The Road Trip
So. You've decided to come along!
We journeyed across the desert basin of southern Wyoming. I was amazed and somewhat horrified as I thought of what the settlers that pushed across this territory must have experienced. I kept murmuring to Kevin about it as we would crest a rise and see nothing but wastelands in front of us. Maps were unbelievably deceiving: the dot that would have indicated a small town of a few thousand in Illinois would be a dusty trio of beaten mobile homes. The lack of water and the constant brutality of the sun must have been the simple elements of despair for many people. Yet they came. And past mobile homes, wind farms, an oil refinery and seemingly-infinite stretches of barbed wire, we went also.
Eventually we turned north and began to notice that we were out of the hazy air of the fires and that we were venturing back into areas where life was more apparent. The land grew more fertile as we moved along the underside of the Wind River Mountains. You can see the clear light of that land here in this picture. As we heard later, on the other side, in the reservations, the fires continued to rage....
We wove our way through the hills that appeared in front of us, coasting down canyons, following in the flow of streams and trying not to disturb the meditations of trout fishers. At the end of a long day's travel we arrived in the Jackson Hole area. We were lodging for the night at a hostel in Teton Village, where the locals had wisely bundled up all the hotels so that they wouldn't be spread all over the feet of the Grand Tetons. After a stretch, a read for me and a conversation with a few horses, and a good run for Kevin, we headed out in search of a superior dinner. We were not disappointed. Fortunately, the first Italian place we looked into, right off the road, was completely packed, and revealed to be a colossal tourist trap. We drove on to find a place we'd heard of in the town of Jackson itself.
After untangling ourselves from the "authentic Old West" decor of the downtown strip, we found ourselves outside the unassuming little lump of a restaurant known as Nani's. Here we were treated to an exceptional Italian evening, from a restaurant specializing in the regional menus of Italy, determined to prove that "Italian" is not a "singular" concept. From their "Sardegna" menu we consumed the following treasures. I tried the Bistecchine di Cinghiale ($ 19.50 L. 41.750--I actually had lire on me...) which was described as "wild boar chops in a dark, sweet and sour sauce with Sultana raisins, prunes, pancetta and a touch of bitter chocolate and aromatic spices served with potatoes." The sauce incredibly rich and quite unlike anything I'd ever had before. Kevin contented himself with Pasta con Burro e Parmigiano ($ 10.00) "a heaping bowl of pasta with sweet butter and lots of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese." We baptized all of this with a bottle of Villa Antinori Chianti Classico Reserva ($ 31.00) and with continuing talk about women, the past, the food and the sights we'd seen so far, this rated as a particularly fine evening.
The plan for the next day had us heading up to the top of Rendezvous Peak, located just behind the village, where instead of skiing, we would just enjoy the view--and what a view is was! We rode up the tram (something I'd never done before) and quickly found ourselves at 10,450 feet. With the valley of the Snake River stretched out below us, we had all of the "Hole" in our sight. To the north was the Grand Teton itself, and the gusty winds and mid-40s temperature made the whole atmosphere up on top wonderfully energizing.
From up there we let our conversation wander as freely as our eyes were able to. From the lay of the land, the way that the shadows of the clouds glided over the mountainsides (particularly delighting Kevin), the little flowers blooming amidst the stones, to the mysterious white substance coating some of the mountain peaks--I thought it was "snow," but Kevin insisted that it was in fact a "white algae" as he'd been informed by his straight-faced boss at the University--we enjoyed everything that we saw. At one point, we even caught a glimpse of that legendary Folk Choir creature known only as "The Face," but one blurry photograph perhaps isn't enough to make the skeptical believe that this creature is real....
As we sat on the mountaintop, looking mostly at the valley on the other side of the mountain, undeveloped and seemingly untouched, we had one of our best "slow" times of the trip. When you are going to cover 3500 miles in nine days, with plenty of social stops along the way, you just don't have a lot of time to sit. But we did manage to squeeze this in. Without any need to ski or hike down the mountainside, you had the rare luxury of just being able to enjoy a particular place for itself, rather than it being so much of just one place on your journey to another place. I don't know if I'd been able to sit and feel a piece of land like that since laying on the top of the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland back in 1997. Maybe it's this kind of place that affects me the most. I hadn't been in the mountains since visiting my college roommate David Nutting and his wife Priscilla in Las Vegas back in the middle 90's, so for me, just getting back into the strong bones of the world was pure bliss. For me, there's something about being around rock that allows you to sense the grandeur of the world more than anything else.
Tired? But there's still miles to go....