From a vantage point high atop a grassy promontory, there in the valley below you may spy a majestic bull moose cautiously stepping into a fast-moving river. Then, sure-footed and purposeful, he trudges on. As he emerges, his shiny brown coat glistening with rivulets of water. in an instant, the 1,800 pound creature will thrust himself into thick bramble and utterly disappear. This sighting will be just one of many thrills you’ll have in the wilderness surrounding Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
This year, Jackson Hole is celebrating its centennial. Visitors have been drawn here since the late nineteenth century as dude ranches flourished and wealthy easterners sought the rustic lifestyle of the west. However, a hundred years ago, few people lived in this little town nestled in an isolated valley and surrounded by majestic mountain peaks. Originally, the town site was built around a square plot of land used for grazing cattle and horses. This area eventually became the town square and in 1931, as part of a federally-sponsored effort to beautify the nation, the land was filled, leveled and planted with trees. Today, the square is on the National Register of Historic Places and one of its outstanding features is the iconic elk antler arches which make a great backdrop for tourist photos. Check out an authentic “western” hotel – the Wort – with its S-curved bar inlaid with thousands of silver dollars. Another hangout not to be missed: the famed Million Dollar Cowboy Bar with its rooftop figure of a dude atop a bucking bronco. At this bar you never know who may be sitting on the next stool. Recently Sandra Bullock celebrated her birthday here with a gaggle of girlfriends.
On a somewhat more restrained note, the National Museum of Wildlife is worth a visit. Its collections include Audubon, William Merritt Chase, Georgia O’Keeffe and Andy Warhol. The town sponsors monthly art .There’s a new $35 Million arts center, a Broadway-ready theater, and an international juried film festival – important additions to this once sleepy outpost.
Answering the Call of the Moose
Spring Creek Ranch is set more than 700 feet above Jackson Hole and a mere 5 miles away. Your approach to the property is over a mile of winding switch-backs through forests of aspen and pine. Finally, before you like some deliciously anticipated present, the 1,000-acre ranch itself. During your stay, take advantage of the deep black Wyoming sky to meet Dr. Samuel Singer and his collection of large telescopes to spend an extraordinary night exploring the heavens. Another ranch special event: its Wildlife Safari Adventure (featured in “1,000 Places To See Before You Die”). Phoebe, the tour guide, is a wildlife educator, researcher and enthusiast with extensive knowledge of the area. With her expert guidance, you’ll come across pronghorn antelope, bison, elk, and coyotes roaming wide-open plains. There is an Osprey nest comically assembled high atop a telephone pole where no predators can reach it and, thrill-city, that aforementioned, velvet-antlered moose. Spring Creek Ranch is on the Conde Nast Traveler Gold List. No surprise there.
Heading south out of Jackson Hole, after 30 miles you’ll come to a fork in the road, Hoback Junction. Turn left and a further 26 miles will take you to the middle of magical nowhere, otherwise known as the Jackson Fork Ranch. The ranch, including an intimate four-bedroom lodge, is a western landscape set amidst pole pines, cottonwood, spruce and Douglas fir. Its 1,400 acres encompass a big bunk building where the workers live in a warm and friendly atmosphere. Warmth is an important factor here as the harsh winters can seem endless and, with nothing around for 50 miles, it defines the word isolation. The warm feel continues in the lodge, furnished with luxe western décor: leather, suede, Indian blankets and stone fireplaces. If you wander down to the Percheron horse barn and breeding area you’ll meet Dallin Summers who oversees this program along with his wife Megan, and the newest addition to the ranch, adorable Madison, their cute toddler.
Take a carriage ride with a two-horse hitch of world-class champion Percherons who sashay down a dirt road, their long mains and tails flying merrily behind them. Meet Alix, of Sleeping Indian Outfitters, who will be your guide for a horseback ride through fast moving rivers and up steep mountain trails. Once you arrive at the peak, stop to take in the panoramic view before you. There in summer – fields of pink and yellow wildflowers dotting the hills and alpine valleys – and there you are – sitting atop your very own steed. Exhilarating!
Heart-pounding in quite another way: having a hayride on a flat-bed truck into a meadow where 300 hungry bison were waiting for treats. Yes, mammoth furry heads bobbing and soulful brown eyes gazing up at you – expecting food! How can you refuse? Containers of round, hockey puck-like appetizers will be provided for just this moment. Should you place the goodies into their drooling maws? Come on now! But do place the food on the truck’s edge where they can easily gobble it.
There are lots of things you won’t find anywhere near this place. There are no souvenir shops, movie theaters, or strip malls within 40 miles. No Starbucks, no Taco Bells. Just peace, quiet and bountiful beauty. The ranch’s owner, Joe Ricketts, likes to say: “We have everything Yellowstone National Park has – except the crowds!” In Jackson Hole, the Snake River journeys through the town. It is said that by such a river it’s impossible to believe one will ever be tired or old. Every sense is awakened. Taste it, feel its chill. Watch its racing current, its steady renewal of force. It is transient – and eternal. It is also said that Wyoming is a true get-away, a healing place, and that it is a gift to be here. Guaranteed, you’ll agree.
Consider a Hudson River Estuary Hike. New York’s biodivesity includes numerous different species of animals and plants living the state. There are tens of thousands of them- and more being discovered every day. There are mountains, gorgeous scenery, and if you’re lucky, you’ll spot your very own gargantuan bull moose! www.dec.ny.gov/lands/5094.html
If You Go: