June 16, 2019

The Fabled Montropolis Is Found: Jackson Hole

In the evolution of a place there is sometimes a waymark between free-spirited childhood and the discreet somberness of maturity. But what if the in-between actually signifies the third point of a classic Hegelian dialectical triangle? A rough and rowdy cowboy town at one point, an overly-wrought sophisticated metropolis at the other, and the third being some subtly unstated “third way” that draws on the contradictory nature of the first two states to create a superior third? Jackson Hole may be that mythical intersection, deftly incorporating elements of the small town with the big city, a realization of humanity's most advanced thought: the idea that recognizes its good self in all things.

In 2011 John Kasarda published a book, Aerotropolis: The Way We'll Live Next, describing a new urban form placing airports in the center with cities growing around them. I've been to many of these airport cities, and found them soulless, clone-like, thick with franchises and the commerce of expediency. Jackson Hole has an airport, the only one in America in a National Park, but there is nothing Xeroxed about it. The largest elk migration in the world is just outside the door. Try to find that anywhere else. After traveling to metropolises and micropolises (populations between 10,000 and 50,000) around the world, this place seems different, something evolved to a higher plane, but what? I scratch about and come up with what I think a suitable descriptor: a montropolis….a mountain town that offers up not just the riot of the natural world, and the cosmopolitan rewards of a first-class city, but then goes beyond. The components: 1) a rich art culture 2) luxury and elegance, but of a rustic flavor 3) an abundance of wildlife 4) family friendliness 5) A strong conservation ethos and 6) a range of snow and ice adventures. These six ingredients, mixed generously together, concoct Jackson Hole, perhaps the first montropolis. After settling in, I decide to test my notion, and head to town to check out the art scene. Jackson Hole has a bewilderingly disproportionate number of artists and galleries: over 50 art galleries in a township of less than 10,000, and you can practically throw a snowball in any direction and hit an artist.

Afterwards, I take a stroll through the town square to check out the shopping. High-end offerings such as Rodeo, 22 Home, Belle Cose, Wool and Whiskey, and CocoLove, a world-class chocolatier, now inhabit this town, and give it a Beverly Hills-with-altitude feeling. Oh look…Harrison Ford just came out of that shop. For dinner I meet up with Gavin Fine at Il Villagio Osteri, a seriously good Italian restaurant, and part of his Fine Dining Restaurant Group, which includes Rendezvous Bistro, Q Roadhouse, The Kitchen, and Bin 22. Gavin's story is not dissimilar to so many who live here. He came out years ago from restaurant-rich Chicago for a weekend of skiing and never went back. He'd been working at for Lettuce Entertain You in Chicago, and just found everything about Jackson more fulfilling, authentic and to his taste. “I chose Jackson Hole to stay and live because of the soul and the character. It's not a stop off the highway. It's a vast valley that sucks you in. And you never leave.” It sounds like Hotel California, though they actually do have that spirit from 1969. We compare notes over wood-oven fired Guido Sarducci pizza and housemade orecchiette, and he says his philosophy is “you're only as good as your last meal.” I counter, “Those who forget the pasta are condemned to reheat it.” The following day, under columbine skies, I head out to see the wildlife up close and personal. Some beasts are unavoidable…I keep running into traffic jams on the road as folks slow down to gawk at moose chewing branches a few feet from the pavement. But the grand display is the American Serengeti, the 25,000-acre National Elk Refuge, where up to 10,000 wintering elk make their grounds

 

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It could be argued that the original Native Americans here embraced a conservation ethic as they revered these peaks that stretched their sky. There was a great spiritual connection. And the environment was so harsh and resources so limited it took a preservation stance to survive. But the movement first found traction in 1897 when a Colonel S.B.M. Young, acting Superintendent of Yellowstone, proposed to expand Yellowstone's boundaries southward to encompass portions of northern Jackson Hole and protect migrating elk herds. John D. Rockefeller, Jr. stood beneath the gleaming silver blades of the Tetons in 1924 and was mightily impressed. The Yellowstone Superintendent at the time seized the opportunity to explain the hope of protecting and preserving “this sublime valley” from unsightly commercial development. Rockefeller decided to purchase offending private properties with the intention of donating them to the National Park. It took more time than anticipated. The creation of Grand Teton National Park finally occurred on September 14, 1950, when Harry S. Truman signed the bill. Now, 97% of the land in Teton County is protected. One synecdoche for the whole of the valley is the Teton Raptor Center. It started in 1997 when Roger Smith, a philosoraptor and wildlife biologist, started receiving calls to take in injured raptors. As he took in more birds, he expanded to rescue and rehabilitation, and then education and conservation. The center is now based in a set of old red barns at the base of Teton Pass in Wilson, and seems about to burst its seams with birds of prey. 

 

 

” title=”Catching the Bus by Didrik Johnck, on Flickr”>Catching the Bus