Today was a wonderful wildlife viewing day as we launched our inflatable kayak at Oxbow Lake and then did a leisurely float down the Snake River in Grand Teton National Park.
A clear day had been forecasted and this trip was planned for a few days. There are a few sections of the Snake River within Grand Teton National Park that can be paddled or floated. On their "Floating The Snake River" brochure, the park breaks down the sections and indicates what level of skills are recommended - Beginner, Intermediate, or Advanced.
Our plan today was to do the 10-mile Intermediate section from Pacific Creek Landing to Deadman's Bar. But I wanted to go really early to increase our chances of seeing moose feeding in the willows along the river.
The alarm was set for 5:00 a.m. to give us time to get ready, take a vehicle to the takeout, and be back and ready to launch no later than 7:00 a.m. Other than being grumpy at the 5:00 wake-up and having to bundle up for the temps in the upper 30s, all went smoothly.
While dropping off the truck at Deadman's Bar, we saw Pronghorn near the road and distant Bison. As we returned north and went through the park entrance station at Moran Junction, I was ready to pull off at the Pacific Creek Landing put-in right inside the gate. But Linda asked if we were putting in at the Cattleman's Bridge spot we checked out the other day.
Sure, I had no problem with that. It would add about three miles and it was part of the "Beginner" skills section.
Little did we know at the time what a good decision that would be.
As we drove into the park, we saw a huge herd of elk on the side of a hill near the road. There wasn't a place to pull over and get photos, but that was a good sign for wildlife viewing.
Then, as we approached our turn, we saw lots of cars parked near a place called Oxbow Turnout. The Snake River fans out and creates a series of flatwater channels creating large islands. One of these channels is right by the main road.
There was a moose cow and calf feeding along the edge with steam coming off the water.
Excellent! After watching for a few minutes, we continued on a couple hundred yards to the gravel road on the left which took us back in amongst the islands to the Cattleman's Bridge put-in. We saw another elk cow on the way in.
While we were preparing the boat, we listened to the sounds of Osprey and Bald Eagles. And we could hear male elk bugling from the direction where we had seen the herd earlier. In the quiet, cold morning with smoke on the water, it was perfect.
Just then, a large family of River Otters swam by. They were spy-hopping, poking their heads out of the water to check us out. I ran to the Jeep to grab the camera and snapped a quick shot before they disappeared down river.
There aren't many wild animals that are more fun to watch than otters, and it's always a treat to see them.
After the excitement, we were finally ready to launch.
Usually, we can find a way to get in the boat and keep our feet dry, but it was just too shallow here. We had our watershoes on and had to walk the boat out into the frigid water to get deep enough to flop in. We were wishing we had brought our dive boots like we usually do on cold float trip days.
The sun was coming up as we got started and we couldn't wait for it to provide some warmth.
Rather than heading straight down river, we decided to paddle around the oxbow channel to see if the moose happened to still be feeding along the shoreline.
On the way, we saw a pair of Bald Eagles perched together.
And an Osprey was doing its early morning fishing.
And there was another Ospery perched in the distance with a smoke-shaded Mt. Moran in the background.
The sky was cloud-free, but the smoke from area wildfires was thick.
Paddling toward the moose, we noticed a large beaver lodge. They are primarily nocturnal animals, so we were surprised to see one on the bank ....
and two more swimming.
Guess it was still night to them.
We were apparently too close as the one above held its head out of the water, arched its back, and gave us the famous beaver warning tail slap.
That was cool. We paddled on around the large island, but the moose had gone into hiding.
So, we continued downriver toward Pacific Creek Landing.
Another beautiful Osprey, .....
that was perched up high over a Great Blue Heron that took off as we passed by.
Then we came upon a family of Sandhill Cranes.
Then we watched a juvenile Bald Eagle until it flew.
Not long after that, we came upon an adult Bald Eagle on the ground. I was just able to snap a quick shot as it left with a fish, and on the far right you can see another juvenile that soon followed.
It took us about two hours to paddle the first three miles. It was pretty much flat water and we stopped and watched wildlife a long time.
We pulled into Pacific Creek Landing for a bathroom break before continuing on the next 10 miles.
A raft launched ahead of us and disappeared out of site. The brochure I linked to at the top has a "Safety & Etiquette" section that says to "Launch when other boats are out of site and maintain this interval throughout your trip". Good rule.
Now, in this 10-mile section (it was closer to 12 miles according to our GPS), the river is wide and the current is pretty swift. We went from flat water to floating at 4 - 6 mph. Mostly, I just had to steer and we had to paddle only occasionally to line ourselves up to stay out of trouble.
They say there is no whitewater, but I'm betting some spots would at least classify as Class I rapids. The main thing was to keep the boat straight as there were occasional rocks or snags that could have turned us over had we not seen them and hit them sideways.
The river has some "braided" sections which means it splits into multiple channels. Most of the time it didn't matter which channel we chose but, in a couple of cases, picking the wrong channel could have made for a dicey side trip.
Eventually, the river meandered away from the park road, and many of the turns brought you face-to-face with the Teton Range.
The mountains were hard to see through the haze, but it got better as we got closer.
The views were great, but without the smoke, they would have been spectacular.
As the sun got higher, we kicked off our wet watershoes and warmed our feet in the sunlight.
Around each bend was another mountain view.
Too bad it was like looking through a smoky tinted window.
But it was still a wonderful float that we wouldn't hesitate to do again - maybe one spring when there is no smoke and when there is more snow on the mountains.
From Pacific Creek Landing to Deadmans Bar, we didn't see any mammals and saw only eagles, osprey, ducks, and mergansers.
Perhaps if we had started at 7:00 a.m. from Pacific Creek instead of Cattlemans Bridge, we might have seen more, but we were certainly happy with the day's wildlife viewing. The whole trip took about 4 1/2 hours with 2 hours in the first three miles, and 2 1/2 hours in the last twelve.
We reached Deadman's Bar and deflated the boat on the rocks. A few rafts and drift boats were getting ready to launch to do the next 10-mile "advanced" skill level section. I think we would do fine on that section, but I'd like to scout it first.
We loaded up and drove the truck back to our put-in. Again, at Oxbow Turnout, there was another line of cars and people taking pictures. As it turned out, the two moose we saw at 7:00 a.m. were back out feeding again in the middle of the day.
But this time they were even closer, and I didn't have to zoom in quite so much.
Now, it was Linda's idea to go back to Cattleman's Bridge, pump up the SE 370 again, and see if we could float by the big animals. It was an ambitious plan, and I was a little concerned we might scare them off and make a bunch of people up on the road angry. But we could already see other paddlers heading in that direction, so what the heck.
We got launched in just a few minutes and were on our way. It was a long paddle to get there, but we were in synch and moving pretty good. We saw another beaver, a young one, in the water as we passed by the lodge. But, as we suspected, the moose were gone again.
On the back side of the island, there is another channel that cuts in. So we went around and paddled up just in case the moose were in there hidden from view from the road. Alas, we saw evidence of moose, but we couldn't find them.
We saw more eagles and osprey and ducks and mergansers and white pelicans, so it wasn't a total loss of that extra hour or so of paddling time.
It was a bit of a challenge paddling upstream to get back to the put-in. It's flat water, but there is still a strong little current.
We once again deflated the boat, loaded up, got both vehicles, and finally headed home.
So, it was another wonderful day. Great wildlife viewing and a beautiful float trip that we look forward to doing again some day.
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