Jackson, WY: Above It All … and Behind It All

With the Lucky Charm’s return visit to Jackson, Wyoming, we indulged in two wish-list adventures:  rock climbing “above it all” on a Via Ferrata course, and going “behind it all” at a real-life rodeo!

“Via Ferrata” literally means “Iron Way” and in the 1800’s, alpine climbers started employing climbing aids such as iron pins and rungs to help them get over mountain passes.  In WWI, these courses were even used in the Italian Alps to help troops move efficiently at high altitudes and in difficult conditions!

A Via Ferrata allows tenderfoot cityfolk like us to be adventurous … but safe (!!), by clipping their two carabiners past the cable anchors, one at a time.

Just like skiing, routes are rated blue, green or black depending on difficulty.  As we progressed from green to blue (not a chance we would attempt black), our wonderful guide Heather made even those of us with fear of heights (ahem, Philip) feel comfortable!

Although you can step onto the rungs, we found that as we became more comfortable with the course, we were able to instead aim for the craggy rocks and footholds.

The stretchy ropes that connect us to the wire cables can hold up to 3,000 pounds, a comforting statistic, and there is even an airbag-type device attached to our belts that will deploy if we go into freefall, meaning, presumably, only a long hospital stay instead of certain death.

Although most are in the European Alps, Jackson Hole Ski Resort is one of only a handful of places to offer Via Ferrata climbing (Mammoth is currently building a course, and Telluride has one but it’s not officially sanctioned).  This course is the only U.S. Forest Service approved Via Ferrata.

The culmination of the half-day experience is a trek across a 120-foot long suspension bridge, spanning a gap in the cliffs.  Gulp!!

Our half-day Via Ferrata adventure was our first experience with alpine climbing but it will surely not be our last!

Everyone works multiple jobs up here — Jackson ain’t cheap!  Heather is a ski instructor in the winter, works the Via Ferrata and catering gigs in the summer, teaches in China and other worldly locales in spring and fall, and is in the midst of planning a “tiny houses” venture.  Our Jenny Lake cruise leader is a boat captain, a local trail guide, a glassblower AND a dog groomer!  Business cards have to be big up here to fit all the words!

At the 126-year-old Jackson Hole Rodeo, we sprung for the “VIP Behind The Chutes” experience and WOW was it an experience!  We had full access to go anywhere and everywhere we wanted, with dirt flying – though come to think of it, maybe that wasn’t dirt ….?

Besides a snappy red lanyard, rodeo guides taught us all about the sport, rigging, equipment, and rodeo circuit ….

… gave us a full tour of the animal pens, chutes, and areas …

(It’s easy to feel sorry for the bulls … but don’t.  They work for 8 seconds once a month, and are spoiled and pampered and fed the rest of the month.  Pretty good gig!)

… let us meet and talk to some of the cowboys and cowgirls …

…and we got to sit in a box next to the judges’ box, right above the chutes, with an incredible view of the action!

Fashion is an important part of rodeo, and these guys had it goin’ on!

The Jackson Hole rodeo is the equivalent of “AAA Baseball” with most of the participants hoping to do well enough in the circuit to be able to move up to the next highest level.  Although they are competing against each other, they all must also rely on each other for teamwork, comraderie and most importantly, help in staying as safe as possible.

To be scored, riders must stay in the saddle for a full eight seconds while the bronc or bull explodes. These are very dangerous animals!

And if you get hurt – which they all do – you don’t go on paid injured reserve — you keep competing, through the injuries and the pain!  We saw a lot of medical devices, and a fair amount of the participants were limping, cradling various body parts, and moving verrrrrry slowly and tenderly.

It’s a rough life — only the Top 50 in the world make the big bucks — but they all love being a part of the most dangerous sport.  The cowboys take it very seriously, limbering up and stretching out beforehand, constantly working to combat the “F Word”:  Fear! And don’t forget the most important preparation:  prayer!

Our rodeo experience was made complete when we were even allowed to sit on a (smaller) bull in the chute!  (It is only a matter of time before their lawyers forbid this, so we were glad we got in before the inevitable leg-crushing incident and subsequent lawsuit.)

Unfortunately, or most likely fortunately, they did not open the gate for us to actually compete.  But this little guy sure did! 

Meet “Bear,” age 6, the roughest, toughest, cutest cowboy on planet Earth! Mommas, don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys!

Our rodeo experience complete, we turned our attention to the abundant biking trails in Jackson.  The Jackson Hole valley has 120+ continuous miles of wide, asphalt paths meandering through gorgeous country, including Grand Teton National Park.

Having recently been hit by a car while biking (again) in Phoenix, Philip was agog and highly jealous of their safely-and-completely-detached-from-the-road paths!  Bicyclists … meet nirvana!

Even in downtown, bike paths are fully marked and delineated, separated from cars by dividers, and provide ample crossings and even beautification with planters.

When not biking, you could find us hiking, generally uphill to the highest point we could find, even if it required going on roads that were, shall we say, less than ideal.

The remote nature and poor signage of
hikes throughout this trip (in both Idaho and Wyoming) led to us being
hopelessly, significantly lost on multiple occasions.  We eventually invested $30 in the “Pro”
version of the Alltrails app, which (amongst many other functions) allows you
to download a variety of topo trail maps and track your location using GPS even when you don’t have cell service,
which saved our butts many times.  Highly

A trip to Jackson is not complete without a short drive to and through Grand Teton National Park. 

Jenny Lake in GTNP is a popular destination, (almost/not quite) evoking memories of the crowds we encountered at the start of this trip at Grand Canyon South Rim.

Scenic narrated boat tours convey the majestic of the lake and surrounding peaks.

A boat shuttle also operates to a dock on the opposite side of the lake, where a number of famous hiking trails and Inspiration Point are located.  Unfortunately, a huge rockslide area had closed these trails for an indeterminate amount of time during our visit.   

Jackson is the town name, but it’s commonly called “Jackson Hole” because it literally lies in a hole in a valley, created when the nearby Teton Fault caused the Teton Mountain Range to rise up and Jackson to sink down.

Jackson is only 20’ish miles from Grand Teton National Park, and 40’ish miles from the south entrance to Yellowstone National Park.  Hence, while it has only 23,000 residents, it gets over 4,000,000 visitors every year!  Some of these are even Americans!

This is the land where there is an animal on every rooftop.  Sometimes multiple animals, wearing cute life vests!  A popular activity is rafting the mighty Snake River and happy tourists by the busload are all over the place.

There is lots to “catch the eye” in downtown Jackson, but this Vertical Harvest facility is really curious!  A three-story hydroponic greenhouse is built on a 4,500 square foot lot, and carousels spin plants around for the best light exposure and easy pickin’.  It churns out 100,000 pounds of fresh produce a year!  Even better, the company has 15 employees who all have conditions like Down syndrome, autism and spina bifida. Winning!

While the views caught my eye, the town barbershop caught Philip’s eye, since Whiskey Barbers is not just a name, but a mandate!  They don’t have a liquor license, so patrons have to bring their own hooch, but regulars just bring their own bottle and leave it in the bar, which is stocked with the necessary glassware.  Of course, Philip did early reconnaissance and brought a flask.  That’s my guy!

Lastly, we’d like to give a nod to the Signage Department of Jackson, whose terrific sense of humor and never-ending wit (not to mention excellent graphics) kept us greatly amused.

This was our second visit to Jackson; click here to read about our first visit in 2014 which was a completely different set of activities.  We could stay here a month and not exhaust all the touristy possibilities!

Leaving Jackson, we have one final destination stop at Cedar Breaks National Monument in southern Utah.  At 10,300 feet elevation, the Lucky Charm is gonna have to truck up a 13% grade for the last 15 miles to get there.  It may take all day!  Stay tuned!

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