A Wildlife Safari in Jackson Hole
Go into the heart of the American wilderness with a Four Seasons biologist.
When Tenley Thompson tells me that we’ll be seeing elk during our safari, I figure she means two or three. But when I peer through my binoculars, the large brown blob in the distance morphs into a herd of hundreds. It turns out that these massive creatures winter at the National Elk Refuge in Wyoming.
After much oohing and aahing—and shivering; it’s February after all—our group hops back into the SUV and Thompson, a wildlife biologist at Four Seasons Resort and Residences Jackson Hole, takes us to the next lookout point. Our mission during the four-hour safari is to see the “Big Five”: elk, bison, moose, pronghorn antelope and mule deer.
As she navigates the SUV, Thompson explains that she got her taste for the wild as a teenager growing up in Jackson Hole, where her family lived part time. “As soon as I received my driver’s licence, I drove straight to the mountains,” she explains. It was there that she spotted her first wolf and first grizzly bear; she’s been tracking animals ever since. Today, the 31-year-old has carved a career out of her mountain excursions, taking resort guests on safaris to spy the Big Five as well as coyotes, owls, bald eagles, and, if they’re lucky, grizzlies and wolves.
Thompson approached Four Seasons Resort and Residences Jackson Hole five years ago about the possibility of offering luxury wildlife safaris. By that time, she had several years’ experience as a guide in the Lamar Valley of Yellowstone National Park and worked as a wolf tracker. The Resort accepted her proposal, and soon she was taking visitors to the far reaches of Wyoming to spot animals in the wild, something few city dwellers like me ever experience.
“Some people come from places where humans are the biggest, baddest things out there, and live in an environment where humans are in charge,” she says. “Then they walk into an environment where they’re the least important.”
This is certainly the case in western Wyoming, an area of the U.S. known for its vast stretches of wilderness. Even though downtown Jackson is just a five-minute drive from the Elk Refuge, it feels like miles. And once you’re outside the city limits, you’re in the wild.
But that doesn’t mean the safari is all bushwhacking. In reality, it’s anything but, as most of the territory covered is on protected land and vehicles must stay on the roadways. In true Four Seasons fashion, every aspect of the adventure is luxurious, from travelling in a luxe Mercedes-Benz SUV equipped with Swarovski spotting scopes to the gourmet treats that accompany the tours, such as flourless chocolate cakes, lemon tarts, and freshly made pastries and cookies. Thompson’s latest project: installing an espresso machine in the back of the SUV. “What’s better than a latte and seeing wildlife?” she asks.
The safaris vary according to season, and Thompson will adjust them to the whims of each guest. The tours have proved so successful that Thompson now has a team of six guides, most of whom also have experience working as park rangers. She also knows how to measure her own accomplishment: “When I succeed is at the end of the day when someone leaves also passionate about animals.”