Grand Teton National Park on Horseback

Head to the Wyoming wilderness for snowcapped peaks, up-close wildlife encounters, sagebrush meadows, delicate wildflowers, and stately stands of trees.
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Head to the Wyoming wilderness for snowcapped peaks, up-close wildlife encounters, sagebrush meadows, delicate wildflowers, and stately stands of trees.

"Is that an elk ahead?" I asked.

"Yes, several," replied Bonnie. "Some more are bedded down in the trees, too."

We paused the horses and looked into the small stand of evergreens just ahead.

"Let's go and have a look," I said, and nudged Quest, my Quarter Horse mount, forward.

We left the open prairie we'd just crossed, dropped down a few feet into a wash, and approached the trees. More elk were there ? quite a few more.

A bull elk, with a massive spread of antlers, grunted, emerged from the thicket, and began to trot toward us, his head high. He was big.

We stopped the horses and looked at him. I'm used to the small white-tailed deer of New York, which turn and run when approached, often after startling the horses. I'd never been charged by a big bull elk. What to do?

Fortunately, Bonnie knew. She spread her arms and yelled. The bull stopped and gave us a hard look.

"Maybe we'd best go another way," Bonnie said. I agreed. We turned the horses around and rode back the way we'd come, leaving the bull elk with his harem.

We were riding in Grand Teton Nation Park in Wyoming on a brilliant fall day. My sister, Mary, and my wife, Carol Ann, awaited us. When we caught up with them at the trailhead, they were quite impressed with our elk encounter.

Carol and I are from Gardiner, New York, where we ride our Missouri Fox Trotters in the mid-Hudson Valley. My sister lives in Jackson, a place she went to for a summer job and never left. Our friend, Bonnie Keckler, lives in the valley near Wilson, Wyoming.

While our elk encounter was a highlight of the ride, the scenery and riding trails were just as, or more, impressive.

We entered Grand Teton National Park at the Granite Canyon Gate, a few miles north of Wilson on the Moose-Wilson Road, and parked the trucks at the nearby Poker Flats Trailhead, the first parking area after the gatehouse.

Bonnie rode Annie, Mary rode Gini, Carol rode Dollar, and I rode Quest ? sturdy, willing Quarter Horses, all.

From the trailhead, we headed west, toward the mountains, and rode out into the extensive Bear Paw Meadow Horse Trails, into a lovely mix of open meadows and prairies, intermixed with stands of lodgepole pine, alpine fir, and Douglas fir.

The trails are well-defined and clear to follow, making the riding easy. Fall is an ideal time to visit, with crisp days, no bugs, deciduous trees changing color, and often clear and pleasant weather. Fall often sees diminished crowds, as well.

Dominating, and commanding the view to the west were the impressive snowcapped peaks of the Tetons.

The trails were dry and stable ? typical of the ancient outwash plateaus and benches of the nearby Snake River. We crossed an irrigation ditch on a wide wooden bridge, which the horses easily handled.

From time to time, we'd enter small patches of quaking aspen, their leaves golden-yellow in fall dress. Willows and cottonwoods remained green along drainages, and small purple or lavender asters carpeted the ground, vivid colors in the sunshine.

Sagebrush meadows provided welcome breaks from the trees, something especially appreciated by this eastern rider, and gave grand views of the mountains beyond.

Back in New York, it seems as though we ride in an endless "green tunnel." So, to be able to see far and wide was quite a thrill, with the massive Grand Tetons so close by.

The afternoon passed quickly, and we'd explored only a small portion of the extensive trail system of Grand Teton National Park. Many more trails remain to ride when next we visit my sister. We can ride north to Phelps Lake and west into Granite Canyon itself.

Next visit, we'll go farther. And maybe see more elk, too.

For more information on Grand Teton National Park, call (307) 739-3399, or visit www.nps.gov/grte.

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