Jackson Hole to Mesa Falls, and 20 Minutes on Henry’s Fork River
In May of 1978 I found a flyer posted on a bulletin board at my Alma Mater Utah State University. With a dismal Freshman year behind me, I was looking for a job and I saw an offer on the flyer to plant trees in the Wyoming Hoback Mountain Range. This sounded perfect. Back then, we used public phones as our chief form of communication. I called the number on the flyer and spoke to a guy in Jackson Hole from the National Forest Service about the job to plant trees. I was hired on the spot. I then called my parents to report that I wouldn’t be coming home until August.
I didn’t want to go home anyway. Living in the woods and being paid to plant trees with a group of stoners was a perfect escape. Today I see that addiction had me cornered, I thought it was fun and rebellious at the time but in actuality it was monotonous and dangerous. Life in the mountains is free and easy for a 19 year old, and those memories keep me coming back to Jackson whenever the opportunity arises. I’ve learned that spending 4 days fishing in the same mountains, with sober friends can help me clear my mind in a way that smoking pot never accomplished.
This time, years ahead, it was an invitation from my pal Chris “Simbo” Simonds, one of the newest residents of Driggs, Idaho. Simbo has recently joined the team at the famed fly-fishing outfitter “Henry’s Fork Anglers”, a seasoned shop with over 40 years of guide service out of Last Chance, Idaho. Simbo, a friend for over 30 years, called at the perfect time. With a busy summer in my rearview I quickly accepted the invitation and made plans for 4 nights in the Tetons.
The first stop after landing at the Jackson airport were the famous elk antler arches in the village square. On our way there, we found ourselves coming to a full stop on Highway 89 along side the Elk Refuge. The National Elk Refuge is located east of the town of Jackson Hole, Wyoming and was created in 1912 to protect habitat and provide sanctuary for one of the largest elk herds on Earth. Simbo announced that we were stuck in a “Yellowstone traffic jam”, which was caused by a bull moose strolling alongside the highway looking for a hole in the fence. Mesmerized by the beauty of this creature, we jumped out of the car to take a few photos. Once our roadside friend found his way, the traffic resumed to normal and we made our way to Jackson. After we parked our car on the square, I realized not much has changed in Jackson. It is still a tourist mecca and still a good place to grab a drink between civilization and any wilderness adventure. If able, I recommend one spend the night here and learn to square dance at the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar.
Our next stop was the town of Driggs, Idaho and The Royal Wolf, a self styled western pub. I’d chosen to visit The Royal Wolf on Simbo’s recommendation because they feature Huckleberry Trout on their menu, a fillet of Rainbow Trout topped with a huckleberry-ginger chutney. Unfortunately I didn’t read the fine print to see that it’s a dinner only option. Despite this, our lunch was simple and satisfying.
As we headed west to The Henry’s Fork of the Snake River and Mesa Falls, I had to ask Simbo to stop and check out a Pillsbury grain silo standing in the bright sunlight on the side of the road, clean, organized and well maintained.
The farm fields that surrounded the silo were vast and lush. Southeastern Idaho is an example of how some hard working families are maintaining the American work ethic that have made this country great.
Our arrival at Mesa Falls was spectacular. The walk from the US Park Service parking area was short and easy. We heard the sound of water crashing on the rocks below go from a gurgle to a roar. A few hundred yards up from the viewing area above the falls, I located a safe spot to enter the river after navigating the fast moving water and slick, moss covered rocks. I was happy to be with my friend Simbo, listening to his advice as I slowly made my way through the swift current into the middle of the broad, shallow river.
It was late in the day. Shadows falling on the river suggested time was limited but boy was it nice to be standing on a big rock, ankle deep in an iconic American river, casting streamers for trout.
In the 20-minute time I was able to fish, I landed one small rainbow trout, a perfect way to get our four-day swing through southern Idaho under way.
Being back in the dry air in the Teton Mountains, standing in a river, no distractions from cell phones or any of the trappings of busy metropolitan life: happiness and tranquility prevailed.