Jackson Hole, Wyoming

I have had a long and involved love affair with Jackson most of my life.  My feelings for it run much deeper than my words or the thousands of pictures I have taken of it can convey.  Simply put, it gives me a sense of place as described by Stegner.  It interrupts my nomadic tendencies and grounds me--  certainly an oversimplification of the Hole's impact on me.  I credit it with at least a quarter of my development as a human.  I could never afford to live there, but I can return and return and return, and I do.

(with Kathy and Betty on Moose Wilson Rd.)

The morning after my high school graduation I headed out for Jackson, Wyoming, with a hastily packed suitcase in the company  my good friend Sheila, who in her infinite wisdom had recommended strongly that I would thrive there.  Sheila was my mentor--two years older, a neighbor, fellow church ball player and camper.  It was not surprising that she influenced me.  She had arranged a place for me to stay ($10 a week in a room in one of the five backyard Airstream trailers owned by Wally and Marge Knutti) and even a job at the Wagon Wheel Restaurant north of town across from the Bird Refuge.

The Wagon Wheel became home base for me for the next three summers.  Here I met by divine chance a group of girls that would become my closest and dearest friends for the next four years both in Jackson and at B.Y.U.  They had (by divine chance again) come to Jackson on a lark and gotten jobs once they arrived.  They were in the same "trailer park" as well--I don't recall how that happened.  Perhaps Sheila guided them there too.  This was a match made in heaven.  We bought bicycles in Idaho Falls almost immediately.  Shirlene had a little turquoise Mustang named "Lil".  We had wheels, and we were ON THE MOVE!  Our shift was over at 2:30, and we had the rest of the day to hike, swim, sun bathe, read books, shop in town, bike out to South Park, do handwork or crafts, and embrace the entire summer.  It was intoxicatingly liberating for me.  I THRIVED on it!  Complete freedom with safe boundaries and just a dash of adventure EVERY SINGLE DAY.

That summer I discovered hitchhiking.  This was 1971--still a fairly innocent time to be alive.  Hitchhiking was a great way to get into the Park if no one else was going.  Actually, a good technique I used was to befriend some of my last customers before my shift was going to end and ask them for a ride.  I was enterprising if not solicitous.  But one time I wanted to go home for a day or two.  I had a ride to Montpelier, but I had no way to get back to Jackson.  My timing was completely off because I found out when I arrived that my parents were in Mexico!  I had to hustle up the Culligan man to get a key to get into my own house!  I rattled around by myself there for awhile, and then when I wanted to get back to Jackson, I got out on the highway outside my parents' home, and I stuck my thumb out.  A car stopped with a couple of guys in it going my way.  I hopped in between them in the front seat, and we were off.  About an hour into the trip, out came the joint which they passed back and forth across me.  They were a couple of jewelry salesmen headed for Jackson. I passed the joint back and forth for them, and they dropped me off exactly at my doorstep.  That could have all gone horribly wrong, but to me it was part of the whole adventure.  My mother did NOT see it in quite the same light and sent me an article on the "Dangers of Hitchhiking".  She adamantly told me that it was wrong to pray for God's help if I was going to do foolish things!  Poor mothers.

We soon discovered a great obvious trick.  If we approached all the local theatres, river running companies, ski lifts, and tourist attractions with this spiel:  "Hi, we're waitresses at the Wagon Wheel Restaurant--college girls working for the summer--and we get asked daily about where to go and what to do.  If you'd allow us to experience your _______________(fill in the blank), we'd be so happy to recommend them to you!"  They saw the complete wisdom in our words!  It worked like a charm.  That allowed us free passage on river float trips, whitewater rafts, all the stage theatre we needed, thrill rides up the ski lifts, and supplemented our entertainment quite nicely.  In addition, we became the best walking billboards for all kinds of businesses, and they KNEW it!

( owner, Mack McGee with the bussing staff)
We became chummy with a group of Frontier Airlines employees in the coffee shop of the Wagon Wheel.  We were friendly, and they were just nice guys.  One of my friends, Gloria, actually ended up marrying one of them!  We loved to meet in the Tetons at dusk and cook steaks with them or canoe on String Lake or just have a campfire and laugh.  I remember one time we were waaay up in the mountains east of Jackson and had built a fire.  We had no water to douse it with, so all the girls turned their heads and tee-hee-ed while the boys put out the fire with their "natural plumbing." Shirlene fell in love with Jerry from that group.  That fall we
made a special trip back up to Jackson so that Jerry could take us up in a private plane for a tour of the WHOLE Hole as we had never seen it before!

When we discovered Granite Hot Springs, that became a favorite haunt.  I hear that it has been developed now, but at the time it was just a rustic cement dam that turned a natural hot springs into a swimming hole.  The only light we had was the moon.  Talk about awesome PLUS!!  We wrote a song about it (sung to the tune of the Armour hot dog song)--"Hot Springs! Granite Hot Springs!  What kind of folks love Granite Hot Springs?!"  and so forth.

Love entered my life that summer for the first time.  I can't even remember how we met--it must have been at church.  You'd think I would be more clear on THAT detail!  Most girls describe stuff like that in minute detail! Von Faler was a perfect first boyfriend.  We had a glorious summer, and then when we went to B.Y.U. that fall, he fell off my radar.  Von had a car, a wicked sense of humor, and we had so much in common.  At the time he wanted to become a writer--I think he became a policeman.  We loved to go to the library--like I say, a good match.  He lived with his parents across the street from the church.  Not really a native--a recent transplant.  We loved to canoe on String Lake--that became our place.  We fished a couple of times. He took me up to Yellowstone. He took me to restaurants--that was impressive.  Von and I reconnected a few years later when he got his life together and served a mission in Bolivia.  We wrote for a couple of years, and then he married a girl he'd met at Ricks whose father had an airplane--Von had gotten a pilot's license somewhere.  But love that first summer sure felt great and was obviously the icing on that whole cake!

The next summer was just as wonderful but in much different ways.  Fewer of my original friends had returned.  Shirlene had spent part of the summer at the Hill Cumorah Pageant as a "missionary", but she did come to Jackson for some of the summer.  I was semi distracted by a romantic interest I had made at B.Y.U. in the previous spring.  I wrote copious letters and received an equally abundant stack from him.  I was a more mature waitress that year and earned quite a bit more money.  I still hiked, but my friend base was different. My friend Von called me at the Wagon Wheel and arranged a rendezvous.  We recounted our freshman years and reminisced about our previous summer.  We drove all over  Jackson Hole, Perhaps something could have flared back up had I made the effort.  Like I said I was distracted.  He thanked me for encouraging him to serve a mission and we parted ways.

The last summer was one of the best of my life.  I had succeeded in coaxing two friends, Rosie and Julie, to come along.  We sat in the trailer with the rain pelting on the aluminum roof of the trailer and made a very long "Summer Bucket List" on a long piece of butcher paper.  Then proceeded to cross them off one by one which kept us VERY busy!!  It was wonderful wonderful fun.

One afternoon in particular Rosie and I took off for Amphitheatre Lake--a high altitude lake which is often used as a base camp for Grand Teton climbers.  We met these two guys and actually all decided to stay up on the mountain overnight because it was getting late.  We built a fire and spent the night talking.  When the sun rose we made our way down, said good-bye to our friends and caught a ride back into Jackson.

I have made dozens of trips back to Jackson.  I have taken friends and watched them fall in love as well.  For a while our knitting group made an annual trip--to picnic and peruse the yarn shop.  Last summer we took one of my Chinese students, Joseph, up for a couple of days.  He recognized it from all the pictures in Powerpoint I had show his class.  I think my emotions sometimes spill over in my missionary zeal to give everyone a peak into the Hole.  It shouldn't surprise anyone that Jerry and I fell in official love in Jackson.  Nor should it surprise anyone that we escape there more often than we escape to anywhere else.  We've enjoyed it in every month of the year--on snowshoes, on skiis, on bikes, on foot and in a canoe, and a raft.  We know right where our favorite picnic foods are in Albertson's.  We've dubbed Jackson's Dollar Tree the BEST one around.  We also never go without rummaging through the thrift store that the Episcopalians run.  And now perhaps in closing, it's time to share my very favorite Jackson story of all.  My first summer I was hiking by myself and completely overcome by my experience and the exquisite hike.  Unsolicited the Spirit came to me and whispered that I had helped create Jackson.   "Really??" I said.


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