GET OUT: Signal Mountain has history, views, nachos

By on May 19, 2015
Steers head blooms in a sagebrush meadow.  PHOTO: ELIZABETH KOUTRELAKOS

Steers head blooms in a sagebrush meadow. PHOTO: ELIZABETH KOUTRELAKOS

Jackson Hole, Wyoming – The day began with plans for a hike but early morning rain showers lowered my expectations for the day.  After much debate on the locations, a friend suggested we venture up north. Why not? I thought. I have nothing to lose.

We parked at the base of Signal Mountain. While I knew the road was popular for visitors to take pictures, I did not realize that there was a trail that goes up Signal from the bottom. The most exciting thing I heard about this place was people getting altitude sickness {see this week’s Natural Medicine) from flying in from sea level and immediately driving up this road. I was never even sure why it had its name. Perhaps it’s because there’s a radio tower around it? Was it a special marker for people back in the day? All of these questions would soon be answered.

When we got there, my savvy friend informed me that in the late 1800s a man on a hunting trip was lost in the Snake River drainage near Signal Mountain. The search party agreed that when anyone found the body, they would light a signal atop the peak; hence the name, Signal Mountain. I looked into the mysterious death and learned that the deceased man, Robert Ray Hamilton, initially came west for a hunting trip with friends. He befriended John Sargent and the men agreed to go into business together and build a hotel on the east side of Jackson Lake.  While Hamilton’s official cause of death was drowning, there is much speculation as to whether he was murdered by Sargent to gain propriety control of the land. Sargent’s wife, Adelaide was known to have accused her husband of the murder and she was found beaten to death years later. Ultimately, her husband was convicted of murder, but was later released.

Views of Mount Moran offer something to look at on the way down. PHOTO: ELIZABETH KOUTRELAKOS

Views of Mount Moran offer something to look at on the way down. PHOTO: ELIZABETH KOUTRELAKOS

Keeping this creepy story in mind, I continued my walk, occasionally looking through the pine for bears or other mammals that could be a predator. The trail splits shortly into the walk. Faced with the decision to take the ridge trail or the pond trail, I chose the pond. Vast fields of sage awaited and we meandered our way up. Crickets and frogs filled the air with a thick tune, and in the midst of a clouded May day, it felt like I could have been somewhere on the East Coast. We passed some ponds that bright with green lily pads. There were some spectacular looking feathered creatures soaking in the pond.

After about a mile, the trail reconnected with options of going out and back to the summit or continuing back down to the parking lot via the ridge trail. Seeing as the summit was just a little bit further, we entered the canyon. A pine forest with a handful of switchbacks marked the end of the way up. In all, there was only one patch of snow to deal with and it was very minimal. The view was, in fact, fantastic. A wide panorama of the valley and a full-length, high-definition view of the Tetons was worth a few minutes of gazing. There was a particularly odd shaped pond in the valley that resembled something I just couldn’t put my finger on (explore this place to see what I am talking about).

On the way down, we took the ridge trail. While this trail had some ups and downs, it was extremely enjoyable, as magnificent views of the peaks poked in and out of the trees. The hike itself seemed short, but it was a good cardio venture. Round trip, it was about five miles, 800 vertical feet, and well worth it. While it seemed to be raining profusely on the mountain range, we only felt a slight drizzle. I am no weather expert, but my guess is this place creates some sort of a rain shadow, or might not see as much rain because it is across Jackson Lake.

One of the other wonderful things about this walk was the fact that heavenly nachos awaited at Signal Mountain Lodge when we returned. For being within a national park, this restaurant and lodge has some of the most affordable pricing options and deliciously prepared food. After consuming said nachos, my initial trepidation about the place and its unsolved historical mysteries quickly faded along with my appetite.

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