Last week I flew into Jackson Hole, Wyoming for a long weekend exploring state #42 on my 50 by 50 quest to see all 50 US states by the time I turn 50 this September. My dog Selma and boyfriend Keith were along for the ride!
Flights in and out are pretty spectacular, themselves — the small airstrip is right in the midst of Grand Teton National Park, with the towering snow-covered mountain peaks surrounding the airplanes as they take off and land.
A 15-minute drive or so from the airport is the rustic, pretty little town of Jackson. It has loads of Western charm without being kitschy (except for the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, which was neon, mid-century Vegas kitschy in a fun way but unfortunately was closed at the time). There is plenty of upscale dining and shopping, if that’s what you’re looking for; yet the town is friendly, low-key and completely unpretentious. We stayed at the fabulously retro Antler Inn, which also had the benefit of a large, wood-burning fireplace in the room.
Around town I checked out the main square, with an arched entry at each corner made up entirely of elk antlers; some of the shops; and drinks with live music at the Silver Dollar Bar & Grill in the historic Wort Hotel. We also had some great meals including breakfasts at E. Leaven Food Company and the highlight of our food experience in Jackson, a very special dinner at the Blue Lion. This local favorite, located in a charming 1930s house, has been in business for more than 30 years. We enjoyed cocktails with a fantastic starter of Thai seafood fritters, and then fresh fish dishes prepared in classic French style.
The main draw of the area, though, was the stunning natural beauty of the mountains, lakes and rivers, national parks, and abundant wildlife such as bison, elk, moose, antelope and bear. The National Elk Refuge is at the edge of Jackson, and Grand Teton National Park sits between Jackson Hole and Yellowstone National Park.
We drove up to Yellowstone on Saturday morning for the weekend — the first visit for all of us. We arrived for the first day of National Park Week, when all national parks in the country are open free of charge.
Immediately upon entering the park, within minutes, a bison greeted us, grazing lazily right along the roadway. All that day and the next, we saw herds of bison; along with some elk and numerous birds. Early the second day at Yellowstone, we came upon several cars parked along the shoulder and a group of people with binoculars and cameras aimed at the trees across a valley.
It was a grizzly bear! I had hoped to see one — they were just coming out of hibernation, after all — but not too up close and personal. It was the first time I’ve ever seen a bear in the wild.
We also had an exciting wildlife spotting to bookend that one, on our way out of the park that afternoon when we spotted a pack of gray wolves some distance away.
In between the wildlife admiration we marveled at the geographic formations and diversity located within the park. Hot springs, mineral ponds of unreal colors, bubbling mud pots, mountains, lakes, canyons, waterfalls, and of course Yellowstone’s most famous attraction: Old Faithful.
It was a fantastic way to experience Wyoming, and I left wondering why it had taken me so long to get to this fantastic state. The trip to Yellowstone also allowed for a little time through Idaho and Montana, two states I have visited previously and love as well. April was definitely the off season for the area, and so some things were closed (businesses and roads through the parks), and it was still relatively cold. But the pluses outweighed these minuses: there were hardly any visitors to Yellowstone or Grand Teton (many times we were the only ones around) and prices were lower (two-for-one meals and drinks at many area restaurants).
In early June I’m off to visit state #43, Michigan. After that I have left: Nebraska, South Dakota and North Dakota (trip planned over 4th of July weekend); Connecticut, Rhode Island and Maine (planning a trip with my mother for late summer), and ending up in dramatic fashion for state #50: I’ve booked an Alaskan land and cruise adventure over my birthday to round out visiting every state in the union.