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Jackson Hole, Wyoming: Unexpectedly fabulous!

When my mom announced to me that this summer’s family vacation would be spent in Jackson Hole, Wyo., I was less than enthused. I know, I know- “mom” and “family” are not the most exciting words (or people!) to be surrounding a vacation. I thought the same thing too, especially about a vacation to what I thought was the middle of nowhere... I mean, Wyoming.

I should begin explaining my lack of enthusiasm by mentioning that I am an LGBTQ-identified college student who was spent the last year of my life living in the Bay Area. I’m spoiled by having the San Franciscan mecca of arts and culture, both gay and otherwise, a short BART-ride away. When deterred by the oh-so-extreme weather of rain or fog, I could access the urban hippie scene of the East Bay. When that failed, I always had the tens of thousands of my college peers around campus to fraternize with. Coming from this environment, the idea of going to what I thought was a small mountain town with lots of downtime and not a lot to do didn’t thrill me. However, the charm of my mother’s guilt- uhhrrm, convincing- continues to work even after having flown the coop. A few weeks later, I was on a plane to Jackson.

Upon landing, I instantly knew my assessment of Jackson was mistaken. The Jackson Hole airport is actually in Grand Teton National Park, so the first view we got after stepping off the plane was of the massive snow-capped mountain range (A fun fact: “Grand Tetons” is French for “Big Tits”… I’m not so sure that there weren’t a few Lesbians among those French explorers!). Next came the National Elk Refuge and National Museum of Wildlife Art- and that was still just on the ride into town. Jackson itself is an adorable mountain resort town whose every corner looks like a rustic version of Main Street U.S.A., complete with a grassy town square. The various saloons, camping gear shops, gourmet cafes, and outdoor tour guide storefronts lining each and every boardwalk style street only enhanced this vibe. There were even Christmas lights. Yes, in June. Jackson Hole now joins the ranks of babies and puppies on the list of things that unconditionally make me smile.

After window shopping and orienting ourselves in the cutest town on Earth, my family and I went to what locals told us was the best restaurant in town, The Gun Barrel. We should have known by the name that locals tend to hunt, eat, stuff, and display a variety of wild game like Elk and Buffalo. Luckily, they also had a good vegetarian selection to serve their abundant tourist demographic, like many of the other restaurants in town. The next day we woke up early to hit the hiking trail around Jenny Lake. This trail featured highlights of a beautiful waterfall called Hidden Falls, as well as a ferry ride across the lake (for when you’re too tired to hike all the way back- duh!). The night concluded with a guided driving tour through Grand Teton National Park, complete with multiple animal sightings (Buffalo, Elk, Bald Eagle, and even a Coyote!), lengthy explanations about the history of the park, and answers to every question we could think of. Much to my mom’s satisfaction, the trip was off to an incredible start.

Next on the agenda was what most summertime tourists come to Jackson for- Yellowstone National Park. The park is only two hours away by car, which is pretty good considering the ride is through the gorgeous Teton National Park. While waiting for Old Faithful to, uh, blow (pardon the sexual innuendo), we milled around the Old Faithful Inn. This historic hotel is a great place to people-watch, as well as enjoy the beautiful mountainous architecture and a Chai latte. Which, by the way, was in a size “large” cup that was equivalent of a California-coffee-chain “small”. Only in Wyoming.

Old Faithful put on an amusing few-minute long performance, but the rest of the park’s colorful geysers really stole the show. Every geyser offered unique out-of-this-world colors that only Mother Nature could produce, each more beautiful than the last. Gurgles, steam, and Sulfuric smells completed the full sensory experience. More driving took us to various viewpoints around the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone where we could see waterfalls, the Snake River, and the breathtaking magic of the canyon itself. Watching the sunset on the banks of Yellowstone Lake at the historic Yellowstone Lake Hotel capped off an incredible sightseeing day.

The next day’s outings included more window-shopping and lunch at The Lotus Café, a very chic eatery with a beautiful patio dining area. We then took a ski lift to the top of a mountain overlooking Jackson Hole, which offered incredible views of the town, the mountains, and the overlaying area. Dinner at Dornan’s in the neighboring town of Moose gave us front-row seats to sunset at the Tetons. As if we hadn’t done enough sightseeing by then, we soon did another mountaintop viewing expedition- this time by way of a gondola from Teton Village. A meal at Café Genevieve, another chic-outdoor patio-type of restaurant, was icing on the already sugar-loaded cake.

Just when I was about to get overloaded with picturesque Jackson Hole riff-raff, ad nauseam, we did something very unlike us: we went white water rafting. And let me tell you, skin-tight wet suits look good on NO ONE. Once I got over that brutal realization, I had to swallow the idea of getting thrown off of a flimsy raft into ice-cold river water should the trip down Snake River go awry. Luckily, the guides at Barker and Ewing River Trips equipped us well (even if it meant having to look more than slightly scary in colorful synthetic material). We made it over the violent rapids with only a few soaked individuals in our party; we even got to hear about our fellow rafters’ own family vacations (no matter that their kids were in elementary school while my sister and I are young adults… thanks Mom!!). Exhausted but pleased, I rewarded myself for going on such a daring excursion with a pat on the back and some gourmet gelato. I mean, I HAD risked my life- not to mention the reputation of my fashion sense- for the good of the rest of my family. We have the souvenir photos to prove it.