DNA X #19 Jackson Hole
On our Discover North America Expedition (DNA X) we have seen some incredible scenery. As the road weaves west we encounter the sagebrush covered high plains with herds of pronghorn antelope grazing among cattle. Western Wyoming is still cowboy country and ranches mix with the wild lands. The best way to get around and check the fence line and the cattle is still on horseback. We see cowboys riding the range just like they have for hundreds of years. The arid land seems to go on forever and lulls us into a trance until we begin a gradual ascent into low mountains and enter a dense forest. Up we climb until we reach a narrow pass and begin to descend into a valley. All of a sudden the massive Grand Teton Mountains come into view blocking out the horizon. The sight is breathtaking. The funnel like route gives the sensation of dropping into a hole and early trappers named the valley after fellow trapper David Jackson. Jackson’s Hole has since dropped the “s” and today most of the valley and surrounding mountains are protected in a series of national parks, wildlife refuges and national forests. We pull into the town of Jackson and hitch Blackie to the curb. The feeling of the old west has been preserved here but we spot a Ripley’s Believe It or Not “museum”; a grievous give-away that tourists roam here in great numbers. A variety of accommodations are available and we find a small inn to camp in.
It’s hard to describe the sensation of viewing the Grand Tetons for the first time. The stunning peaks protrude abruptly from a flat valley floor without the preamble of foothills. French Canadian trappers called the range Les Trois Tetons (the three breasts) highlighting the anatomy of the middle group of mountains – (home and their amoureux were far away). Indeed the pointy peaks are gargantuan and spellbinding, it’s hard to take your eyes off them (Jay’s eyes were permanently attached). If you happen to glance away briefly, perhaps distracted by a herd of bison (they still roam free here), you find yourself quickly looking back at the range to make sure it really isn’t an illusion. Adding to the sorcery is the realization that large mammals are all around in large numbers. Grizzly and black bears, elk, bison, moose, deer, mountain lion, pronghorn antelope, wolf, etc – the list goes on. The rare trumpeter swan and the bald eagle are among the 300 species of birds that live here. The Snake River threads its way through the valley providing wetlands and water for the wildlife.
There are numerous pullouts along the roads in Grand Teton National Park where you can see wildlife and photograph the action. We are photographers and this is shutterbug heaven. Around every corner is another photo-op. Of course this is no secret and I’m not sure but I think we encountered more photographers than wildlife. If you pull over for any reason other cars immediately home in on you assuming you have a “sighting”. I don’t think I have ever seen so much gear assembled to take a photo. The tripod salesman in town must make a fortune! The wildlife will not pose for the cameras so wasting time setting up like Ansel Adams means you missed the shot. Our recommendations…keep your equipment simple and be ready to move fast. This is not a petting zoo and these animals will stampede right at you if they feel uncomfortable. We saw numerous people approaching bison to take a photo. This is just shy of suicide. Remember you are a visitor in their house, act accordingly.
Grand Teton National Park is adjacent to another national treasure Yellowstone National Park. We drive Blackie an hour up the road and enter a thick pine forest. Not far into the park the forest is still blackened by a devastating fire that consumed over one third of the park in the 1980’s. The forest is slowly recovering but many areas are bleak and barren. We head for one of the parks best known features, Old Faithful. As we descend into the steaming geyser basin the earth takes on a primordial tone. In all directions there is geologic activity; bubbling springs, geysers gushing, boiling mud pots, scalding lakes, belching fumaroles – vents that blast deafening roars of steam from deep within the earth. Underneath this display lies the Yellowstone caldera; a massive hotspot which scientists predict will someday explode into a cataclysmic catastrophe. Jay eyeballs the surreal scene and suggests maybe we should keep moving, just in case! It’s an intoxicating blend of beauty and the bizarre we will never forget.
Back in Jackson we tour the town and check out some recommended favorites. The Million Dollar Cowboy Bar is an old time western watering hole complete with saddles for bar stools and western music to drink by. We also check out the Silver Dollar Bar (the whole bar is covered in 2,032 silver dollars) located in the Wort Hotel and have a good meal here enjoying their “rib night” – bring your appetite! For a gourmet meal, go to the Rusty Parrot. This is not a place one would expect to find good seafood but Jay rated the crab cakes some of the best he has eaten anywhere. We definitely need more time here and plan to be back soon. We would love to experience winter in a Grand Teton style. The fabulous scenery and incredible wildlife are true treasures of wild America.