Soon after we leave Montpelier, we're in Wyoming. The road quickly climbs 1300 feet and now there are brown mountains behind the green hills, some of them sporting patches of snow gleaming improbably in the summer sun.
Just as quickly, the elevation decreases back to 6200 feet and the rolling hills open out into vast pastures. The mountains ringing the pastures in every direction are still thickly carpeted in green, but the slopes of the eastern range are wearing their evergreens in north-facing Mohawks. They look like so many teenagers rebelling against their fully forested elders to the north, south and west.
Horses chew lazily on the grass in the pastures. Cows lounge in clumps under the warm sun. As everywhere, the cattle have arranged themselves as if they're attending a conference: most in the main meeting, some in breakout groups, a few engaged, apparently, in some form of independent study. Little towns (Smoot, Afton, Etna) appear and disappear without fanfare and not very often. Businesses have names like "Clip & Curl Corral" and "Bull Moose Saloon;" buildings are few and either weathered or falling down altogether. Notwithstanding these indicia of human activity, we see more bales of hay and grass than people, and the breadth, grandeur and verdancy of the vistas bespeak nothing more than undisturbed tranquility.
At Alpine, we join the Snake River (in the picture above). From Alpine to Jackson, the road follows the river as it curves, bends, widens, narrows and generally makes plain how this valley got carved. It is the job of rivers to carve the land, always with the goal of returning to sea level. The Snake still has quite a job ahead of it; its river bed is around 5500 feet above sea level.
After the town of Alpine, the topography to the west becomes less rolling and more, well, alpine. Nothing craggy or barren yet - we're still far below the timberline - but the angles are steeper than the placid angle of repose and the foliage marching up the slopes mostly hugs the ground. The tall evergreens are now in smaller squadrons, and they appear to be clinging to the mountainsides.
Jackson looks like all yuppie ski resorts. The main streets are pretty much interchangeable with those of Estes Park or Park City, Vail or Beaver Creek. Cute shops, wood-timbered Old West facades, congested streets, restaurants with big city pretensions, the obligatory microbrewery, and more people crammed into a few square yards than we've seen in hundreds of miles.
We get through it as quickly as possible, which isn't very quickly, and then the Grand Tetons, which have been hovering on the horizon to the northwest, are suddenly before us. On one side, we still have the rolling green-clad mountains that have accompanied us since northern Utah:
On the other side, we have this:
And here's the view from the balcony of the cottage that will be our home for the next couple days:
I think the Grand Tetons are going to make it possible for me to forgive Wyoming for Yellowstone.