When I was a kid I wanted to be a cowboy so badly that I wore saddle shoes until high school thinking they had something to do with horses and the Wild West. Last July 4th, I fell into Jackson Hole and landed in the cowboy country of my childhood dreams.
The name hole, which means valley, refers to a sumptuous valley 48 miles long and between 8 and 15 miles wide, surrounded by spectacular mountain ranges. The area in the northwest corner of Wyoming is known as “the last and best of the Old West.” And mercy be, I felt like cowgirl just being here.
Jackson, settled in 1894, was established when homesteaders staked out land and struggled to eek out a living in the rugged land. The town, retaining its old charm in wooden boardwalks along Western store fronts, boasts of 80 different eateries, bi-weekly rodeos, chuck wagon shows, shoot outs and a Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, but the land itself is the biggest draw.
Situated at the gateway to Yellowstone and Grand Teton Parks the local population of 23,000 expands during summer and winter ski season to accommodate 4 million visitors every year.
If you are a cowgirl at heart like me, you will want to check out the not so touristy spots that reveal the history of west like Mormon Row, where Mormons established homesteads in the late 1800s known as Gros Ventre.
Just inside Grand Teton park, you can visit Menor’s Ferry, the area homesteaded by Bill Menor in 1892-94. Menor ran a river ferry crossing the Snake River near the present-day Moose, Wyoming. You can visit the restored home, barn, store, and ice sheds. Stepping into the white washed log store with artifacts from the turn of the century like sarsaparilla bottles make you feel like you are stepping into the past century.
Another overlooked spot may be The Historical Society Museum in Jackson Hole, which shows small displays of artifacts from Jenny Leigh homesteaders’ settlers’ life and details of Native American history.
No trip to the Wild West would be complete without a Wrangler show and Bar J Chuckwagon supper show serves up a real treat re enacting the cattle drive chuck wagon tents of yesteryear. Bar J cowboys, who have performed nationwide, serenade guests and tell jokes while you dine on simple, wholesome fare – steaks, BBQ chicken and beef, baked potato, apple sauce, biscuit and sheet cake washed down with coffee or lemonade. Walking through the chow line while cowboys slap a steak on your tin tray makes you feel like you are dining at a cowboy camp.
But by far the greatest drawing point is the park itself.
The true beauty of the land can be best seen by foot on the hundreds of miles of park trails that lope up and down and alongside the Grand Tetons.
So saddle up with me and hit the trail. Join me next week for a hike where we met up face to face with a bear and live to tell.