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|Where’s Kelly? Wyoming|
The more you learn about it, the more you love it.
By Kelly Gray
Savvy travelers are already making preliminary plans for their summer vacations, long before they hit the open road. The first place on my list of summer ‘08 destinations is an easy choice. I'll be headed west to see a show that gives Broadway a run for its money. It's beautiful Wyoming and it will leave you breathless.
The Wyoming summer is relatively brief, followed quickly by winter snows that make for fairytale sugar forests and ski season. Catch a glimpse of it this summer in the tiny mountain town of Alta, located about an hour from Jackson Hole.
For me, just the mention of places like Wyoming have always conjured up visions of campfires, cowboys spinning tales of the plains and saying things like ‘git along lil' doggie'. I took an extended trip to the neighboring western state of Montana several years ago, staying with the hospitable Tibbetts on their ranch, several miles from the nearest paved road. Montana was truly beautiful, but it wasn't all Marlboro men and good whiskey. It was land as far as the eye could see, cattle and scary wildlife. During my stay, I was informed that the house next door, (a mere 15,000 acres away) had had a rattlesnake infestation (I know, I know… I can barely type the words.) One morning, the lady of the neighboring house opened her cupboard to find one of the coiled vipers staring her in the face. So when packing for what I figured were the wilds of Wyoming, I included snake-proof boots, my favorite cowgirl clothes and my lucky cowboy hat.
NOT EXACTLY RIGHT IN YOUR BACKYARD
As much as I love it out west, journalistic integrity requires me to admit that reaching states like Wyoming and Montana from the eastern seaboard is no mean feat. You need a day to get there comfortably. If you're flying on United Airlines, you may also need a Valium. On this trip, all three of my flights were delayed and an equipment change to a smaller plane had me sandwiched between the Jolly Green Giant and Paul Bunyan for four hours. I had a center seat on every flight in the back of the plane ... ewww!! To add insult to injury, a weather detour around mail-order catalogue capital Pueblo, Colorado delayed the second flight for an hour and a half. Naturally, I was delighted to learn when we arrived in Denver that the pilot had held the plane to Jackson Hole for us, bless his heart. As I arrived in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, my luggage arrived in Chicago, Illinois, damaged beyond repair. At 2:19am, more than a dozen hours after leaving North Carolina, I collapsed into bed at Grand Targhee Resort. NOTE: Upon complaining about the haphazard trip to United Airlines executives, they were apologetic and reimbursed me for my damaged luggage expeditiously.
ROOM WITH A VIEW ... AND HOW!
Waking up the next day, I felt no trace of stress from the day before. I was excited to see the view from my window and recalled the many times I'd 'heard tell' as we say in the south of Wyoming. I sprang from my bed, threw back the curtains and gasped aloud. Only God's crayons could draw what lay before me. Grand Targhee Resort's rustic Teewinot Lodge backs up to a gorgeous spectacle, presented courtesy of the Wyoming summer. The rows of mountains were dotted at the base with dozens of aspen trees, blanketed with thousands of wildflowers atop the greenest grass I'd ever seen. It was all I could do not to put on a bandana and knee-length skirt, jump out the window and run up the hill singing at the top of my lungs, a la Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music. Luckily for the other guests, I hadn't yet received my luggage.
After prying myself away from the window in my room, I wandered about the resort. As striking as the view from the lodge had been, the grand spectacle of the mountains as seen everywhere else was overwhelming. The mountains ran straight up at a nosebleed angle until they ended in a bright blue cotton candy sky. Wyoming is home to the massive Teton Mountains. The Teton Mountains have no foothills thanks to plates that, whence coming together millions of years ago, skyrocketed the mountains upright. These ominous fellows are the mountains you've perhaps seen on postcards of Wyoming. To behold these mighty giants in person should be on your list of things to do before you die.
Wyoming is like the blind date that turns out to look like Gerard Butler with no commitment issues ... a fabulous freak of nature. The more familiar you become with it, the more you come to love the place and its people. My host was a most affable lady named Susie Barnett-Bushong. We met for breakfast over a cup (or seven) of addictive Green Mountain coffee and breakfast burritos. As someone who usually hates burritos, I was shocked at how fresh mine was. As we sat getting to know each other at a picnic table on the café patio, I noticed a long line attached to a telephone pole that looked to be many hundreds of feet above ground.
"That's what you'll be doing shortly!" Susie informed me enthusiastically of the zipline. She suggested a day filled with ziplining, horseback riding and music later that evening. The latter two were immensely appealing. The first activity scared the daylights out of me. For those who don't know, ziplining is where you foolishly let strangers strap you into a harness attached to a wire, on which you "zip" at breakneck speed from many feet above the ground or body of water. The basics of ziplining at Grand Targhee Resort include climbing a 30-foot telephone pole, standing on a tiny platform the size of a dinner plate and jumping. It's one thing to zip over water. It's quite another to do it over hard, potentially bone crushing land. I'm somewhat afraid of heights. But I hadn't come to Wyoming to sit on the sidelines and decided to give it a try.
The ladies who ran the zipline bore the unmistakable signs of nature's most apt pupils ... Noxzema complexions, naturally whiter than white teeth, and in I-actually-like-extreme-mountain-biking shape. They told me to feel free to scream when I hurdled myself off the platform. "We love screamers!" they said happily, as I wondered if ‘evil zipline torture twins' was a job title on CareerBuilder.com. I still can't believe it, but up the telephone pole and down the zip line I flew. I would heartily encourage anyone who is afraid of heights to try the zipline, especially at Grand Targhee, with the mammoth mountains staring you down. They practically dare you to jump. The zipline over land might not completely cure a fear of heights, but it is an awesome team-building exercise to do with the MVP in your life ... yourself.
After the zipline, it was time for several cocktails. I mean, uh, more coffee, followed by horseback riding. The Grand Targhee Resort has its own stable and a line of mountain horses so surefooted, they seem to have Velcro stapled to their hooves. Practically glued to the trail, you'll ride at some crazy angles. This was a truly amazing way to see the grandeur of Wyoming. Riding on horseback, up one side of the mountain and down the other, was nothing short of a spiritual experience. The guides are experienced equestrians who lead riders on a winding trail through fields exploding with patches of forest, grass and wildflowers ... think Laura Ingalls running in the opening scene of Little House on the Prairie. Meandering through the aspen trees produces a peaceful, calming feeling. And oh, the views from atop horses, atop the Wyoming mountains! Oh, the scent of the air, untouched by pollution. Perhaps only Hemingway could have aptly described such a skyline, a view ablaze with more light and color than all the cities in the world. A blue sky that could only exist in Heaven hovered over every speck of forest and flower and seeped into the ground like an upside-down Caribbean ocean. In my native North Carolina, the skies are Carolina blue, but the Wyoming sky is straight out of Charlie Brown's coloring book.
MUSIC, FOOD, FELLOWSHIP AND HENNA TATOOS
Lovers of mountains and music in equal parts flock to the Grand Targhee Music Festival. The annual event showcases internationally renowned and lesser-known bands and solo artists. I am not a retro-hippie, Freedom Rock lover, so I was a little concerned that the Grand Targhee Music Festival might not be exactly up my alley. Au contraire! It reminded me of what a smaller version of Woodstock for successful people with refined taste might be like. I've never seen so many smiling faces in one place. Along a vast concert lawn adjacent to the resort, hundreds of people were gathered on blankets, in lawn chairs, standing around chatting and wandering from booth to booth checking out clothes, food and goods for sale. I made a beeline for the henna tattoo booth and waited in line for 30 minutes behind a horde of henna-loving resort guests. I enjoyed a yummy local beer while I waited. What a treat it was to not be in a hurry for once.
THE GRAND TARGHEE MUSIC FESTIVAL
The food at the Grand Targhee Music Festival was unexpected. In the south, at most concerts, you have a choice of corndog or hot dog, with a hearty side order of Pepcid AC if you know what's good for you. Having good food at any event can make or break the experience. I don't care if it's a power steering fluid sale at Auto Universe – give the guests good food and a winning event will ensue. At most large gatherings, the food is awful. Not so at Grand Targhee. Surprisingly, the music festival boasted gourmet food booths dotting a large swath of the lawn. I wanted to try several but had a hard time making it beyond the Mexican food booth. The fresh salsa and veggies over tortillas came with a custom toppings bar – ooh la la! The beer was flowing, the people relaxed, the food fabulous. Then it was time to sit back and enjoy the music.
The musical line up had the Neville Brothers headlining. But the stand out act had to be Tony Fertado. Fertado's melodic, luxuriant songs were intoxicating indeed. With cocktail in hand, swaying to the beat of the music and the mountains of Wyoming in sight, the night was a heavy elixir. Just when I wondered if I could get any higher, I remembered that I'd scheduled a massage appointment in the morning.
SPA AND MASSAGE SERVICE
Posh ladies, this is a message for you: let your fella' go fly fishing or hunting. Let the kids go play on the zipline or with matches. Let your granola-loving cousin shop for hemp sneakers. There is something for even the most uptight city woman at Grand Targhee, and PS: it's fabulous. It's the Grand Targhee Resort Spa. The spa is located conveniently next to the pool/hot tub, which offers a bird's eye view of those amazing mountains. It's a tiny space so don't expect Canyon Ranch, but that is precisely what makes it so grand. Well, that and massage therapists who will rock your world.
The realization that I could not blackmail the Grand Targhee massage therapist into transferring to a spa in Charlotte where I live, and that in just one short day I would be leaving my new Wyoming friends, cast a small shadow on the rest of the trip. I could not say goodbye to this hideaway gem, but rather fare thee well. I am positive that soon I shall return to Wyoming and all her glory to say a fond hello to the Tetons, the therapists and Targhee. See you there!
*Please tell us what you think of this week's newsletter!
Note: This trip was sponsored by Grand Targhee Resort.
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