Tag Archives: Wyoming

Wyoming III: White water rafting

Most of the people we met in Wyoming were from somewhere else. I’m not talking about the seasonal employees at the National Park’s visitor centers or the international students who work in the restaurants and gift shops. I’m talking about the people who call Jackson home. One of the paragliding instructors told us he’d been there about ten years. In addition to floating off mountains, he has a full time gig as a janitor. He said it was a great place to raise kids and he was there to stay. We met a waiter who’s been there for two years and is trying to launch a career as a photographer, not a super young guy, in his early thirties. His girlfriend followed him out and they got married. He said the town is a mecca for kids fresh out of college. They work for a couple of years and then move on – or not.

White water rafting with Andrew and Hannah

The most interesting transplant we met was John, our white water rafting guide with Barker-Ewing. John is originally from Connecticut, but has been living out west for fourteen years. He’s an outdoor adventurer who cobbles together a living leading rafting and kayaking trips down the Snake River and anywhere else you can float. He’s saving money for a trip to Ecuador where there’s a river waiting for him. I’m not sure what he does to earn money in the winter, but when the snow falls, he hits the slopes.

John does a lot of what’s called back country skiing, or skiing out-of-bounds. That’s just what it sounds like, skiing where there are no trails; where if you break your neck they may not find you for a while, which is what happened to him. Luckily he had cell reception and was able to call for help.

Another time, he got buried in an avalanche. He said it was like being in cement, he couldn’t breathe. Just as he started to see colored lights, indicating that his oxygen was almost gone, the friends he’d been skiing with were able to dig him out.

He shared these stories with us while we were floating down the Snake River in an eight-person raft. He was entertaining, but I wondered if there were rafting-related misadventures that he was keeping to himself. I’d never gone rafting before and I’m not embarrassed to say that I was scared. This trip, however, began with a benign two-hour float, followed by a stop at their campsite for breakfast. The float was so beautiful and relaxing (although cold in the morning), and the breakfast was so delicious (rice flower pancakes, maple-flavored sausage, perfect coffee), that I figured I’d at least die happy when we hit the white water.

There were two guys from Atlanta with us on the raft. One, also named Andrew (the spitting image of Robin Williams, don’t you agree?) had moved to Cheyenne for a job with an environmental firm a couple of years ago, and the other, his friend Dixon, a radiologist, was visiting him. When I found out we had a doctor on board I definitely relaxed.

Can you tell which one looks like Robin Williams?

As it turned out, Dixon’s services weren’t needed. The country’s been having a drought, and the Snake River was not in a raging kind of mood. Oh, there was white water, and we had our thrills and got wet, but it could have been much worse. Considering that we weren’t wearing helmets, it’s probably just as well. John had clearly had a lot of luck in his life; I didn’t want to be around when it ran out.

If you’re going to Wyoming and want to do some rafting, I’d recommend Barker-Ewing. But don’t confuse them with Barker-Ewing Float Trips. The only difference is the hyphen in the url that our outfit has. Apparently Barker and Ewing were together for many years. When they finally split up, the hyphen free crew decided to stick with lazy trips, floating tourists around and pointing out bald eagles and such. Our company got the hyphen and the franchise for the white water trips, and the campsite where they serve their incredible breakfasts.

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Wyoming II: Paragliding with the stars

Andrew has floated in a hot air balloon, cruised in an open-air bi-plane, and jumped out of a plane, so I wasn’t terribly surprised when he said he wanted to go paragliding in Wyoming. I was, however, floored when, without consulting me, he asked our sixteen-year-old daughter if she wanted to do it, too, and even more surprised when she said yes. I, of course, said no. (That’s what comes of having been a wild middle child; I have nothing left to prove.)

On the second day of our vacation, we were at the paragliding meeting site at 7:45am. When the thrill seekers got on the tram to go up the mountain, I wandered down to the landing site, which happened to be in the hotel’s front yard. Since this was not my adventure, I have no firsthand experience to share about anything that happened out of my sight. I can, however, show you some photos I took of Andrew and Hannah heading out, floating around, and landing. You’ll find those below. But that’s not what my story is about.

After Andrew and Hannah landed, and the pictures had all been taken, we walked back to the Village for breakfast at The Mangy Moose. Over Huevos Rancheros, Hannah told us that her paragliding instructor had let slip that at the 9am launch they were gliding with Stephen Colbert. To verify that, she poked around the web and came up with a Colbert tweet that said “‏@StephenAtHome I’m on vacation for a week. I won’t say where, but it rhymes with Florida. That’s right, I’m going to the secret rich person island Shmorida.” I reacted like a bear after huckleberries during the drought. I wanted to see Stephen Colbert.

Andrew and Hannah were game, to a point. We walked back to the landing site together, right on time to see the 9 o’clock group descending. The scene on the ground was the same as the one we had participated in an hour earlier. There were a handful of people with cameras trained on the sky waiting for their loved ones to land. There were no paparazzi, no fans with autograph books; nothing to indicate that this was anything other than a normal gathering to watch crazy people fall out of the sky.

While we watched, I struck up a conversation with a woman who turned out to be from Newton. She and her two children were waiting for her husband to land. Once her husband was safely on the ground, they left, leading me to believe that they were unaware that Stephen Colbert was among their group. That, or they were just too cool for school and didn’t care. By the time Mr. Colbert landed, there were only a few people left at the site. It was the ideal setting in which to accost a celebrity.

Andrew and Hannah were standing off to the side pretending they didn’t know me as I slid closer to Mr. Colbert. I waited until he was out of his gear and seemed to be wrapping up. Then I walked up to him, held out my hand and said, “Judy Mintz. And may I just say, Florida Shmorida.” He shook my hand and nodded without paying too much attention. I was just another fan, nothing special, nothing interesting. I stepped back. When he stopped to pose for a photo for one of the paragliding crew, I snapped a few pictures of my own.

Stephen Colbert purports to hate bears, which makes Wyoming a strange vacation choice since it’s peppered with signs warning you to be “Bear Aware,” and tourists are encouraged to carry Bear Spray. Despite all the warnings, we never saw a bear. Maybe Mr. Colbert knew his chances of seeing a bear were slim compared to the likelihood that he’d be bothered by a fan. Maybe he packs Fan Spray. If so, I’m glad he didn’t consider me a big enough threat to use it.

Wyoming 1: Wildlife and Yellowstone

Andrew worked hard to plan our vacation in Wyoming. He researched flights and hotels, studied Trip Advisor for places to go and things to do, and poured over Google maps. Now I get to tell the stories. However, there’s no way to recount a week’s vacation in a single blog post, so you’ll have to bear with me.

Our flight out included a stop in Chicago. While loitering in the terminal there, I observed a family that caused my antennae to go up. The patriarch was a youngish man, maybe in his late twenties, with neatly trimmed blond hair, wearing a blue t-shirt emblazoned with the American flag. He was corralling three boys, all mini versions of himself, none older than eight or ten, each one wearing the same t-shirt. When the mom came out of the restroom, she was trailing a little girl and pushing an even littler one in a stroller. All three were wearing the same t-shirt as the boys, but the mom’s was red. Where I come from, a family of this size, in matching patriotic garb, is  unusual, and therefore notable. It was like a wildlife sighting; the first of our trip.

We spent the first day touring Yellowstone National Park. It was unlike anything I’d ever experienced. Everything we encountered was a delightful surprise, from the herds of bison to the pools of boiling, bubbling water; from Artist Point at Canyon Village where we saw the yellow stone that the park is named after, to the waterfall at Uncle Tom’s Trail. All the vistas were unique, each more awe-inspiring than the one that came before.

There are lots of hot springs inside the park, some surrounded by glorious rings of color. We were following a boardwalk around one of these springs when I saw a young, blond man wearing a red t-shirt with the American flag emblazoned on it. The boys who accompanied him were wearing the same t-shirt, as was the woman following behind. I was flabbergasted. It was the same family! I approached him and said, “Aren’t you missing a few children?”

He looked vaguely startled and answered brusquely, “No.”

“Really?” I asked. “But when I saw you in the airport you had more children with you.”

He ignored me and kept walking. His wife was far enough away that she hadn’t overheard our conversation. I tried again. “Aren’t you missing some children?”

She smiled absent-mindedly and said, “Oh, no.”

“But when I saw you in the airport you had more children with you.”

“We didn’t fly, we’re from Utah. We drove. But yes, I left the young ones in the van with their grandmother so they could nap.”

“Are you sure I didn’t see you in the airport?” I persisted.

“No, no,” she responded, pleasantly enough, “we drove.” And she walked past to catch up with the rest of her family.

Andrew and Hannah were horrified, and rightly so. I sounded like a stalker, or worse, a kidnapper! What was I thinking? In hindsight, they were clearly not the same family. The man in the park was definitely older than the one in the airport. There was no grandmother with the original group. And, as Andrew pointed out, the family I’d seen in Chicago could have been flying anywhere in the world. But why, then, did the mom tell me that there were other children in the van… It doesn’t matter, there’s no excuse for my crazy behavior. My desire to make a connection was stronger than my sense of propriety.

People behave in strange ways inside Yellowstone. There are signs posted all over informing visitors that they should keep a healthy distance from the wildlife, and yet, as you can see from the picture below, that advice is regularly ignored. Next time, I’ll be more careful.