Thurs., May 23rd: Outside the big picture window, a plane descends through a threatening sky and bumps down onto the tarmac. Karen and I have been looking forward to this reunion for several months now, but the best part is that I am about to share my love of this section of Wyoming with a good friend and fellow writer. I’ve donned my best boots and Stetson to collect her at Jackson airport, happily situated right inside Grand Teton National Park.
Her excitement and enjoyment at being here are palpable—but her weariness is also apparent. She’s been up since 4 am San Antonio time, 3 am Jackson time, and while her effort to be sociable and companionable is evident, so is her need for rest and an early night. Karen soldiers on. My daughter and her boyfriend, Daniel, phone via Skype from Colombia and we all get a good lesson in how to correctly pronounce Karen the Texas way—it’s something like Kieren. We all have a go and end up laughing our heads off, particularly Daniel who has now decided his American accent must be Texan, even if he’s going to be living in NYC.
At 5 pm Karen succumbs and goes to shower and get in her pjs for dinner. Without makeup, and pajama clad, my pint-sized pal resembles a 5 yr old before bedtime. But she marches bravely on until 9pm. As the sun sets in the west, Karen Casey Fitzjerrell is definitely out for the count.
Fri. May 24th: If the two of us could shut up for one minute, maybe we would have got to Grand Teton before noon. Whatever, Karen and I are truly awed by the grandeur of it all and decide to take a supposed 2 mile hike around Jenny Lake. Unfortunately, I’ve misread the guidebook and this is not an easy hike. Not only that, but moose prints and bear scratchings on a tree encourage us to turn back and sign up for the 3pm scenic cruise with guide, a more leisurely way to take in the views. One of our fellow tourists inquires of the guide if he had said the mountains were eight hundred years old. This becomes a running gag between Karen and myself. A short drive to Jackson Lake rounds out the day. Karen not only volunteers to drive back to Wilson since I am unfortunately having eye problems, but marches in to make the most delicious chicken gumbo for dinner. What a perfect guest!
Sat. 25th: For years I’ve been hearing about the Moose-Wilson road, a partially unpaved lane into the back end of the national park. It is closed part of the year and I therefore envisage some torturous driving ahead when we decide to make it our thoroughfare into Grand Teton. I’m disappointed. Maybe I’ve driven too many back roads but this is easy as they come. We stop for a walk around Dornan’s before heading on to Menor’s Ferry and the Maude Noble Cabin. This is a step back in time with the cabin and shop furnished as it would have been during the period Menor lived there, from 1894. Cables and a replica ferry show how the service was run at a time when no bridges crossed the Snake River in this vicinity. Next stop is Chapel of the Transfiguration, built in 1925 to serve the surrounding ranches. Karen and I agree we would have no problem worshipping in such inspiring surroundings.
That evening is the first of rodeo season in Jackson. I’ve had the tickets in my hot little hand for some months as we are both keen. So keen in fact that we get there early enough to find parking and stroll around the Mountain Men Rendezvous next door. Unfortunately, the mountain men are off doing what mountain men do on a Saturday night and there is only one paltry tent open with some rather poor offerings. The owner, in beaded buckskins and ponytail, gives us a lecture on his lifestyle and sends us backing out of the tent and heading for an early hotdog.
Jackson’s rodeo is somewhat low-key. The rodeo princesses are trotted out in all their finery but there is no parade. A couple of the broncos seem confused as to what their part in all this is exactly, while a few of the cowboys appear to have lost their roping skills over the winter. The best part on this opening evening is the children’s events, including ‘bull’ riding. We do wonder, however, how any parent can let a three-year-old onto even a bull calf.
Sun 26th: Home all day working in pjs until my property manager stops by. Karen is incredibly polite to sit through an hour and a half of discussions on how to improve rentals. Eventually we are able to head off to the Stagecoach Inn for booze and recovery, although Karen is dd & limited on her intake. She is an expert dancer and I am new to most of this but we both dance with a number of older gentlemen. (Is this what I’m attracting now? Oh dear…) One old cowpoke is getting a bit close for comfort and I desperately seek K’s help. But he only wants to whisper in my ear, “I have a confession: I’m from Idaho and I’m a Democrat.”
After four Jim and Gingers I can dance almost anything but at 10pm the music stops and it’s home to K’s delicious leftovers.
Mon. 27th May: Somewhat recovered we hit the trail reasonably early to the town of Kelly. Kelly is small town eccentric America: yurts abound and every house has a large dog, old cars and strange buffalo sculptures outside. It’s obviously a town where people who wish to be withdrawn from the main arteries of the world live. We do a quick car tour and head on to the Cunningham Historic Home site. This is material for a book: the desolation but sprawling view, the loneliness in a landscape that is raw and untamed. Words fail me except for breathtaking. It never ceases to amaze me how people, with limited means of transportation and communication, could have lived in such isolation. And I wonder also if they appreciated their surroundings the way we value them today.
Up to Colter Bay for a long hike and ice cream, we head home exhausted.
Tues. 28th: The long drive to Yellowstone and up another couple of thousand feet! We avoid the multitudes of scenic turnoffs in favor of a chosen few and head to Old Faithful. On the approach, a tower of steam becomes visible in the distance through the trees. Yup, Old Faithful has blown. By the time we arrive, of course, there is another hour’s wait, just time enough for lunch and a quick whiz around the gift shop. And then… Old Faithful puts on its show. I’m a bit numb at the thought of all of that boiling going on in the earth under my feet. We head on to a geyser basin at West Thumb. Walking around the caldera we are dumbstruck…quite a feat to get the 2 of us to shut up. Witches’ caldrons of bubbling sulphuric brews are spotted about unstable ground through which walkways have been built. Even down by Yellowstone Lake shore the earth is spewing out poisons. We’re walking on one giant volcano! Rain blows in and the peaks spear clouds as a sheer curtain pulls over the scenery.
Weds. 29th: Our last full day and, with packing to do, we stick closer to home. I have several errands to run before I leave Jackson Hole to its summer visitors, and Karen has not as yet been into the town of Jackson. We opt to visit the museums but, sadly, the two of them are currently closed and we end up ogling books in the shop at the visitors’ center before lunch in the historic Wort Hotel.
On Thurs. 30th June it’s up and out to return the car and catch our flight. I’m sorry that K’s return to San Antonio will involve a six hour wait at Denver airport. For me, an hour’s delay on the flight out of Jackson means a mad dash through the airport to catch my flight to New York. This is not the ending I’d hoped for, but even as I sit there in the mephitic air of the plane, the Rocky Mts. disappearing in the clouds, I’m thinking through what adventures we can get up to next time Karen joins me.
Karen Casey Fitzjerrell has written a companion piece to this post at http://karencaseyfitzjerrell.blogspot.com Please head on over and read her side of the story.