In late July 2016 I was on my way to Seattle and Portland to see friends. I passed through the area containing Jackson, Grand Teton National Park, and Yellowstone National Park (and also West Yellowstone and Red Lodge).
Jackson is a cool town. I’d never seen so many obvious Vandwellers. Flagstaff comes close, but there it’s more overland trucks and SUVs. The bad part about Jackson: the super-tourists and super tourist shops at the town square.
I observed the vacation process of the female Asian social media-obsessed tourist:
- Always, ALWAYS walk with phone in hand. Half of the time, phone pointed at face either taking selfies or participating on social media.
- Walk up to something (could anything that stands out: maybe the arches made of (fake?) elk horns at each corner of the town square, or maybe the war memorial in the middle of it)
- Look at that thing for 2.5 seconds. Don’t read any of the text.
- Take selfies for the next 280 seconds. After the perfect selfie, take a picture with various combinations of your travel partners. If you are in front of a statue, pose just like the statue.
This was not at all specific to asian women, but they appeared the most developed in this phone-centric vacation process.
I saw a guy who sealed the deal on the Jackson town square image: he was walking across the street recording what was probably a video using a phone on a selfie stick. Halfway across the street, he finishes the video and tucks the selfie stick under his arm. He had a DSLR hanging from his neck. Ok, maybe next he will use that to take a picture? Nope. Syke! He pulls a TABLET out of somewhere, and holds it up in front of him to take a picture (probably of the elk horn arch he was approaching) This man has fully mastered the art of juggling multiple devices to produce the highest rate of Facebook and Snapchat spam.
The town square is not all bad. There are cool shops there. I was impressed with the hats in those shops. I don’t know hat names – these are big round ones, but not full cowboy hats. They seemed like ok deals for how nice they appeared. I could use a hat like that, but I don’t know prices or how to judge quality. So I passed, assuming they are as overpriced as some of the other things in their store.
A great thing about the town square is the free Wifi. There is Jackson city-provided Wifi there. It works better towards the south side of the square. The reason this was important is that the Verizon cellular data in Jackson is so slow it’s worthless for anything other than text.
BOOTSTRAPPING FROM A DUMP TRUCK TO SILICON VALLEY RICHES
The best thing about the square was a conversation I had there. I was sitting on a bench reading a book, and an older gentleman sat down on the other end of the bench. He wasn’t doing anything, just sitting there and looking around. He had been there 20-30 minutes when I got to a stopping point in my book and struck up a conversation with him. He’s had an interesting life. He grew up in NYC and at age 15, right after his father died, he quit school and bought a dump truck and a chainsaw. He went out to Western NY and hustled himself a job doing tree maintenance at a College. Then he went to school there. He went down a few career paths, leading to him being involved very early in the semiconductor industry, and eventually getting a big windfall from the sale of a startup company he co-founded. He’s traveled to a many different parts of the world and is a thoughtful and clear-speaking guy. He had very good advice, but it was nearly all about work. I tried to get some advice from him on long-term self-actualization, but the best I could get was advice on where to spend time this fall/winter given my outdoor activity interests (he said California).
I didn’t take any pictures in Jackson. I need to start taking pictures in the towns also.
GRAND TETON NATIONAL PARK
I spent about a day and a half in Jackson. I got maps and good advice at the visitor’s center, and bought a one-year National Parks pass. Next, I drove up into Grand Teton National park. I went to Jenny lake to go for a bike ride. There aren’t any good roads for road cycling in Grand Teton, but there is a 22 mile bike trail going from Jackson to Jenny lake. So I drove up to the lake and road to Jackson and back. I rode hard and and it wiped me out. I used to be in WAY better shape. I need to get back into longer rides gradually and let my body catch up. There silver lining in this is that I can get great workouts in without having to ride very long 😀 😀
The Tetons are really cool mountains. As my brother described to me about a week before, the area is pretty flat, and all the sudden the mountains shoot up steeply. They are very different from the Colorado rockies. They were similar to the mountains I saw years ago in Canada at Banff. I had a good clear view of them while driving up and while bicycling south. But when cycling back north, a lot of smoke from one or two of the nearby forest fires had rolled in. By the time I got back to Jenny lake, it was really smoky and hazy. Enough to spoil all the good views. I didn’t take any pictures in Grand Teton before the smoke, and once it was there, it wasn’t worth it.
I was going to drive over to the National Forest east of GTNP to camp, but as I started driving that way, I could see it was smoky over there too. I decided to head up into Yellowstone and see if it was better there. So I drove north and the smoke gradually faded from view.
This was after I’d been driving north a bit, and it was less smoky than in the middle of Grand Teton, but still enough to spoil a view.
I stopped at some of the geysers/hot springs/whatever they’re called. I did stop at Old Faithful. I was really hungry and decided to eat before I walked over. It erupted while I was eating. It was too late in the evening to wait around for the next one, so I continued west.
If you fall off, CERTAIN DEATH!
When gusts of wind blew toward me from this, I felt pockets of air 30+ degrees warmer than ambient. wow!
(That’s a “Overdrive off” light, not a check engine)
I drove out the western edge of Yellowstone, to the town named West Yellowstone. I like this town much better than Jackson. It’s also a complete tourist town, but it has a different feel. It feels older. Simpler. Less like it’s trying to be something it shouldn’t. It felt like a town suited to it’s purpose – to house, feed, and supply people going in and out of Yellowstone. No fancy jewelry stores. No designer clothes stores. It does have a few too many T-shirt stores, but if that’s a town’s only issue they are doing very well. Also, even while there were a lot of obvious tourists, including Asian women, almost NO ONE had their phone in their face. People here seemed more in the moment. More connected with their travel partners. After the Jackson town square, that was very refreshing.
I’ll be going back through West Yellowstone on my way out of the area, and I promise I’ll take pictures then. I felt like I had been doing too much and moving too fast, so I spent about 36 hours holed up in West Yellowstone. When I left, it was to drive back into Yellowstone, taking the following route:
I stopped to hike up Mt. Washburn
These are, I believe, Pronghorn Antelope. I’d have thought these little guys are slow, but supposedly they can run up to 60mph! They are the fastest mammals on foot in the western hemisphere.
This building is a the top of Mt. Washburn. What kind of waves were shooting through my body?
Then I carried on driving towards the eastern exit of Yellowstone.
I was surprised by how many waterfalls are in Yellowstone. I saw probably 15 so far.
I was wondering if these bison are living as wild, or if they are cared for or managed. Anyone know? They seemed as docile as fully domesticated animals. If these act the same as the bison did two hundred years ago, it’s clear how easily a group of people could hunt them to extinction. It seems like someone could walk up to these bison and shoot them execution style any they might not take a step in any direction other than falling over. They are every bit as huge as you may think. I wasn’t aware of the sound they make. They sound like a cross between a cow and a dragon!
Up next, camping at the northeast border of Yellowstone and driving the Beartooth pass. The views are about to get BIG!