In the End

Did it work? Did my effort to bond have any sticking power? Who knows? Time will tell, I guess. If they bring up the trip or various elements of it as fond memories sometime in the future, then I’ll count it as a success. In the meantime, it will always be my favorite vacation.

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Mountains and Valleys

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A Different Kind of Place

Perhaps the people who live in Jackson Hole may yawn at some of the characteristics that I find interesting, but there are just some things you don’t see around here. Like these.

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More Art

Every time I walk around Jackson, I find more public art that I like.

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Where’s Waldo?

One day we stopped by the National Museum of Wildlife Art and were taking photos of the numerous statues outside of the museum. The museum sits on the hillside overlooking the National Elk Refuge, and as I was taking a series of shots that I would turn into a panorama, I noticed a tiny figure out in the middle of this vast field. It was a man. Walking. Here’s the panorama I created. Click on the image to enlarge, and click again to enlarge even more. Points to the person who finds the man in the photo. He’s wearing a green shirt and light colored shorts. Good luck.

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Welcome to Idaho

There’s a pass that cuts through the Teton Range known, cleverly, as Teton Pass. And on the other side of the pass is Idaho. Gracie, once she realized we were that close to another state, said she wanted to go there—not just to say that she’s been to another state, but to experience the one thing that Idaho is known for: potatoes. By the time potatoes make it this far east, they’re barely the size of a baseball, so she wanted to have an Idaho-sized baked potato. In Idaho.

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One would think this would be easy, but it wasn’t. There were a lot of places that served Idaho potatoes sliced up into French fries, even more that cooked them into potato chips and a few that hammered them into mashed potatoes, but we couldn’t find any place in Idaho that served Idaho baked potatoes. After an adventure that involved Beth walking into a redneck bar—long story—we were told we needed to go to a restaurant in Victor, Idaho, about 25 miles away. “There’s only one streetlight in town,” we were told. “Turn left at the light and you’ll see the place. There will be a lot of cars parked out front.” Gracie wanted the largest one she could get, so she asked the waitress if they came in different sizes. “Honey, baked potatoes only come in one size here: huge.” Gracie was happy.

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A River Runs Through It

I’ve been whitewater rafting before, twice on the upper portion of the Gauley River and once on the lower portion of the Gauley in West Virginia, both times during the fall when they open up the doors to the dam and let the water pour out. It makes for wild rafting, especially when you get tossed out of the raft and into the river. So when Beth said she wanted to go rafting, I was shocked. She’s typically not that adventurous.

There are plenty of places in Jackson Hole that offer whitewater rafting excursions, and when I explained what it’s like, she just shook her head. Not that kind of rafting, she said. What she meant was a float trip. Kind of a lazy river ride where someone else does all the paddling and you just get a tan and look at nature. So we booked a trip and went floating down the Snake River. It was nice, especially when the bald eagles started flying. We saw 11, including two very large young eagles that hadn’t gotten their white feathers yet. I love bald eagles, and seeing them in nature is a true thrill.

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All Creatures Great and Greater

It was hot while we were there, so most of the animals sought out the cool air of higher elevations. The girls didn’t want to venture into Yellowstone, where the chances of seeing more wildlife were much greater, so we were limited to what was around town. We ended up seeing elk from a distance, a smaller moose on the side of the road, the herd of bison and the largest bull moose I have ever seen, with a massive rack. Unfortunately, it was at dusk and there wasn’t enough light to get a photo without it being too dark or too blurry. Still, it was better than the deer, squirrels and groundhogs we get in our backyard.

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Old Barns

On our way back from riding horses, l looked off to the side of the road and saw a bunch of brown specs in a field off in the distance. Perfect. I hung a left on the next road, which happened to be Antelope Flats Road, a place I wanted to go anyway. This is the road that leads to Mormon Row—the spot with the iconic barns that have become known as the most photographed barns in American history. They’re these old wooden structures in a vast field with the Tetons forming a picturesque backdrop. It’s the iconic vision of the American West in the 1800s.

I wanted the girls to get pictures of these old barns because I knew that somewhere in their future they would see photos of the barns, and I wanted them to be able to say, “I’ve been there.” Amazingly, this time the barns were surrounded by the brown specs I saw from the road—a huge herd of buffalo. This got them excited and kept them quite entertained for a good two, maybe three minutes.

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Apparently I have a fascination with old barns, because when we were returning from another place I wanted a photo from we stumbled upon an old homestead that has fallen into decay. There’s an old house and two barns, all enclosed with a three-rail fence. All of the buildings were collapsing, but you still got the feel of what it must have been like living on this old farm back in the 1800s. I ducked under one of the fences and took a million shots.

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Horsing Around

This was the ace up my sleeve. Even if the girls hated life for six days, they’d at least enjoy these two hours of it. There are a lot of places around Jackson Hole that offer horseback rides in the mountains. I searched all of them and found what I thought was the best deal, Swift Creek Outfitters. It was off the beaten path, to be sure, about five miles down a gravel road out in the Teton wilderness. But I thought that if that was where you started, the rest could only be amazing. It was. We crossed creeks, rode through valleys, into the trees and up the side of a mountain until we got to an area overlooking the valley and Teton range. Amazing.

It was a two-hour ride, and must have felt like four hours to my poor horse, a big old boy named Woodrow Wilson. The poor thing had to lug my ghetto booty around the whole time. He huffed and puffed all the way up the mountainside and grunted and groaned all the way down. The girls were in their element, though. They smiled non-stop and Michaela didn’t check her phone once.

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We Must All Have Waffles

DSCF5462DSCF5463On selected Saturdays, I break out the waffle iron and make breakfast. Usually I just spread on some butter and syrup and eat them with a fork, but I always threaten to make them the way they do at Corbet’s Cabin atop Rendezvous Mountain—fill them with something like peanut butter and jelly or butter and brown sugar or peanut butter and bacon, and then fold them in half and eat them like a sandwich. The girls always look at me like I have a second nose. I wanted them to try one, so after Michaela and I landed safely on terra firma, we all jumped in the tram and headed back up the mountain for some waffles of champions. The girls didn’t get it. You eat a waffle with your hands? Then they ate, and we’ve all now had waffles at 10,000 feet.

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The Wild Blue Yonder

When Beth and I were considering what to get Michaela for her high school graduation, Beth wanted something that would be a keepsake, something that she could hold on to for the rest of her life. I wanted to get her an experience, something that she would remember for the rest of her life. In the end, Michaela got both. Beth got her a horseshoe necklace from Tiffany as both a symbol of good luck and as a symbol of her love of horses. I gave her a card with a note in it about life being a series of adventures, and it’s important to take advantage of those adventures as they come along, even if they scare you, because they are what make life great and memorable. I added that this was my gift/adventure to her—a paragliding trip.

The idea of paragliding had been stuck in my head since I saw people doing it last year, so I signed myself up for a trip as well. The idea of jumping off the side of a mountain, riding thermals and doing loopty-loops somehow seemed like a good idea all the way up until the time it was time to go. Then it seemed like a crazy idea. Michaela was all fired up about it, though, so there was no backing out.

It was, I must admit, a lot of fun. I say that, though, mostly because I survived. At one point I looked down and realized exactly how high we were and there was nothing between me and the ground except a stretch of thin fabric and some string. It was at that point that the pilot pulled out a GoPro and started taking photos, which, of course, we could buy for a small fee once we reached the ground. I didn’t buy any of my because there was no color in my face in any of the photos. We then did what are called asymmetrical turns, which are really tight spins that eventually put you upside down above the parachute. It requires a lot of G forces and, I must say, a great deal of insanity. Michaela and I now have something in common.

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A Walk in the Woods

Frontier Airlines just began flying out of Cincinnati, so we thought we would book our trip with them as an alternative to the usual goatfest put on by Delta. I’m not sure there’s an airlines out there that’s worth a hoot, but that’s another story for another day. In any event, Frontier changed our schedule a couple of times before we left resulting in two things: One, we had a leave before the roosters were even awake. But, two, we got into Jackson a lot earlier than we were supposed to. That meant we had half a day extra that we weren’t expecting. So instead of heading straight to our cabin, which wouldn’t have been ready yet, we headed north and went into Grand Teton National Park. I wanted to hike.

I knew telling them we were going for a hike was something that had to be judiciously planned. Saying, “Hey girls, let’s go hike Death Canyon” wouldn’t go over well. So the plan was to head to Jenny Lake, catch the boat across and then hike about a mile to Hidden Falls and, if all went well and they were still energized, continue on to Inspiration Point. These aren’t exactly walks in the wilderness, but they’re at least in the wood. And, if nothing else, I thought they’d at least like the boat ride.

Inspiration Point proved, of course, to be too much, but I considered it a success when Beth asked Michaela about halfway in if she was OK, and her response was, “Yeah, this is fun. I can feel my muscles.”

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The Hole Family

Bonding with your kids can be a challenge for any parent. Especially if your kids are girls. Double especially if those girls are teenagers. I’ve always tried to be there for Gracie and Michaela, supporting them in whatever endeavor they got into—dance, art, theater, collecting doodlebugs. In all honesty, it wasn’t always easy. The only time I ever said no was when Michaela confessed her love of snakes and wanted one for a pet. I drew the line. Conversely, they have had absolutely no interest at all in the kinds of things I am interested in—Nascar, hockey, camping, theology, beer. They would rather watch a rerun of some TV show for the 100th time than watch game seven of the Stanley Cup Finals. Strange children, I know.

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In any event, Michaela was looking at her last summer at home before heading off to college, so I thought I would give it one more try. Beth and I alternate at picking a vacation spot, and this year it was my turn. I choose to take us to Jackson Hole and at least try to share with them something else that I loved.

I tried to prime them for the trip with photos and videos of where we were heading. If my efforts got met with a “That’s nice,” I considered it a major victory. I must admit, I was somewhat concerned. I scheduled a few things I knew would be great, but would an activity that lasted a few hours be enough to overcome the eternal suffering they must endure by being out of cell phone range?

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The End of a Journey and the Start of a New Day

The night before I left, I walked into town one last time. On my way, I saw a bumper sticker that read, “Jackson Hole is my happy place.” I liked that. As I noted at the start of this blog, there are certain places you just feel like you’re at home. Jackson is that kind of a place for me. I realize is sounds sappy, but it’s true. I can’t explain it.

My flight left early (note to self: Don’t ever schedule flights that early again.)  Although the sun rises early there, it was still dark when I headed for the airport. As I drove, the sun started to peek overtop of the hills to the east. It made for a dramatic sunrise.

I’ve always liked sunrises, perhaps more that sunsets. Sunsets are generally more colorful and dramatic, but I like the optimism that sunrises bring. Sunrises are the introduction to a new day. They offer hope for what lies ahead. Will Rogers once quipped that men don’t appreciate sunsets (and I’ll add sunrises) because they don’t have to pay for them. That’s brilliant. I’ll also humbly claim exception to that rule because I truly appreciated the dramatic natural sendoff I was being given. It was the perfect beginning to my journey’s end.

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Waffles at 10,000 Feet

Ever since I left Jackson Hole last year, I couldn’t wait to get back. There were so many things I wanted to do that I didn’t get a chance to do last year, including eating a waffle at Corbet’s Cabin on top of Mt. Rendezvous. (Hence the odd title to this blog.) On Monday, I filled that desire. It was worth the wait.

What’s interesting, though, is that I left the top of Mt. Rendezvous fulfilling one wish but desiring two more. Before I went into Corbet’s, I walked around a little, checking out some of the trails that start at the top of the mountain. I peeked over the edge of Corbet’s Couloir, a kamikaze ski run that drops straight down about 50 feet before continuing on at an angle that merits its double black diamond rating. Someone suggested that I hike down to the lake at the back of the mountain. It takes a while, but is worth it for the view and exercise. I want to do that hike.

I also saw people paragliding off the top of the mountain, sailing freely in long, lazy circles as they slowly drifted down to the landing area at the base of the village several thousand feet below. It’s already stuck in my head.

So now I have two things already on my wish list for next time. Next year??

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God’s Country

At the entrance to Teton Village, Greg Gross was handing out maps and coupons for the tram ride. Greg is originally from Argyle, Texas, which is a suburb of Dallas. Twenty years ago he made a deal with his children: Rather than getting a lot of Christmas presents, they could go out to Jackson Hole instead. The kids agreed. They did that every year. Then, when the kids were grown and gone, he and his wife moved out to the area for good.

“Look at this place,” he said. “This is my office and everyday God washes the windows.”

A smile stretched across his face as he began talking about how beautiful it was living in the area.

“See that area over there?” he said, pointing to an open spot at the edge of the buildings. “The other day when I got in here a big bull moose was standing there. He jumped over the fence, meandered over through the parking lot, looked around and moved on.”

I asked him how someone affords to live here without being a gazillionaire. He said the key is not living in Teton County. He lives in the next county south and got a house and two acres for less than a third it would cost in town. “I have to drive about 20 miles to get here,” he said, “but I just drive along the Snake River. I see moose and elk every day.”

I asked him about the weather. Beth’s from Texas and she considers anything below 75 to be chilly. Cold starts at 70. Freezing is anything below 65. “You dress for it,” he said. “I tell my friends from Dallas that you can almost get by with jeans and a sweatshirt because the humidity is so low. The humidity is so high in Dallas that you freeze when it gets cold.”

We stood there and talked a while. He takes his snowmobile out into the wilderness during the winter, eats lunch among the pine trees and wildlife and then heads home. You could tell he was happy being here.

“If this isn’t God’s country,” he said, “I don’t know what is.”

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Village Life

Jackson is, in many ways, a town divided. There is town itself, but there is also the Village—Teton Village, to be specific—which is at the base of the mountains and the hub of ski operations. There are plenty of very expensive places to stay in the Village for those who wish to constantly be in the middle of the action, but mostly during the winter skiers stay in town and make the 12-mile shuttle to the village each day to hit the slopes.

Perhaps a better way to put it is, the town is where adults stay and the Village is where kids play. The Village is where the parties are. It’s the nightlife vs. the town’s daylife.

During the summer, the fun is more subdued, but still there. A bike park just opened where you can rent a mountain bike, put it on a lift that takes you up the hill so you can come screaming down one of the dirt trails.

Businesses offer paragliding rides off the top of the mountain, which is a  combination sky diving and paragliding. It’s insane. I want to do that next time.

Down at the base there are plenty of stores and restaurants, such as the Mangy Moose, which is the place everyone goes for music and alcohol after the slopes close. There’s a new place called the Wool and Whiskey, which is an upscale men’s retail store with a five-stool whiskey bar in the back. Concerts are held out on the plaza, which has a water-jet fountain that attracts a lot of giggling kids.

I didn’t spend enough time there.

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Different Things

Yes, Jackson is a tourist town. And it’s got all of the trappings that you would expect of a tourist town—T-shirt shops, souvenir stores, overpriced hotels. But I’ve been to other tourist destinations, and Jackson is different in one key way: It’s also authentic. It portrays itself as a western frontier, and for the most part it is. It hasn’t lost that Ponderosa touch. Part of that may be Wyoming in general. I don’t think Wyoming is the kind of place anyone puts on pretenses. You don’t survive the winters by pretending to be something you’re not.

Granted, it’s probably getting harder to hold on to that authenticity with the massive influx of outsiders—especially very wealthy outsiders. Still, it’s there. An example: Each night as I sat outside at my cabin and would hear a PA blaring and a crowd cheering, and I couldn’t figure out where the sound was coming from. I asked some of the town’s residents and they had no idea, so one night I decided to investigate. I followed the sounds until I ended up at the Teton County Fairgrounds where there was a rodeo going on. Women’s barrel racing was the event of the moment. There were booths set up just for selling cowboy hats. Signs pointed the way to additional parking because the place was packed. I watched for a while because it’s just not something you see around here very often. Or very ever.

There were a lot of things you see in Jackson that you just don’t see around here. I liked that. I caught a few with my camera.

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More Mountains

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Mountains

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