near Darien

Experienced paddlers and novices both found their stroke and let the mighty river roll them along.  Of course, the Altamaha doesn’t actually flow through Darien so one of the concerns of the leaders was making sure that the flotilla didn’t lose any members because they missed the cut off into the creek.   The creek, Stud Horse Creek, had a great name and served to provide passage over to Lewis Creek.

Paddlers are going up the creek

Georgia Conservancy paddlers leave the Altamaha to make their way to Darien

The creek wasn’t that small but if you didn’t know where to turn you would certainly have a problem.  We all made it safely down the Altamaha to the creek where one of our safety guides was paddling in place and pointing us in the direction to go.   A mile or too into the creek and you began to realize the diversity of the lowland river.  We had seen the wide Altamaha with the water out of the banks and now we entered an area of reeds and water grass.  A place where we keep a sharp eye for alligators but saw none.  You’ll have to wait for the post on the Georgia Conservancy trip to the Okefenoke to hear the alligator stories.

Paddling past water grass and reeds

The diversity of the lowlands is illustrated by the reeds along this section of the river.

The Altamaha and the river system around it was once a bustling timber industry river route with log rafts built upstream and floated down the river to Darien.  Someone decided that the winding river channels weren’t meant for that so, before the Civil War, slave labor was used to build a canal.  Our venture through Stud Horse Creek served to put us in position to re-enter the Altamaha just upstream of the Rifle Cut.

The Rifle Cut canal

Georgia Conservancy paddlers are entering the “Rifle Cut”

This hand dug canal stretches for a mile across the lowlands and provided us with a short-cut to Darien.  Called the “rifle cut” because of its straightness, it is now only a curiosity.  The canal doesn’t seem large enough to have been able to handle rafts of logs and indeed the thinking was that erosion would make the canal larger and therefore useable.  It didn’t happen.   However, because you are in the low lands near the ocean you do need to know about your tides because the water in the rifle cut  is greatly influenced by the tide and you might find yourself paddling a little harder than you anticipated if you judge the tides incorrectly.  You don’t really want to paddle against the tide for a mile.

You probably know that the trees along the banks of a body of water such a river or stream lend to lean over the channel, but that seemed extreme as we were going through the rifle cut.  As you see in the next picture some of these trees seem to have defying gravity for quite a while.

The trees along the rifle Cut sometime lose their footing

Georgia Conservancy Paddlers make their way through the Rifle Cut.

The rifle cut takes you into the Darien River above its confluence with Cathead Creek and on the west side of I-95.  It is a bit disconcerting to arrive back at civilization coming under a concrete and steel overpass where thousands of cars pass every day, with almost none of their occupants ever getting the chance to see what we got to see on this trip to Darien.  Of course, the trip had to end so we pulled our kayaks up to the boat ramp near Skipper’s Fish Camp.    We came to  lunch at Skipper’s on this trip and then returned to Skipper’s later in the year when the Bike Ride Across Georgia ended in Darien.

Of course, tied up by the board walk along the river, are all the fishing and shrimping boats that are still in use in Darien.  Nearby stand the ruins of the buildings from two hundred years ago when lumber ruled.  We’d never been to Darien before, yet we wound up going there twice in one year.  Because of that, I had to tell you about getting there and invite you to come paddle along with the great people at the Georgia Conservancy.

Shrimper by the dock

Fishing Boat tied up at Darien




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The Dry Tortugas west of Key West

70 miles west of Key West sits a group of islands that when first discovered by the European explorers where reportedly home only to birds and turtles, hence the name Tortugas in honor of the Turtles. Attempts at making them useful were thwarted by the fact that there is no fresh water on the islands, thus the dry was added to the Tortugas.

South Wall of Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas NP

A secluded beach fronts the south wall of Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas, NP

Nevertheless, the United States Government in the early 1800’s determined that the islands were vital to the security of the southern shores of the United States and began building Fort Jefferson. They built this house upon the sand and although it has had an interesting history, including a stint as the prison holding Abraham Lincoln’s assassin’s doctor, one Dr. William Mudd who was convicted of treason for setting John Wilkes Booth’s leg, the fort was never finished in accordance with its original plans. It was sinking too much and became obsolete while being built. Today, a small park service contingent and tourists on vacation, along with the occasional wayward Cuban refugee,  are the primary people interested in Fort Jefferson and the Dry Tortugas. To get here, you can take the ferry, 100_0446from Key West.  The boat trip takes a little over two hours and day trippers can come to the island and stay until about 4:30 pm when the ferry returns to Key West.  For the lucky few, however, overnight camping reservations are available.  The reservations are limited and need to be made well in advance, however, the ferry ride can be arranged the day  of your trip.   If you don’t want to ride the boat for 2+ hours to get to the Dry Tortugas you can also take a seaplane from Key West for approximately the same price as the ferry. The seaplane, makes two trips per day and the guests get to stay about the same amount of time as the folks who ride the ferry. 100_0452We spoke to the pilot who has been flying this route for the last several years and he says he has no intention of giving it up.  Who can blame him, with living in the Florida Keys and making two short trips a day as his primary job?  The plane is bigger than it looks, so if you want to be an overnight camper you can get your gear out here on the plane,  however, we’d recommend the ferry.  You can bring a cooler or two on the ferry which comes in handy since there are no provisions available on the island. Remember that you will be in the DRY Tortugas and that there is no water available on the island. Fill the coolers with ice and water and what ever other beverages and perishable items you will need for your stay and jump on the ferry.  You can also get to the island if you are lucky enough to have your own private boat or a charter.   While we were there a resident of the east coast of Florida showed up in his boat and anchored beside the fort.  He single-handed the trip. 100_0470I think I would have brought a friend. The limited campsites include a permanent grill and a picnic table, so you are essentially car camping from a boat, with no way to get to a store.

Dry Tortugas camping

Tent Camping in the Dry Tortugas

You are in a small grove of trees just to the south-east of the walls of the fort and there is not much else on the island.  There were about 8 of us who came over on the boat and another 5 or 6 who came to the island on a private boat so after 4:30 in the afternoon the entire island was deserted except for the campers and a lone ranger who stayed in his quarters inside the fort.  We were fortunate that we had great weather and were treated to an amazing spectacle in the sky at night as there was no ambient light to diminish the stars.  We sat on the beach in the first picture above just south-east of the fort and were amazed at the stars you never see around civilization. The fort is an unfinished marvel.

Column after column inside the north wall of Fort Jefferson

The millions of bricks used in Fort Jefferson’s symmetrical inner buttresses make a kaleidoscopic image

As noted above, during the decades it was being built the sheer weight of the millions of bricks began to make the fort sink, thus only the first and third levels of the fort were ever outfitted with cannons. Further, the invention of rifled bore cannons soon made the smooth bore cannons installed on the fort obsolete. The garrison stationed at the fort had to be truly miserable and the letters on display inside the small museum attest to the fact.  Their uniforms were wool and they were required to wear them while stationed here even though the tropical heat and humidity would at times make them unbearable.  A doctor and his family was stationed here, but ironically, the doctor fell ill and died from typhoid fever while Dr. Mudd was imprisoned here.  Mudd then aided the sick and was credited for nursing many of them back to health. Eventually he was pardoned for his role in treating these patients after having been imprisoned for treating the wounded John Wilkes Booth. You will also be entertained by the permanent residents of the Dry Tortugas: the birds including the seagulls and the pelicans.  The eastern part of the island is a bird sanctuary and you are not allowed to go there, but the pilings of the abandoned and long demolished coal resupply station provide hours of bird watching.

gulls and pelicans fishing

The seagulls and pelicans have hidden competition for the baitfish in the water.

The dark area under the pilings is not grass but rather millions of bait fish in schools.  The pelicans dive off the pilings to grab the minnows and the seagulls jump onto the head of the pelicans and try to steal the minnows out of their mouths.  In the water, silver flashes cut through the bait fish (see the circled area) as mackerel feed on the minnows.  The feeding goes on for hours until near sunset when the birds head off to roost. We were here in September, the shoulder season in Key West, when there were few tourists and lots of time.  If camp overnight here, you may never have a more peaceful night.   I’ll update this later on with a few more notes.

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Grand Tetons BackCountry Vacation on a Budget

In an earlier post we promised to tell you how to do a Grand Teton backpacking vacation on a budget even though Jackson Hole is one of the highest per capita income places in the USA. Here’s how you do it.

  • First, fly into Jackson, Wyoming airport.  We used our credit card reward program miles to get there, so the cost was the redemption fee and giving up using the miles for another trip.  Then, take a taxi to the Jenny Lake Ranger Station.
The Jenny Lake Ranger Station near the Jenny Lake Welcome Center.

The small building housing the Jenny Lake Ranger Station can be over looked

  • You have to go to the ranger station to get your backcountry permits, so while you are there get the permit and check into the backpackers campground.  The campground for one night should run you about $8.00.  The permit will cost you $35.00 regardless of how many nights you spend on the trail, so plan your trip to start with a walk up the Paintbrush from Jenny Lake.  Your first night you’ll need a permit in the camping zones just east of Paintbrush Divide. This day hike should get you acclimated to the altitude because you’ll go over Paintbrush Divide at over 10000 feet into the North Fork of Cascade Canyon the next day, passing Lake Solitude.
Heading up the trail in the South Fork of Cascade Canyon in the Tetons

The trail leads through the South Fork of Cascade Canyon in Grand Teton NP

  • Put the South Fork of Cascade Canyon  on your permit for the second night and rest up to cross Hurricane Pass, also over 10,000 in elevation on the third day.





  • The third day will take you into the Alaska Basin where a short day will give you plenty of time to set up camp near Sunset Lake and enjoy the backcountry.  No permit is needed to camp in the Alaska Basin as it is not in the Grand Teton National Park. Accordingly, you may have a number of campers around you instead of the solitude you get in the Park.
Looking down from Mt. Meek pass towards the Alaska Basin

Looking across the Alaska Basin toward Hurricane Pass

  • Leaving the Alaska Basin spend a day and a night on the Death Canyon Shelf or at Marion Lake, or if you don’t have time to relax on the trip, skip the night in the Basin and spend the third night on the Shelf.
Looking toward Mt. Meek from Death Canyon Shelf

Looking toward Mt. Meek from Death Canyon Shelf

  • From the Shelf, you’ll go down past Marion Lake and pick up the trail up Rendezvous Mountain to the top of the TRAM, also above 10,000 feet.  The Tram will take  you down to Teton Village and there is no charge for the ride down.  They only check tickets on the way up. If you ride up, it will cost you $35.00.
The Tram to the top of Rendevous Mountain

The Tram to the top of Rendezvous Mountain in Teton Village, Jackson Hole, WY

  • In the Village you can find low-cost accommodations at the Hostel.  You can shower, shave, sleep and get ready to catch a shuttle to the airport, perhaps for as low as $3.

So, there’s your itinerary for the budget trip.  Remember that the permits are limited and in short supply so you might want to try to secure them online before you go.  This trek should be made in August or early September, so try to get your permits at between the preceding January 1 and March 15. You will still have to pick the permit up at the Jenny Lake Ranger Station when you get to Jackson Hole.

What will the trip cost you? Your airfare or credit card miles, one way taxi fare, $8.00 to camp at Jenny Lake, $35.00 for the backcountry permit, your night at the Hostel, the cost of the shuttle to the Airport and whatever food you eat.   For a trip of a lifetime, that is a bargain.  Of course, you’ll have to come back on another trip to explore the rest of Jackson Hole.



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Altamaha to Darien with the Georgia Conservancy

This is the first of four posts inspired by a phenomenal group of people who are advocates and conservators for our great outdoors and plan and facilitate great outdoor experiences for the rest of us.  For this a personal debt of gratitude is owed to the Georgia Conservancy and their Mr. Bryan Schroder who Ramrods their adventure outings. We had gotten to know Bryan a little at one of the presentations he participated in at an REI store when we started kayaking and then again on a kayaking tour of the Okefenokee Swamp which we will highlight in another post on the blog in coming weeks, but this trip on the Altamaha was the turning point on resuming the Goneguru blog and sharing what we saw and encouraging you to meet up with us along a trail or around the bend of a river.

The Altamaha float to Darien is part of the Georgia Conservancy’s Heartland Rivers series of outdoor adventures. Go to their link above and you’ll get full data on this great series of canoe/kayak trips sponsored by the Conservancy and open to anyone. Better yet, go to the site, become a member, make a donation to preserve our waterways, and then take a trip with the Conservancy. We had been signed up for this trip for months and had regularly gotten updates from Brian about what to expect on the trip, accommodations for tent campers, kayak and canoe rentals, and basically any information any level paddler would need to prepare for the trip. However, as the date drew nearer the forecast on the Weather Channel grew more ominous. A huge storm was projected to cross the Altamaha on Saturday as we paddled down to Darien. Being on the wide Altamaha, the largest river in Georgia and one of the largest on the East Coast, in the middle of a violent thunderstorm with high winds wasn’t on any paddler’s bucket list. Brian reported that some paddlers were dropping out due to the weather and that the Saturday paddle had been changed to an out and back across the river into the tributaries with the longer downstream paddle moved to Sunday.

Kayaks at the ready for a Georgia Conservancy paddle on the Altamaha.

Kayaks at the ready for a Georgia Conservancy paddle on the Altamaha.

Most of us gathered at the Altamaha Regional Park just inside Glynn County, Georgia on Friday afternoon, with some choosing to join us early Saturday morning. It made little difference as the frontal system provided us with grey skies, cool temperatures and high winds throughout Friday and into Saturday morning. The Altamaha was flooded out of its banks and was roaring toward the ocean. As we enjoyed the low-country boil dinner under a shelter on Friday night, Brian and the other experienced paddlers, many from the magnificent Georgia Canoe Association, began to prepare us for the next morning’s transit across the river.

Abandoned Railroad Bridge over the Altamaha River at Altamaha Regional Park

Abandoned Railroad Bridge over the Altamaha River at Altamaha Regional Park

Looming just below the launch point at the campground is a massive abandoned railroad bridge and midstream island that threatened to act as a boat magnet for those who didn’t judge the current correctly.  Brian and representatives from the GCA talked  about the crossing and strainers and what our plan was to be.  The next morning we had a safety briefing before we could enter the water and once on the water a GCA paddler demonstrated how to cross the river and went to the other side to mark our target channel for entry into the back water.

Georgia Conservancy paddlers get instructions on crossing the flooded Altamaha

Georgia Conservancy paddlers get instructions on crossing the flooded Altamaha

One we had safely crossed the river, we headed up into one of the creeks that feed into the Altamaha.  As noted the river was flooded out of its banks and the storm that had passed the night before had given us a downward temperature shift and grey skies that made the daylight paddle a little surreal.

Georgia Conservancy paddlers heading up the backwaters of the flooded Altamaha

Georgia Conservancy paddlers heading up the backwaters of the flooded Altamaha

Looking  upstream, we could see that there was a clear channel for the creek as we first entered it, but our hosts and guides had warned us that the seemingly tranquil waters could be dangerous once the channel narrowed and we began to get into areas where water didn’t usually flow.

They explained that strainers are any obstruction that stops an object on top of the water from moving with the water as it flows past.  Thus, when the water is out of the banks, overhanging tree limbs and shrubs reach down to and below surface of a water.  A paddler who gets into one of these and grabs on will find that the water will take his boat right out from under him and gravity will put him into the water.

The Altamaha was at flood stage during the Georgia Conservancy paddle

The Altamaha was at flood stage during the Georgia Conservancy paddle

I can assure you that we were well-instructed and informed of the dangers, nevertheless, two of our paddlers got to experience the effects of strainers first hand and were ingloriously helped back into their kayaks, wet but un-harmed.

Snakes rest on the trees above the flooded Altamaha

Snakes rest on the trees above the flooded Altamaha

Of course the inhabitants of the wetlands adjacent the river have to move when the river floods and that includes the snakes.  This picture isn’t very good, but you get the idea as to why there is another reason not to get caught in the strainers.

Georgia Conservancy paddlers wind through the flooded backwaters of the Altamaha

Georgia Conservancy paddlers wind through the flooded backwaters of the Altamaha

We were a cautious but not timid group so we dutifully filed through in single file where needed and kept our eyes on our fellow paddlers in case the need arose.

An eerie view of an abandoned bridge awaited Georgia Conservancy paddlers.

An eerie view of an abandoned bridge awaited Georgia Conservancy paddlers.

Sometimes the fog, flood and remnants of bygone days were simply eerie.  The railroad had been built across the tributaries and presented a an eerie reminder of man’s abandoned encroachment into the river wilderness.   Sometimes it wasn’t an intended abandonment at all but rather the river reclaiming its own property.  We came across a fish camp with a canvas and wood hut and a porcelain sink.  Of course, you’d be standing in thigh deep water to use it on the day we saw it.

An Altamaha fish camp is washed away by the flood waters.

An Altamaha fish camp is washed away by the flood waters.

After a few hours of paddling around in the creek and the flooded woods along the Altamaha it was time to head back across the big river to our camp.  The GCA paddlers and experienced Georgia Conservancy paddlers, staff and volunteers took great care of the in-experienced paddlers and all the paddlers from novice to gnarly veteran finished up the day on the river with smiles and agreement that we had made a great day out of a day that threatened to be completely unusable.

Safe from the strainers, the Georgia Conservancy paddlers head back to the Altamaha

Safe from the strainers, the Georgia Conservancy paddlers head back to the Altamaha

That night under the big pavilion at the park, we were feed on barbecue with all the “fixin’s” or a vegetarian meal starring portabella mushrooms. Either way you couldn’t go wrong.  The campers were as varied as their kayak experience with some in motor home RV’s and some in tents provided by the Georgia Conservancy, but they all agreed the trip was amazing.  The weather had begun to clear and we were promised fair skies the next day so each and everyone was ready to get back on the river the next morning to head downstream the fifteen miles to Darien.   If you would like to feel what its like to go on one of these amazing trips go to the Georgia Conservancy website and sign up.


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Grand Teton: Backpacking up to Marion Lake

In our earlier post we came up Granite Canyon Trail to the last campsite in  the Upper Granite Camping Zone of this section of Grant Teton National Park.  From this campsite distance to Marion Lake is less than two miles and as we prepared to leave, a backpacking group stopped by the campsite and told us they had camped at Marion the night before and had watched us from their campsite.  Accordingly, we didn’t think the hike to Marion was going to be too bad, even though this group used the term “switchbacks.” You can see below that looking from the campsite toward the escarpment on which the lake is located that it didn’t look too bad.

Our first campsite in Grand Teton's Granite Canyon near Marion Lake

Our first campsite in Grand Teton’s Granite Canyon near Marion Lake


Indeed for the first half mile, there was no problem except that we were going downhill most of the time.  I hate downhill for two reasons: they are tough on the knees and in this instance I knew it just made the inevitable uphill longer.


Down toward Granite Creek on the way to Marion Lake

We waded across Granite Creek at the bottom of the downhill pictured above  and the trail began to rise again. We crossed little streams and came to a junction with the trail from the South Granite Canyon Camping Zone where a sign  indicated that the Lake was only 0.9 miles away


One of the small streams on the Granite Canyon trail toward Lake Marion

So we began to go up toward the lake.  Looking at a topo map would probably tell me that the climb was about a thousand feet, but I didn’t need to look.

4a. Looking back down Granite

Grand Tetons uphill on the way to Marion Lake

And then we hit the switchbacks.  Actually, at about this time some trail runners who had come down from the Tram passed us and as we watched them with their bear spray in one hand and water bottle in the other, we were a little in taken back by their lack of gear.  However, as one explained they were doing twenty miles and would sleep in a comfortable bed that evening.  We felt a lot better when we watched them walking the switchbacks ahead of us.

4c. Up to Marion Lake

Wildflowers obscure the switch-backs on the hill to Marion.

Although the thigh-high flowers were gorgeous, they hid the switch backs from view, but we  knew they were there from watching the runners.  The Marion Lake area was gorgeous with flowers and a number of pictures of them are on our Wildflower Post.


Looking down Granite Canyon in the Grand Teton NP

Then of course, there was more uphill.  Looking back down Granite Canyon, we laughed at the elevation gain from yesterday. Actually, we figured that this section of the hike would be our easiest section considering the distance we planned on the third day, so although we knew the uphill to Marion would be grueling first thing in the morning, we really we laughing about it most of the way up to the lake.  Eventually, the trail gave us a respite and leveled off for a few hundred yards.  Then as we passed through a stand of evergreen, we saw a boulder field that looked like the left overs of a quarrying operation, however, the quarryman was the ice and weather a 8000 feet above sea level.

4g. Approaching Marion

Level trail on the way to the boulder field before Marion Lake.

The path across the boulder field was really not where the boulders had been moved aside but you could tell that people had used that route to get across before .  As you can tell below, the cliffs that rose above our campsite in the first picture of this post were becoming more and more at eye level as we made our way up.

4h. Crossing the boulder field toward Marion Lake

Boulder field along the trail on the way to Marion Lake

Crossing the boulder field we knew we would soon see the last of Granite Canyon and that brought a sense of accomplishment and  was yet another  “different” trail.  More importantly we could begin to tell that we weren’t that far from the Lake.

5. Making Marion Lake

First view of Marion Lake

We came off the trail a few yards to the large boulders to the spot pictured above, dropped our packs on the rocks, and refreshed ourselves with a snack and water.   The thing you have to remember in this and any other blog about a Grand Teton NP vacation  is that you cannot capture the scenery in a camera lens.  Even Ansel Adams couldn’t.  The place was beautiful and made even more so by the effort it took to get to it.

Some people actually use this as a day hike stop over. They start at the top of the Tram, come by here and then head out Granite Canyon  to the trailhead or pick up the trail that runs back into Teton Village.  Others spend the night in one of the three campsites near the lake.  These campsites  are first come first serve and are located to the right of the lake in the picture above and to the left in the picture below.  As we noted above, from near the campsites you have a commanding view of the valley.



Wildflowers above Lake Marion

However, if you don’t climb up the hill on the other side of the lake you miss the iconic view looking back down on Marion. As we rose the wild flowers were spectacular.   And finally the view of Marion Lake from above was great. We turned our backs to Marion Lake and headed on up onto the Fox Creek  Pass and eventually to the Death Canyon Shelf where we would spend our second night of this marvelous trek.


Marion Lake from above


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Grand Teton Backpacking on the Granite Canyon Trail

When my spouse came home from a hike to Len Foote Inn gushing with excitement over the photographs a fellow backpacker had shared about the Grant Teton National Park, it took no encouragement to convince me to revisit one of the places I had seen as a teen. The next few posts will chronicle our backpacking trip and then I’ll tell you how to backpack the Grand Teton on a real budget. Lets begin at the Granite Canyon Trailhead.

Grand Teton National Park - Granite Canyon Trailhead

Grand Teton National Park – Granite Canyon Trailhead

In the backcountry we didn’t see a lot of people, but many of the backpackers and trail runners we encountered were starting at the top of the Tram in Teton Village.  We thought we’d get better acclimated to the altitude, which varied during our trek from about 6500 to 10400 feet above sea level, by walking up the Granite Canyon Trail past Marion Lake to the Death Canyon Shelf.  It was a great decision because the Granite Canyon Trail should not be missed when wild flowers are in bloom.

The trailhead is inside the Grand Teton National Park, about three miles north of Teton Village on the Wilson-Moose road.  Because we didn’t want to pay to leave a rental car sitting at the trailhead and because we weren’t making a loop, we hired OLD WEST Transportation in Jackson to take us to the trailhead.

Grand Teton Granite Canyon Near Trailhead

Grand Teton Granite Canyon Near Trailhead

Initially, the trail starts off toward Granite Canyon by passing through a sagebrush meadow  with a number of birch trees along the way, however Granite Canyon Trail has many personalities.

Grand Teton Granite Creek

Grand Teton Granite Creek

Before too long we cross a small bridge over Granite Creek which flows through the canyon.  As you might expect, Granite Canyon Trail somewhat parallels the creek but doesn’t follow the bank of the creek.  Once into Granite Canyon, you soon come to one of three camping zones designated by the Park Service.  As  with all the backcountry controlled by the National Park Service, you will need to get a permit for overnight camping.  The first is the Lower Granite Canyon Zone and runs for about three and one half miles along the canyon.  In this zone, the designated camping sites are numbered with small signs adjacent the trail and short side trails leading to the individual campsites and the one group campsite.  The campsites are well spread out and there is no problem with neighbors being too close.

We shortly begin our acclimation to the altitude and the weight of our backpacks.  This was an unsupported trip, so we had everything we needed for five days on the trail on our backs.  Our acclimation began as the trail began to rise and change.

Grand Teton Granite Canyon Trail

Grand Teton Granite Canyon Trail

The birches faded away and the trail side became more forested with evergreens. We were expecting to gain 2000 to 2500 feet in elevation on the way to our first campsite and we weren’t disappointed.   The well used trail had improvements like the set of steps we encountered as the trail began to rise and change.  Did I mention bears?  Apparently, the bears are quite active, so when we got our permits from the Jenny Lake Ranger Station, we were required to carry bear canisters, in which all of our food had to be stored.  It took some reconfiguring of the backpacks to get these inside with the food in them.


I  mention that because as we got further from the trailhead, we realized that the possibility of bears was quite real.  In addition to keeping the food in the canisters, we each were dutifully equipped with our bear strength pepper spray and one of us wore a bell, which we allowed to jingle when we were passing though heavy growth.  Of course, Granite Canyon trail didn’t stay the same so the bell didn’t always ring.

Granite Canyon Trail turns rocky and head away from Granite Creek

Granite Canyon Trail turns rocky and head away from Granite Creek

Just a little further down the trail, it veered away from the creek and took us through a boulder field.  As always, we’re thankful for those who laid the trail out and cleared a path across these boulders to the next stretch of soil. That stretch of soil gave us our first real look at the wild flowers found along Granite Canyon trail.

Granite Canyon Flowery stretch in Grand Teton

Granite Canyon Flowery stretch in Grand Teton

Our circuit took us past some amazing sights including some that took your breath away, but nowhere along our hike did we find wildflowers as gorgeous as we saw in the first two days.  The yellow ones you can see in the picture above were dominant early in the hike but as you’ll see in our post on the Wildflowers of the Grand Teton, the colors along the trail matched the rainbow.

Granite Canyon Trail turns to forest in Grand Teton

Granite Canyon Trail turns to forest in Grand Teton

The yellow flowers gave way, temporarily to thicker brush with light lavender blossoms and the vegetation changed back from meadow to forest.   Of course we are going ever higher in elevation and beginning to breathe a little heavier.  One of the great rules of hiking is to always remember to look behind you and when we did, we realized why our breathing was a little labored even though the rise seemed gentle.

Looking back toward the trailhead from Granite Canyon in Grand Teton National Park

Looking back toward the trailhead from Granite Canyon in Grand Teton National Park

After just a couple of hours, looking back down the canyon toward the trailhead brought an instant smile from the fact that we had already gained so much in elevation.  There was a lot more elevation to come, but at this point the joy of being on the trail in a beautiful setting made us think we’d risen to the clouds.

Toward the end of the day, we reached a divide  in the trail with the left fork leading to the South Granite Canyon Camping Zone and the right leading to the Upper Granite Camping Zone.  We took the fork to the right as our permit was for the Upper Granite zone.  This zone is not as long and the sites are not designated by signage, except for the group site and the horse site, but rather are recognized by the recommended repeated usage of an older site to avoid creating numerous open areas for camping.  The sites are easily identified as they are relatively near the trail and have clearly defined side trails leading to them.

We didn’t venture into the South Granite Canyon Camping Zone,  however the trail through there leads to a trail to the top of Rendezvous Mountain and the Tram before rejoining the Upper Granite trail for the ascent to Marion Lake.

10. Upper Granite Meadow

At the end of the Upper Granite Canyon camping zone, the trail comes to the meadow pictured above.  The meadow was filled with the yellow flowers such that it changed color in the morning.  We stopped at the last campsite in the zone, which was about 75 yards from the end of the zone and adjacent the creek.  What we didn’t know that the three campsites at Marion Lake, which is about a mile further into the back country, sit on this side of the lake and are elevated by about 1000 feet looking out over the meadow.   The next morning, we met a party that had hiked from the Tram to Marion Lake to spend the night and was headed out down Granite Canyon Trail.  They told us that they had been amused by watching us scurrying about in the meadow, setting up our camp and what not.

Grand Teton Upper Granite site

Grand Teton Upper Granite site

We were not phased by their comments and agreed that we had just been happy to reach the campsite after about seven and one half miles of backpacking uphill along the beautiful Granite Canyon Trail.

Our next section of the trail takes us past Marion Lake onto the Death Canyon Shelf.

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Grand Teton Wildflowers

The images of the wildflowers in this post were taken during our backpacking vacation trek in the Grand Teton from Granite Canyon Trailhead to Jenny Lake.   No more words, just images and captions.

Wildflowers along the Teton Crest Trail

Wildflowers along the Teton Crest Trail

A patch of Color in the Grand Teton NP

A patch of Color in the Grand Teton NP

This delicate bloom grows along the trail in the Grand Teton National Park

This delicate bloom grows along the trail in the Grand Teton National Park

These blue blossoms stream up the side of the mountain in the Grand Teton NP

These blue blossoms stream up the side of the mountain in the Grand Teton NP

These bright colors stood right beside the trail in the Grand Teton

These bright colors stood right beside the trail in the Grand Teton

Red, white, blue and yellow blossoms beside the trail in the Grand Teton NP

Red, white, blue and yellow blossoms beside the trail in the Grand Teton NP

The trail runs through the wildflowers in Grand Teton NP

The trail runs through the wildflowers in Grand Teton NP

An assortment of color from the Grand Teton NP

An assortment of color from the Grand Teton NP

This red, white and blue setting is in Cascade Canyon of Grand Teton NP

This red, white and blue setting is in Cascade Canyon of Grand Teton NP

These white blooms stood out in Cascade Canyon in the Grant Teton NP

These white blooms stood out in Cascade Canyon in the Grant Teton NP

White flowers opened along Cascade Canyon in Grand Teton NP

White flowers opened along Cascade Canyon in Grand Teton NP

This Indian Paintbrush grew along side the trail in the Grand Teton NP

This Indian Paintbrush grew along side the trail in the Grand Teton NP

The colors change along the Granite Canyon Trail in Grand Teton NP

The colors change along the Granite Canyon Trail in Grand Teton NP

Granite Canyon Trail

The trail runs through a sea of yellow in Granite Canyon

Grand Teton: Yellow carpet in Granite Canyon

Grand Teton: Yellow carpet in Granite Canyon

Granite  Canyon Pink

Pink borders the trail through Granite Canyon in Grand Teton NP

A rainbow-like display in Grand Teton National Park

A rainbow-like display in Grand Teton National Park

Cascade Canyon Ferns

Ferns along the trail in Cascade Canyon of Grand Teton NP

Cascade Canyon Blooming

Cascade Canyon colors in the Grand Teton NP

The trail runs through wildflowers in the Alaska Basin near Grand Teton NP

The trail runs through wildflowers in the Alaska Basin near Grand Teton NP


A pink border for the Alaska Basin near Grand Teton NP

Above Marion Lake

More than Paintbrush along the trail to the Death Canyon Shelf in Grand Teton NP

Above Lake Marion

Colorful view between Lake Marion and Death Canyon Shelf

Wildflowers above Death Canyon - Grand Teton National Park

Wildflowers above Death Canyon – Grand Teton National Park











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Cumberland Island – Why Is that Raccoon after my food?

We returned to Cumberland Island for another back country adventure and naturally took a little too much food with us. We could have eaten it all but we didn’t. We took our usual GRUBPACK back country food  sack made of metal mesh with a heavy-duty hook and loop closure to put the food, pots, plates, and toiletries in to keep the raccoons and squirrels from destroying our tent or backpack. We strung the GRUBPACK sack between two limbs but over the course of a couple of days it moved a little too close to one of the trees.

About 4 am in the morning, Mary shook me saying ” There’s something after the food!” The rattling of the pot and lid in the sack had awakened her. Shining her headlamp out the tent toward the food she started yelling “Hey! Go away!” Then muttered raccoon. I had gotten to the door and saw the little culprit tugging on the rope and trying to grab the bag. I got out of the tent with my headlamp and picked up a hiking pole to flail around with. At first he ignored me, but then crawled down the tree and retreated a few yards into the palmetto fronds where his yellow eyes gave proof that he wasn’t leaving.

After checking the integrity of the bag, I crawled back into the tent. Before I could settle in, the pot was rattling again. We decided he couldn’t get to the food and if the bag fell, it would still be tied to one of the trees so we just let him work at it. About an hour later the sound stopped. At sunrise the bag was still hanging, intact with all our food and gear no worse for wear.

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Leaving Banff in the Morning

It was time for us to leave Banff.


Welcome to Banff sign

The Banff city limit sign

So we said  good-by to the city limits of Banff before dawn and headed  west on the Trans-Canada Highway.


Sunrise near Banff

Painted skies over the Canadian Rockies near Banff

The sun began to paint the sky and brought the mountains into view.


Early morning near Banff on the Trans-Canada

Dawn near Banff

After dawn we soon encountered this bull on the side of the road.


Bull Elk along side the road near Banff, Canada

Bull Elk by the road near Banff

We had turned south and were headed toward Radium Springs when we met this fellow.


Large Grizzly bear looks for roots for food along side road near Banff

Tagged Grizzly Bear along side the road near Banff

Banff is definitely a do again for us.



On the road to Radium Springs.

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Smoky Mountains-Mount LeConte via Rainbow Falls Trail

We did our annual fall hike up  Mount LeConte in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park .  We may only make one hike up next year as we didn’t get a reservation at the lodge  for the fall in the lottery. For those who may not know, the picture below shows Mt. LeConte from a cabin we rented just above Gatlinburg.

Mount LeConte from west of Gatlinburg

The lodge on top is between the two major peaks just to the right of the group of three peaks.I’ll  just caption the pictures and tell you the story in another post.

He was actually at the bottom of Rainbow Falls trail

a little fall foliage


The leaves were peak




Here are the falls.

The marker you’ve been waiting for.

The lodge office and lounge


Morning sky.

All of these pictures were taken by Mary.  She just lets me use them for your enjoyment.

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