By WARREN RESEN – North American Travel Journalists Association
Photos by JEANNE O’CONNOR
Continuing on our two month trip around the USA, we left the high desert country of New Mexico, heading towards the lush mountains of Wyoming. There isn’t much green to be seen until you reach southern Colorado and Utah when the terrain begins to look like the brochure pictures of that part of the United States.
An overnight stay in a Provo, UT, motel sandwiched between snow-capped mountains and the Great Salt Lake, and then we were off to The Wort Hotel (pronounced WERT) in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
Shakespeare asks in Romeo and Juliet, “What’s in a name?” In the case of Jackson/Jackson Hole, Wyoming, it means confusion to a visitor arriving there for the first time. The Wort Hotel’s brochure says that it is in Jackson Hole but their mailing address is listed as Jackson, so a little research was in order.
The town of Jackson, at 6,237 feet of elevation, is located in the Jackson Hole Valley of Teton County, Wyoming, but the name Jackson Hole is used by businesses and people living in the town of Jackson for marketing purposes. Okay, now that this has been cleared up, let’s get on with the next stop in our USA road trip.
Wyoming is 4-season outdoor country: hiking, rafting, rock climbing, horseback riding, skiing and so many other things that a complete list would use up too much space here. Look up the web page for the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce for a detailed listing of activities.
Pulling up to the front of The Wort Hotel in the center of town, it was obvious that this was the THE place to be in Jackson. Opened in 1941, the hotel has only 59 guest rooms and is a gem of warmth and intimacy. Many of the staff and especially those at the front desk call you by name from the moment you register. The Wort Hotel is a proud member of Historic Hotels of America, an organization whose participants have agreed “to preserve the authenticity of America’s most prominent lodging addresses’ and offer visitors a remarkable travel experience…”
The center piece of the wood-paneled lobby, distinctive today because of its lack of chrome, is the graceful sweeping carpeted grand staircase to the second floor. Tucked away behind the stairway on the first floor is a massive stone fireplace and intimate seating area.
The grand staircase leads to the second floor landing where another stone fireplace and another charming parlor-like sitting area in front of the fireplace awaits guests. Over both fireplaces are the ubiquitous mounted heads, a moose downstairs and an elk upstairs.
The overall feeling The Wort Hotel imparts to arriving guests is that of having been transported back in time to an elegant hotel of the Old West in the early 1900s. You can almost hear a honky-tonk piano being played in the bar and expect to see ranchers, cowboys and miners enjoying a drink at day’s end.
The second floor houses most of The Wort Hotel’s luxurious guest rooms and suites. Compared to accommodations offered by today’s national chain hotels/ motels, The Wort Hotel’s accommodations are oversized. Each room and suite is decorated with original Western style art. Furnishings are also unique to this hotel. They are custom made, not the generic store-bought pieces of the chains.
Entry to the rooms is by key, a real metal key, not electronic card. There is never a need to return to the front desk because your electronic key doesn’t work.
The Jackson Hole area is a mecca for lovers of Western and nature based art and The Wort Hotel is a major go-to location for viewing it. More than one million dollars worth of original oils and bronze statuary are on display throughout. There is so much to see in the hotel that an illustrated guide is available to guests and visitors.
Free self-parking, an unusual feature for a mid-town location is available to all guests at The Wort Hotel. But once there, a car is not generally needed. The hotel is only one short block from Jackson Hole’s Town Square Park with its four massive elk antler arches which are probably the most photographed place in town. No animals were harmed for this impressive display though since elk shed their antlers every year.
Approximately 50 restaurants and 30 galleries are within four blocks of the Town Square making shopping and dining by foot a breeze. For a real touristy experience you might want to take a ride from Town Square Park in an authentic horse drawn stage coach.
Before leaving The Wort Hotel to sample the pleasures of Jackson, take stock of what the hotel has to offer guests and visitors. The famous Silver Dollar Bar & Grill gets its name from 2,032 uncirculated 1921 Morgan Silver Dollars inlaid into the top of the bar. No, you can’t get them out. In 1980 the hotel suffered a major fire and the bar top was stored in a bank vault until rebuilding was completed a year later.
The Wort Hotel’s bar offers a reasonably priced food menu but for a little more elegant Western fare, yet still informal dining, leave the bar and visit the Silver Dollar Grill for special Western fare. If the weather cooperates, there is also an outdoor café.
Jackson nightlife is alive and well any night of the week, year ‘round, for summer tourists, winter skiers and every seasonal visitor in between. The Wort Hotel’s Silver Dollar Bar, featuring unique murals and bronzes, offers some of the best live entertainment in Jackson Hole and it’s free. Bluegrass Tuesdays is particularly popular and enjoyed by locals, visitors, cowboys, and anyone who likes to have fun. Bring your partner for listening and dancing to the foot stomping music.
There are many subtle things that separate a good and great hotel. For The Wort Hotel, it’s the staff that makes this a great hotel. The proof is that 25 percent of its guests are repeat visitors.
For generations, The Wort Hotel has been the standard of excellence in Jackson Hole. As the locals say, “Meet me at The Wort.” Hope to see you there on my next visit.
If you are heading north from Jackson Hole on the way to Yellowstone National Park, a highly recommended stop only 2.5 miles north of town is the National Museum of Wildlife of Art, a world class exhibition of oils and bronzes. The museum sits across the road from the National Elk Refuge hinting at some of the most beautiful wilderness area in the United States just up the road.