Jackson Hole is a mountain ski resort located at the southern tip of Grand Teton National Park in the state of Wyoming. If the top one percent of Americans in terms of wealth ski in Aspen Colorado, the 1% of the 1% head to Jackson Hole. At the end of my winter tour of Yellowstone National Park, I visited the town of Jackson which lies below in the valley; it qualifies as “posh rustic”.
Grand Teton Mountain Range.
After indulging on wildlife and raw nature in Yellowstone National Park, I was ready for culture and history in Jackson. I paid a visit to the small museum of the Historical Society. Although native hunter-gatherers and French Canadian fur trappers occasionally set up camps in the inhospitable valley, Jackson was only settled for good in the 1870s. In addition to the expected paraphernalia used by the early settlers, the walls of the museum displayed pictures from the many films which were shot around the city. I was particularly interested in the pictures from the classic Western movie Shane shot in 1953, with George Stevens the director and Alan Ladd the lead actor.
I had seen Shane in the 1960s but barely recalled the plot except for a bloody saloon scene, a staple of Western films. The pictures and their captions brought back memories and interesting tid-bits. One of the settlers’ log cabins still stands in the Gros Ventre Wilderness of the Grand Teton National Park. Although Ladd played a gunslinger, he couldn’t shoot straight, and the actor Jack Palance could not ride a horse. In spite of these shortcomings, the film was a great box office success.
The friendly on-duty guide stated that the museum needed more display space. She proudly informed me that in February 2012, Quentin Tarantino brought his film crew to Jackson to shoot footage for his latest film Django Unchained. The filmmaker uses the snow-capped Grand Teton mountain range as a backdrop for the action. I had not yet seen the film and became very curious. Subsequently, I asked my wildlife tour guide to show me some of the locations as well as the Shane legendary log cabin.
Jackson is a fitting environment for Django, the promising bounty hunter. He had recently been freed from shackles by Dr. King Schultz, a German itinerant dentist cum bounty hunter with an aversion for slavery. It is in this snowy valley that Django, the former slave gets his first on-the-job training by his smooth-operator mentor.
Django, Dr. Schultz, & human booty. Courtesy of Q. Tarantino. Grand Teton Mountain Range in the background.
On our way to check a fox den in the Gros Ventre hills, we stopped by Kelly Warm Spring where Django takes an invigorating bath. The den was empty, so we returned to the plain where a couple of lazy moose where lounging half hidden in the thick snow. We drove past the National Elk Refuge and headed back to town.
With their dead human booty, Dr. Schultz and Django are also seen riding by herds of elk and bison on their way to cash their rewards. When I finally saw the film this particular footage brought back memories of my sleigh ride in the Elk Refuge. The day was polar cold and the thick blankets thrown on our knees didn’t do much to warm fingers and feet. In winter some 7000 Rocky Mountain elk take refuge north of Jackson. It is a migration dead end as the city was built on the elk migration route towards the south. The refuge was established 101 years ago to prevent the elk from starving to death during the harsh winter months. When the native grass is gone, alfalfa pellets are distributed to supplement the elk feeding.
Such a large concentration of elk, big horn sheep, mule deer and bison attracts other opportunistic animals mainly bald eagle, coyotes and even wolves. “Welfare” is a word excluded from the American lexicon and the elk are not enjoying a free lunch. They actually contribute to their upkeep. Mid-March the elk start dropping their antlers; Refuge staff, helped by the Jackson District Boy Scouts, collect the antlers and organize the once a year May auction. In average, US$ 77,000 is collected. Eighty percent of the proceeds are donated to the US Fish and Wildlife Service towards the feeding program and the Refuge management.
Apparently, Tarantino was so taken by the magnificent herd of elk and bison that he decided to add an additional scene to his film. Django Unchained brings the elks a bonus in food and publicity. Their fees were not disclosed.