A Dream Come True: Leigh Lake trip Part 1

There!!  Through the top  of the windshield  I could see its curved, sleek, green body jutting out over the top of my SUV. It was silhouetted against the clear, Air Force blue sky, dedicated to providing transportation over mountain lakes and streams.  The sleek canoe we rented was strapped tightly on top cutting through the Wyoming air on our way to Leigh Lake in the Tetons. Excitement was in the air. Having a canoe on top my SUV proved to me it was really happening. The Casper Photography Association had proposed this canoe/camping trip months ago, and it was finally beginning. This was a dream coming true for me.

All along the drive,  Lori, my fuel sharing traveling companion on this trip, kept a wary eye on the canoe and would comment, “yep, it’s still there. It looks good.”  Somewhat later after the Wyoming wind began its daily rush,  she attentively mentioned,  “Ohhhh, it’s slipping to the side.  I think the wind is pushing it.  Shouldn’t we stop and secure it better?”  My response was my typical hard-headedness, “naw, it’s on tight and isn’t going anywhere. Besides, we’re almost there”.  Lori was doubtful but remained calm and circumspect.

As we traveled the two-lane black top, my spirits soared the closer we were to Jackson. Fortunately, by the time we stopped, the canoe hadn’t soared but stayed secure enough.  We made it safely to Jackson, but no thanks to me as by the time we were there, the canoe had loosened somewhat. I probably should have listened to the more reasoned voice of Lori, but my flawed male pride had prevailed. Fortunately, that hadn’t caused a disaster.

Up early at the motel Saturday morning, I dressed for canoe travel.  Viewing my refection in the mirror, I thought I looked pretty dapper and suave as I admired myself wearing my new blue, long-sleeved, fishing shirt and my new cream colored Tilly hat perched at a slight angle on my head.  During my shopping spree before this trip I was hoping my new ensemble would make me look more like Harrison Ford or Clark Gable or some other famous male star of the movies. I did feel a little foolish admiring myself like that, as being vain or suave or dapper was not my style.  They say clothes make the man…. yeah, sure… I did enjoy a brief moment of my ego lifting before venturing forth and having my new found Harrison Ford attitude melt away.

I tend to silently worry about complications beyond my control or even caused by me. My trepidations on this trip  included tipping the canoe and soaking all our camping gear; being a grizzly’s lunch (headlines to include “Casper Photographer Eaten by Grizzly”); and surviving two nights sleeping on the hard ground with only a slender pad to keep the rocks and roots from poking me all night.  I really wanted to concentrate not being the cause of any mishaps on this trip as it seems sometimes misadventure follows me.  Maybe I could fake it, but for two more days?

It was still too early to meet the rest of the crew for breakfast, so I settled in to wait in the room until the others were in the lobby.  Might as well watch some news on the TV, as I would be out of civilized contact for a couple of days.  I brewed some coffee using the little coffee maker so graciously supplied by the motel.  While it sat there and splashed and gurgled brown liquid into the clear, glass pot, sending out its delicious aroma into the room, I stood searching for the TV.   Ummm, where was that TV?  I inspected the low standing, long, fake wood cabinet in the room thinking I’d see that big old clunker somewhere on it. Nope, it wasn’t obviously apparent sitting where I expected it to be. Did I have one? I peeked into the beige fridge and small brown microwave in case the TV was masquerading as one of them. I opened each door of the potential imposters. Maybe the TV was hiding inside either one or the other?  Nope, not there.  Wondering where it was, I shook my head in a bedazzled sort of way.   Finally I gave up my search and just figured this room didn’t have a TV.  I supposed  I didn’t need to watch the news.  It didn’t matter if the world was still turning ’round or not, I was going canoeing today.

Sipping my room brewed coffee, I wandered into the lobby now hoping to sneak in unnoticed  as I really didn’t feel dandy even if my attire might have temporarily given me that attitude when I was alone in my room. Deep down I knew I had no resemblance to  Harrison Ford.   Lolena was the only one there and had the graciousness not to mention my hat or shirt. I was relieved at that.  I slyly asked her if she had a TV in her room as I didn’t.   She looked up and gave me a knowing smile and said in a very  diplomatic way, “yes I did, it was on the wall”….. Ooooohhhhh….the light came on in my head, but my  ego took a slight tumble.  I hadn’t thought to look there. Having a TV on the wall was new to me. Who would’a thought? With a mischievous smile,She did admit that she earlier had the same problem as I did. She had searched for a big box on the dresser, but she had the presence of mind to finally look up to the wall, something I wasn’t smart enough to do. I did feel better knowing that someone else had a similar  problem as mine.

Slinking back to my room somewhat embarrassed, I slipped the rectangular shaped key card into the lock, gently and slowly opened the door and peeked into the room.  Sure ‘nuf there it was right where it had always been and not hiding in the microwave or fridge. It was a black edged, large, but thin, wall mounted, TV.  I didn’t even turn it on, just grabbed my gear, slipped out, and packed the SUV.

We were off on our drive towards String Lake, self confidence intact. Five vehicles each with a canoe strapped on the top,  convoying up the road.  I felt like “Rubber Duck”  from the movie, “Convoy”, with Kris Kristofferson. We even had small,  black, individual, two way radios so each vehicle could stay in contact.  I was on top of the world ready to brave the rigors of canoeing.   But, first stop was Dornan’s at Moose, for breakfast. This photo club runs on food, and we weren’t to be denied.  It was pretty good grub, too, including scrambled eggs, biscuits and gravy, hash browns, and crisp bacon.  What a delectable, outdoor fare enhanced with a fantastic view of the Grand Teton off across the roaring Snake River to our west.  The Grand’s snow fields contrasted against the gray granite, thrusting almost 7,000 feet above the valley floor.  Yellow Arrow Leaf Balsams were flowering in great profusion all around us.  The air smelled of Spring in the Rockies mixed with breakfast odors.  Scrumptious!!

After wolfing down that great breakfast, I wondered around with my camera snapping pictures.  “Gee”, I thought, what if I had a penny for every picture ever taken of the Grand Teton?  I’d be rich and have a condo in Jackson Hole. I’d be a “zillion billionaire”.  Dream on….

The Grand as seen from Dornan’s, its snow fields contrasting against the gray granite, thrusting almost 7,000 feet above the valley floor .  Yellow Arrow Leaf Balsams were flowering in great profusion all around us.

Scientists say the Tetons were formed from a giant fault in the earth seven to ten million years ago.  They are considered a “young” mountain range as most of the Rockies are over fifty million years old.  Since they are young, that means they haven’t had time for erosion to wear them down.  Those scientists say the Tetons are rising at the rate of about a foot every 500 years thus growing faster than they are eroding.  Don’t think I’ll stick around and watch rocks grow, and besides I’m afraid I’m eroding a little faster than the Tetons are eroding.

Finally, after much anticipation,  we rolled into String Lake. It’s obvious why String Lake was named what it was when viewed on a map.  It’s a string of shallow water connecting Leigh Lake with Jenny Lake. Our first task after arriving was to unload and carry the canoes to the water’s edge, lug the camping gear and baggage, and set everything by the canoes.

What a beautiful day…. clear,  blatantly blue sky blanketing translucent, clean, shallow water in String lake reflecting the Tetons.  A person could easily see the  rocky bottom a few feet down. Trout were abundant and their sleek, finny bodies could be seen as they would swim by.

String Lake

I’ve always had a fondness for String Lake as my wife, Sandy, and I used to bring our kids here and float around in little rubber rafts.  I still harbor visions of blowing up those rubbery little air hogs.  I put the Big Bad Wolf to shame with my huffing and puffing, lips to plastic, gasping and turning purple as I tried to blast air through that little polyethylene insert, the taste of plastic strong in my mouth.  Finally they were full enough of my hot air to launch which was easy and the kids loved them.  Scott even stepped out of the raft and waded in the icy water. Shaun and Sara were too young for such cold fun but enjoyed the ride. I always thought the lake was too frigid to wade in. Scott, on the other hand, waded and played in the bone-chilling water and relished it’s cleanness,  coldness, and the beauty of being alive and in the Tetons.

I left loading the canoe to others as I have no experience in this intricate operation. I had a great fear of potential harm if I had loaded the canoe. My  mental vision consisted  of the boat tipping over and dumping both of us as a result of my poor packing job.  We’d then be bobbing in the cold lake tasting it’s chill,  trying to grab our gear while seeing the canoe floating away upside down. That was not what I wanted.  Best to leave loading to those who knew how to pack it properly.  I hauled my two bags to the canoe and gave them to Denny to place correctly trusting his judgement.  After he placed them, I tied my bags to the canoe so that if we tipped, the bags wouldn’t go floating off. ….. more later on that…. it wasn’t a bright idea.  I was still learning and sometimes my learning curve is steep.

As we launched the canoes, I dreaded getting my feet wet or cold even though I was wearing sandals. Gee, what a pansy. Helping with launching the canoe, I gingerly stepped along the edge of the shore obviously trying to stay dry. Denny mentioned, “ you have to get your feet wet sometime, Sam”.  Darn, he had noticed.  I finally stepped into the clear, cold water. It was chilly but not as bad as I had imagined. Scott had been right. It was fun and just a part of boating.

As I prepared to step into the canoe, I was fearful of tipping it over.  Denny’s instructions were “stay low and in the middle, hold on to the gunnels (sides), one foot then the other and set down.”  I gingerly grabbed each side, bent way over but not too much and stayed low and gently sat on the hard crossbar.  It was a snap.  No tipping and everything was rather stable. My thoughts amazingly turned to, “I can do this.”  I think Denny holding the canoe had a lot to do with the canoe’s stability.  He didn’t want his gear to go for a swim.

Denny shoved the canoe off and stepped in without causing much movement. I envied him that talent.  He had me in front where I couldn’t do much damage, just paddle.  As it turned out, I couldn’t even do that correctly.  I kept paddling in such a manner that if left alone, we’d still be on String Lake going in circles. The moose next Winter would be wondering what we were doing on their lake frozen in the center.  I kept thinking, “this isn’t brain surgery, but maybe I needed brain surgery to figure out how to paddle”.  Because of my paddling, we tended to go in a zig zag pattern as we moved slowly toward the portage at the east end of String Lake.  Denney’s excellent use of the paddle as a rudder and his paddling skills helped to keep us going in a straighter line in spite of my erratic efforts.

Glancing up at the mountains rising to our west, their sharp, grey granite, crag edges with white snow fields, demanded my attention.  I discovered many years ago riding through the Park the first time at age 15 that there was no way a person could not keep from peering up and staring at the those magnificent Tetons.  Canoeing on String Lake didn’t change that but only intensified my desire to see the mountains and relish in the feel of a dream coming true.  Maybe that’s a reason I wasn’t able to help keep the canoe going in a straight line.

After zig zagging across String Lake and gawking at those fabulous Tetons, we reached the portage area. Denny told me to stop paddling that he would get us to shore.  This was smart thinking as we did want to land the canoe safely. After landing, I carefully stepped out and didn’t tip us over.  Success again. We unloaded each canoe and carried canoes and gear over a dirt, pine-lined, well-used portage that wasn’t steep but slightly uphill and not a great distance.  It was easily wide enough for four people holding and carrying each side of a canoe. It took several trips over the dirt path to get the gear and canoes to Leigh Lake. Each of us did our share of lugging everything we were to use at our camp on Leigh Lake.

At the Leigh Lake end of the portage there were log steps a person had to maneuver down in order to actually get to the water’s edge. I managed to successfully negotiate the steps several times either carrying gear or helping with a canoe and not falling and stumbling and needing life flighted out.  We once again loaded each canoe, and I tied my bags to the boat.  I managed to attentively crawl back in and didn’t tip us over.  More success. My paddling was better now as Denny’s training was beginning to sink into my feeble brain, or had Denny just figured out how to override my pathetic paddling?

Pete and Harry in their canoe on Leigh Lake

Wow!! what a view.  Mt Moran dominated the skyline jutting up clear and sharp with dark timber plunging steeply  to the edge of Leigh Lake.  Grey rock, green pines, blue sky– magnificence! Better than any post card or painting I’d ever seen. A living canvas of mountain splendor.  Once again I just had to keep surveying such grandeur. I think I could have counted the individual trees because the atmosphere was so clear and clean and pure. The fragrant smell of mountain air and clean water was dominating my olfactory senses. No way was I going to not view and take mental images of this scene. At least now we were heading mostly towards Mt. Moran, and I was in front of the canoe. I could gaze and paddle at the same time.  I didn’t take pictures, as I didn’t want to get my camera out for fear of wiggling and capsizing the canoe.  Once again, visions of us tasting the cold water as our canoe filled with water came to mind. Consequently, the only pictures of this part of our journey are locked in my mind unable to figure a way out.

On the hour and half paddle, I recollected that Mt. Moran was named after the landscape artist who first painted the Tetons.  Thomas Moran was a British-born painter whose beautiful works of Yellowstone in 1871 probably tipped the balance toward creating our nation’s first national park.  (from the book Grand Teton Trivia by Charlie Craighead).  I could certainly understand why he’d be painting these scenes.  If only I wasn’t a scardy cat and didn’t feel comfortable for fear of  losing my camera to the depths below, I would have taken some pictures.  But, oh my, what magnificent watery scenes.

After we rounded the first point of land, the wind came up, and I could even see small white caps on the once placid lake.  I paddled hard even if I didn’t know what I was doing.  At times the waves splashed up and sent sprays of water into the front of the canoe and across my face.  I was beginning to think a trout might get blown in, but I suppose they are way too smart to be in a canoe while the wind is blowing white caps.  Finally, paddling closer to shore, the wind and water calmed, and we dropped off one group at site 15.  We needed two camp sites as the Park Service allows only six people in any one camp.  We had ten total.  Harry, Pete, Francis and her husband, Wayne, would be camping here.  Later they would canoe to our site for dinner, more photography and socializing.

The rest of us continued plunging hard back into the white caps as we moved further up the shore of the lake. Denny made sure we weren’t broadsided by waves.  Tasting the splashed in wetness was fun and exhilarating. Viewing Mt. Moran and the surrounding Lake was the most amazing feeling.  I was catching a glimpse of what it might have been like to be a French voyageur or mountain man with a canoe loaded heavy with pelts, plying the cold waters of the Rocky Mountains teeming with beaver and other fur bearing animals. They must have admired this scene and had similar feelings that I was having.

Finally, we arrived at site #16, Paintbrush Inlet, our site which was a pretty area just off the water with a circular fire box and logs placed in a square so the campfire could be enjoyed.  Lolena, Dennis, Lori, Al, Margi, and myself would be camping in this site.

As we were unloading, Denny  noticed and mentioned I shouldn’t have tied my heavy bags on the canoe as that might cause the boat to be pulled under the water from their weight if we would have toppled over. Canoes do float if turned over but not with heavy bags dragging them down.   Ohhhh crud ….. I had messed up.  My brain then went into over drive as I imagined watching the canoe slowly disappear below the surface.  Would I have dived for the canoe, my eyes open trying to see the canoe either on the bottom or continuing its slow decent in that cold clear lake? I’d probably be staring at fish eye ball to eye ball, my arms flaying out to pull myself down deep and kicking my feet, my cheeks and eyes all bulged out trying to hold air,  all the while fully clothed and life vest on. My new Tilly hat floating somewhere above to mark the spot of my error.  Fortunately, that didn’t happen, but I did feel badly for having unknowingly caused potential harm.

We checked out the campsite.  It was neat, clean and small.  When we departed, it would be the same way.  We’d only take pictures and leave footprints ( I read that somewhere once and thought I’d throw it in here).

Campsite #16

Lolena began to fix dinner as it was getting that time of day. She had volunteered to bring all the fixings and do the cooking.  What a woman!  She made Paella.  Among other ingredients it has sausage, chicken, onion, red pepper, canned tomatoes, saffron, bell pepper, rice, etc. She fixed it in the large wok she brought and cooked it as a one dish meal using the gas stove for heat one of us carried in a canoe.The aroma of the paella drifted across the campsite making my mouth water. Here was a meal for ten hungry photographers who knew how to eat.  I asked her how she did it, and she just, once again flashed her winning smile and said, “I’ve been doing such as this for years and just know how to do it”.  Lolena is an amazing camp cook.  What an fantastic feed in the wilderness!  I’m surprised a grizzly didn’t show up for a taste. That critter would have brushed us aside and dug right into the paella.  I doubt he would have shared it.

Lolena fixing dinner using her large wok and Harry in the background probably smacking his lips.


Francis sharing her birthday watermelon she hauled in on her canoe. Pete was off to the right taking his piece of watermelon for consumption.

While Lolena was creating that fantastic meal, some of us went searching for firewood.  Firewood was pretty scarce because of the heavy use the area received during the earlier part of the Summer. Scouting for wood and picture opportunities, my camera dangling from around my neck, I followed as close to the shore line as I could.  Scrambling and climbing over old, large, downed, grey trees with blue-green lichen clinging to their sides then squeezing through thickets of green brush with the smell of wet, boggy ground, I finally found myself at water’s edge.  Mt. Moran loomed large ballooning up from Leigh Lake. The mountain was awesome with its gleaming cliffs and deep shadows of blues and greys and white glaciers and snow fields.  I took some photographs, but nothing was going to capture the high I was feeling and the incredible beauty I was experiencing.

Mt. Moran loomed large ballooning up from Leigh Lake. The mountain was awesome with its gleaming cliffs and deep shadows of blues and greys and white glaciers and snow fields.

After dinner we gathered up the garbage and food and anything that might have a food smell and took it to the bear box and bear pole.  This was a place away from the campsite the Park Service had provided to help keep the bears away from camp.  The idea is to move the bear bait away from campers so that we’d be less likely to become a grizzly’s meal.  The bear pole was a steel pole planted in the ground and sticking high into the air with four steel spikes evenly spaced at the top. It was designed to hang articles high enough to be out of reach of any plundering bear. A green-colored steel box that latched was also there for our use.  We crammed the rest of our food a into it.  Thus secured, we all felt better that we were protecting ourselves from a marauding grizzly, but I was also a little sad as all my snacks were hanging on the pole out of  not only a bear’s reach but my reach.  It was apparent I would be on a diet the rest of the night.

We saw no bears nor any new sign of bear.  Most of us did bring bear pepper spray but had no need for it and that’s fine with me.  I could just see myself facing a charging grizzly, then quick drawing my bear spray, hitting him with the pepper, and just making him mad.  Survivors would know I’d been there when they found my spray can,  camera, and maybe what was left of my Tilly hat, in the bear poop.

As the sun set,  we pulled out cameras and shot more pictures.  There were canoers and kayakers on the lake, dead trees picturesquely jutting out near water’s edge, and Mt. Moran obligingly posing for us.  The sky darkened but not before it turned a salmon color and pleased our visual senses and our cameras.

As the sun set on Leigh Lake, the water turned a slight shade of salmon and many of us captured it on our cameras.

During the evening, we sat around the campfire, exchanged pleasantries and stories about the day or just sat and absorbed the amazing experience of primitive camping in the Tetons.

Lolena and Lori

Lori, Margi, Al, Denny, Lolena

The shadows slowly darkened. Reflections began to disappear in the dark rippling lake. Campfire smoke drifted in its gray color encircling the area and it’s smell gave each of us the perfume of a day well spent.  The stars appeared above in the black sky one at a time eventually creating a ceiling of thousands of tiny sparkling campfires as each of us, one or two at a time, drifted off to our tents and sleeping bags.

End of Part 1 which consist of our first two days.  Please come back for Part 2 which will be about days three and four.  Time of publication is not yet established meaning I’m a slow writer.

For more of my photos of the Tetons, please go to http://samsherman.imagekind.com/  and click on “galleries” and then “WyomingSummer”.  There are at least two pages of WyomingSummer. Please look through all pages in this gallery.  Thank you for any purchases and don’t forget you can interchange mats and frames and find one to your liking.  Framed or unframed photos will be shipped directly to you from Imagekind.com.

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2 Responses to A Dream Come True: Leigh Lake trip Part 1

  1. Lori Jackson says:

    Wonderful version of the trip we all took. Can’t wait for the rest of this story.
    Take care,
    Lori

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