This isn’t Disneyworld. The mission statement of the National Park Service is to “preserve unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the National Park System for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations.” It’s for walking, hiking, biking, riding, fishing……or just sitting on a bench inhaling the scent of space. You may find the holiday months of August busy on the roads to, from and inside the Parks, and there is pressure on camping space too. But the amount of available wilderness is so vast that as soon as you put an hour or too into your walking boots, you are pretty much on your own. And the further you go the more on your own you are.
These wonderful resources are well managed to the degree than any human can manage nature. Roads, signs, directions; booths dispensing permits, café’s dispensing food and nourishment, visitor’s centres, all these things are there. But walk off the carefully graded and maintained hiking track and you are no longer in the domain of the National Park Service but in Nature’s. A few metres away from me on my first acclimatizing hike in the Teton National Park I saw a young Black Bear feeding I was five minutes from the car park.
And the water. I could fish for the rest of my life and not touch a percentage point of it. There are more than 600 lakes and 2,500 miles of 1,000 rivers in Yellowstone alone, and you can fish them for a week for a $25.00 permit or $40.00 for the whole year. There are cutthroat, brook, rainbow, lake, bull and brown trout and char. There is much more water outside the park too and public access is assured at designated areas. Any American tackle shop staffer will point you in the right direction. There’s an underlying Freemasonry about angling in America, an awareness that what we share is far more important than what separates us. If Abel Gonzales lived in London instead of Jackson, he’d be the sort of guy who speaks to people on the Underground.
I hiked a bit in the Tetons to stretch legs shaped by chairs and desks and a chest bent at a laptop screen angle. There were few people about on the easier trails and water with fish rising that made me wish I had brought a rod. But I was visiting friends Lee and Rick and at the start of my journey with so many days to come. Jackson Hole is a tourist town – fishing, hunting and hiking in the summer, skiing in the winter – and hosts an awful lot of gift shops and cowboy bars and expensive “Western art” galleries. I equipped myself for the Winds with a heavy sleeping bag at K-Mart and spent valuable time at the Orvis store, where Manager Abel Gonzales picked out a few fly patterns for the Winds and talked me through the kind of fishing I could expect.
It takes 10 minutes to drive through Jackson. And all around are craggy, brooding and majestic mountains and space where the buffalo truly did roam. And the Indians. I was to learn much more about the Indians, with some shame.
After two nights trying to shake off a trail of dedicated e-mail followers and that early morning “what task must I complete today” reflex, I put my luggage in the back of a rented jeep, put the gear in Drive, and left for the Winds.
On the radio, the essential companion of any road trip, James Taylor was singing: “It’s enough to be on your way. It’s enough just to cover ground.”