Wyoming stars small-town sights, big-time scenery

By: Dan Whobrey

By: Dan Whobrey

By: Dan Whobrey

If I wanted a home where the buffalo roamed, and the deer and the antelope played, I had come to the right place. Wyoming's Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks were my home during the last week of August.

After spending a few days on a family vacation in San Francisco, I took advantage of being "out west" to make a side trip here to indulge my photography habit.

I flew into the Jackson Hole airport, located at the base of the spectacular Tetons. Before heading to my hotel, I dropped off a climbing enthusiast whom I met on the plane at his base camp just a couple miles inside the park entrance at Moose Junction.

There I learned that the camp, officially called the American Alpine Club Climber's Ranch, is open to anyone. For $20 a night, you can stay in dormitory-style log cabins. Just bring your sleeping bag and air mattress!

After an impromptu lunch at the ranch's pavilion, I reluctantly departed the beautiful surroundings and good company to make my way to Jackson, a small, touristy town known for its ski resorts, elk-antler arches and active arts community. The 12-mile drive on Highway 89 has several scenic turnouts and secondary roads, where you'll find some of the best panoramic views of the Tetons.

My first night's stay was at the Snow King Resort Hotel, a sprawling complex at the edge of town. The room was adequate at $125, but I got the feeling that the place had seen grander days.

At first light, I headed to the John Moulton Barn, one of the area's most iconic photo spots. I wasn't alone. Several other photographers were there, waiting for the clouds to break.

One of them was John Tartaglia, the author of "Get Up and Get Out! The Geezer's Guide to Living Your Dreams on the Road." The book is based on his experiences living out of his camper-topped pickup truck for the past five years. Tartaglia divulged several of his favorite local spots, including the unmarked remains of barns and cabins used in the 1953 classic Western movie "Shane."

A herd of bison meandered through the area, causing a stir among photographers and sightseers. As I soon learned, however, bison are as common in these parts as cows in Champaign County.

The morning gave way to heavy clouds and rain, so I headed back to Jackson. There I strolled beneath the town square's landmark elk-antler entryways, and ducked into the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, where the barstools are topped with riding saddles.

My last night was at the Elk Country Inn, a simple two-story hotel within walking distance of downtown offering a room for about $100. Before my late-morning flight, I made one more scenic drive up the Teton Park road for one last photo op of the soaring mountain range.

The three days between my first and last day in the Tetons were spent in Yellowstone, our first national park, and perhaps our best. But that's another story ...

Dan Whobrey, a University of Illinois graduates, lives in Savoy. He works for State Farm at its research and development center in the UI's Research Park.

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