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SUNDAY, DECEMBER 31, 2006
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Ice shards protrude from plant life near Kelly Warm Springs in Grand Teton National Forest. Even when temperatures hover around zero, water in the springs is warm to the touch.
Photos courtesy of Holly Hollman
Ice shards protrude from plant life near Kelly Warm Springs in Grand Teton National Forest. Even when temperatures hover around zero, water in the springs is warm to the touch.

Snowcapped mountains, snow tubing and watching a moose have lunch in a backyard help make Wyoming
Unforgettable

By Holly Hollman
hhollman@decaturdaily.com· 340-2445

JACKSON, Wyo. — It’s a place where moose munch on foliage in your backyard and elk join horse herds to dine on fresh hay.

The Teton Mountains hug the town, and morning slowly awakens as the sun’s rays reach over the mountain range as if the sun is stretching its arms during a yawn.

This is Jackson, a town with less than 10,000 residents where stores like Stone’s Mercantile don’t open until 10 a.m.

The town resembles a Department 56 Snow Village with the snowcapped mountain tops and spruce-bedecked forests surrounding this western village comprised of wood- and rock-constructed buildings.

Elk antlers the Boy Scouts collect and sell become archways in the downtown park or decorations for local shops.

From left, friends Misty Frazier of Waterloo, Jennifer Thomas of Jasper and Holly Hollman of Athens braved the cold to drive snowmobiles along spruce-lined paths and an ice-covered river to Granite Hot Springs, Wyo.
From left, friends Misty Frazier of Waterloo, Jennifer Thomas of Jasper and Holly Hollman of Athens braved the cold to drive snowmobiles along spruce-lined paths and an ice-covered river to Granite Hot Springs, Wyo.
And unlike North Alabama, snow doesn’t shut this place down. Winter activities range from skiing to snow tubing to sleigh rides to snowmobiling.

I recently spent a week exploring Jackson and the surrounding area with two friends, Misty Frazier of Waterloo and Jennifer Thomas of Jasper. Our hotel, Snow King Lodge, provided an activities director who helped us plan an itinerary.

We rented an SUV and found that Alabama
drivers can drive with ease on snow and ice. Snowplows keep most roads in Jackson clear but back roads still have snow and ice.

Although we don’t ski, we visited nearby Teton Village and paid $8 each to take a gondola to the top of Gondola Summit, which reaches a height of 9,095 feet and where temperatures were below zero. We watched as skiers zipped down mountain passes and disappeared into the evergreens. A restaurant is under construction that will give observers a place to dine and watch the action in a warm setting.

When we descended to Teton Village, I tried a pricy bison burger ($9) at Cowboy Cafe. The meat had a sweeter taste than beef.

Misty wanted to look at the architecture of homes, so on our drive back to Jackson we drove through subdivisions and spotted a moose eating in someone’s back yard. The moose ignored us as we ooohed and ahhhed and snapped pictures.

Traffic signs warn drivers to expect wildlife encounters near the roads. While rambling through the Grand Teton National Forest and National Elk Refuge, we saw buffalo in the distance but found moose and elk eating near the roadway.

We saw more wildlife exploring on our own than on our various tours, but the tours gave us unforgettable views of the country.

We took a daylong snowmobile trip with Jackson Hole Snowmobile Tours. I opted to be a passenger. Misty and Jennifer said driving one was kind of like driving a four-wheeler, except Misty took her first turn too fast and propelled us into a snowdrift.

Iron Mill Ranch is the oldest dude ranch in Jackson, Wyo. It offers sleigh rides and steak dinners.
Iron Mill Ranch is the oldest dude ranch in Jackson, Wyo. It offers sleigh rides and steak dinners.
The Barnes and Smith families from Florida, who are experienced snowmobile drivers, dislodged us and watched us closely throughout the day. Apparently, we had unknowingly crashed a family reunion.

After a 25-minute drive through spruce-lined paths and by an ice-covered river, we arrived at Granite Hot Springs, where we changed clothes and soaked in water slightly above 100 degrees. Perry, our guide, grilled T-bone steaks for lunch, and we reapplied our clothing layers and ate on snow-sprinkled picnic tables.

We then drove the snowmobiles back to the trail entrance, sometimes as fast as 60 mph.

Steak was a popular option for meals offered with tours. At Iron Mill Ranch, the oldest dude ranch in Jackson, according to 55-year-old owner Chancy Wheeldon, we took a sleigh ride and dined on another grilled T-bone. Wheeldon and his
family operate the rides on the 160-acre ranch.

Hunched in blankets provided by our guide, Buck, we rode past elk grazing with horses and watched the sun set behind the mountains with a vibrant pink farewell.

“In 1895, my grandfather and nine other men came here to see if they could survive the winter,” Wheeldon said. “They did, eating on moose and buffalo and deer. The family opened a dude ranch in 1921, and the family has been here since.”

Once again, we unknowingly crashed a gathering — a company Christmas party that booked the sleigh tour but didn’t have enough to fill it. Yet, as we found throughout Jackson, these were friendly folks who shared their company Christmas cake in the rustic decorated dining hall. The owner of the company, Lance Cygielman of Jackson Hole Central Reservations, even took our picture and e-mailed it to us.

We wanted to end our week with a tour of Yellowstone, but it was closed until late December. Instead, we drove Teton Scenic Parkway through part of Idaho and to West Yellowstone, Mont., where we went to Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center.

The center promotes the preservation of bears and wolves and displays stuffed bears killed either by poachers, threatened ranchers or acts of nature. The sad stories behind the bears’ demise help promote support for preservation.

The center also houses bears and wolves that were left orphans or had too much contact with humans. Outside, the wolves circled their pen and howled, while the bears searched for hidden snacks, sunned and wrestled on their snow and stump covered terrain.

We ended our stay in Jackson with snow tubing, provided near our lodge. To snow tube, we plopped into individual inner tubes and a worker attached the tube to a hook that carried us to the top of a slick, snow-covered hill. A hump on the trail tossed us onto a level area, where we quickly got up and pulled out tubes out of the way of others riding up the hill. We waited in line, mostly youngsters, and then one by one, a worker told us to sit in our tube before shoving us off the hill.

I saw nothing but specks of light in the darkness as I whirled in circles down the incline until I collided with beanbags and forced to a halt.

Yep. We did that one again.

And I would visit Jackson again.

For me, it was as if I had become one of the figurines in my Snow Village display, able to peer into the store windows, dine on sourdough pancakes at the bakery and fall backwards into white fluff to make snow angels.

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