Valuable information gleaned from road trip
Back in about 1975, the late Wallace Stegner and Page Stegner, a father-son duo who wrote about the American West as well as anyone, said in a piece in the Atlantic Monthly that the two most scenic sites in the western United States were the glorious Teton Mountains as they rise 6,000 feet above the valley floor that is Jackson Hole, and Rock Springs, Wyo., in a rear-view mirror.
I’m able to report that that 35-year-old observation is as true today as it was then.
That was one thing I learned last week on a whirlwind trip with my 26-year-old daughter. She is a recent transplant to Jackson and had been in Grand Junction for the weekend. I volunteered to drive her back to Wyoming, where I spent a day in Yellowstone National Park before returning home.
Long road trips can be boring, or they can be enlightening. I like to think this one was the latter.
What follows are some observations and a few things I gleaned from my focus group of one.
✓ It was heartening, but not terribly surprising, to learn that 20-somethings circa 2010 are serious students of the world they live in. I found it not surprising because I’ve hired enough people right out of college and been around my daughter’s friends enough to know that there is at least one cohort of youngsters who are engaged and engaging.
They are worried about all the debt that their leaders are running up and know that it’s more likely to be them and their children who will ultimately have to deal with it. That makes them nervous. And it even makes some of them think they’d like to be Republicans. But not quite. In their eyes there is a huge problem with the GOP. It can be summed up in two words: Sarah Palin. They want nothing to do with what they see as the Neanderthalic social agenda of the former governor of Alaska and the hard right-wingers who are her followers.
They are smarter than that. They know the world’s problems are too complicated to be reduced to jingoism.
✓ I learned that a lot of people in Jackson, Wyo., say they could never live in Colorado. It’s too congested. And it’s not “western” enough. A good number of those Centennial State-bashers have drivers’ licenses from elsewhere, and haven’t been in Jackson for much time at all. They can usually be spotted by their brand new cowboy boots.
I filed that under “some things never change,” and find it mildly amusing. I remember when I moved to Colorado and the Roaring Fork Valley some 36 years ago. There were plenty of people then who said they couldn’t possibly live anywhere else. Anyplace else was too congested. Or too flat. Or too stifling. Or the sky wasn’t blue enough. They could be spotted by their brand-new, clunky hiking boots.
✓ Some things are puzzling. Why, I wondered, did the Cowboy Grill, an upscale restaurant in the historic Wort Hotel, offer seafood as a special when we had dinner there? Here we were, right in the middle of cattle country, nearly a thousand miles from an ocean, and the special was scallops. We opted for beef, and it was about as good as beef can get. As it should be in Jackson, Wyo.
✓ Yellowstone National Park is a marvelous landscape any time of the year. But the winter may put the mother of all national parks in its best light. Nearly 3 million people visit Yellowstone every year, marveling at its spectacular thermal features, its abundant wildlife, its crashing waterfalls and the cold, clear streams that feed them. Only about 200,000 people make it into the park in the winter, when the only way in is either snowmobile or snow coach.
They are treated to a white landscape that is eerily quiet. Hoarfrost and steam make trees around the geyser basins ghostlike.
✓ Some things do change. It was actually my second trip into Yellowstone in the winter. I went once before, in 1976. I remember sitting at Old Faithful, being the only person to watch it erupt. Now, with not a single lodge, restaurant or trinket store open for business at Old Faithful, there were more than 200 of us watching it last week.
It was as faithful and spectacular as ever.
✓ And Rock Springs looked as good as ever in the rear-view mirror on the way home.