Jackson, Wyoming: A winter wonderland of wildlife - 2007
This is reposted from my older blog. Some edits were made here and there to correct errors. I don't remember why we selected Jackson, Wyoming as a destination, but we were looking for an adventure in the snow. And we got it. Some people call it Jackson Hole, but is really the valley in which the town of Jackson is located.
We took off from the sunny San Diego airport, forcing ourselves to be prepared for the cold at our destination. When we changed planes at Salt Lake City, we got a taste of how cold it was going to be. We had to wait in a very cold exterior walkway for our turbo-prop plane to be ready. We then had to wait on the runway for over an hour for the plane to be de-iced.
After a moderately bumpy ride over the mountains, we arrived at the tiny Jackson airport. We walked through the snow into the terminal and caught our shuttle to the resort. We spied the black speck of a moose and her calf bedded down in a nearby field, adjacent to the airport.
We were presented with white fields of snow, as far as the eye could see in every direction. We checked into the Spring Creek Ranch and went to our room, which is one of four units in each cabin structure. It was very comfortable, with a huge fireplace and a view from our balcony to the Gran Tetons to the west.
We took a shuttle into town of Jackson and walked around in a quest to find the perfect restaurant. Since many were closed, we decided to eat at Billy's, which is a burger joint inside the Cadillac Grille Restaurant. We enjoyed their food from within the lounge and got our bearings while truly appreciating what cold weather really is. After dinner, we walked around the Jackson town square and browsed the shops and atmosphere.
The next day, the weather was clear. I was still quite stricken with the flu, so skiing was off the menu for the day. We decided to take the shuttle to Teton Village at the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort to see what it was all about. We browsed the shops and took a ride on the gondola to the top of the mountain. We hung out drinking tea and coffee and decided to head down to the bottom for lunch at the Mangy Moose. The temperature plummeted once the the sun went behind the mountain. Once back to our room, a blizzard kicked up and the wind howled, throwing snow up against our cabin and bringing the outside temperature to 0 degrees F.
In the morning, we woke up to find that snow had entered our room through tiny openings in our weather stripping, a testament to the force of the winds from the night before. The blizzard continued throughout the day and our wildlife safari was moved to Monday, effectively ending our skiing opportunities for the trip, so we spent the day reading by the fireplace. That night, once the wind died a little, we ventured back into town for grub.
The next morning brought us clear skies and excellent weather for dog sledding. We took a shuttle over to the dog sledding compound of Jackson Hole Iditarod Sled Dog Tours in Hoback Canyon. Although they are home to almost 200 dogs, they run a tight outfit with great service and unending enthusiasm. The owner of the company, Frank Teasley, has raced in many races, including the Alaskan Iditarod.
They made sure we wore sufficient gear and we headed out to the dog team. We had a nice guide named Kim who had been doing this for a few years and was very intimate with her dogs. I started out by standing on the back of the sled while Hoa rode, sitting down, in the front. We went to Granite Creek Canyon, and it was beautiful.
We saw moose tracks and learned how to help push the dogs uphill and ride the sled downhill. There were only the sounds of the sled sliding along the newly fallen snow. Whenever the sled stopped, the dog team would begin howling for action, as they prefer running over standing around in the snow.
We made it to a clearing by a river where a frozen circle of logs surrounded what used to be a fire pit. Within minutes, however, our guides got the fire going and served us soup, cocoa and other snacks. The dogs, once again, began a symphony of howling, eager to be on their way. After lunch, we hopped back on the sled. This time, I rode in the front, which ended up being much colder than riding in the back. I sat in the sled, staring out at the silently falling snow, the frosted pine trees, and the athletic dog team in front of me and grinned ear to ear, enjoying the experience to its fullest. With the wind and snow whipping up as the afternoon grew longer, we were happy to be back in shelter at the end of the day. Truly a memorable adventure.
That night, we went back to Billy's for the burgers.
The wind and snow kicked up again for another night, but in the morning, we had our clearest view of the mountains yet. We took advantage of the view at the Granary, a restaurant at the hotel where we had breakfast every morning. We were happy to see such clear weather, as it meant that our Wildlife Safari was going to be a good one.
We met with our Naturalist, Kurt, and realized that it was just us and him for this activity, which made it a personal experience and we were able to ask all the questions we wanted. Minutes from the hotel, we saw our first animals, a family of Mule Deer that we had been spying all weekend. The butte on which the hotel was built is designated critical habitat for the deer.
Later on, we went to the Elk Refuge, which provides winter habitat for approximately 2,000 elk and other wildlife. We learned that the females and males herd separately. Further along, we spied some Bison in the distance, but did not get close enough to see any detail. We then entered a portion of the Gran Teton National Park and saw some more mule deer and our eagle-eyed guide spotted two coyotes sitting on a ridge to the north. We then came to a warm spring, where locals have deposited their aquarium fish over the years. These tropical fish have adapted to the spring and can be seen in warmer seasons, brightly swimming around in the otherwise monochromatic wilderness. The trumpeter swans living in the spring were gigantic specimens that didn't look like they could fly. We later heard them trumpeting away as they flew past our van.
Cruising on the desolate roads of the park, which is all but empty during this time of year, we spotted several female moose grazing in the snow-covered fields of bitter sage, as well as a bull moose, bedded down in the trees. These odd-looking creatures were the highlight of the day.
We then saw about 15 coyotes in the Elk Refuge attending to some carrion. Our guide said this was the largest congregation of coyotes he had ever seen. We then saw a whole herd of big-horn sheep, improbably grazing on a steep hillside. Their camouflage was so great that when I got out of the car to photograph them, I lost them and had to scan the hillside over and over to find the family of about 30 sheep. There were several rams with larger horns.
We arrived back at the hotel tired and exhilarated at the same time. We packed our things and said goodbye to Jackson. On the way back to the airport, we saw several female moose, as well as a calf. A fitting end to a wild trip.