Okay, yes, I’m ashamed of that title. Especially since the only similarities between that and the Wizard of Oz statement is “bears, oh my!” But let’s get to the good part.
Yes, this is what Wyoming looks like. Really.
Anyway, I spent some time in Grand Teton National Park, as I always do around this time of year. Since I was little, my family has been going to Wyoming regularly. I have been there for so long, many of the people at the place we stay have literally seen me grow up. That being said, it’s understandable (to me) that I’ve grown very familiar with the area, and have also fallen in love with it. (Keep in mind, though, most of my experience with Wyoming has been only in this region of Wyoming–I’m know there’s plenty more out there that I haven’t explored. Yet).
Seriously though, this is a regular occurrence in parts of Wyoming, and that’s awesome.
I spend most of my time in the general area of Jackson Hole, which is the closest thing to a city in the vicinity. It’s not technically in the Grand Teton National Park, but it’s certainly very close and gorgeous in its own right. But for anyone who isn’t used to the outdoors in the ways that most of the area has to offer, Jackson Hole is a good place to ease your way into life there. Though I’ve never stayed in the town itself, it is slowly getting more built up and now even has a Starbucks (!?!!!??) [I honestly wasn’t sure if I was thrilled or horrified when I saw that, but I said screw it and got coffee anyway, because coffee].
The actual town, however, is generally just a place that I go to in order to get food. Ever since my family discovered Cafe Genevieve ($) a few years ago, we were hooked. My mother and sister are in love with their reuben sandwiches, while my father and I tend to go for the grilled cheese and tomato soup combo. I’ve got to admit, they never cease to disappoint. (And though I haven’t been yet, there’s a new place I haven’t tried out next to it, called Persephone Bakery [$], which is supposed to be just as wonderful). Though my family has never had dinner in Jackson Hole, I’ve also heard great things about Nikai ($$), which is a sushi restaurant that sounds absolutely fabulous. And if you are in the mood for dessert or just something delicious and creamy (ice cream, you dirty-minded person, you), go to Moo’s ($). There is no other place. Just go there. And get the Buzz Bomb ice cream. You’ll thank me later. And possibly want to move to Jackson just to have it all the time. I know I’ve been contemplating it.
Grilled cheese & tomato soup at Cafe Genevieve, with watermelon lemonade and all of the hot sauce.
Jackson also has a great knitting store (which sparked my knitting habit, actually) and several fantastic papery goods stores for crafty types, a movie theatre, fashion-driven boutiques (that really do have cute things) and all of the tourist swag you could possibly want. There’s plenty more there, too, but I’d have to say my favorite non-food-related destination is the Valley Bookstore in Gaslight Alley. It’s a small operation, with a healthy selection and very thoughtful recommendations on books. Especially if you want to get into the Wyoming state of mind, as they have local authors and plenty of books on the area– including a selection of rare and out of print books, many of which relate to the area and its history. I never leave there without getting at least three books. Seriously, it can be a bit of a problem.
The Tetons on a slightly cloudy day around String Lake.
In the area, you’ll find plenty of fun things to do, like hiking, skiing, climbing, paragliding, horseback riding, and a spa that will make you melt in joy. When I’m in Wyoming I tend to climb with Exum ($$$$), who are the best in the area, know their stuff and will help you climb the Grand Teton, provided you’re there at the right point in the season and there hasn’t been too much snow (which are always my problems, and the reasons for not having climbed the bloody thing yet). When I was little my family took raft rides down the Snake River (usually associated with Jackson Lake Lodge [$$$], a popular and kid-friendly place to stay that, you guessed it, it located next to Jackson Lake). That was always fun, and a good way to see wildlife. Back in the Jackson Hole area, there’s the Teton Raptor Center ($), another family place where you get to see, well, raptors like owls and hawks that have been rescued and rehabilitated. They’re beautiful, majestic, and Owlie looks exactly like my cat Sawyer, were he a bird.
Some of the wildlife, including a bison that looks, from a distance, like my dog Gatsby.
In Teton Village, relatively close to Jackson Hole, you can indulge in many of the things listed above. At the Four Seasons ($$$$), you have your pick of things to do. The spa, in particular, is glorious, and I promise you the indulgence of an Alpine Stone Massage will be worth it. My mother and I found a relatively new restaurant there this year as well, called The Handle Bar ($$$), which is a whiskey bar, and I, for one, couldn’t be happier about discovering it. The elk burger is massive and delicious, but I have to say their turkey burger is the best I’ve ever had. That, and their fried pickles are to die for. Don’t even get me started on their whisk(e)y menu– it is glorious, they have a song picked for each one, and I got to try Japanese whisky for the first time, which I’ve wanted to try since I first heard it existed. Turns out it’s pretty similar to bourbon. The main restaurant at the Four Seasons is also amazing, though it’s only open for dinner these days. Also take the gondola to the top, you’ll find a great place to have another classy sit-down dinner at the base of the mountain (which will also be where you’ll start your skiing and some of your climbing adventures, if you’re into those): Couloir ($$$$).
Speaking of food (as anyone who knows me, knows I always come back to), there are several other amazing places to eat that are actually in the Grand Teton National Park that are totally awesome. Jenny Lake Lodge ($$$$) both has great accommodation and unbelievable food (seriously, it’s magical). Everyone who works there is also amazing. Their lunches are a more affordable price, but their dinner menu is really what you should really go to enjoy. In the close Colter Bay area, you’ll also find some of the best pizza I’ve found in the States: Leek’s Pizza ($$), next to the similarly named Leek’s Marina; (link goes to the menu).
One of the black bears we saw, which I named Hucklebeary. You may refer to him as Huckle.
But no Wyoming trip is complete (for me) until I see a fair amount of wildlife. Though the Grand Tetons do boast a wide range of elk, moose and bears, Yellowstone National Park is really the place to go see wildlife if that’s your goal. This year alone, I saw six bears (two of which were, admittedly, in the Tetons), two wolves (which is rare, as they’re pretty reclusive) and an infinite number of bison (which… well… is Yellowstone for you). Yellowstone also boasts the title of the first National Park, a various range of “paint pots” (which are gorgeous but smell of sulfur), and, of course, the geysers it’s perhaps most famous for, including Old Faithful.
And above all, hiking. Hiking EVERYWHERE. Because it’s worth it to see these sites out on your feet, and to be silent for at least a couple of seconds to really take it in. Even if it’s just a hike for far less than a mile to go see the Lower Yellowstone Falls, above.
Wyoming has become a place very close to my heart. It does tend to get a bad rep for its generally hard-right political opinions, and the fact that very few people (it seems) know or care about it. But those who do know about it, love it; I’ve even used it as an example to my family as a miniature version of New Zealand (or, rather, I called New Zealand “Wyoming on crack” to give them an idea of what it was like there). It is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever come across, and I love it. The Tetons are the reason I fell in love with mountains and nature, and the food I’ve had there is what got me ‘into’ food.
Biscuit Basin paint pots. Don’t step off the track, this area is HOT.
Generally, people are friendly, the mountains are legendary and the air is clear and clean. Plus, every once in a while, you might see a grizzly.
Just have your bear spray ready and know which way it sprays out.
Oh, and for the love of mountains, DON’T FEED THE BEARS OR APPROACH THE BISON.