Roamin’ in Wyoming

The Jackson Hole Writers Conference is held every year before the 4th of July weekend in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. This is about the most beautiful place you can be in the summer. Both Teton Park and Yellowstone are minutes away, the bison graze at the side of the road, and the town of Jackson is small but friendly. There’s good barbecue at Bubba’s and you can sit on a saddle at The Million Dollar Cowboy Bar. There’s a parade on the 4th. And the Jaycees put on one of (if not the) largest private fireworks shows in the country.

One year the Jaycees set fire to the hotel we were staying in, during their fireworks safety training program. They apologized (which I guess would be the correct etiquette here). They said we shouldn’t worry during the actual fireworks, because they’d have Jaycees running up and down the mountain with big bags of water on their backs, watching out for sparks. Maybe they should have had a few at the hotel. At the SAFETY training program. The hotel manager said he had no idea they would have anything flammable on the premises. (Did I mention that it was the FIREWORKS safety program?)

The hotel had a little more excitement later in the week, when a tourist had a heart attack in the lobby. The poor guy died, but the (same) hotel manager said he was very proud of his staff’s performance. If you try to save someone’s life and they die, “proud” isn’t the first word that springs to mind… But then, I haven’t been to hotel management school, so what do I know?

That same week two tourists died rafting on the Snake River. (Remind me to look it up–is the Wyoming state motto by any chance “Death to Tourists?”) The river was particularly high that year (there hadn’t been any deaths in something like 39 years). But what upset me was how they died–the rafts overturned and they choked to death on their vomit. And there’s NOTHING you can do to save someone in that situation. Now I have been river rafting myself, and I distinctly remember that this possibility was never discussed. If it had been, I would never have had that second burrito in Taos.

The conference itself was wonderful–Anne Lamott and John Nichols were the featured speakers that year, and they were funny and wise and inspiring. The rest of the faculty did their usual job making us feel welcome and giving great advice, as well as having a lot of fun. In ’97 the speakers were Clyde Edgerton, Tony Hillerman, Sarah Bird, along with Tim Sandlin, Deborah Bedford, Carolyn Lampman, Jeremy Schmidt, John Byrne Cook, Win Blevins, Warren Adler, Gerry Spence, and a bunch more. Nobody died. Tony Hillerman got stuck in the elevator, but managed to escape in time for lunch. Not only that, we discovered you can buy Huxtable’s Mashed Potatoes in Wyoming. As if it weren’t heaven already….

If I were you, I would definitely think about going. Stay out of elevators, rivers, and lobbies, beware of Jaycees bearing ligthters, and you’ll be fine. One year the speakers included Wally Lamb (an Oprah author!), Rita Mae Brown, and Karen Jay Fowler. Our hotel was also hosting a ballroom dancing competition. They dressed much better than we did, but I think we had at least as much fun. Fortunately the only linen service in town burned down as we were leaving, not as we were arriving. Writers without clean sheets and towels get cranky and might start smelling bad.

For information, click here. I hear Sun Valley has a great conference, too. I don’t know what the leading cause of death there is.

Copyright 1997-99 by Janine Smith. Not to be reproduced or distributed without permission