Friday, January 30, 2009

Annual Elk Adventure

To begin today's blog, I must first explain that this will be a picture story of a trip my husband and I embarked upon last week. Every winter we journey to Wyoming between Alpine and Etna to see the elk herd that winters in a state refuge. It is a tradition in our family, one we started years ago. My mother's family is from Wyoming originally, and this was something I introduced to my husband shortly after our marriage. He has loved the yearly jaunt, as have our boys. It's an opportunity to enjoy the scenic beauty that lies between Idaho and Wyoming, and it is something I would encourage you to try if you ever have the chance. And if this is something you can't see for yourself, I've included a plethora of pictures in today's blog. So sit back, relax, and savor what I'm about to share:

We decided this year to make quite a loop on our annual elk adventure. Driving to nearby Soda Springs (About 26 miles from our home in Bear Lake) we headed past the Monsanto plant where my husband works. I was impressed by how high the snowbanks are in this location.

On we drove toward Grays Lake, Idaho. Ironically home to nearly 200 pair of sandhill cranes, (my husband claims there is no relation), this mountain valley was settled by some of my pioneer ancestors, the Sibbett clan. You can see Caribou Mountain in the distance, covered by clouds.

Grays Lake Valley is surrounded by mountains, making it a picturesque drive. I can understand why my ancestors chose to live here, despite the long winter months and subsequent isolation compliments of little things like blizzards. ;)

The trees are gorgeous this time of year. Recent storms have given them a frosty look.

We left Grays Lake behind and drove through Tin Cup Canyon, a favorite fishing and camping spot for my family. There are a couple of nice campgrounds located in this area.

It didn't take us long to reach Etna, Wyoming on highway 89. We drove north to the elk refuge which is located between Etna and Alpine.

This refuge has become a winter haven for the elk. Hay is fed to them during the winter months, helping them to survive this difficult time of year.

It's kind of hard to tell from this picture (unless you click on it--it will greatly enhance your viewing pleasure) but if you look toward the center, there are two large bulls (boy elk). My husband got all excited, thinking they would fight, but they were merely passing by each other. I'm sure the conversation went something like this:

"Hi Ralph. How are things on this side of the refuge?"
"Kind of boring, George. The cows (girl elk) still aren't speaking to me."
"Really? I guess you should avoid those comments about the weight they're gaining."
"You're probably right, George. But I did mean those remarks as compliments."
"Females . . . go figure."
"You said it, George."
"Have a good one, Ralph."
"Later, George."

This is the handy viewing hut the great state of Wyoming has constructed for those who want a little bit of shelter as they watch the elk. The wind was blowing the day we visited, so it was still quite refreshing, but it did keep the snow from falling on our heads.

When we tired of watching the elk people romp, we climbed back inside our car and drove south, past Etna, to Thayne, Wyoming. Thayne is where my mother grew up. Her parents owned a ranch on the outskirts of town. Both of my maternal grandparents also worked in the Star Valley Cheese Factory, located in this same town. This factory used to be famous for its Swiss cheese. It still contains a restaurant and a gift shop. A few years ago (we won't say how many) my mother worked here as a teeny bopper (teenager). Several years later, my brother also found work in this facility. So three generations of my family have worked in this famous landmark. Stopping here to purchase cheese is a tradition in my family.

I was hoping to purchase some the day we drove through, but they were closing as we approached the door. This factory has fallen on hard times the past couple of years and it is struggling to remain open. I hope it will succeed in this---our family loves to swing by for a visit whenever we get the chance.

We drove on to Afton, Wyoming where we stopped at a restaurant for a quick bite of dinner. Then we headed back to Idaho through a canyon south of Smoot. Highway 89 cuts through this canyon, which shall remain nameless since neither my husband or I could think of what it is called. It eventually links up with Montpelier Canyon, but as my husband pointed out, there is a large valley between the two, so if you know what the Wyoming side is called, feel free to share. =) Anyway, the shot above was taken at the scenic outlook on top of good old canyon What'sItsName. Note how high the snowbank is in this location. It kind of hindered our view of the valley below.

Here is a testament to how high those snowbanks are through this beautiful canyon. Kennon was only to happy to pose with our car for this demonstration. =D

As we continued traveling through this canyon, we came upon a small herd of deer who were making their way down to a nearby creek for a drink. There are two bucks (boy deer) in the center of this picture. (For a better look, click on the picture.) They have the same embarrassing problem as exhibited by a popular character from the animated hit, "Open Season." They each only have one antler. =) Kennon explained this is the time of year that the bucks lose their horns. Poor dudes. I'm sure this is a humiliating time for them.

This final picture shares a frozen wonder in Montpelier Canyon. The ice formation is a waterfall during the spring and summer months. It's always beautiful, but the icy sheen gives it an elegant look.

After we passed this formation, it grew too dark to take pictures. I took some anyway, and they didn't turn out. We came across yet another herd of deer, and a large black cat that was stalking them. My husband thought it was an overly large house cat. I'm not so sure. If it was, it's Guinness Records material. That's all I'm going to say about that . . . for now. ;)

All in all, it was a wonderful day, and again, something I would encourage you to try sometime if you ever get the chance. It's a great way to see nature at its best during a time of year when we could all use a cheery break.

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Doran & Jody said...

Oh I so wish I would have went with you! Grays River is my grandpa and grandma's favorite camping spot. As a matter of fact my grandpa got so sick while camping up there but he was determined to drive home from his last trip. They got home and took him straight to the hospital where he died a few days later.

Just before you get to Geneiva jnct is Allred Flats by the Salt River Range where they like to camp too. My dad use to run sheep up there years and years ago.

My cousins are still up there in Cokeville and one is just down the street from the cheese factory.

What a great trip!!!

Cheri J. Crane said...

Jody, it's so good to hear from you. How are you doing? And yes, this is a great trip. It sounds like you've seen all of this beautiful country before. Maybe we'll have to make this trip together sometime. ;)

Cheri J. Crane said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Derek Crane said...

Silly mommy, the "good old canyon Whatsitsname" is referred to as "South Pass" by the native Wyoming-ens, just ask my wife. And on the map it is known as Salt River Pass (Google Terrain Map)...
Nice pictures though, it's nice to see the wildlife/outdoors, even if it has to be in pictures whilst I'm indoors everyday.

Cheri J. Crane said...

Thank you for the information, Derek. South Pass, eh? Sounds familiar. Maybe I knew that before my little bonk on the head this summer. ;)