Why oh why Wyoming? Because: From Jackson Hole in the West to Buffalo in the Northeast and everything in between, this is a land of staggering natural beauty, offering an authentic Western experience.
From its two national parks, Yellowstone and Grand Teton, to rodeos, river rafting, resorts, ranches, scenic woodlands and a wonderland of wildlife, Wyoming is nature experienced up close and very personal.
The last of the Old West
I visited Wyoming for the first time last year and was delighted to find that the town of Jackson (Jackson Hole is the name of the valley) is the gateway to nearby Grand Teton National Park, Yellowstone National Park and the National Elk Refuge. Often described as the “Crown Jewel” of the Rockies, downtown Jackson is dotted with upscale cafés, shops and art galleries and enjoys the glitz and glamour that wealthy travelers and West Coast expats have brought to this former cattle ranching community. But, glitz aside, I experienced Jackson Hole’s Old West Days celebration, and if you set your sights for May 22 through 31, maybe you can, too. C’mon, by then it’s just possible that travel will be safer and you can make this happen — and guaranteed this event will put you smack in the heart of the old, romantic West.
A ‘Hole’ lotta fun
Celebrating Jackson Hole’s heritage through art, food, music and dance, the Old West Days event includes country and western music, cowboys spouting poetry and a Mountain Man Rendezvous where old-time artisans work the magic of their trades. A highlight of the weekend is the Old West Parade, one of the last and best horse-drawn parades today. Kids will love the stagecoach rides and shoot-out reenactments. In fact, the shoot-out on Town Square is the longest-running shoot-out in the country. This historic Square has an old Hollywood western feel with its wooden boardwalks, galleries of western art, old-time candy stores and good restaurants. To add to the merriment, there’s yodeling, clogging, line dancing, pickin’, fiddlin’ and bagpipes, too. Clearly, Old West Days provides a memorable fun weekend for the whole, multigenerational family.
Besides Old West Days, there’s a lot more hootin’ and hollerin’ to be done in and around Jackson. For an authentic chuck wagon supper and western show, visit the Bar J Chuckwagon. Originally a working cattle ranch, the place has the atmosphere of cattle drives in the 1800s. After a hard day in the saddle, there was always an evening of tall tales and music at the chuck wagon. This tradition continues at the Bar J. A rib-stickin’ old-style western meal is followed by songs and stories performed by the Bar J Wranglers. I found myself caught up in cheery chuck wagon revelry, singing along to “Tumblin’ Tumbleweed” and other western golden oldies.
Another day, I took a scenic float down the Snake River with Sands Wild Water River Trips, a must-do. Although this company offers wild white water rafting, I opted for a slow, leisurely raft float, my chance to sit back and let myself be enthralled by spectacular views of the majestic Teton Mountains surrounding me. Although the Snake is a fast-moving river, on my float I spotted a red fox and, deep in the pines, I saw a large black splotch with jutting white spikes that our guide swore was a moose. There were two bald eagles swooping low over the water while hawks and herons were our constant companions as they flew alongside our raft.
Not yet having my fill of wildlife, I visited the National Museum of Wildlife Art, an imaginatively designed sandstone building overlooking the National Elk Refuge with a 5,000-piece collection of animal art ranging from the fantastical to the utterly realistic and including several etchings by Pablo Picasso. There’s also a Children’s Discovery Gallery, free to kids. Judging from the squeals of delight emanating from the room, it’s safe to say the kids were having a blast.
At A-OK Corral, there were no gunfights here but cowboy fun? Yes, lots. From the back of my chestnut-colored mare (that promised to be slow and steady), I had a panoramic view of the heart-stopping Gros Ventre Wilderness and Teton mountain range, the fields ablaze with pink, yellow and purple wildflowers. All of the horses at A-OK Corral are well-mannered and mountain-wise and there’s a horse here for all riding abilities. After all, they even found one for me.
Ready for some pampering
There are a host of world-class, luxury resorts here, and I was lucky enough to visit a few of them. At Amangani, (“peaceful home”), Eastern serenity meets Old West Americana and international glamour. The property clings to the crest of East Gros Ventre Butte, some 7,000 feet above sea level, overlooking Jackson. Towering floor-to-ceiling columns of Oklahoma sandstone, walks amid Pacific redwoods and chairs of rattan and woven cowhide are part of Amangani, which has its roots in the cattle ranches that wind through the valley below and in the mountains that rise up as a backdrop to wide-open plains. Nestled in a secluded valley, Amangani has a casual vibe, although the amenities rival any luxe resort on the planet. There’s a heated infinity pool, a sigh-inducing Asian spa and a restaurant that produces standout fare. In my mystical, Zen-inspired room, I lit a fire, opened the drapes and languished in the bathtub while gazing at the sky and the Tetons beyond.
The Four Seasons Resort, high in the Teton Mountains and on the doorstep of both national parks, is a magnificent natural hideaway retreat, an alpine lodge with seductive sophistication plus the typical comfort, care and personal, intuitive service we have come to recognize as distinctly Four Seasons.
Spring Creek Ranch is utterly secluded yet totally accessible with unmatched views, luxury accommodations and a quiet western elegance situated just five miles from the Town Square on a 1,000-acre wildlife refuge. I dined at its award-winning Granary Restaurant in a unique, cliffside setting facing the Tetons. So mesmerized was I by the awe-inspiring views, I almost forgot to order dinner but glad I didn’t. It was wonderful, leaving me a bit wistful, like the sound of the buteo jamaicensis, red-tailed hawk, easily identified in Jackson by its mannerisms. The hawks usually leave their perch with slow, distinct wing beats. A shrill, rasping cry is often heard as they fly off to search for their prey.
No shrill cry for me, it was just a melancholy sigh as I slowly and sadly left my perch in magical, wondrous Wyoming.
For more, visit jacksonholechamber.com.