We’re driving down I-80, facing down a Wyoming blizzard as I write this. Every few miles, signs pop up warning of potential road closures: “If flashing, use next exit to leave highway.”
This route, now gray-brown under patches of white snow, looked entirely different when we crossed back to Chicago at the end of September. We had left our travel trailer in Salt Lake City and sped home to family obligations—“like a rocket shedding part of itself” our friend Greg intoned when we told him what we’d done.
While we were home, we got lots of questions about the trip, the most common being, “What was your favorite place?”
Dan and I would look at each other and nod, “Definitely the Grand Tetons.”
Up in that northwest corner of Wyoming near Montana, we’d seen and heard the most wildlife of the entire trip—elk, buffalo, black bears, grizzly bears, owls, and bald eagles. We hadn’t expected it at all.
We’d only ever heard of Grand Teton National Park in passing (and in Modest Mouse songs). While we hadn’t given much thought to the national park, multiple people had told us to visit the nearby town of Jackson. “The Austin of Wyoming,” my brother called it.
At the time, back in early September, we’d been planning to drive up to Glacier National Park. We so badly wanted to drive up the Going to the Sun Road (like Jack Nicholson in “The Shining”) and see all of the park’s majestic beauty and wildlife.
Multiple wildfires were raging throughout Glacier, though, and parts of it had shut down. As a consolation, we decided to heed our friends’ advice and check out Jackson Hole. Dan booked us a weekend away from our luxury travel trailer at the truly luxury Snake River Lodge & Spa, which introduced us to the Grand Tetons.
We dropped off our dogs for their own mountain getaway at DogJax and headed into Jackson. Before going to the hotel, located about 20 minutes outside of downtown Jackson in the ski resort area, we took a quick detour to The National Wildlife Museum.
The museum was hosting an exhibit by contemporary Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei—The Zodiac Heads. Outside of the museum stood 12 giant bronze heads of the animals of the Chinese zodiac, each mounted on a bronze pole. With the stark Wyoming mountains as a backdrop, the heads looked especially out of place—and even more stunning.
It was nice to know we were staying close enough to return to the museum if we wanted, and we made our way to the Snake River Lodge. I’d emailed the hotel manager the day before to let her know why we’d booked with them—a change in plans, but we hoped to make the most of it. We also thought the stay would make a nice escape from trailer life, because although traveling is fun and incredibly freeing, setting up, tearing down, and taking care of a trailer requires a lot of work.
When we got to the hotel, the lobby immediately struck us as classic western—taxidermy mountain lions mounted over log cabin walls, leather chairs circled around a fireplace, and gigantic antler chandeliers hanging at the entrances.
But our room was the best part. The Snake River Lodge had taken into account our situation, and voluntarily upgraded us to an oversized suite, complete with fireplace and balcony overlooking the mountains. Staff had also left a bottle of sparkling wine and plate of fresh fruit for us.
We were in awe, but decided to save the wine for later. The mountains were right there, and we wanted to see them up close. The Snake River Lodge rents bikes by the day, which we would’ve done if it hadn’t been so close to sunset. Instead, the guide at the hotel’s Backcountry Adventure Center suggested we drive a lesser-known and unpaved road through Grand Teton National Park.
“You’ll definitely see wildlife,” he said. “No one drives that way, so there’s always tons.”
He was right. Before anything else, we encountered a black bear, completely undaunted by our car cruising toward him as he crossed the road to a patch of blackberries. A park ranger told us later that bears eat about 8,000 calories a day, but during fall, they’re stocking up for winter and consume as many as 20,000 calories a day.
We skipped the backcountry hiking.
Once it grew too dark to see anything, we headed back to the Snake River Lodge, about 15 minutes from the park’s entrance. That was our favorite part about the hotel—its close proximity to downtown Jackson and the Grand Tetons. We found a hip little restaurant, Teton Thai, a few streets away, and headed there for dinner and cocktails. (BTW, does anyone know why there's such a high percentage of Thai restaurants in Jackson? Not complaining, just curious how this came to be.)
On the walk back to the Snake River Lodge, we realized we had an hour before the hot tub closed. After a month and a half living in a trailer, nothing sounded better than a long soak in a hot tub.
The temperature dropped at night, and we snuggled close in the outdoor hot tub, sheltered by a rocky overhang and waterfall. Then, it was back up to our room for a champagne toast on the balcony, wrapped in blankets, with Modest Mouse playing in the background.
A couple months later, we’re cruising down I-80 on our way to pick up our trailer in Salt Lake City, wishing we had time to detour north. Blame it on the Tetons.