One side of the road contained million-dollar homes competing for expansive views of the Teton Range and the other a vast wet meadow stretching to the distant Wind River Mountains, home to bison, sandhill cranes, trumpeter swans and a single lumbering moose. The dichotomy was unnerving and surreal. Depending on which direction we looked we were either in the upper echelon of society or the Garden of Eden. Stopping at Dairy Queen for lunch only made it worse. While chowing down on burgers and fries and pointedly trying to ignore the other tourists who were unfortunately dressed exactly as we three codgernauts, I stared morosely across the street to a marshy area swarming with yellow-headed blackbirds and violet-green swallows, the panorama regularly eclipsed by heavy trucks, fancy cars and the occasional rattletrap truck. Regardless of its stellar wealth, its movie stars and celebrities, its upscale shops and stunning scenery, Jackson, Wyoming, was exactly like the hamburger in my hand: tasteless, plastic and overpriced.
I’m as clueless as the next guy over what a mountain town should look like but if we came here expecting another Lander we were nuts. People of all nationalities packed the streets downtown giving it a cosmopolitan atmosphere, almost festive, and if I could have lightened up I might have enjoyed myself. As it was I felt snarly and alienated and couldn’t wait to drop off our gear and escape back to the park. Being a curmudgeon isn’t difficult for me but here it came as natural as breathing.
To escape the inherent wealth this place attracts requires disappearing into the backcountry, something we had neither the time nor equipment for. There’s probably a mathematical formula proving the relationship of depopulation by the distance from classy shopping to mosquito-infested wilderness but I don’t know it offhand. We were fortunate to have arrived at the Tetons prior to the main tourist explosion and explored untrammeled areas nearer the road without having to fight for parking places, and dealt with the scenic hotspots in the best of codgernaut tradition, leering at the girls, comparing our photographic equipment with that of other photographers and making disparaging comments about the shoddy casting of the flyfishermen below the bridge.
Still, we were unprepared for our chilly reception at Jenny Lake Lodge, which the park brochure made sound like a cozy place for a meal with the Tetons framed through the dining room windows. It might be but we never got past the entrance. Our first clue that we were outmatched should have been evident in the vehicles parked in the lot. Or the well-dressed couple walking out who studiously looked away. We’d been pushing hard and might have had a little B.O. and certainly didn’t wear our sweaters casually draped over our shoulders in the best yuppie-fashion, and I admit my pants had a hole in one knee and my shirt was wrinkled and my hiking boots unpolished, but should that exclude us from partaking of a fine meal at an establishment within the boundaries of a national park owned by me and every other American citizen?
Apparently so. I’m not saying they would have tossed us out but when the gal at the front desk saw us her smile slipped a notch. So sorry but we were an hour too early for dinner but we were certainly welcome to look at the menu. While Chod talked her up Jim and I perused the night’s offerings and quickly concluded that if nothing was recognizable as food nor were prices evident other than bottles of wine costing almost a hundred bucks then we were probably outclassed. A sign asking that jackets be worn for the evening meal probably didn’t refer to our Gore-Tex shells, either.
The idea of backing into a Lexus was tempting but we slunk off as unobtrusively as possible. Who says choleric geezers are unmanageable?
An approaching storm shrouded the snowy peaks in luminous platinum light and raised a rough chop on the waters of Jenny Lake. If anything the mountains loomed larger, dominating and mesmeric so they drew the eye to the exclusion of all else. Behind them veiled in a gray nothingness lay thousands of square miles of wilderness I longed to disappear into. The range’s mood altered with each shift of luminance, each lowering cloud swirl or rain curtain obscuring the couloirs, cornices and snowfields radiant in the deepening gloom, and I knew that a lifetime could be spent studying that interplay without witnessing any repetition of light or shadow, that the spectacle could never grow tiresome or stale. Pulling ourselves away required an effort fueled by hunger and weariness of a day already long and eventful.
On a recommendation we tried Dornan’s, a full-service resort near the south entrance. Again the vehicles should have tipped us off but we marched inside and wended through the crowd of young and fit people to the counter where a menu was chalked in. No burgers nor Americanized fare, only pasta and pizza. Pizza sounded scrumptious but on second scrutiny we failed to discover any edible ingredients. The special had pizza with artichoke hearts and penne pasta atop a funky-sounding marinara sauce. Anything with pepperoni and mushrooms? Nope.
Back to Jackson and a tavern advertising “American” food. Prices on the menu were enough to flush my arteries but I ordered a mushroom burger that only cost ten dollars. I told the waiter to bring me coffee and lots of it. It was horrifically bad. My dislike for that town refined into a crystalline and perfect contempt.
(To be continued)