Oh my God. It’s full of stars.” Mary exclaims, nodding to the famous line from 2001: A Space Odyssey. But what else can you say from underneath a blanket of stars on the outskirts of Jackson, Wyo.? We’re here out here craning our necks upwards on an expedition with Samuel Singer of Wyoming Stargazing (1085 WY-22 Unit D, Jackson, 844-996-7827). Singer is a science educator and astrophysics nut. He founded the nonprofit in 2013, primarily because he can’t not talk about the night sky, but officially to provide astronomy programs for school kids in the Jackson area. The group funds its efforts primarily through group stargazing tours like this one. Lucky us, no one else signed up for this evening’s outing and we’ve got Singer, and his endless knowledge and enthusiasm, all to ourselves (along with warm drinks, cozy blankets and a little bootlegged whiskey for medicinal purposes).
Wyoming’s night sky is as advertised. Jackson and the surrounding communities have long worked to meet dark sky standards in their planning and zoning, and though the lights of Jackson are visible, they are not interfering with the millions of twinkling stars above. And it doesn’t hurt that Singer hauls along a massive tracking telescope with a pro-level 20-inch mirror for us to get a closer look at the prominent stops on his tour of the heavens, and on your left Andromeda!
It was a thrilling welcome to the wonders of Wyoming. Last fall, Salt Lake magazine’s executive editor—the late, great Mary Brown Malouf—and I braved the pandemic and set out to explore one corner of the Cowboy State on a tour that started with the skies and took us down to the bottom of the Snake River Canyon, bucking down roaring white water.
JACKSON. NOT JACKSON HOLE.
Mistakenly known as Jackson Hole, Jackson, Wyo. is an insanely affluent town located in the geographical depression called “Jackson Hole,” In the early nineteenth century, mountain men, many dispatched by David E. Jackson of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, sought fur in this part of the Oregon Territory, expanding on the explorations of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. The area’s appeal to the wealthy and well-heeled, who make Teton County the most affluent per-capita zip code in the United States, is obvious. This is a stunningly beautiful country, and Jackson is perfectly situated in range of two of America’s greatest national parks, Grand Teton and Yellowstone. Grand Teton National Park occupies the northwestern part of the valley encompassing the iconic, jagged peaks of the Teton Range. The Town of Jackson sits at the southern end. The Snake River threads through the entire valley from its headwater in Yellowstone National Park. These parks are part of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, one of the last remaining large, nearly intact ecosystems in the northern temperate zone of the Earth.
WHERE TO RANGE
Our evening under the stars was followed by an early morning call time for pick up by our guide from Jackson Hole Wildlife Safaris (650 W. Broadway, Jackson, 307-690-6402). The all-day excursion was essentially a grand tour of the greatest hits of Yellowstone (like Old Faithful, Grand Prismatic Spring and Yellowstone Lake) punctuated by “hurry! look!” sightings of pronghorn antelope and roaming bison. And although we were skunked on seeing bears or wolves, our guide kept up a steady patter of folksy wisdom, facts and tall tales that kept us laughing and rolling our eyes as we trundled around Yellowstone and back. Jackson’s adventurous residents pride themselves on a well-organized and fully segregated network of biking trails in and out of town, so the next day I decided to see what all the fuss was about. On the advice of the folks at Hoback Sports (520 W. Broadway #3, Jackson, 307-733-5335) I saddled up for the 40-mile road bike ride to Jenny Lake in Grand Teton National Park (Bonus: The park’s entrance gate has the cutest little mini-bike sized fee station to enter via two wheels.) This excursion, on one of the most immaculate road bike trails I’ve ever ridden, runs entirely below the imposing peaks of the Tetons and delivers you to the lake’s shore. Hoback Sports also rents pedal-assist E-bikes if you’d rather not slug it out. While I was out grinding below the Tetons, Mary opted to take a scenic chair lift ride to get a birds-eye view of the Tetons, the National Elk Refuge and the town of Jackson from 1,571 feet up to the summit of Snow King Mountain (402 E. Snow King Ave., Jackson, 307-201- 5464) For our final day, we saved the best for last. Running the “daily,” four-hour whitewater trip down the Snake River, is one of Jackson’s bucket list items. We signed up with Lewis and Clark Expeditions (335 N. Cache St., Jackson, 307-733-4022) and climbed into a raft with our salty guide (the aptly named Orion Hatch) Captain Hatch was about to give us a master class in whitewater, expertly rowing us into the deepest holes and into the biggest waves. The “daily” builds with increasingly wild rapids that crescendo with its most notorious—the Big Kahuna and Lunch Counter—where, during high river flow, boats commonly flip. Even this late in the season, the biggest rapids on the daily did not disappoint and we emerged, soaking, laughing and happy to have followed our captain’s very first command: “everybody stay in the boat, OK?”
WHERE TO EAT
All of this adventure requires sustenance. Start at the Bunnery Bakery and Restaurant (130 N. Cache St., Jackson, 307-733-5474) where a hearty breakfast menu and a selection of housemade baked goods fill both bill and belly. (Also amazing pies. Who says you can’t have pie for breakfast?) Lured in by the scent of smoking brisket, we discovered Hatch Taqueria and Tequilas (120 W. Broadway, Jackson, 307-203-2780) a modern Mexican spot where that brisket comes in taco form alongside what we decided was the best margarita in Jackson, As oppressed Utahns, one of our best finds was Bin 22, (200 W. Broadway, Jackson, 307-739-9463) a combo wine store and wine bar. Choose from the curated selection behind the bar or pick any bottle from the store’s Spanish and Italian selection. Drink it on the spot with a selection of small bites. We never wanted to leave. The Hotel Jackson’s house bar and restaurant, Figs (120 N. Glenwood St., Jackson, 307-733- 2200), was a unique surprise, a Lebanese-Mediterranean restaurant in the heart of cowboy land (the hotel’s ownership is Lebanese). The grilled lamb chop was the standout on a solid menu of Lebanese standards, including authentically prepared hummus, interestingly customizable with a selection of traditionally prepared meats and spices. And how could we not venture into the venerable Wort Hotel’s Silver Dollar and Bar & Grill (50 N. Glenwood St., Jackson, 307-733- 2190) to check out the famous Silver Dollar Bar, throw back a couple and enjoy the menu of hearty pub fare.
WHERE TO STAY
The Lodge at Jackson Hole
A down-home, friendly spot that is close to town but set back a secluded grove of pine trees. The hearty hot breakfast made an excellent start to the day and we loved the hundreds of cute little wooden bears adorning the lodge’s detailed carved wooden interior and exterior.
80 Scott Ln., Jackson, 307-739-9703
A gorgeous modern luxury hotel, a western accent, in the heart of Jackson. We loved Figs, the hotel’s signature restaurant, and the efficient and impeccable service we witnessed from arrival to departure.
120 N. Glen- wood St., Jackson, 307-733- 2200
The Wort Hotel
The word “charming” doesn’t say enough about this gorgeous boutique hotel. Built-in 1941, The Wort is the grand dame of Jackson Hotels. Its famous Silver Dollar Bar was designed and built by a German cabinet maker using 2,032 uncirculated Morgan Silver Dollars from the Denver mint.
50 N. Glenwood St., Jackson, 307- 733-2190
Snow King Mountain
Snow King Mountain has four distinct properties at or near its base—The Elk Country Inn, 49er Inn & Suites, Antler Inn, Cowboy Village Resort and one on-mountain, ski-in-ski-out option, The Snow King Resort Hotel.
402 E. Snow King Ave., Jackson, 307- 201-5464
ROAD TRIP 1: SALT TO STONE
Welcoming small towns brimming with local flavor and stretches of unscathed wilderness await visitors traveling from Salt Lake City into southwest Wyoming and northward to Yellowstone. The Salt to Stone region is a colorful Adventureland waiting to be discovered by road trippers. Trace the footsteps of mountain men and women, discover dreamy vistas by foot, bike, or car—and tour museums and attractions that showcase Western culture at its finest.
STARTING POINT: Evanston, Wyo.
1. ROUNDHOUSE & RAIL YARDS, EVANSTON
Evanston is home to one of the only remaining complete roundhouses on the old Union Pacific line between Omaha and Sacramento. This historical building—used by railroads to store and service locomotives — has a turntable that is still operational.
2. FORT BRIDGER STATE HISTORIC SITE, FORT BRIDGER
Several restored buildings highlight the history of this 19th-century fur-trading post, a vital supply stop for wagon trains traversing the Oregon, California and Mormon trails. Tour the reconstructed trading post and museum.
3. FOSSIL BUTTE NATIONAL MONUMENT, NEAR KEMMERER
Colorful geologic formations rise about 1,000 feet above Twin Creek Valley and possess some of the world’s best-preserved fossils, including those of fish, insects, plants, reptiles, birds and mammals.
4. STAR VALLEY SCENIC BYWAY
This picturesque 80-mile stretch of Highway 89 starts at the Idaho-Wyoming border, climbs up Salt Canyon and Salt River Pass and descends into the sprawling and verdant Star Valley. Then the route continues through the quaint communities of Smoot, Afton, Grover, Thayne and Etna before reaching Alpine and ending at the Lincoln County line in Snake River Canyon.
5. JACKSON HOLE AERIAL TRAM, TETON VILLAGE
Ride the tram in Teton Village up 4,139 feet to unparalleled wraparound views of Bridger-Teton National Forest and Grand Teton National Park.
ENDING POINT: Yellowstone National Park south entrance
ROAD TRIP 2: ROCKIES TO TETONS
Those pining for epic outdoor pursuits will find plenty to do on a road trip through the Rocky Mountains to the Teton Range in the Rockies to the Tetons region, where the beauty of the Snowy, Medicine Bow, Seminoe and Wind River mountain ranges heighten the scenery—literally. Immerse yourself in nature through activities like rock climbing, hiking and biking, and delve into Native American, women’s suffrage and frontier history.
STARTING POINT: Summit Information Center, Laramie, Wyo.
1. WYOMING HOUSE FOR HISTORIC WOMEN, LARAMIE
See exhibits on Louisa Gardner Swain—the first woman in the world to vote under the Wyoming Territory law granting women the right to vote and hold office—and 12 other local women who paved the way in the women’s suffrage movement.
2. WYOMING TERRITORIAL PRISON STATE HISTORIC SITE, LARAMIE
This historic site is rich with tales of “violent and desperate outlaws,” the most famous of which was Butch Cassidy. Browse exhibits on the penitentiary’s prisoners and how it became a center for agricultural experimentation for the University of Wyoming.
3. ALBANY LODGE, LARAMIE
Flanked by the Snowy Range, Laramie Plains and Medicine Bow National Forest, this lovingly restored 1907 hotel and cafe is a terrific home base for adventures in the surrounding wildlands.
4. GRAND ENCAMPMENT MUSEUM, ENCAMPMENT
Wander through more than a dozen preserved historical buildings furnished with artifacts showcasing the history of the timber, mining and agricultural industries of the Upper Platte Valley at the turn of the 20th century. Don’t miss the two-story outhouse.
5. WYOMING FRONTIER PRISON, RAWLINS
More than 13,500 people were incarcerated at the “Old Pen” during its 80 years of operation, including 11 women. Tour the prison, built in 1901 just three blocks off Main Street, to gain insight into its fascinatingly dark past.
6. WOMEN’S SUFFRAGE PATHWAY, NEAR SOUTH PASS CITY
Drive the Wyoming Women’s Suffrage Pathway, a 19-mile segment of Highway 28 southwest of South Pass City. The 1860s-era mining town is where Esther Hobart Morris served as justice of the peace and became the first woman to hold political office in the U.S.
7. LANDER BAR, LANDER
Originally opened as a saloon in 1908, the bar served as a hotel, brothel and boarding house— among other things—before it was turned back into a saloon. Order a whiskey or craft beer, the perfect thirst quenchers after a day of rock climbing at nearby Sinks Canyon State Park.
8. WIND RIVER HOTEL & CASINO, RIVERTON
Learn about the past, present and future of the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes who reside on the Wind River Reservation in the establishment’s Northern Arapaho Experience Room and try your luck at the casino.
9. NATIONAL BIGHORN SHEEP INTERPRETIVE CENTER, DUBOIS
The world’s largest wintering herd of bighorn sheep roams this remote area. Stop by the National Bighorn Sheep Interpretive Center to view exhibits about the majestic mammals and set up a guided or solo tour to see them in their natural habitat.
ENDING POINT: Yellowstone National Park south entrance
ROAD TRIP 3: PARK TO PARK
Follow the Park to Park Highway—a popular early 1900s auto route connecting 12 national parks in the West—to discover road-trip stops too special to ignore, from Wyoming’s lively capital city to quaint small towns that move at a refreshingly slower pace. Drop a line in one of the West’s most renowned fishing destinations, revel in prehistoric and natural wonders, and pick up perfect Wyoming mementos—like cowboy boots and local wine—to remember your journey.
STARTING POINT: Southeast Wyoming Welcome Center
1. TERRY BISON RANCH RESORT, CHEYENNE
Climb aboard a custom-built train for a ride out to the middle of the working ranch’s bison herd and bite into the Senator’s Steakhouse’s juicy bison burger, voted the Best Bison Burger in Wyoming by USA Today’s “10 Best.”
2. CHEYENNE BOTANIC GARDENS, CHEYENNE
Linger in rose, herb, wetland, cacti and woodland gardens, admire the tropical plant collection in the stately Grand Conservatory and get an idea of what life was like for early Wyoming settlers in the historic Rotary Century Plaza.
3. TABLEMOUNTAIN VINEYARDS, NEAR TORRINGTON
Table Mountain Vineyards’ “pure Wyoming wine” is concocted from all-local ingredients. Make an appointment to stop in for sips of their semi-sweet Cowgirl Blush or the tart Cherry Rush.
4. GUERNSEY STATE PARK, GUERNSEY
Explore historical structures built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, including a museum located at the top of a cliff that gives way to expansive views of a sparkling reservoir.
5. GLENDO STATE PARK, GLENDO
Sparkling Glendo Reservoir attracts boaters, water skiers, swimmers and anglers. Keep your eyes peeled for teepee rings and other artifacts left by Native American tribes who once inhabited the area.
6. JACKALOPE SQUARE, DOUGLAS
According to legend, the jackalope was born in Douglas when two brothers mounted a jackrabbit’s body with deer antlers at their taxidermy shop. Pose with the 8-foot statue of the creature at Jackalope Square. Don’t forget to tag #ThatsWY
7. AYRES NATURAL BRIDGE, DOUGLAS
Discover a 100-foot-long natural rock arch spanning La Prele Creek west of Douglas. This oasis has a short trail that leads to a view of the “bridge” from above, as well as picnic tables that offer a break from the road.
8. LOU TAUBERT RANCH OUTFITTERS, CASPER
This downtown Casper institution has supplied locals and visitors with boots, hats and other Western essentials since 1919. With more than 10,000 pairs of boots in stock, you’re sure to find the perfect fit.
9. WYOMING DINOSAUR CENTER & DIG SITES, THERMOPOLIS
Hundreds of displays and more than 30 mounted skeletons tell storied tales of Wyoming’s prehistoric past. See the Archaeopteryx specimen—one of only 10 in the world—or opt for a dig-site tour, where you can dig for fossils yourself.
10. WIND RIVER CANYON, NEAR THERMOPOLIS
Travel through time on the Wind River Canyon Scenic Byway in Thermopolis to catch glimpses of Wind River Canyon’s 2,500-foot, pink-hued rock walls, which date back to the Precambrian period, as well as bighorn sheep and other wildlife. Keep an eye out for signage highlighting the canyon’s geology along the way.
ENDING POINT: Yellowstone National Park south entrance
ROAD TRIP 4: BLACK TO YELLOW
Stories of the American West echo throughout the Black to Yellow region, home to kaleidoscopic landscapes and iconic sights. During your journey from northeast Wyoming’s Black Hills to Yellowstone, discover geologic marvels, dense evergreen forests and sprawling prairie lands. Step into the past to meet larger-than-life characters like Buffalo Bill Cody and find out what life was like in Wyoming during different periods in history.
STARTING POINT: Wyoming-South Dakota border, near Northeast Wyoming Welcome Center, Beulah
1. VORE BUFFALO JUMP, NEAR BEULAH
Stop by the small interpretive center to gain insight into how this natural sinkhole was used as a buffalo jump (a buffalo trap) from about 1500 to 1800 A.D. by at least five different Plains Indian tribes.
2. ALADDIN GENERAL STORE, ALADDIN
Groceries, fishing supplies, Western wear and antiques are just a few things you’ll find at this gem, a general store built in 1896. Be sure to pick up some old-fashioned candy or sarsaparilla to enjoy on the front porch.
3. DEVILS TOWER NATIONAL MONUMENT, NEAR HULETT & SUNDANCE
Hike one of the four scenic trails at America’s first national monument, a 1,267-foot striated rock tower that gained fame as the filming site for Steven Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”
4. FRONTIER AUTO MUSEUM, GILLETTE
Get lost in this charming locale’s antique shop, old-timey general store and car museum, which features an array of shiny classic cars, vintage gas pumps, neon signs and other transportation memorabilia.
5. CHRIS LEDOUX PARK, KAYCEE
The legacy of the legendary hall-of-fame rodeo cowboy and country musician Chris LeDoux is immortalized in a sculpture titled Good Ride Cowboy at Chris LeDoux Park in Kaycee, where he lived on a ranch with his family.
6. WYO THEATER, SHERIDAN
Established in 1923, the WYO was one of the first vaudeville theaters in Wyoming and is now the oldest still in operation—bringing professional music, dance and theater to historic downtown Sheridan.
7. WASHAKIE MUSEUM & CULTURAL CENTER, WORLAND
Exhibits on paleontology, archaeology and early settlements portray the relationship between the historic inhabitants of the Bighorn Basin and their environment.
8. MEETEETSE CHOCOLATIER, MEETEETSE
Tim Kellogg, a saddle bronc rider and cowboy turned chocolatier, makes all of the artisan confections at Meeteetse Chocolatier from scratch daily. Choose from exquisite truffle flavors like prickly pear cactus and Wyoming Whiskey.
9. BUFFALO BILL CENTER OF THE WEST, CODY
Immerse yourself in the natural and cultural history and art of the region at five different institutions in one complex: the Plains Indian, Buffalo Bill, Draper Natural History, Whitney Western Art and Cody Firearms museums.
ENDING POINT: Yellowstone National Park east entrance
Road trips courtesy of Wyoming Tourism and Miles Partnership. Find more along these routes and visit TravelWyoming.com for more stops and planning info. For more Adventures & Travel, click here.