Measures of Wealth in Jackson Hole

Hundreds, if not thousands, of 1921 Morgan Silver Dollars – the only ones ever minted in Denver, Colo. – are embedded into the bar at the Wort Hotel in Jackson Hole, Wyo.

No one’s quite sure why, and that includes Matt White, director of sales at the classic, 1941 hotel, a throwback to the rough-and-tumble Wild West.

“I don’t know what their significance is,” he said recently.

But he notes that the hotel’s basement – now home to administrative offices – was once a den of inequity, complete with gambling and all manner of nefarious activities. “They called it the Snake Pit,” he said.

State and local officials turned a blind eye for a couple of decades, until the late 1950s, when it all came to a halt. But the silver dollars endure, embedded even in the hotel’s conference room table.

Jackson (as the locals prefer to call it) finds its wealth in a myriad of other venues today. There’s skiing in the winter months, trout fishing and white water in the summer, and year-round wildlife tours from the good folks at Eco Tour Adventures.

That means half-day or day-long trips out into the Grand Teton Park with wildlife guide Verlin Stephens – and close-up looks at elk, moose, bison and the occasional grizzly bear. It also means stopping off for a long, hard look at Bohlin Cywinski Jackson’s Grand Teton Discovery and Visitor Center, with its modernist take on a Roman courtyard and its majestic vistas of the mountains from the inside looking out.

Back in town, nothing beats the quiet bar at the Rusty Parrot Lodge. And, there’s no dearth of modern architecture nearby, thanks to the work of Carney Logan Burke, the firm that designed the Jackson airport, its welcome center and its performing arts pavilion. The firm was established by John Carney – a graduate of Stanford and the Harvard Graduate School of Design – in 1992. Its work in the public realm may be most visible, but its residential designs are more prolific.

“There have got to be more than 50 – maybe even 100,” Carney says. “Residential work dominates.”

Those silver dollars embedded at the bar of the Wort Hotel are potent symbols of prosperity from a bygone era – but today, Jackson wears its wealth in new and better ways.

[slideshow id=1709]

Wildlife Photos by Matt Payne
Welcome Center Photos by David J. Swift
Airport Photo by Matthew Millman

Editor’s note: Some of the venues reviewed in this column provided complimentary services