“We regret to inform you that due to the government shutdown….”


IMG_1957This is one of the many ways a government shutdown hurts.

If you are a traveller with mobility challenges, the National Park Service is a GREAT way to see our country and to learn our history, our geography, and our flora and fauna.  I am passionate about the National Park system in the US.   Just ask my husband and kids, who have spent more time in the Civil War parks in Virginia and Pennsylvania than they care to recount, since I am also deeply interested in the Civil War.  Lucky us!  A two-fer!

When the government reopens, you can hopefully visit the national parks.  (Or is it, “hopefully the government will reopen, and then you can visit the national parks?”)  If you are a US citizen and have a permanent disability, you can get a free pass to all US national parks;  see:  http://store.usgs.gov/pass/index.html.

The park that really blew me away this summer was Yellowstone National Park, in Wyoming.  It sits astride the Continental Divide and it is so much more than just Old Faithful:  it is high plateau, surrounded by mountains, flowing with rivers, rift by canyons and filled with alpine lakes.

IMG_2643We spent one day driving the lower loop of Yellowstone counter-clockwise (we wanted to end the day with Old Faithful’s almost-every-90-minute eruption).  From West Thumb’s visitor center, we viewed West Thumb Geyser Basin, mudpots and fumaroles hissing away beside a quiet lake.  The boardwalks looked a little flimsy to support a wheelchair (and we were over very thin crust), but the rangers assured me that they hold the 2,000-pound bison that regularly walk through.  Umm, okay then. We gave it a try; and it worked.

IMG_2651IMG_2654The ranger gave us an ADA guide to the entire park, which was thorough and helpful;  we used it to find the right spot (Gull Point) to unpack our pick-a-nick basket (couldn’t resist a little Jellystone reference) along the western shores of Yellowstone Lake. Continued on past the Fishing Bridge and LeHardy’s Rapids to Mud Volcano and Black Dragon’s Caldron – so eerie, all that bubbling going on just underneath your feet!   Not all of this boardwalk area is accessible, but quite a bit of it is.  We relied heavily on that ADA-guide.

We passed through big herds of bison (walking on the road, rolling in the dust, and IMG_2671tramping through the water) in Haydn Valley on our way to Artist’s Point, on the south rim of Yellowstone’s “Grand Canyon” (pretty grand and not to be confused with the other Grand Canyon);  from here you have a gorgeous view of Yellowstone River, and it’s a short drive to the Canyon Village Visitor Center.

Although we had to whizz past the Norris Geyser Basin area and Grand Prismatic Spring in order to make the end-of-the-day  (for us) Old Faithful blow at 6:30 pm, it seems that many of the scenic spots or short walks to geysers, mudpots and fumaroles are wheelchair-accessible (generally the shorter paths).  We made it to Old Faithful, and we even got prime seating up front.  I imagine this is because we were so late in the day!

IMG_2682Yellowstone has so much to offer the slow-walker or wheelchair user:  its myriad pull-outs and short paths invite long days of wandering the roads by car, stopping at your whim to get out or just to watch the wildlife pass you by.   The terrain is beautiful whether you’re hiking it, rolling down a path, or viewing it from your car window.  There are multiple visitor centers (almost always accessible) with ranger programs and tons of information.   With advance planning, you can rent wheelchair-accessible rooms at lodging run by the National Park Service right within the park (although you probably need to plan ahead by at least 6 months).

IMG_2662The current closing of the national park system is one of many ways ordinary Americans (and visitors to our country) are affected by the inability of our government to function smoothly as a democracy.  People come from far and wide to see the range of beauty that America has on display in these parks.  Our national parks and monuments are a shining example of the some of the best things our country has to offer.  I close with a quote from Paul Schullery, a historian and writer who has written deeply on conservation at Yellowstone National Park (from National Geographic’s 6th edition Guide to the National Parks of the United States, page 7).

“..As the science of ecology matured…we began to realize that everything in the park was interrelated.  We seek to save the whole thing, the whole creeping, flying, grazing, preying, photosynthesizing, eroding, raining, erupting, evolving scene.  Call it wildness…or an ecosystem, or whatever you like, it is this entangled collection of processes that we must save.  That means many things, some of which haven’t been easy to hear.  It means that people like me, who love to fish, have to leave enough trout in the streams to feed the otters, pelicans, bears, and other wild fishermen.  It means we don’t pick flowers, or collect rocks, removing them from their place in the natural system.  These great parks…are laboratories or ideas, offering profound lessons in the natural way of things…”

Lessons, I think, that can apply equally to the “creeping, flying…erupting, evolving scene” which is our human world of interactions, both individual and societal.  Everything we do has an impact on something else in our system, our world.

Something to think about, as our legislators seem to so cavalierly propel us from government shutdown to looming default on our national debt.


Is it “Jackson” or “Jackson Hole”? Or: A Wheelchair and A Week in Wyoming

View of the Grand Teton Mountains from Mormon Row

View of the Grand Teton Mountains from Mormon Row

A quick geography primer:  according to Moon Handbooks, Jackson Hole is the name of the valley at the base of the Grand Tetons, a jagged set of mountains named “Teewinot” by the Shoshone Indians.  Jackson was named after a trapper who was based in the town;  the “hole” means a valley ringed by mountains.  Apparently it used to be called “Jackson’s Hole” but the name was eventually changed to “Jackson Hole” to end the sly comments.

Jackson is the town at the southern end of Jackson Hole.

This summer, my family and I stayed in Teton Village, about 12 miles northwest of of Jackson.  My favorite thing about this village is its proximity to the entrance of Grand Teton National Park (www.nps.gov).   For $25, you can get a seven-day pass for a car for both Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park.  If you are a US citizen and have a permanent disability, you can get a free pass to all US national parks;  see:  http://store.usgs.gov/pass/index.html

In my experience, there are always facets of the national parks that are accessible to the mobility impaired:  the visitor centers are often educational and accessible; there is usually one trail or more that works for a wheelchair; and most of the parks have a loop for cars with roadside parking for scenic viewpoints (that are often labeled with informative signs).  I have yet to meet a park ranger who was not resourceful and helpful when it came to my questions regarding accessibility.  The website at www.nps.gov has detailed information on what is accessible in the park.  I cannot stress enough what a good resource the National Park Service (NPS) website is.

Grand Teton National Park is in the northwest corner of Wyoming (just south of Yellowstone National Park).  A few highlights follow:

  • Marianne at the Craig Thomas Visitor Center, Grand Teton National Park, WY

    Marianne at the Craig Thomas Visitor Center, Grand Teton National Park, WY

    The Craig Thomas  Discovery and Visitor Center (also known as Moose Visitor Center) is 12 miles north of Jackson.  It was renovated in 2007 and is a green and accessible building, with gift store, accessible bathrooms, exhibits and auditorium.  It is fully-staffed with rangers, at least in the summer.


  • The Jenny Lake visitor center is 8 miles north of Moose at Jenny Lake.  This visitor center is much smaller and not truly wheelchair-accessible, although there are accessible trails around the lake.   There is also accessible parking and curb cuts, as well as accessible rest rooms.  The big draw here is Jenny Lake;  you can rent kayaks or take the shuttle over to hike Hidden Falls (not accessible).  There is a scenic boat tour (narrated tour around the lake, about 45 minutes long)  that operates out of Jenny Lake and it is wheelchair-accessible; contact the visitor center there for more details.
  •  Colter Bay Visitor Center is 25 miles north of Moose and adjacent to Jackson Lake.  We didn’t have a chance to explore this area of the park beyond a drive-through.  Jackson Lake is bigger than Jenny Lake, and the Jackson Lake Lodge has a wheelchair-accessible restaurant, which is supposed to have beautiful sunset views over the lake.
  • Mother moose and baby on Moose-Wilson Road, Grand Teton National Park, WY

    Mother moose and baby on Moose-Wilson Road, Grand Teton National Park, WY

    Just driving through the park is a beautiful experience, affording sightings of moose, elk and prong-horned antelope.  My youngest daughter, Delia, and I got up at 5 am several mornings and parked ourselves (in our car) along Moose-Wilson Road hoping to spot a bear, but to no avail.  They are here, as are wolves, eagles and the pica, but we didn’t see them.

My second favorite thing about Teton Village was our hotel, The Hotel Terra.  (See my post review of the hotel.)

Other things to do in the Jackson area if you have mobility challenges:

  • Jackson Hole Therapeutic Riding stables, www.jhtra.org/‎
    • IMG_2831Our daughter had a private lesson here, and we would consider coming back just so that she could do a week of camp (really, daily lessons); the staff is supportive and welcoming, and they have a fantastic hoyer lift set-up to help someone with mobility challenges get on a horse
    • Wildlife Art Museum, www.wildlifeart.org/‎
      • A small museum but interesting rotating exhibits, beautiful lounge room with views over National Elk Refuge, and an accessible pathway for viewing the outdoor sculpture
    • Jackson Hole Whitewater, www.jhww.com/‎
      • they’ll accommodate you in their rafts with (extra) supportive seating for scenic float trips down the Snake River but you have to transfer into their big blue rafts
    • And there’s always eating:

IMG_2497The biggest downside to the town of Jackson if you use a wheelchair?  A deranged person designed the downtown sidewalk system.    Sidewalks are raised for no apparent reason, with steps spouting from nowhere;  ramps appear and disappear into stairs, and many sidewalks are missing curb cuts.  I guess you could motor down the street in your wheelchair, as we did, but frankly, it seems like you’re increasing your chances that one of the parallel-parked cars will back out over you….


Accessible Hotel Review: The Hotel Terra, Teton Village, WY

Although not inexpensive, it has a few things going for it:

  • the accessible parking spots are near the door (so you don’t need valet every   day unless you want it)
  • the outdoor pool is heated and has a chair lift for those who need assistance getting into the pool
  • IMG_2469we were able to create an apartment-like suite by adjoining a single room next to a one-bedroom hotel room that easily accommodated the five of us and our wheelchair.  The suite then had two bedrooms, a Murphy bed, three full bathrooms (one of which was completely accessible), a kitchen (refrigerator, stove, dishwasher, stocked with utensils, dishware and a coffee maker), a living room area that accommodated all of us and a 6-person table.  And the laundry facilities were across the hall from us!IMG_2470
  • there were several dining options, all accessible, nearby;  you could order take-out from all of them and there was a small grocery store (the Mangy Moose)
  • The Aspens, an organic supermarket, was down the road a few miles and is accessibleIMG_2504
  • very close to the southern entrance of Grand Teton National Park
  • close to Jackson
  • just before I left, I was on The Hotel Terra website and saw a 30% discount on hotel rooms for some of the dates we were there;  I called and they applied the discount to our entire stay.  Nice!
  • concierge service was very helpful in researching wheelchair accessibility for activities and restaurants

What I didn’t like about The Hotel Terra:

  • there was a big gap, maybe two inches from the entrance to the door jamb, which was awkward for Marianne to manuever over in her wheelchair (she got a little stuck sometimes)
  • there were only three or four accessible parking spaces, and it doesn’t seem like enough
  • the Mangy Moose store is not wheelchair-accessible
  • the restaurants are expensive, and it was impossible to get a reservation at Calico, a highly-recommended restaurant near The Aspens, or Q Roadhouse (right next to Calico), which were more affordable
  • the pool is small – really small
  • there are two buildings;  we opted to stay in the main building which had the cafe in the lobby, a restaurant in the lobby, the pool and the gym.  But the accessible room overlooks the Teton Village courtyard, which has a water fountain that attracts small, excited – and, when the jets go off randomly, shrieking – children.  And sound does carry in this valley….