- The Washington Times - Friday, September 1, 2006

JACKSON, Wyo. — You know you are in for a special vacation when even the airport has a view.

From the moment we touched down at the Jackson Hole Airport, we knew what was in store — a little bit of the Wild West and wildlife and a lot of wild scenery. Young and old alike can have a wild time at Teton Village and Grand Teton National Park.

Part of the Rocky Mountains, the Teton Range dominates the scenery in the national park, located in western Wyoming, south of Yellowstone National Park.

We were amazed at the many views from the road. Just when we thought we couldn’t possibly see the mountains from another perspective, we turned a corner, and there was another majestic view.

The roads around here often are said to be among the best scenic drives in America, and you will cherish your visit in your travel memories.

Two main routes wind through the park: Teton Park Road and U.S. Highway 89/191, joining the Jackson Hole valley from north to south.

Teton Park Road provides an up-close-and-personal look at the mountains plus a beautiful view across Jackson Lake. Route 89/191 highlights include expanses of sage and meadow where bison and elk graze.

The first few days of our trip, we stayed at Wyoming’s most popular ski hangout, Teton Village.

The Swiss-style village is about 12 miles northwest of Jackson and just a short drive from the south entrance to Grand Teton National Park.

With our rented sport utility vehicle gassed up and ready to go, we would enter the park and travel on Moose-Wilson Road, our passageway to the main routes. This road is touted as one of the best drives for seeing western Wyoming wildlife.

The road is almost at water level as it curves around beaver ponds, and it cuts a narrow path through the forest. About a third of the road’s seven miles remain unpaved. Be forewarned: The route is closed in the winter months.

Speed limits are slow, so you are more likely to see the wildlife, which is plentiful in areas of controlled traffic.

Moose and elk regularly cross the road. Black bears commonly are seen along portions of the road when hillside shrubs are ripe with berries. Other wildlife you encounter include mule deer, gray owls and porcupines.

You won’t mind having to drive a lot to get to most destinations because of the opportunities to stop the car and enjoy panoramic views.

If you’re not short on time (or energy), there are a number of moderately easy hikes that can be completed in a few hours.

The Tetons’ snowy peaks and steep canyons can intimidate casual hikers, but one of the best features of the park is its accessibility.

Except for the high alpine country, much of the park can be navigated fairly easily. The lakes, mountain streams and wildflowers all can be reached without too much strain.

One trail that should not be missed is the hike into Cascade Canyon to Hidden Falls. A shuttle-boat ride across Jenny Lake cuts the walking and sets up a mountain climb to the falls. If you want still more, the trail continues to an overlook named Inspiration Point.

Spectacular spruce trees, crystal-clear Cascade Creek and the ever-present wildlife keep your mind off the physical labor on this journey.

A sudden downpour about halfway up the mountain didn’t dampen our enthusiasm because we were prepared with rain gear and plenty of layers of clothing.

Novice hikers would do well to seek a little advice on how to prepare for one of these great short jaunts.

The seasoned hiker will find nearly 200 miles of trails to enjoy.

If you are looking for a relaxing break or if physical exertion is not your thing, opt for a float trip down the Snake River. Our 10-mile float was arranged by Triangle X Float Trips and was the highlight of our stay. What a pleasant way to take in the Teton views.

The river meanders in the path that was left by melting glaciers and prehistoric floods. The river is not deep, but it runs swiftly, and the course is unpredictable.

Our guide shared a wealth of knowledge about the river and the mountain range and was happy to point out wildlife along the way, including a nesting bald eagle. Children on board got a chance to help pilot the float, which made it even more fun for them and offered great photo opportunities for parents.

Speaking of photo ops, our float took us down the same stretch that photographer Ansel Adams followed when he captured those famous black-and-white images of the Teton Range.

With all the physical activity and fresh mountain air, you will work up an appetite. Though Jackson offers plenty of interesting dining options from which to choose, remember this: You are on a Western vacation.

So why not return to the Old West with a traditional chuck-wagon dinner?

Castagno Outfitters takes visitors on a 20-minute covered-wagon ride through Buffalo Valley to a campsite where rib-eye steak, baked potato, barbecued beans, corn bread and dessert await. There even can be a few advertised “Indian attacks” as entertainment.

Now, I must admit, I always thought such things sounded pretty hokey, but Castagno’s version was a relaxing opportunity to see yet another side of the area as well as an interesting social gathering that hearkened back to yesteryear.

The food couldn’t have tasted better.

Another great option offered by Castagno Outfitters is a horseback ride. A two-hour trip around the Bridger-Teton National Forest provided bird’s-eye views of the Tetons and the “hole” that gave Jackson Hole its name, as well as an up-close look at some of the area’s vibrant wildflowers.

Because of the well-trained horses Castagno uses, you can have fun on this excursion even if this is your first time in a saddle.

We paired our horseback ride with a two-night stay at the Togwotee Mountain Lodge, located in the Bridger-Teton National Forest.

Individual rustic cabins provided the ambience, but modern conveniences gave us a more resort feel. During winter, Togwotee is known as Jackson Hole’s premier snowmobile resort.

A key aspect of any outdoor adventure is the possibility of bad weather. If clouds move in and the Tetons disappear for a day, one choice is to learn about the park. The Moose Visitor Center has interpretive exhibits that explain the park’s history, geology and natural history, and the bookstore offers a comprehensive selection of reading material.

Up the road is the Jackson Lake Lodge, built in the 1950s by the Rockefellers. Huge windows in the main lobby bring the Teton view indoors, and assorted shops and restaurants help the time pass quickly.

TOWERING TETONS

The park is named after Grand Teton, which at 13,770 feet is the tallest mountain in the Teton Range.

According to the National Park Service, the mountains were named by a French trapper who viewed them from the Idaho side of the range and called them tetons, French slang for “breasts.” The national park was established on Feb. 26, 1929. It covers 484 miles of land and water.

Jackson Hole is a 55-mile-long by six- to 13-mile-wide valley that has an average elevation of 6,800 feet, with its lowest point near the south park boundary at 6,350 feet.

In the 1890s, homesteading claims divided up the land east of Blacktail Butte, and more division occurred in the early 1900s when President Theodore Roosevelt reopened the area to homesteading.

Many of the families who settled here were Mormons, and by 1910, the area was known as Mormon Row. Cabins and barns still mark the old farms and make for great photo opportunities with the Tetons hovering in the background.

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