We spent Labor Day at Grand Teton National Park with my parents. Despite the holiday, the park wasn’t all that crowded. We were able to park at the Jenny Lake Overlook and get pictures of the mountains towering over the lake without getting jostled. We even found an empty table at the picnic area at noon. While we appreciated that the number of visitors was lower than usual, my whole family prefers to get away from crowds, so when my husband Kurt suggested we drive the River Road on our way back out of the park, it seemed like a good idea.
The River Road is unpaved and runs across the valley. It gets closer to the Snake River than Teton Park Road does, so we figured this was our chance to see the river. The road is 4-wheel drive only. Kurt figured this would mean even fewer crowds. He checked at the visitor’s center to make sure it was in decent shape and they said our car had high enough clearance and would be fine.
We weren’t on the road long before we all began to wonder if we had made a mistake. Initially, the road was covered in small rocks, bigger than gravel, with random water-filled holes in it. Later, it changed to a rutted dirt track.
Even in our backroad-loving car, the ride was rough, with lots of bumping and jerking. Kurt kept apologizing to my parents for the bouncy ride, but they graciously said it was worth it.
The views we got looking back towards the mountains were spectacular, but we’d also spent the whole morning admiring and photographing the same mountain range. The afternoon light wasn’t as favorable for mountains to our west, and even jaw-dropping beauty gets old after a few hours.
We were definitely away from the crowds. During our four hour drive, we saw ten other cars at most, a big change from the steady stream of traffic along the main road.
We also got much closer to the river. At times, the road ran right along the cliff edge. We stopped multiple times to get out and enjoy the view of the Snake River, which twisted like satin ribbon along the valley floor below us.
After a few hours of having our fillings shaken out of our head, we all started to wonder if we would ever reach the end of the road. We got out the map and realized it was nearly fifteen miles long, not five like we’d thought. We were lucky to go 25 mph along some stretches, so it was no wonder the drive seemed eternal.
We all got in the car again and gritted our teeth. We saw rafts on the river and hawks in trees, but no sign of the T in the road that would take us back to pavement and a smooth ride.
A pick-up truck came over a hill and stopped to tell use that there were bison ahead, some off to the left and some off to the right. We thanked the driver and got excited. We were going to see some wildlife!
We came over a rise, and there they were, between us and the mountains. Two bison wading through the grass. Close enough to recognize but too far for my camera’s short lens. Brown dots on green, but definitely bison.
We were ecstatic and took lots of photos. Kurt kept inching us down the road, which improved the view and also got us closer to the end of our arduous ride. We agreed we’d taken all the photos we wanted and went on our way.
That’s when we saw more bison, off to the right, and closer. More clicking cameras. As we came around bend, we realized the bison were very close to the road. We were going to get a much better view. Then it became clear that they weren’t near it — they were on it. We would be driving right through the herd.
The herd was at least one hundred animals strong and moving west to east, straight across our path. They didn’t seem to care about us much one way or the other, but the males had a way of turning to stare at us that froze my blood. We watched them sniffing the females, heard them grunting at one another, and saw one big male chase several others away from a female. There were calves in the herd, too, but clearly the males were in rut, or getting ready for it, and the females would be in heat soon.
One ton of bison is intimidating to get close to. One ton of bison pumped full of hormones is downright scary. Fortunately, Kurt had previous experience driving through a giraffe herd and knew when to inch forward and when to wait. It took us twenty minutes to go maybe fifty feet as the bison sauntered past us. The animals got so close we could have reached out and touched them, but we weren’t about to try it.
When we finally got back to the road, we stopped at the park lodge for dinner. All we could talk about was the bison we’d seen on River Road, bison we would never have seen at all if we’d stayed on the main road with the rest of the crowd. The teeth shaking and bumps were forgotten, as was the length of the drive. Our adventure had reminded us that the gifts of road less traveled outweigh the challenges.
While on vacation, I practiced the basic granny square pattern in The Granny Square Book. I made a bunch of tiny granny squares using a size E (3.5 mm) crochet hook and scraps of self-striping sock yarn. The little blocks were charming and I decided to make them into a cover for my new Kindle.
To give the case a little more body, I made a pocket out of black felt and whip-stitched it to the crocheted case. For the tie, I reverted to my roots and knit a long I-cord.
The self-striping yarn gave me blocks of more than one color, but the patterns were haphazard at best. My favorites are these:
What do you do with the pieces you make while learning a new knitting or crocheting technique? Do you like homemade cases for your techno-toys or do you prefer the ones from the store?
We are having the Year of the Vine at our house. As I’ve mentioned before, plants consider me the Angel of Death, but Kurt loves gardening and is always eager to fill the raised beds with edible plants. I treat everything as an experiment, with little hope that anything will actually grow. Every year, something takes off, and every year, I’m stunned.
This year, it’s the pumpkin and cucumber vines. We’ve been drowning in cucumbers for the last month.
As soon as we brought our first dozen cukes into the house, I got out my favorite marinated cucumber salad recipe. It used three cucumbers and took us over a week to eat. Meanwhile, the pile continued to grow. It’s hard to keep up when you’re averaging 6 huge cukes a day. How many salads can two adults eat?
One of the reasons I’m not the best gardener is because I am lazy. When someone suggested making pickles, I wilted. I wanted a quick and easy storage idea, not something that required lots of equipment and standing over a hot stove in August.
For the Year of the Tomato, I froze everything. While I haven’t been all that happy with the results, I liked how fast it was to get them into storage. Unfortunately, freezing cucumbers sounded like a really bad idea.
In desperation, we went through my cookbooks. One in particular was a big help: The Kitchen Garden Book* by Stringfellow Barr and Stella Standard (and no, I am not making this up; that’s really their names).
We found a recipe for Cucumber Oil Pickles and I got excited. While this 1956 cookbook is all about making your garden’s output interesting to eat, it doesn’t include traditional canning methods in it. It does have a few pickle recipe that go in jars with the simple instruction to “seal” when done. Ancient winemakers used to store their wine in jars with open tops by putting a layer of olive oil on the top of the wine to keep the air out. They would draw the wine out of the jar from the bottom. So maybe full-on canning techniques wouldn’t be needed for pickles with oil in the marinade.
Afraid that this recipe would generate poisoned pickles and kill me, my family, and my friends, I looked online for similar recipes. I found one by James Beard. While it wasn’t exactly like the one I had, it was close enough to give me more confidence that this style of pickle could work.
We combined the two recipes, using Beard’s suggestion of including a grape leaf in place of alum to keep the pickles crisp, and heating up the vinegar so our sterilized jars would seal. And it worked. I wound up with a dozen quarts of homemade pickles. If the rest of the jars are like the first one, they are tasty and non-lethal.
The cucumbers keep coming. Every time I go out to pick them, I eye the ripening pumpkins on our monster pumpkin vine and wonder what the heck I’m doing to do when they are ready to eat.
How about you? Do you have any bumper crops this year? What do you do when you can’t keep up with your fresh produce?
*The Kitchen Garden Book, originally published in 1956 and published again in 1977 is long out of print. I found my copy at a Friends of the Library used book sale.