Amangani, and the enduring mystique of the American West in pristine Jackson Hole
Take in the panoramic view from the hot tub and heated infinity pool at Amangani. (Courtesy of Amangani)

Amangani, and the enduring mystique of the American West in pristine Jackson Hole

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Did you know there's a Jackson Hole, China? It's true! In fact, the resort town, which was completed in 2009 and takes heavy inspiration from the kitschiest of western Americana, sits not too far from where the skiing events are taking place right now in the 2022 Winter Olympics, in the mountains north of Beijing.

Not quite a replica, you could think of the Chinese vacation home development—complete with antler chandeliers, wagon wheels, and even its own Teton Village with its own Cowboy Bar—as a tribute (built in the name of profit) to the outsize space the Wild West holds in the global imagination. It does loom large.

In Jackson Hole, Wyoming in early December, I had the distinct feeling of having been there before. I had—this was my third visit. I have seen the mighty spray of Old Faithful at Yellowstone National Park in summer and have hiked among the golden aspens of Teton National Park and hooked cutthroat trout on the twisting Snake River beneath soaring bald eagles in autumn. On both occasions, I have pulled over like all the other tourists to see herds of bison grazing alongside the road or a clumsy black bear cub munching something in a tree. But these aren't the memories of Wyoming that stir up my nostalgia. As a granddaughter of Native American heritage and a child of Texas, I recognize this as the home of cowboys and Indians, the old stomping ground of ranchers, trappers, and traders. This is the range where the deer and the antelope play.


The majestic Teton Range blanketed in snow.(Courtesy of Amangani)

It's also utterly pristine, a kind of natural Disneyland as one of my colleagues put it, and I think it's impossible not to be absolutely awed by its expansive beauty, no matter how many times you visit. Nowhere I've been in the United States, not even in Northern California and not in the Lone Star State, have I seen a landscape so monumental.

The purple mountain majesty of Pike's Peak is almost sleepy in comparison to the dramatically rugged Teton Range, even if Grand Teton does fall short of Pike's by a scarce few hundred feet. Younger than the Rockies by tens of millions of years, these craggy peaks are technically still rising (due to shifting fault lines causing the valley floor to sink) and as yet lack the softness that comes with the weathering of age. Making matters all the less believable are the boundless plains that stretch lazily beyond, with canyons and lakes carved out by glaciers of the Pleistocene Ice Age, marred by no man or car or convenience store.

Despite the massive influx of tourism this region sees each year—Yellowstone National Park recorded 4.86 million visits in 2021—the silence is loud in these parts; the isolation is real. Wyoming remains the least populated state and public land, comprising more than half its total acreage, stretches far as the eye can see. Take a picture and you'll have a freeze frame of American history and yet, to an outsider on the outskirts of Jackson, it would be easy to believe that the west had yet to be won, the silent vastness of the open space convincing enough to make each new visitor feel like the explorer who discovered it.

Bighorn sheep are among the many species you might easily spot during Amangani's guided wildlife tours.(Courtesy of Amangani)

On a wildlife tour led by Drew, a 20-something East Coast transplant who started as a bellman at Amangani (more on this in a moment) and was promoted to this role thanks to his uncanny encyclopedic knowledge of the land, its history, and its beasts—a quality we will find in most every local we meet—we rolled around the National Elk Refuge, in a BMW SUV, playing the animal kingdom version of I-spy.

On your left you'll notice a group of bighorn sheep. Today it appears we have four rams vying for the attention of one lucky lady, or unlucky depending on how you look at it. These males can go all day long knocking horns and butting heads while the intended beloved hangs back, unimpressed. Eventually the boys will tire, maybe head off to grab a beer, and the last ram standing will get the ewe.

Then, after a short drive over to Antelope Flats, home of the turn-of-the-20th-century settlement known as Mormon Row, we stop at a sweeping field of sagebrush so perfectly positioned before the towering, bluish Tetons as to look like a Bob Ross painting. You can see a herd of moose just chilling there. If you'd like a photo op, feel free to hop out of the vehicle and get a little closer, but not too close! Those bad boys weigh like 1,500 pounds and can run faster than you might think. But keep an eye out for fallen antlers, you can get good money for those!

Nearly every person we encountered in Jackson Hole watches the television series Yellowstone, starring Kevin Costner, and asks if we watch it too. Despite being set on the Montana side of the famed national park, the story seems to be a somewhat accurate depiction of life out here, "minus all the murders," Drew says. It's a culture of ranchers fading into the old background, ever in conflict with the natives whose land their ancestors stole. Both groups now share the same new and ruthless adversary known as modern development.

While you can't easily see it for the cartoon of prairie perfection before you, you know it's there. Stories among the drivers and shopkeepers and massage therapists tell of a struggle familiar to any Bay Arean: The cost of living is rising up like the eagles, spurred by the region's allure among the super-rich who are making Teton County one of the country's wealthiest enclaves. Even Kanye West famously owns a ranch in nearby Cody, which has hosted countless celebrities as well as the drop party for his album Ye. Drew tells us he guided one of Kanye's cousins on a tour of Yellowstone National Park. The urban kid cried at the discovery of such wild beauty.

(Courtesy of Amangani)

Constructed of sandstone and redwood with minimal adornments Amangani's great room was designed for taking in the sweeping view of the valley over casual meals or a game of chess.

If you're staying at Amangani, you might imagine that after you discovered Jackson Hole and found wealth in its abundant resources, you built a homestead as luxurious as the land, made of exquisite natural materials like redwood and sandstone, with hallways that amble like the brushy plains, windows as wide and ceilings as high as the bright blue sky they frame, and works of art that evoke nature as well as native tribal craftsmanship.

Amangani ("Aman" is Sanskrit for "peaceful" and "gani" is Shoshone for "home") sits 7,000 feet atop East Gros Ventre Butte in the foothills of the Tetons and was Aman Resorts' first North American property, a pioneer in pioneer country.

With just 40 suites, one lovely restaurant focused on sustainable proteins and seasonal produce, and a subterranean spa, the intimate resort claims its territory discreetly, having been at home here for more than 20 years although it was unknown to me until my recent stay. The property was designed by architect Ed Tuttle, who was behind several of Aman's most exquisite properties including its famed original, Amanpuri in Phuket, Thailand.

When Amangani first came onto the scene in 1998, the locals were skeptical as Aman is known for a unique brand of luxury that lures elite travelers (Angelina Jolie has stayed here). But the place was designed to blend in with the surrounds and manages to feel organic, especially in light of the proliferation of ritzier accommodations that have opened in Jackson since.

The staff here are friendly but tread quietly, the trappings are top quality but lack flash, and the amenities are first class but seamless in a way that saves the wow moments for the architecture, which is reflective of the backdrop, and that is precisely the point. It is an experience designed to highlight the epic mystique of Jackson Hole, so all you have to do is slow down, breathe the mountain air, listen to the notable silence, or tear it up on the slopes.

On property, you can enjoy a well-made cocktail and a game of chess by the fireplace—an attendant will throw on another log just as you think to ask for one—or soak in the hot tub at the infinity pool which is heated year-round, the rising steam appearing almost mystical against the wide canvas of terrain ideal for snowshoeing (yes, there's a guided tour for that). If you're lucky, you may be joined by migrating elk.

Take a dog sled to Granite Hot Springs for a healing soak followed by a picnic in a winter wonderland.(Courtesy of Amangani)

Of course, if you're in Jackson Hole in winter, you're here for the world-class skiing. Amangani has its own ski lodge in the heart of Teton Village where you can consult the concierge on the day's best runs and refuel with après-ski refreshments.

Additional activities include half- and full-day guided wildlife tours, as well as the new Granite Hot Springs adventure, a day-long guided excursion via snowmobile or dog sled(!) to a healing natural springs soak followed by a picnic lunch in a glorious winter wonderland. Wellness options also include private yoga sessions, therapeutic massages, and even open-air sound baths with a view of the valley floor.

Before you know it, you will have whiled away a long weekend and find yourself back in the car, looking out the window at that divine expanse on your way to what can only be called America's most charming airport, wondering how soon you might get to return and rediscover this enchanting bubble of the American West.

While You're in Jackson

Enjoy perfectly flaky pastries and coffee or a fresh and hearty lunch at Persephone Bakery(145 E Broadway Ave.). // Learn all about the symbolism of tribal patterns while shopping outerwear at Pendleton(30 Center St.). // Pick up a copy of author (and former Wyoming resident) Annie Proulx's Wyoming Stories at Valley Bookstore(140 E Broadway Ave). // Have a steak and hear some live music at the iconic Million Dollar Cowboy Bar (25 N. Cache St). or join the locals for a mountain-style IPA at Roadhouse Brewing Co.(20 E. Broadway).

// Amangani suites start around $800 per night; for more details, visit aman.com.

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