Mountain and Cowboy Culture Meet in Jackson Hole

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Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.  I'm Faith Lapidus. And I'm Steve Ember.  Today we travel to the mountains of Wyoming for a trip to Jackson Hole.

This beautiful valley was named after the nineteenth-century explorer and hunter David Jackson.  After he spent a winter in the area, his friends started to call it "Jackson's Hole."

The valley looks like a hole in the middle of the mountains that surround it.  Over time, the name stuck.


Jackson Hole is about forty-eight kilometers long.  The valley includes the town of Jackson.  About eight thousand people live there.  The valley also includes the Grand Teton National Park and much of the Bridger-Teton National Forest.

Jackson Hole is a popular holiday place.  In the summer, people go there to ride horses, climb mountains, catch fish and take trips on the rivers and lakes.

Many visitors take a trip across the valley on the Snake River.  The Snake Indians once lived near this river.  It turns from side to side, like a snake on the move.

Some visitors bird-watch from sailboats.  One of the birds they can see is America's national symbol, the bald eagle.  Other people go white-water rafting.  Rubber rafts carry them along the fastest parts of the river.  The water moves so fast, it becomes white with foam.

In the winter, people come to Jackson Hole to ski.  Jackson Hole Mountain Resort provides some of the best downhill skiing and snowboarding in the world.

And there are other kinds of skiing.  Some people skate ski; they speed across level snow.  Others enjoy the slower speed of cross-country skiing.

Some people go dog sledding in Jackson Hole.  They get on a sled and are pulled by a team of dogs through the snow.  This is one of the many ways to enjoy the extraordinary mountain views.

Some wealthy people have homes near the ski resort.  Other people stay in the many hotels nearby.  Some of these hotels are new and very costly.

In fact, the average sale price of a single-family home in Jackson Hole is more than one million dollars.


Visitors to Jackson Hole have many shopping, dining and entertainment choices.

People can imagine they are in a town in the Old West.  At the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, instead of chairs, they can sit on saddles as if riding a horse.  On some nights there are dance lessons.  People can learn the two-step, a kind of Western dance.

Or they can eat dinner and listen to live music at the Mangy Moose Saloon.  There, a large dead moose hangs from the ceiling.

At the Silver Dollar Bar, a long table is covered with more than two thousand shiny silver dollars.  If you look carefully, you see that the coins are all from the year nineteen twenty-one.

Visitors can also enjoy an evening at the Jackson Hole Playhouse.  In the summer, actors perform musicals and other plays.  This brightly painted old theater is one of the oldest wood buildings in town.  It has been a popular entertainment place since the nineteen fifties.

Some of the stores in Jackson Hole sell unusual things, like furniture made of deer antlers.  Antlers are the hard and bony points that grow on the heads of male deer.  These stores sell chairs, lights and other objects made from antlers.  They look more like pointy sculptures than furniture.

Many stores in Jackson Hole sell winter sports equipment and clothing.  Some sell cowboy clothing.  C.J. James owns the Jackson Hole Hat Company.  Her Web site describes the cowboy as a "symbol of American independence and strength."

She will sell you a cowboy hat made to fit the exact size of your head.  There are many shapes, colors and materials to choose from.


Some of the ways of the Old West cowboy are kept alive in Jackson Hole.  In the summer, visitors can go to a rodeo to see competitions based on traditional cowboy skills.  Some people say it is the truest of American sports.

The rodeo usually begins with a parade of cowboys and their horses.  Then comes the competition.  In one event, riders try to stay on a wild animal for eight seconds.  They ride wild horses and large bulls.  The animals try to throw the cowboys to the ground.  The cowboys try not to fall off.

In another event, the cowboy throws a rope around the neck of a young cow.  Then he tries to tie the rope around three of its legs.  The cowboy who does this in the shortest amount of time wins.

Visitors to Jackson Hole can experience different parts of cowboy life.  They can ride horses.  They can eat meals cooked outdoors over a fire.  In the summer, they can watch actors dressed as cowboys perform "The Shootout."  This short Western play has been performed since the nineteen fifties.

Arts and culture are important in Jackson Hole.  Each summer, musicians from around the country perform classical music at the Grand Teton Music Festival.

Musical guests also visit local schools while they are in town.

Each autumn, Jackson holds the Fall Arts Festival.  This event celebrates many examples of visual and performing arts.  It also provides many examples of fine local foods.

Visitors to Jackson Hole can explore the National Museum of Wildlife.  When this museum opened, it was located in the center of town.  But soon the museum space was not large enough to hold the art collection.

In nineteen ninety-four the museum reopened in a new building made of stone.  It looks like a fortress built centuries ago.  The museum contains over two thousand artworks showing nature and animals.

There are many paintings, photographs and sculptures of antelope, deer, birds, horses and other animals.  The museum says its art celebrates the powerful connection between animals and humans.

This art shows the natural beauty of the land and its creatures.  To see this beauty in real life, all you have to do is walk outside the museum.

The building sits on a hillside overlooking the National Elk Refuge.  The refuge contains the largest wintering population of elk in the world.  It had an estimated seven thousand elk this season.

The refuge has ten thousand hectares of land.  It was started in nineteen twelve to help protect the local elk population.


Six kilometers north of Jackson, Wyoming, is the Grand Teton National Park.  Congress created this park in nineteen twenty-nine.  In the nineteen forties the wealthy John D. Rockefeller bought a great amount of land nearby.  Then he gave it to the federal government.

Both Rockefeller and the government added to the park later.  Today, the government controls about ninety-seven percent of all the land in the Jackson Hole area.

The park is named for the Grand Teton Mountains.  These mountains rise directly from the floor of the valley.  They are part of the Rocky Mountains.  The Grand Tetons are about four thousand meters high and sixty-five kilometers long.  Many artists have captured images of these beautiful mountains.

The Native Americans who lived in the area many years ago called the mountains Teewinot, meaning "many pinnacles."

Fur trappers from Canada had their own idea of what the three largest mountains looked like.  These French-speaking hunters named them "les Trois Tetons" -- "the Three Breasts."

The Grand Teton Mountains were formed about ten million years ago.  This makes them some of the youngest mountains in North America.  The Appalachian Mountains in the eastern United States, for example, are about two hundred million years old.

Many of the lakes around the Grand Tetons were formed millions of years ago by slow-moving sheets of ice.  Some small glaciers are still active in the mountains.

People come to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, from around the world to enjoy the best of cowboy and mountain culture.  If you ever go, just don't forget your cowboy hat.


Our program was written by Dana Demange and produced by Caty Weaver.  I'm Faith Lapidus.

And I'm Steve Ember.  Read and listen to our programs at  And join us again next week for THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.