Sunday, October 28, 2018

Wyoming: Grand Teton, Jackson and Alpine

Grand Teton National Park, while one-seventh the size and less famous than Yellowstone National Park to the north, still has much to offer visitors.

The Teton Mountain Range, topped off by Grand Teton at 13,770 feet, offers a dramatic backdrop for hiking, boating and other outdoor activities. My visit just scratched the surface as I arrived in late June via the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway from Yellowstone.

Trail near Jackson Lake Lodge.
The first stop on my Cosmos tour was the recently renovated Jackson Lake Lodge. I had time for a short hike, which unfortunately was made shorter by bear activity shutting down the trail I was on, but that gave me time to take in the beautiful vista with a pint of Snake River Brewing’s fine Hoback Hefeweizen on the lodge's terrace.

A beer and a view. It doesn't get much more relaxing than that.
After moving on and crossing over Jackson Lake Dam, a 30-minute break at Jenny Lake offered more great mountain and water views during a brief walk.

Jenny Lake
Next up was time spent at the Chapel of the Transfiguration, a small log chapel in the community of Moose, Wyo. that was built in 1925. The site also featured a former non-motorized Snake River ferry and Maud Noble Cabin, which provided more information about the history of Grand Teton National Park, which was created in 1929 and expanded in 1950.

Chapel of the Transfiguration
From there, it was a relatively short drive to Jackson, the biggest town in the area at just under 10,000 people, at an elevation of about 6,200 feet. Mountain Modern Motel would be home for the night, and its convenient location made for easy walking access to the rest of the town.

Snake River Brewing was around the corner, and the microbrewery has an impressive facility inside and out to cater to visitors. After imbibing a St. Stephen’s Saison, I walked to Town Square, where the entrance at each corner has an arch made of approximately 2,000 elk antlers.

An elk antler arch at Jackson Town Square.
Million Dollar Cowboy Bar has an iconic neon sign on its roof and saddles on its barstools inside. The bar had a wild west vibe, country-rock covers courtesy of The Winford Band and a decent selection of locally brewed beers sold only in bottles and cans.

Million Dollar Cowboy Bar
I’d worked up both a hunger and a thirst by this time and decided on Thai Me Up, a Thai restaurant that had 16 beers on tap from Melvin Brewing. A big $15 plate of “Drunken Noodles” (made with noodles, green onion, green cabbage, red bell pepper, tomato, Thai basil, egg and spicy oyster sauce) acted as a great base for the two flights of four five-ounce beers I consumed as I ate and and drank at the bar.

The locals were conversational and friendly, and one man even insisted on paying for one of my $12 flights just because I moved two spots over so he could sit beside his friend. There wasn’t a bad beer among the eight, as I rated them all between 8.1 and 8.9 out of 10.

I didn’t want to leave, but figured I should check out one more bar before closing time. I had a can of Wildlife Brewing’s Hopstafarian IPA as a nightcap while listening to another cover band at Silver Dollar Bar & Grill before heading back to the motel.

Dave Hansen Whitewater & Scenic River Trips office
After about three hours of sleep, I got up at 6:15 a.m. and took a school bus to the outskirts of Jackson to a Snake River public access point, where 10 of us paid $77 to get into a rubber raft for a 13-mile, two-hour trip down the river with Dave Hansen Whitewater & Scenic River Trips.

A bald eagle on Snake River.
Our guide, Lily Shipley, rowed to steer the raft. It was strenuous even though the current did much of the work. She also provided a lot of information, answered questions and stayed on the lookout for wildlife. She briefly caught glimpse of a moose, but I didn’t, and animals seemed to be shy about showing themselves. There were several bird spottings, however, the most impressive of which were bald eagles.

A view of Jackson from Snow King Mountain.
The early start still left time to explore more of Jackson before the bus pulled out at 3:30 p.m. My friend Inken and I elected to hike up Snow King Mountain, a ski hill overlooking the town. The strenuous trail had some steep sections, but we stopped at plateaus when needed to catch our breath. It took 75 minutes to reach the top, and we were rewarded with some great views.

Another view of Jackson from Snow King Mountain.
We walked about two-thirds of the way back down, then took another trail to where there was a bobsled-like track where you go down the hill on wheeled sleds. You’re  supposed to buy tickets at the bottom of the hill and take a cable car up. But the operator said that since we’d hiked and didn’t have tickets, he’d let us go down for free. It took about two minutes to navigate the banks and speed down the straightaways to the bottom.

We still had time before departure and spent two hours walking around and checking out some of Jackson's high-priced art stores and boutiques. Part of Broadway, the main street, has a covered wooden boardwalk not unlike the one I’d trod over in Keystone, S.D. earlier in the trip.

The view from the trail in Alpine.
It was back on the bus for an hour drive south, through a valley along the Snake River that's surrounded by dark green mountains on both sides, to the Flying Saddle Resort on the outskirts of Alpine, Wyo. Alpine has about 825 people, so it doesn’t offer much in the way of nightlife, but I headed down the highway towards town and then found a trail that provided nice views of the river and mountains and cut my walking time down to 40 minutes before I reached my destination: Melvin Brewing.

Melvin Brewing's exterior.
The eight Melvin beers I’d had the night before at Thai Me Up made the idea of trying more of the brewery’s beers at its flagship location too much to pass up. A mouth-watering $16, 12-ounce bacon cheeseburger and French fries filled the spot in a big way after the day’s early walks. The beers once again didn’t disappoint, and a half-price special meant that I sampled eight more five-ounce glasses of varieties I hadn’t yet had for $12. Melvin specializes in highly hopped and strong IPAs, and those I enjoyed ranged in alcohol content from eight to 13 per cent.  I rated all of them at least an eight out of 10.

And as good as the beer and food was, the friendly staff was just as impressive. A waiter gave me two iron-on patches and a waitress took me on a private brewery tour, gave me a baseball cap and offered me 24 free cans of beer. I told her I was on a backpacking trip and couldn’t carry that much, and they might be difficult to carry on the unmarked trail back to the hotel in the dark, so she gave me eight instead.

Melvin Brewing's interior.
I found the trail and, since Alpine is in the middle of nowhere population-wise, I enjoyed the best night sky for star-watching since staying on a small island with villagers on the Mekong River in Laos 18 months earlier.

These two days in Wyoming treated me well.