Jackson Wyoming: Grand Teton National Park And The Wild West
Nestled just southeast of the Grand Teton, or “”The Grand”” as the locals call it, is the town of Jackson Hole, Wyoming. This is a town rich in the heritage of the “”Wild West.”” Jackson is the gateway to the Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks and is the last town offering any appreciable services before entering the parks.
Only a few short years ago, Jackson was a small community containing mostly historic buildings and architecture of a typical seasonal tourist town. Some of that flavor has been lost in the last 10 years as chain hotels have purchased downtown sites and modern rising architecture have taken their place. Jackson is quickly becoming a congested commercial tourist attraction and leaving the Wild West behind.
An exception to the rising architecture in downtown Jackson is The Million Dollar Cowboy Bar together with the elk antler-arched town square and the famous downtown stagecoach ride replicating what traveled the dusty western streets of yester-year. The old Wort Hotel has also managed to keep some of the historic flavor of the town including a display of black-and-white pictures of famous cowboy movie actors and actresses from the 1920’s, 30’s and 40’s that frequented the area.
Fortunately a daily shootout is staged around the town square with live cowboys taking part in a mock gun battle delighting crowds from around the world. Occasionally you will see drugstore cowboys toting side arms (yes, Wyoming allows open-carry) to add to the flavor of the attraction.
As you head north out of Jackson, you will first find the sod-roofed Jackson Hole Greater Yellowstone Visitor Center building and museum. This is a great place to begin your journey into the parks and offers hundreds of ideas for hikes, views and natural attractions; all part of the Wild West.
The National Elk Refuge is next to the visitor center where thousands of elk can be viewed, especially in winter, as they gather to survive the harsh weather of Wyoming. The elk are driven out of the refuge in early spring to fend for themselves in the park and surrounding Bridger-Teton National Forest. Waterfowl in abundance are also found at this same place year-round due the wetlands created by runoff and Cache Creek.
The physical boundary of Grand Teton National Park is about 4 miles north of the visitor center. You will be on the scenic US Highway 89 where there is no fee for entering this part of the park. This is where the real Wild West begins. Except for several private “”inholdings,”” lodging facilities and park buildings the next more than 100 miles are relatively undeveloped. Buffalo, antelope, elk, deer, bear, coyote, wolves and hundreds of other western wildlife can be viewed from the comfort of your own car.
Encountering the grandeur of the Teton mountain range as it rises more than a mile-and-a-third from the Snake River Valley floor is even more stunning than in the era of the famous Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1805 although their view may have been from afar.
Buffalo roam freely in a little-known area just east of the Grand along Antelope Flats Road. You can find this area on the map of the park as it loops from US 89 at the Gros Ventre Junction to the Blacktail Ponds Overlook. Kelly Hot Springs give a continuous flow of warm water to Antelope Flats and is a favorite gathering place for hearty buffalo.
The early pioneer cowboys of this area attempted to carve out a living by raising crops on Antelope Flats bringing irrigation water from mountain streams and diverting it across several miles of flat mountain deltas. Unfortunately the growing season in this high mountain valley prevented them from making it their permanent home. These cowboys were forced to find better soil and a more compatible climate in lower valleys for growing crops. The buffalo have become the beneficiary of the grassy fields left more than a century ago.
You may think you have seen the Wild West as you visit the town of Jackson but the real thing is located off the main highway as you travel to the north.