Big Horn Sheep, Bombardier, Charles J. Wort, Dornan's, Elk, Elk Refuge, Fire, Flagg Ranch, French-Canadian Trappers, Grand Teton National Park, Horses, Jackson, Jackson District Boy Scouts, Kepler Falls, National Register of Historic Places, Old Faithful Snow Lodge, Pronghorn Sheep, Sleigh Ride, Snow, Sparring, Sun Salutations, The Silver Dollar Grill, The Wort Hotel, Tourism, Wildlife, Wine, Winter, Wyoming, Xanterra, Yellowstone National Park, Yoga
Feb. 28 – Old Faithful to Jackson
I was so happy to be able to sleep in to the glorious hour of 8:00 am this morning. We have had a series of early mornings, as you may have already read, and I’ve been making myself get up about 15 minutes earlier than I usually would to get myself through a couple sun salutations. I really should make myself do this in normal life. It wakes my body up, gets my blood flowing (especially needed during days of mostly sitting), and prepares me mentally for the day.
We departed the Old Faithful Snow Lodge in one of Xanterra’s (Yellowstone National Park’s concessionaire) historic bombardiers. They were built in the 50s and 60s to handle the massive snowfall the park sees in the winter (and today was an excellent test!). They are interesting vehicles, like yellow Volkswagens on steroids. There are two front seats, and everyone in the back area sits around the outside of the vehicle facing inward. The bombardiers have many gauges, none of which would tell you the speed you are going. And boy was it loud. I would advise anyone planning to ride in these to bring ear plugs (though they did have some on board if you needed them). However, I have to say it was a fun experience traveling in one. Our driver was the Mammoth Hot Springs accountant, a tall, lanky guy in his late 20s with a small mustache that reminded me of someone from the 1930s. He could barely keep his arms still while driving the beast, and I couldn’t help to think to myself if these drivers get carpel tunnel or something. He was upbeat and funny, and kept having to stop the vehicle to get out, scrape the windows, re-set the unwieldy windshield wiper.
We stopped by Kepler Falls on the way down, and once more for a restroom break. We arrived at Flagg Ranch, just a little ways past the south entrance of Yellowstone, to switch vehicles. From there to Jackson the roads are paved. We had a little time at Flagg to stretch our legs after the two hour drive, sit by an inviting fire place, meander the gift shop, and even get some coffee at the convenience store.
Once our luggage had been transferred to a mini bus, we all hopped on and traveled down through Grand Teton National Park. Someone happened to see a moose lying under a tree from quite a distance, and we were able to stop and look at her through our binoculars. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t conducive to seeing the mountains, and we could really only see the base of them as we drove through. We stopped for lunch at a little place called Dornan’s, where they also have the best wine selection in Jackson attached to the restaurant.
Funny story about The Grand Tetons: the name means “big breasts,” named back in the 1800s by lonely French-Canadian trappers who hadn’t seen women in awhile. Learning French is really coming in handy in learning American history.
Before heading to our hotel, the driver took us down a country road near Jackson where wildlife is usually seen. I’m so glad he took the time to show us, because we came upon a huge herd of bighorn sheep. They were crossing the road in front of us, so we got some fantastic photos of them running and playing close by, and one even walked right next to our vehicle, stopped, and looked back at us. We also were able to spot some pronghorn sheep (who are excellent camouflagers, we could barely see them!), and some elk in the distance.
We checked into The Wort Hotel, a historic property built by homesteader Charles J. Wort in 1941. Although gambling has always been illegal in Wyoming, it was tolerated for tourism entertainment at large resorts. The Wort Hotel was one of those, and they eventually had to move underground, but were eventually ceased once attention was brought to the area post-war. The Silver Dollar Grill is a famous facet to the hotel. It was added in 1950 when a German cabinet maker used 2,032 uncirculated Morgan Silver Dollars to build the bar. It was rebuilt in 1981 after a tragic fire (luckily they saved the bar!). They have since won several prestigious honors, including being added to the National Register of Historic Places, a Four Diamond AAA rating 2008-2013, one of Conde Nast Traveler’s Top 50 North America Ski Resorts, named “One of America’s 54 Greatest Inns” by National Geographic Traveler, and “Best Small Historic Hotel in America” 2013, among others. Needless to say, it was pretty nice.
Several members of our group wanted to check out the sleigh ride into the elk refuge that is available there, and so we walked to the Visitor’s Center and waited for the next available ride. 5,000 elk migrate from the higher elevation areas down to the valley in Jackson during the winter months. The reason the refuge came to be is that, for awhile, elk would migrate with no place to go for food since people settled in the area. Elk were starving by the thousands before the government put together the refuge to give them a place to go. Since the natural food source is still minimal, the government provides alfalfa pellets for them. The refuge, along with Jackson District Boy Scouts, holds a large antler auction each May to raise money for the boy scouts, and also money for the feed they give the elk each winter.
We were lucky to make the last group. We took a school bus to the sleighs, and hopped in the back of one pulled by two lovely horses, covered ourselves with blankets, and were on our way with our guide, Meredith. The elk were everywhere. What an experience! We got to see bull elk up close, even sparring! It was definitely something you see on the Discovery Channel and don’t expect you will ever see in real life.
The experience lasted about an hour before we headed back to the hotel in time to freshen up before dinner. We had a beautiful last meal in a private room, with some delicious courses to choose from. Boy, was the food rich! Good, but I really need to learn how to pace myself when I’m not used to eating that way. You would think I would have learned from Tuscany.