The massive creature emerges from a thick fog – its coat matted and thick; its horns heavy and rigid. With steely, engaged eyes the curious bison seems to study me as if to determine my level of threat. Were it to charge, weighing in at 1,400 pounds, this bison could top 40 miles per hour before smashing me into oblivion.
Standing just a few feet away, I can’t help but feel a touch of anxiety as the bison’s territorial gaze clocks my every step, ready to pounce at any second. Of course, it won’t actually pounce at all – it’s not a real bison, but a painting by famed wildlife artist Robert Bateman appropriately titled “Chief.” This beloved piece, which hangs in The National Museum for Wildlife Art, captures the intimate essence of wildlife in both Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park. This 50,000-square-foot building, designed after the Slains Castle in Scotland, overlooks the National Elk Refuge. It houses 14 galleries with pieces from more than 500 artists, such as Audubon, Remington, Picasso, Rodin, Rembrandt, O’Keeffe and Warhol, and features art from 2500 BC to contemporary times. It’s representative of an innovative and emerging creative culture that is redefining the rugged mountain town of Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
Jackson Hole has long been a town torn between two identities. On one hand, it’s a stopping spot for countless busloads of tourists eager to see a moose, talk about moose and buy moose T-shirts. These tourists, while enthusiastic and good for the local economy, can clog major thoroughfares and pack restaurants, and have been known to ignore “don’t harass the wildlife” signs. Jackson’s other, more esoteric, identity is that of a playground for some of the world’s richest and most famous celebrities, entrepreneurs and business executives. Due to these bifurcated reputations, visitors often miss what makes Jackson Hole special. With an eclectic culinary scene, thriving art galleries and museums, a culturally immersive stay in Jackson Hole will enrich any nature lover’s experience of the National Parks far beyond wayward glances of craggy peaks, waterfalls and gurgling geysers.
Where to Eat
At Gather Restaurant and Bar, located just off Jackson Hole Town Square, you will find one of the most inventive menus and dining experiences in Wyoming. Gather’s menu, unlike any other, is entirely influenced and designed around the tastes and preferences of the clientele. While it is always open to the public, Gather also features a private Chef’s Table.
Booked more than two months in advance, this experience allows guests to experience Jackson Hole’s finest kitchen staff unleashed as they work to create a beautifully plated, locally sourced and spectacular meal.
While the Chef’s Table is where Gather shines, it becomes truly unique and interactive at its Tuesday Tastings. Each Tuesday at noon, owner Graeme Swain joins a table of 12 individuals who are invited to taste three newly created dishes, each prepared from scratch and presented by the chef to the room family-style. Guests are given sheets to rate each dish based on presentation, creativity, flavor and value. After voting, while customers sip wine and wait for the next course, Swain leads a lively culinary-driven dialogue about why each dish worked and how each might be improved. Upon completion, the chef joins the table to discuss the dish’s critiques in what is an enormously fulfilling and insightful dining experience. The successes and failures of the Tuesday Tastings are what ultimately shape Gather’s ever–evolving menu, making it one of Jackson Hole’s premier dining spots.
While Gather is the most distinctive, Jackson Hole’s downtown is booming with outstanding restaurant options. For other upscale trendy dining options, The Rose also features a strong regionally influenced menu and an outstanding chef’s table in the restaurant’s kitchen where guests watch the chef craft each course. The Kitchen is also not to be missed. For more casual dining, Café Genevieve, Local and Snake River Brewing are all outstanding options. For lighter fare and amazing coffee, Persephone, with its baked goods and clean menu, is hard to beat.
What to Do
Jackson Hole’s culinary scene is indeed a lively one, and is perfectly coupled with an ever-evolving arts community. This has long been a destination for artists of all kinds. In addition to the National Museum of Wildlife Art, the town square is lined with galleries from local and internationally known creators, and striking public art adds splashes of color and creativity to every turn through town from the information center to the library.
Jackson Hole’s creative hub is, without a doubt, at The Center for the Arts. This 78,000-square-foot campus houses 19 local, national and international artistic nonprofits ranging from the visionary filmmakers of Jackson Hole Wild to theater and music groups to the public art office. The center’s theater also regularly features intimate events and performances from international musical superstars such as Ben Folds and readings from world-renowned authors such as David Sedaris.
While it’s easy enough to rent a car and drive through Yellowstone or Grand Teton National Park, visitors can have a far more meaningful experience in these fantastic spots – while seeing some of the wildlife depicted in the museum – by booking a tour of the park through Jackson Hole Eco Tours. This conservation-minded company offers educational and insightful tours into the parks. Their guides personalize the trip, making sure to focus on the interests of their guests and taking participants off the beaten path to some of the parks’ less-traveled regions.