26 May, 2009

The Wonders of Wyoming

We arrived in Jackson, WY in the early afternoon excited at the prospect of spending more than a single night in one place. The cabin we reserved was at the back of a KOA Kampground overlooking the Snake River. This little one room cabin struck me as absolutely perfect. It had a roof, four walls, a set of bunk beds, a double bed, a heater, a little table, a front porch, a swinging bench, a picnic table, and a grill. At the time it seemed that we would have an immeasurable amount of time to relax in between the various activities we had planned for this leg of the journey, but as it turned out, it wasn't nearly as relaxing as we had anticipated.

That first night we went into the town of Jackson to grab dinner and quickly learned that not much was open at ten o'clock. We ended up getting an enormous slice of pizza and a tall boy for five bucks before heading back to our little log cabin by the river. All through the night and into the next morning we were all greatly anticipating the coming white water rafting trip.

By 9:30 we were ready to go equipped with wet suits and booties awaiting the arrival of the bus that would take us to the launching point. When we got there we met our guide, Bryce, and our safety kayaker, Arnie, who set us up with life jackets, paddles, and gave us a brief safety pitch. Originally we were supposed to take an 8 man raft trip but it got switched to a larger raft for safety purposes; because the snow is all rapidly melting at this time the water level of the river is significantly higher than usual. In addition to us and our guide there were two families who accompanied us on the rafting trip totaling eleven people. Sean and Andy sat in the very front on either side making them the pace setters and lead paddlers. I made the mistake of sitting two people behind them towards the back causing me to miss out on all the big waves and exciting turbulence.

The ride was entirely too short and I found myself wishing we could go again. Bryce told us some awesome rafting and kayaking stories along the way and Arnie actually had to bail out of his kayak during the Lunch Counter rapid and we had to pull him and his kayak into our raft and then launch him out again. We also saw some pretty amazing scenery along the way gazing up at the surrounding mountains and one lady even said she caught a glimpse of a black bear.

Back at the cabin we decided to take it easy. We had grilled cheese, soup, and beer for lunch, rested for a few hours, and then set out to explore the town of Jackson Hole. We walked around all the little shops, through the town square, and then ate dinner at a charming organic restaurant called Cafe Luna. We left early the next morning for Grand Teton National Park hoping to see some wildlife before they retreated into the forest for the afternoon. Unfortunately the day was incredibly dismal and dreary; it was overcast, cold, and drizzly. We were all feeling a little in sync with the weather lacking motivation, low on energy and simply burnt out. Despite the imperfect weather, we did see some amazing views of the Teton mountains shrouded in low lying clouds, an incredibly indifferent deer, and remarkably, a mother moose and her calf hidden among a cluster of trees.

The next day we headed out to Yellowstone, which was surprisingly covered in snow. On our way in we passed a giant lake that was actually still frozen. I've never seen a frozen body of water before in my life. Damage from the fire of '88 was still evident with barren trees speckling the landscape; however, new life is finally emerging in the form of lush green pines about a quarter of the size of the remaining scorched trunks. Our first stop was naturally Old Faithful, which we watched erupt along with hundreds of other eager spectators. Then we followed the wooden boardwalk and looped around all of the other hot springs and geysers surrounding Old Faithful. We ate lunch in the Yellowstone Lodge before driving to see a few other hot springs and mud pits. During our drive we saw several herds of grazing bison, a few herds of female elk, and a lone coyote circling a deserted hillside.

On our way out the following day we briefly went back to Yellowstone to visit the Yellowstone Grand Canyon and see Yellowstone Falls. The view was incredible and the upper waterfall was sensational. We saw many more buffalo roaming the fields and were lucky enough to see another coyote, this time he actually crossed the street in front of us and then ambled alongside our car for a few minutes. As we made our way towards the exit heading for Lake Tahoe, I was disappointed that we hadn't seen a bear. My hopes remain high since there is still a chance we might see one in Yosemite.

Jackson Hole and the surrounding area is truly an enchanting place. In addition to the amazing scenery and classic Midwestern ambiance we were mesmerized by the brilliant night sky and the glistening snow. The shimmering stars crowded the sky so densely the blackness barely shone through. Apparently the snow had melted rapidly in the week before we got there and it continued to stealthily disintegrate throughout our stay. The river level behind our cabin rose dramatically just in the three days we were there. Slowly but surely, some semblance of Spring was attempting to break out in Jackson Hole.

During our time in Jackson I couldn't help but think about the unique lives of its residents and for that matter the lives of the people in many of the places we have been so far. Imagine being a hiking guide in the Grand Canyon, a white water rafting guide along the Snake River, or a rodeo cowboy. You might not make too much money and you might not inhabit the most impressive of homes, but I would imagine that life would be more about living instead of doing. Bending over backwards to make a buck doing something you don't enjoy has never seemed sillier, living in the midst of commercialized urban sprawl has never been less appealing, and forgoing happiness for the sake of superficial societal norms has never seemed more misguided than at this moment.

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