OK, where were we?
Ah yes. In Jackson Hole, Wyoming on our Adventures by Disney: Quest For the West trip.
We spent our final night at the Wort Hotel, right in the heart of Jackson. I loved this hotel – with its wicked manly, carved tree-trunk beds, super powerful air conditioning, taxidermy everywhere and very tangible western feel. It had the feel of a large cabin, but with amazing accoutrements. (Yes, I just used the word ‘accoutrements.’ Pronounce it in your head with the French accent, it’ll make me seem like a better writer.)
The day ahead of us was going to be packed with all kinds of sight seeing and adventuring so we headed down to breakfast at the Silver Dollar Grill quite early.
I had the crab leg eggs Benedict (oh my) and Amy got a massive stack of pancakes. Seriously, this stack could be measured in leagues and the pancakes were about the size of her head. She didn’t finish them, so I pitched-in. It was the least I could do. I think it was mentioned in our wedding vows. (Flashback to 1995: “Will you, Bill, eat all the stuff off of Amy’s plate that she can’t finish?” Me: “Oh, most def. Yeah, I can do that.”)
Katie settled for something non-egg, non-nut so she could continue to live. By the time the bus pulled up in front of the Wort, we were full and happy. This bus – let’s get fancy and call it a motor coach – was quite different from the one that took us to the white water rafting outfit a day previously (I referred to it as ‘the prison bus.’ I was joking, of course, but when I don’t get air conditioning I can get cranky.)
Everyone piled into the *ahem* motor coach while our luggage was taken care of and loaded into the undercarriage below. Our Adventure Guides, Tiffany and Drew, had stores of water, fruit and snacks. They were prepared for any eventuality.
And thus, the most packed day of our adventure began.
First stop: Grand Teton National Park.
This is the first time I’ll say the phrase, “photos do NOT do this justice.” I’m sure I’ll say it again. But let me assure you, photos do not do these amazing sights justice. It was breathtaking – there are no foothills. These mountains just rise right up in front of you.
So we did the picture thing.
And Katie let herself absorb the amazing majesty we were in the shadow of.
After a few minutes of enjoying the feeling of utter insignificance in the face of these massive natural beauties (and I mean that in the nicest way,) we were on our way to Jenny Lake.
We took a serene boat ride across a beautifully flat lake to a dock jutting out between a steep rock face with a waterfall on one side, and a dense forest on the other. The idea was to hike up a trail to a spot called Inspiration Point. Maybe Fonzie would be there to greet us, but I knew my limits, so I opted to make a new friend from South Carolina on the dock and talk about travel. The air was getting a bit thin, and I figured I’d end up tipping over and cracking my skull. I didn’t really want to disturb Katie with that visual, or burden anyone with trying to heave me down the mountain. I was happy to rest a bit.
The group set off – or should I say, up. The trail climbed fairly steeply, fairly quickly – and then they were gone. Here’s a bit of what it looked like:
Upon the group’s return, we headed back across the lake and reconvened at our *ahem* motor coach. From here, we’d drive up the road a bit, stop for a picnic lunch and then be on our way to Yellowstone National Park.
You hear “picnic lunch” and you think, “now’s a good time for me to click over to theoatmeal.com or something.” No, wait. When I tell you that this was the most unforgettable picnic/boxed lunch I’ve had in a very, very long time, I’m not exaggerating. Not that I’m a picnic enthusiast, but this is one I won’t soon forget.
Amy, Katie and I picked out a table in a glade just up the hill from String Lake. A cool breeze blew down from the mountains – which seemed to be hovering directly over us – and moved the evergreens gently overhead, creating a soothing whooshing soundtrack. It was hypnotic, and it left us speechless. We sat without speaking, taking it all in, until Amy finally managed to put her thoughts together, saying, “Can you believe this? I could be sitting in my cubicle at work, but instead I’m here. Look at this.”
It really was the best way to express the overwhelming beauty of the spot. There was nothing to say.
And then I did an interpretive/ribbon dance to illustrate my thoughts on the place.
No I didn’t. I couldn’t find my leotard.
But the sandwiches were really good, too. As sandwiches go.
After a too-short break we were on our way. It was a bit of a ride to Old Faithful, so we needed to stay on schedule. An early afternoon sitting on a motor coach sounds like a fairly mundane way to spend a couple hours. But the scenery kept changing. We saw remnants of a wildfire that tore through the area in 1989, impossibly steep gorges carved by rushing rivers, thick forests and, well, no wildlife. We looked, but we weren’t having much luck. But that didn’t mean we were going to give up.
As we pulled into the Old Faithful Visitor’s Center, my eyes were immediately drawn to the Old Faithful Inn. I knew this, but hadn’t been thinking about it: It was the spitting image of Walt Disney World’s Wilderness Lodge Resort. The roof here at the original wasn’t green, but it really did look almost identical from a distance.
We piled out of the bus and headed into the visitor’s center. I was a little surprised by the fact that Old Faithful itself was just on the other side of a large glass wall. We looked around a bit and headed outside to make our way toward one of the world’s most famous geysers.
We gathered our group and started walking around the boardwalk that encircles the entire complex. We were warned not to step off the boardwalk, because the ground shifts and changes so much that it could be just a thin crust separating you from a boiling demise.
Tiffany led us around to a few spots and filled us in with her encyclopedic knowledge of the area. Drew kept us all together, bringing up the rear. We walked further, getting a look at bubbling streams and a few hot springs.
The landscape looked like something you might see on the moon. It was shades of white, gray, rust and very little greenery.
Tiffany gathered us together as we stood across from Old Faithful. It started to bubble and spit – we knew it was about to go off. Next, well…
After Old Faithful lived up to its name, Tiffany asked us which way we wanted to go: We could go back to the visitor’s center and shop, or continue onward and see the many more geysers, hot springs and sights that lay in front of us. The unanimous decision was to press on.
Drew brought with him a hand-held laser that measured the temperature of whatever you pointed it at, so the kids in our group (uh, and me) were checking the temps on all kinds of water surfaces, rocks and holes that seemed to lead endlessly downward.
As we walked on, we saw plenty of bison and elk sign (read: poop,) and we came across a warning that reminded us not to set foot off the boardwalk. Katie couldn’t stop laughing at it.
The warning is dead serious, but the illustration made her laugh. I think she just couldn’t envision some kid wandering over and standing directly on top of a geyser. I could envision it, because I have been to Walt Disney World and seen what guests are capable of.
So we marched on. Toward the end of the trek we saw the Castle Geyser. Amy was particularly enamored by this one, so she hung back to take a few pictures in case it went off.
Katie and I worked our way back to the hotel, and eventually to our motor coach (AKA “where the water was.”) Everyone loved the park, and a few of us discovered the ice cream shop on level two. Eventually, though, we had to get on our way for a rather long three-and-a-half hour ride to the Brooks Lake Lodge, where we’d spend the final nights of our Quest for the West.
Tiffany made Katie very happy by putting the Disney movie, “Home on the Range” on the TV, which killed a good amount of time. Then it was announced that we would be playing a game of Jeopardy on the bus, which was divided in half for teams. Our opponents chose the name “The Bears” and after about a second’s thought, Katie and I threw out “The Invisible Bison.” We had yet to see any of Wyoming’s famed wildlife, so we took the opportunity for a good-natured ribbing directed at our Adventure Guides (who had a great sense of humor, by the way.)
So The Invisible Bison we would be.
One early question was in the “Disney” category. “What are the names of Daisy Duck’s nieces?” we were asked.
Katie whipped her head around and whispered: “I know this!”
The rest of our team debated a few things, and someone said it was a trick question and that she didn’t have nieces. Katie remained insistent, but shy. Tiffany saw this and called on Katie.
She answered the question in an almost inaudible whisper: “April, May and June.”
She was right.
The whole bus erupted into applause as Katie beamed with pride. She was really excited to have contributed to our team’s efforts. I could go on about the game of course, but who really cares about who won and who lost.
Oh, you do? OK, well, we lost. OK? Happy?
It was a great time. Tiffany and Drew really knew how to keep things moving and fun, and before we knew it we were turning into a winding dirt road that would lead us up to Brooks Lake Lodge. The five mile roadway continued to climb and turn, when at one point the bus slowed to a stop. There, standing in the middle of the road in front of us, was a huge mule deer. It was like a deer caught in the headlights. Literally. It stood there looking at us for a good 45 seconds before turning and darting into the woods.
We had finally seen wildlife. The Wyoming Deer, as it was henceforth known.
We had all seemed to like the Wort Hotel. As I said, I loved it. So when it came time to move our base of operations, I was a little reluctant. We were leaving this great hotel to go where? A lodge? I guess I had to go along with the group, but I didn’t think much could live up to our previous accommodations.
Hoo boy was I wrong.
Storytelling is a huge part of almost anything associated with Disney, and this adventure was no different. As we approached the Brooks Lake Lodge – the final scene of our ongoing film, as it were – the road opened up in front of us, and a valley of emerald green greeted us. Our grand finale sat at the foot of two intersecting mountain ranges. A large lake lay at the bottom, and our lodge sat on a hillside nearby.
I told you I’d say it again, but pictures do not do this piece of heaven justice:
We were met by the entire staff of the Brooks Lake Lodge, who welcomed us personally. We’d be staying in our own cabin (I took this picture from the front steps.) But first we had to get inside for an orientation and dinner.
What did we need to learn in the orientation? Don’t go off running by yourself, because there were grizzlies nearby. Other than that, it was time to eat.
The Brooks Lake Lodge sits at 9,200 feet above sea level, so it was noticeably difficult to breathe. It was an odd feeling I don’t remember having before. But somehow your intrepid reporter found the strength to chow on some amazing steak before heading up to the cabin to turn in for the night.
Amy had gone to fetch Katie from the kids’ movie night, so I made my way up to the cabin. As I huffed and puffed my way the brief, yet somehow endless 60 yards or so to the front steps of our cabin in complete darkness, a thought crossed my mind: “What does a grizzly bear sound like when it’s trying to sneak up on you?”