Runtrails' Rocky Mountain Journal
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"Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful,
we must carry it with us or we find it not.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson


This is our last day in the Rockies. Since I haven't been walking or running much the last few days, I wanted to get in one more trail adventure before heading home. Susi and Hans enjoyed the trail at the end of the Teton Canyon Road so much last week that I decided to head that way.

There are several trails that lead up into the mountains on the west side of the Teton Range through the canyon. They all seem to start with the same segment that branches out after 2.7 miles (we don't have a detailed map or atlas of this area). Since I still don't know what's wrong with the knee I hurt three weeks ago climbing Mts. Oxford and Belford, I used my brain and not my heart and did just that 2.7-mile segment (for a total of 5 miles) and not the enticing "Devil's Staircase," one of the longer trails.

That sounds like it's just made for an adventurous trail runner, doesn't it?

I expected lots of company on the trail this holiday weekend, and I got it. We saw only five or six people outbound, but many more on the way back to the parking lot. I was happy to see so many runners, hikers, and equestrians enjoying the trails. No bikes are permitted because it's the Jedediah Smith Wilderness Area.

The drive was short, just a couple miles beyond our campground in the canyon. We heard the parking lot fills early but Jim and I were able to get a spot when we arrived about 10 AM. We read the information board, including warnings about grizzly and black bears in the area. That prompted us to put both dogs on their leashes.


The first mile of the trail was mostly shaded by trees because the morning sun was still low in the sky. The open places were already pretty hot, however.

Jim and Tater turned around before the trail really opened up. He went back to the camper and returned later for Cody and me. He was still pretty tired from the race and didn't want to push his body too far.

I enjoyed the trail through the more open canyon in the second and third miles better than the shaded part because of the vistas. The trail was also smoother there and more runnable on the way back down. The elevation at the trail head is about 6,600 feet and rises to about 7,000 feet at the multi-trail juncture. I did more walking than running on the very gradual ascent.

The canyon is fairly wide, always within either eyesight or earshot of the tumbling Teton Creek. There were several places where the dogs could swim and drink water:

I enjoyed views of rock walls and the surrounding mountains but couldn't see much of the higher Teton peaks from this trail. The farther into the canyon I got, the more the nearby peaks like Table Mountain blocked their view.

You can see the tip of Grand Teton in the photo above but it's hidden farther along the trail:

I thought the bulging half moon was pretty cool to see above the canyon walls at mid-morning:


I loved the soft pinkish color of these tall fireweeds that were in full reproductive mode with all their seed fluff flying in the air:

Some of the plants were over six feet tall. I didn't know what they were until an astute reader who lives in the area and runs in the canyon wrote to tell me what they are. I saw flowering fireweeds in the Leadville, Colorado area last month, but didn't realize what they look like in the fall. Thanks, Dan (another ultra runner!) for the ID.  Here's a close up of the silky fluff:

Half a mile before the trail intersection a man and black Lab ran past Cody and me:

A couple minutes later a hiking couple came toward me and warned me that they'd just seen a big black bear. They were sitting on a log at the intersection when the bruin came within six feet (they said) and showed interest in the apples they were eating. They decided to quietly but quickly vacate the area!

I kept walking, intrigued. Some of the best moments I had along the Appalachian Trail in the Smokies, the Shenandoahs, and in New Jersey were black bear sightings, and I wanted to see another one. Now if they'd said they saw a grizzly bear I would have immediately turned around!

In less than a minute the runner and his dog came back toward me. He saw the bear amble off toward the nearby creek and out of sight, but didn't want to push his luck by going any further.

I went on another couple hundred feet to the intersection and Cody went nuts. His whole demeanor changed, tensing his body and frenetically sniffing where the bear had walked. He's a very strong little rascal (80 muscular pounds) and it was all I could do to hold him back on his leash. Although we couldn't see the bear, Cody could smell it. He is very good about heeling next to me even off-leash when we see large animals like deer and cows, but he sure wanted to go after this bear! I think it was a new scent to him; he wasn't with me on the AT any of the times I saw bears there.

After reading the trail signs and going up the Devil's Backbone trail about a hundred yards (rats, couldn't see much!) I decided it would be a good idea for us to leave the area, too. I wasn't worried about an attack, but didn't want to bother the bear any more. It was his territory, not ours. I'd guess, however, that the black bears are fairly accustomed to seeing humans, dogs, and horses on this heavily-traveled trail. It didn't sound like this one was aggressive, just curious and hoping for a handout.

I was able to run most of the way back to the parking area because the trail was generally downhill or flat on the return. It felt so good to run! I've mostly been walking since I messed up my knee, afraid that running might make it worse. Until I know what's wrong, which will take an MRI, I have to be really careful.

Here are two of the beautiful views I had going back to the parking area:


Some foliage was already turning to its fall colors. Guess the snow will be flying soon -- time to go home! (We're snow-phobes.)

Jim and Tater came back just about the time I reached the parking lot. We spent the afternoon doing laundry and getting supplies in town, reorganizing our running gear from the race, and getting the camper ready for the 2,000-mile, four-day drive home. We'll leave in the morning.

It was 80 degrees in the shade at our camper, so I know it was hotter on the exposed sections of trail I ran. I consider this the beginning of my summer heat training -- finally. We know it's gonna be hot as soon as we hit lower elevations tomorrow, and very humid east of the Mississippi.


Although we wish we could stay in the Rockies longer, we are more ready to leave now than we were right after the Leadville race. Our mission is done. It wasn't exactly accomplished, but it is over for this summer. We always have ambivalent feelings about returning home after a great trip, and the longer we're gone, the harder it is to leave one place we love for another place we love. Once we get home, it feels good to be back.

This is a fitting farewell photo from our campground in Teton Canyon, a colorful sunset over Grand and Middle Teton Peaks:

I'll write more of a summary of our summer and our future plans in a few weeks, after we get home and settled back into our routine there. I'll also let you know what my MRI results show. I may or may not have run my last ultra. Hopefully, it's something that can be fixed so I can continue my passion. I'll also write about our fall and winter race plans. We signed up for several races before my knee was injured.


I'll close this entry in a humorous vein.

We're very familiar with the numerous cattle guards out West in open-range territory. You don't see them nearly as much in the East. They are hard for people to cross on foot with shoes, and impossible for animals. I have to watch the dogs when I encounter one on a trail because they'll fall through -- as will cows.

Cows probably learn about the hazards of cattle guards when they are young and curious calves. I don't know how many times it takes them to learn, but eventually they do and they remain inside their boundary.

Below is a photo of a real cattle guard at our campground in the Teton Canyon. It keeps cows OUT of the campground (as does the fencing all around it):

Now look at this cattle guard on paved Ski Hill Road about a mile below the Grand Targhee Resort:

Notice anything different??

We drove over this one about three times before realizing it was PAINTED on the pavement!!! I think that is just hilarious. Apparently it works just as well as a real cattle guard or someone would have installed one of those contraptions here. I wonder how many of the other runners drove over the fake one on their way to and from the resort and didn't think anything about it!

This is a first, and it still amuses me. I mentioned it to Susi and she and Hans got a good laugh about it, too, when it dawned on them that it was a "trompe d'oeuil" effect. Guess a real cattle guard would slow down the rollerbladers and skateboarders that like to fly down this road, huh?

So long from the Rockies! My last entry will be at the end of September.


After four long days on the road, we arrived home safely last Friday night. It took several days to empty and clean the camper, stock the refrigerator and pantry, remember where things are located (not as much CRS as last summer's return, though), get our desktop computer fired up (see dead laptop screen below), start weeding the flower beds and watering the dead lawn (we missed a very hot, dry summer in Roanoke), and try to get back into a normal routine.

It'll take us longer to adjust to the heat and humidity and clean up the mess Appalachian Electric Power left when they lopped off numerous big limbs on trees in their right of way through our side yards. One phone call got them to come back yesterday with four burly guys who spent three hours clearing some of it out, but they still left us with many hours of work. <sigh>

"For travel to be delightful, one must have a good place to leave and return to."
- Frederick B. Wilcox

We love our home. We just wish there wasn't so much to do each time we return to it!

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and Tater

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2007 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil