Storms seem to come out of nowhere pretty quickly over here. Having driven through Wind River Canyon, the sky darkens and it suddenly becomes incredibly windy. There are actual tumbleweeds blowing across the road. And it’s my turn to drive. Driving Al Dente in anything more than a light breeze feels like driving in the fairground dodgems. We get shunted back and forth across the road, and it doesn’t help that the skies have opened and the rain is pouring down, obscuring anything further than 50 feet ahead.
Thankfully we make it through the storm to blue skies and, looking back, see the foreboding dark clouds looking like they belong at Sauron’s Tower.
It actually ends up being a really beautiful drive across Wyoming which, after a few hours of flat plains, has become mountainous again. We climb higher and higher and stop to look at the green valleys below, covered in wild flowers. We’re getting closer to Jackson, and the Grand Tetons.
Our campsite for the evening is another of the national forest ones, meaning that it’s much cheaper, but also that it’s on a first come, first served basis. Given that it’s now early evening, and these sites fill up quickly, this could be problematic. Our phone with google maps takes us through Jackson and then down a dirt road into the hills. I drive down it ponderously, hoping that it hasn’t gone skewed again, and that this is actually the right way. The dirt road we are on is, apparently, maintained by the state, but this ‘maintained’ road is about to end, and ahead of us stretches 4 miles of the most god-foresaken non-road that I have ever seen.
It is strewn with large rocks, even larger potholes, and with raised bumps, very similar looking to corrugated metal. Any one of these could destroy our camper by themselves, together it feels catastrophic. I’m going about 5mph, and that still feels too fast. On the inside, it feels like we’re going through an earthquake. Everything is shaking madly, and things are falling off shelves, we hear the occasional bang of something being hit hard on Al Dente’s underbelly. And then it gets worse. The ‘road’ starts viciously ascending up a cliff face, with very tight bends, and begins to narrow. On one side, there is the cliff face and certain death. On the other side is Dom screaming at me to be careful. I’m not sure which is worse to be honest. The minutes stretch on painfully, and 4 miles seems interminable at this point.
We finally make it to the campsite, only for it to be full. I could weep. I cannot do this road again so soon, and nor can Al Dente. However, there is a clearing just opposite the campsite entrance, and the owner said people camp there for free. We are pathetically grateful at this small mercy. And now let’s never speak of this horrendous evening again.
Having slowly, but successfully made it back down the hill the next morning, we walk around Jackson. It’s very touristy, and everything seems geared towards a ‘season’. Whether this be the ski season in winter, or all the outdoor activities that come with the warmer weather in the summer. It’s a nice enough base, with some good cafes and restaurants, but the thing that has the biggest draw for me is the rodeo that happens most nights throughout the summer.
It’s absolutely packed at the rodeo arena, and we settle in with our beer and popcorn. First up is the bull rodeo, where cowboys and cowgirls are flung around like rag dolls as the bull desperately tries to free itself of its burden.
Those good enough to stay on until the buzzer, are helped off by jumping onto the back of the horses of the wranglers, who ride alongside keeping a close watch.
Those who aren’t lucky enough to stay the course, are dumped unceremoniously into the dirt, and have to make a move pretty sharpish, if they don’t want to be speared by the bulls horns.
There are three young guys on foot, who distract the bull in case it gets too interested in the hapless contestant.
The crowd looks on, and gets thoroughly overexcited every time the bull charges at one of the guys, occasionally getting very close. The closer it gets, the higher the noise levels. It feels a bit like the Romans looking down at the contestants in the Coliseum. Apparently we still just want a bit of gore.
From bulls we go to bucking broncos, and although they don’t have menacing horns, they do have a fierce desire not to have anyone on their backs. Looking at the cowboys being flung around, you have to wonder if they have chiropractors on speed dial. People shouldn’t be able to bend that much.
The barrel racing comes next, and cowgirls fly out of the gates at impressive speed on their quarter-horses, racing around the barrels with amazing agility, hair and hats flapping behind them.
There’s a nice camaraderie feeling between the people who work here, from the announcers, to the cowboys, to the guys fending off the bulls – who pray before going into the ring. I can’t say I blame them.
The animals seem to be treated well, and there’s a series of large holding pens behind the stalls, where the bulls and broncos make their way to, having had their time in the spotlight.
It was a really great evening and, as the announcers say, long may rodeo continue.
We head back to our camper, this time parked on a quiet suburban street, with actual tarmac. I think the cowboys should try their hand at staying upright whilst I drive up the hell-road again. I imagine that would be a good new test for them.
We go to bed, ready to get up early to make it to the Grand Tetons, where we can say that we’ve finally entered ‘bear country’.