BY MICHELLE PAYER / PHOTOS: WYOMING OFFICE OF TOURISM
Peruse any Wyoming travel guide and the vacation possibilities are dizzying, particularly in the summer. If your goal is to disconnect and detox from mobile devices and reconnect with family and friends, we recommend the road less traveled. Spring and summer are the time to explore places closed in winter, learn communication skills from a lifelong cowboy, tread in the footsteps of pioneers and gold miners, and feel nature in the deepest depths of your soul. Here’s how to spend an unforgettable week discovering western Wyoming.
Arrive at Jackson Hole Airport, the only airfield inside a national park—the dramatic Grand Teton National Park—and be awestruck by the vastness of surrounding terrain. No traffic jams here, unless it’s to let bison cross. The rental car agent warned us, “Depending on your phone carrier, you’ll probably lose signal quite often,” which made us giddy. A mere 15-minute drive and you’re in famous Jackson, a cowboy town where the locals take pride in saying, “It’s the exact opposite of Aspen—you don’t come here to be seen.” Unless, that is, you’re Kanye West, who recorded his last album here and catered his parties from the Big Hole Barbecue. (We can confirm they have some of the best smoked ribs in the country.) Take a day to adjust to the 6,000-foot elevation and stroll wooden boardwalks around Town Square at the center of the action. Slip into a saddle at the famous Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, hop on a horse-drawn stagecoach modeled after original 19th-century coaches that squired mail and people through the territories, and attend the daily Jackson Hole Shootout at 6 p.m., the longest-running gunfight in the country. It looks like the real deal, but rest assured, they are shooting blanks.
TRAM RIDES AND RAFTING THE SNAKE RIVER
If you haven’t already, now is the time to swap Louboutin stilettos for Ariat boots. Clothing here is Western style; just about everyone wears Wrangler jeans, and layers are de rigueur, even in the summer months. Drive 20 minutes to Teton Village for a gourmet waffle breakfast in a wooden ski lodge, Corbet’s Cabin, 10,500 feet up on the peak of Rendezvous Mountain. Take the famous 100-passenger Aerial Tram 4,100 vertical feet past Aspen and Douglas fir trees for a 360-degree view of the Tetons. Tickets are $44 per person for full-day rides on the tram, Bridger Gondola and Teewinot chairlift (online discounts are available at jacksonhole.com). Next, enjoy a heart-stopping whitewater rafting ride or scenic float trip down a private stretch of the Snake River with Barker-Ewing, Jackson Hole’s original rafting company. Board a retro school bus, cross into private ranch land rich with wildlife and take a river tour with knowledgeable guides surrounded by epic scenery and snow-capped mountains. barkerewing.com
DIAMOND CROSS RANCH
Wyoming’s history is filled with gritty pioneers that survived by sheer determination on unforgiving land. A few of these homesteads still exist. One of the most remarkable is a 45-minute drive from Jackson to Moran, where Diamond Cross Ranch, a 100-year-old Jackson Hole legacy and historic working ranch, has been operating since 1912. Owned by third-generation ranchers Grant and Jane Golliher, the 400-acre property’s beauty of pastures, horse and black angus herds and showplace barn stand in the shadow of the Grand Tetons. Sought after for weddings and corporate retreats, only one family a week can visit the ranch for a half-day of horse-riding on $30,000 Quarter horses, cattle gathering and sorting, and the most memorable of activities, horse whispering. Author and lifelong cowboy Grant Golliher is renowned for his horse communication skills and weaves his magic interacting with wild horses that adapt to human touch under his hand. Explaining his philosophy that “love drives out all fear,” he demonstrates how interpersonal communication skills can benefit from the same natural techniques he uses to tame horses. The resulting experience is deep and often life-changing. diamondcrossranch.com
HORSE RIDING IN SHOSHONE NATIONAL FOREST
Drive past vast ranchlands, creeks, split-rail fences and the Continental Divide down paved (and sometimes dirt) roads to the middle of the Shoshone National Forest. Here, Sarah and Heath Woltman, founders of Bear Basin Adventures, take people out of their comfort zones for minimum four-day horse trips into the wilderness. About the lack of Internet connection, Sarah says, “You see people’s anxiety on the first day, but sitting around a campfire without a phone leads to a whole new depth of conversation and knowledge-sharing. Letting go of technology helps people be themselves.” Choose between pack trips and yoga retreats, see elk, moose and bears in the distance, and become one with nature before gathering at a well-appointed base camp in the middle of the Absaroka mountains. bearbasinadventures.com
Do not miss South Pass City, the gold-mining town where 2,000 prospecting miners hoped to strike it rich in the late 1800s. Ninety percent of the structures are original, and guides say the restored town would be familiar to dusty prospectors. Check-in at the town’s Dance Hall and explore cabins, saloons, butcher and blacksmith shops, saloons and card rooms. Fun fact: Number of bars in 1870: 14; Number of churches: 0. Book a Saturday morning tour to the recently discovered and opened English Mine, a two-mile guided hike from the town. Explore the mine by flashlight, past candles in “sticking tommy” holders embedded into the rock, where miners futilely attempted to tap a gold vein. Some say you can still feel their spirits hoping to strike gold (southpasscity.com).
One last stop rich in history is in the Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge, where you’ll want to fly-fish at the Lombard Ferry crossing, a world-class fishing spot. Here, 700,000 pioneers, laden with wagons, horses, cattle and sheep navigated the then-dangerous Green River to embark on the California, Oregon or Mormon Trails in the mid-1800s. Considerable wildlife and birdwatching, few people and an historic setting create an ideal trout fishing location. Contact the visitors’ center for more