I have visited Island Park/Mack's Inn, Idaho four times. Four! If you're visiting Yellowstone or Grand Teton National Park, it's a nice alternative to the crowds in Jackson or trying to stay in the park itself.
The only reason my family vacationed there was because we could split the cost with our friends the Johnsons, who had previously lived in Lawrence but moved to Idaho Falls, Idaho in 1987. Island Park, the resort, sits several miles away from the actual town. The resort is, more or less, part of the hamlet Mack’s Inn. The basic condominiums surround a nine-hole golf course, which itself wraps around a clubhouse featuring swimming, racquetball, tennis, an exercise room, cafe and satellite TV. Yes, we could watch the news from Denver, in Idaho! The seventh hole of the golf course revealed a terrific view of the landscape, including two hazards-- a fenced private property containing grazing animals, and a pond bordering the opposite side of the fairway, along with the eighth hole. At night, my friend Ben and I would don our swimming trunks and dive into the chilly water for the ultimate bounty-- golf balls. We would sweep the pond for lost golf balls, retrieve them, clean them, and attempt to re-sell them. The two of us repeatedly proved we had no golf-playing skills either.
Reaching the resort took two days, if one really wanted to race there. The first year, my family drove through Colorado, stopping in both Denver and Salt Lake City. The last two trips required driving from Denver to and through Wyoming. Wyoming must be an alternate meaning for emptiness, because I saw a lot of that. The town of Jackson, since 1994, has apparently become a fashionable spot for celebrity skiers. From Jackson, without navigating Yellowstone National Park, one reaches Island Park by crossing the Teton Pass. This is a 9,000-foot mountain pass, with a lot of tight curves, switchbacks, slow vehicles, and wonderful views.
The dry climate improves the chances for forest fires. In 1988, we arrived at the time of the big Yellowstone fire. One day, the fire jumped the road in front of us, blocking our path. We had to return to Island Park using the only detour, a two-hour detour.
I returned to Yellowstone in 2010, briefly passing Island Park, which now had its own Subway sandwich shop. Otherwise it looked mostly unchanged from the last trip in 1994.
2010 Trip: Salt Lake City to Jackson
I reached yet another vacation period with the attainable goal of doing as little as possible, and spending foolishly. But this time, extra stress accompanied the trip. Nothing has worked correctly in my life the last several months. The day before I left, my laptop melted down, potentially losing three years of data. Naturally, this added to the stress of the trip.
Flying to Salt Lake City, I played the Donald Fagen song “IGY” in my head repeatedly. Eerily, as I stepped onto a moving walkway, “IGY” was the song on the airport speaker. How I wish for trains of graphite and glitter, ferrying me undersea to my destination. Instead, I met Hertz.
Despite taking a reservation for a rental car, Hertz denied my place because I use a debit card. Because I have no credit history, Hertz made no exception. They stranded me, there, in the airport, with no apology. Never in ten years have I had such a problem. Now Hertz is being picky on the eve of a cashless society? Thankfully Alamo rental helped me, but that was money I did not anticipate spending.
Because of my anger, I decided to drive to Jackson as fast as my chosen route allowed-- no pictures. That included the Bear Lake area, site of a crowded raspberry festival. Although it’s an out-of-the-way location I’ll probably never see again, I did not stop, and I did not take pictures. In fact, the crowd forced a detour. I eventually stopped for dinner at a local fast food joint in Montpelier, Idaho, where the year was definitely not 2010. This diner still had a Ms. Pac-Man arcade game. I had the raspberry milkshake to make up for the lack of a stop at the festival.
I reached Jackson, Wyoming around 8:30. As the young lady at the motel counter perused by reservation, she mentioned disabled-access room. Say what? Knowing the scarcity of rooms in Jackson, I did not quibble. Perhaps she misspoke? She did not. Room 106 contained wooden floors and a large bathroom with an open shower containing a wood bench. The two clerks watched me walk into the lobby under my own power, yet saw nothing wrong with placing me in the handicapped room. The room didn’t even have a clock! But my debit card worked splendidly. I hope no genuinely handicapped people needed a room.
Sunday: Teton National Park
I last visited Jackson and the parks in 1994. I don’t recall either being so chaotic, but it is now. Traffic jams in Jackson are frequent. Parking lots in Teton and Yellowstone fill quickly. My climb, 1,800 feet to Inspiration Point in Grand Teton National Park, is popular. Families speaking languages of the world pack the skinny trail. Chipmunks stand upright, awaiting human handouts, obviously benefiting from previous encounters. Tonight I failed to find a restaurant in Jackson without a line out the door. Tourists, bikers and hipsters walk in all directions, across streets, oblivious to vehicles. I chose to eat at the Hong Kong buffet which, like all other eateries, was overpriced. Sadly, I got hooked on a television show called Ice Road Truckers, about the drivers of Alaska’s Dalton Highway. The surprisingly attractive female driver made all the difference.
Monday: Yellowstone to Idaho Falls
Although I did not originally intend to visit Yellowstone itself, I thought I would make more efficient use of the dual park pass. Even though it is Monday, the vehicle line is immense. Road resurfacing does not help. I spotted an uplink truck, no doubt used by the national media for the story of some escaped prisoners thought to be in the area. Each sighting of an ordinary group of deer causes all cars to screech to a stop, with camera-ready drivers running across the highway. The Old Faithful parking lots are a zoo. In the geyser area, I pause for a photo of an erupting sulfuric spring. Unfortunately, my downwind position results in a total soaking of me and my camera. I smell like rotten eggs and my lens has spots-- terrific.
After slowly leaving Yellowstone, I drive by the Island Park resort where I vacationed as a kid. The resort has a couple of new buildings and a Subway franchise across the highway, but otherwise looks the same. Cows graze close to one of the condos.
In Idaho Falls, I checked into the Pinecrest Inn; they provided a normal room. Without a proper map, I navigated Idaho Falls to find the baseball stadium. The Idaho Falls Chukars (“chuckers”) are the short season rookie league affiliate of the Kansas City Royals. The opposing pitcher for the Casper Ghosts entered the game with an ERA of 7.38. He shut out the Chukars 3-0.
Tuesday: Idaho Falls to Stanley
No one dominates the world of skunk road kill like eastern Idaho. The stench is everywhere. But today I left the small population center for an even more remote place-- Central Idaho. The scenery changed quickly from green river valley to rocky, arid desert. At times, I was the only driver on the road. I briefly stopped in Arco, Idaho to stretch my legs. Each graduating high school class paints its graduating year on the cliffs overlooking the town. I drove to the town of Challis for lunch-- a buffalo burger. This part of Idaho is so empty, the car radio won’t lock onto any radio station.
Because of the timing with the room check-in, I decided to drive to north to Salmon, just to see it, before doubling back to Stanley. Salmon is small and isolated, and mostly under road construction. Stanley is so tiny it has no paved roads off the highway. The main drag is called the “Ace of Diamonds.” That is the name of the street. It is gravel, with wood plank sidewalks. I’m not sure the town has a permanent population. The only way to watch television in Stanley is by satellite dish. Of course, my room doesn’t have a television. My room probably hasn’t changed much since the 1960s. Amazingly, thunderstorms are pouring rain on Stanley right now, so I got drenched walking up and down town.
Today I joined a river-rafting group. Whereas yesterday was warm and dotted with thunderstorms, today was 20 degrees cooler. That sounded awesome for getting wet. The people in my raft included a family of four, another family of four, the guide, and myself. The patriarch of one family was a Hollywood executive of some kind. He bragged about all the worldly vacations he took to places like the Galapagos Islands and Kuala Lumpur, yet he’s here in central Idaho? The rafting was unremarkable. We saw one deer, and the rapids weren’t up to par, since it was the low river season. The rafting company provided lunch, and it included a white-colored bean dip that may have been the best bean dip in the history of the world. Nothing mattered afterward.
Thursday: Stanley to Salt Lake City
With an early departure tomorrow, I drove seven to eight hours from central Idaho to Salt Lake City. I awoke to frost and 38 degrees in Stanley. When I reached places like Jerome and Twin Falls, the desert rock was nearly black and the temperature 100 degrees. I also passed an empty stretch of highway advertising “high wind, next 30 miles.” Way to go, Idaho.