Lined by cottonwoods, the Snake River reflects the high sun of a summer afternoon, shimmering and slithering along the floor of Jackson Hole. Beyond the Snake, the snowcapped peaks of the Teton Range, jagged like a row of shark's teeth, cut a serrated line high into the Wyoming sky, rising above the valley and river to create one of the American West's iconic landscapes in Grand Teton National Park.
Grand Teton is national park as national anthem ― the very epitome of purple mountain majesties, where quite literally the buffalo roam and the deer and the antelope still play. These aren't merely lyrical evocations of a lost frontier but true descriptions of what survives and can be found in this revered Wyoming park each and every summer day.
At a time when everyone from kindergartners to corporations focuses on the Earth's fragility, here is a place to reconnect with the wild and, perhaps, to understand just a bit better where we all fit in.
"The range is sacred ― there is an intangible power to this place," says Joan Anzelmo, who spent 12 years here and was the park's chief of public affairs. "The physical beauty, the different light at different times of day just captivates you. And it speaks to the souls of so many people."
For all of its timeless appeal, Grand Teton National Park is also having one of its most eventful years since its 1929 founding. This summer a hidden jewel will be revealed: The 1,106-acre Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve (or LSR Preserve) opens in early September. Its state-of-the-art visitor center and the park's new interpretive facility will both be among the most environmentally advanced buildings in the entire national park system.
Journey to the mountains
Somewhere in the middle of nowhere in Idaho, my wife, Becky, and I are Teton-bound. And as easy as it is to conjure the grandeur of these mountains from memory, the blunt reality is that the Tetons are just a big black wall to the east. Consistent with a most regrettable family tradition, we will be arriving in yet another one of the world's most spectacular places at night. This is not by design. A flight delay has resulted in 120 miles of moonless mountain driving. The last climb is over 8,431-foot Teton Pass, the slow third-gear ascent through the Tetons. Fifteen hours into the travel day, it seems like a final test ― Here, Mr. Sisyphus, would you care for another boulder? ― when, beyond the summit, the pass opens to a full moon rising. It lights the forest and, beaconlike, guides us into the valley of Jackson Hole.
Despite our midnight arrival, it's hard to sleep in, and the next day around dawn I head into the park. Down in a bog below a dirt road, there's some movement.
Well, good morning, Mr. Moose.
He is a sight for still-world-weary eyes, this languid, antlered chap, loudly munching and standing knee-deep in a pond so still that it reflects the mountains with a mirror's precision. Moving lazily to another branch, he sends ripples gliding across the pond before disappearing into the opposite bank.
To the sound of breaking branches and rustling leaves, the moose moseys into the forest, his morning repast complete. And as an osprey flies overhead and a pair of elk works its way up a slope, the world of airport lines recedes like a bad dream upon awakening.