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Jenny Lake Lodge
One way to experience the wonders of the Tetons of Wyoming is to strap on a 40-pound pack full of dry socks, rainwear, heavy sweaters, snakebite remedies and packets of dehydrated trail food and set out on foot for destinations bearing names such as Death Canyon. Another way is to check in at Jenny Lake Lodge at the foot of the grandest Teton of all, sit down in a rocking chair on the porch of a little log cabin all your own and contemplate the works of God and man.
Jenny Lake Lodge is run by Rock-resorts, Inc. on the precept that the soul of a voluptuary and the heart of a nature lover can coexist peacefully in the same body. Therefore, the sheets on the beds at Jenny Lake Lodge are freshly ironed pure white cotton, the blankets are electric, and both are turned down by invisible hands each evening during the dinner hour. The towels, large, white and fluffy, are changed twice a day, and the soap in the bathroom is costly Neutrogena. The mirrors are full-length, the reading lamps are efficient and the little foil-wrapped chocolate that appears on one's pillow at night is the sort of touch that experienced travelers have come to expect in the world's best hotels. To find such luxuries in Grand Teton National Park is nothing short of startling.
Also surprising is the printed invitation to a weekly champagne reception from Manager Emilio Perez, a courtly veteran of the hotel business who learned his trade at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York "when it wax the Waldorf-Astoria." If the weather is especially good, the reception takes place on the lawn outside the main lodge with Mounts Teewinot and Owens and the Grand Teton in the background, haloed by the late afternoon sun. Guests who may have spent their day on horseback or in hiking boots change voluntarily into summer dresses and sport coats for the occasion, just as if they were not on the edge of one of the vastest of American wildernesses.
When the weather is less pleasant—and it should be recalled that Will Rogers once said, "The mildest winter that I have ever experienced was the summer I spent in Wyoming"—the party moves inside the lodge, where leather chairs, tweed-upholstered couches and handwoven Indian rugs surround a large, welcoming fireplace, and an upright piano with a hymnal on its rack waits for the right person to come along.
The dining room at Jenny Lake is justly celebrated in Jackson Hole country and beyond. It might well be the only restaurant in Wyoming where a diner can begin his meal with consommé double au madère and finish it with a tarte de pêche. The table linen is crisp, the china is a Wedgwood design decorated with small Teton landscapes, a freshly cut flower in a ceramic vase decorates each table, and the dining chairs are made of lodgepole pine lashed together by leather thongs with seats and backs of cowhide. The disorientation that overcomes a newcomer stumbling into all this luxury might be total if it were not for the windows, cut into the varnished log walls of the dining room, that look out toward the matchless Tetons.
The Tetons are not the highest mountains in America. Grand Teton, the tallest of the seven peaks of the "cathedral group" that overshadows Jackson Hole, is only 13,770 feet. There are 38 principal mountains in the U.S. that are higher. But what makes the Tetons different, and what marks them indelibly in the memory, is that they have no foothills. Most mountains, approached as they are over a number of ridges of gradually increasing height, seem to shrink as one draws nearer. The Tetons loom larger and larger. They have been described as looking like a cresting wave about to crash onto the valley floor. Dangerously jagged, snow-topped, unrelentingly vertical, dishearteningly barren, they are so beautiful at all hours, in all lights, in all seasons, that it is impossible not to want to get closer to them, to find out what it's like up there amid all the beauty.
Miraculously, one can. By walking no more than two hours up the Cascade Canyon Trail from the edge of Jenny Lake—or to an altitude of about 9,000 feet—even a tenderfoot can sit on a rock in the sun at the edge of Cascade Creek and watch a bull moose with a mossy rack and an absurdly long face grazing in the shallows, and exchange wary glances with a golden marmot that, perched on its haunches with its tiny paws clasped across its chest, seems to wear the fur coat of another, larger animal. The creek burbles and crashes soothingly, a bald eagle sails across the face of a sheer granite wall, and almost unbelievably, skiers the size of gnats descend a glacier that is a full mile up in the air.
The human history of Jackson Hole, an old mountain man's word for a deep valley surrounded by mountains, is short and relatively meager. Little more than a century has passed since the first three settlers arrived with plows in hand and intentions of staying. Before that the itinerant population was made up of fur trappers, Canadian and American. It was, in fact, French Canadian trappers who chose the name for the mountains on the eastern edge of the valley that has stuck all these years—Les Trois Tetons, or the three breasts—which may be some indication of how long it had been since the trappers had seen a female. Even the Indian tribes of the northern Rockies—Black-feet, Gros Ventres, Crows, Shoshoni and Bannocks—never settled in Jackson Hole.
The Hayden geological survey of 1872, sent out by the government to map the American territories, explored the Tetons and Jackson Hole, but its leader, Dr. Ferdinand Hayden, was much more interested in the thermal activity of the Yellowstone Valley to the north. Presumably, a mountain was only a mountain but a geyser was a wonder. Whatever the reason, in 1872 Yellowstone became the first national park in the U.S., while the Tetons had to wait until 1929.