October 12, 2008
by Michael Nassar, New York Daily News

Jackson Hole strikes that rare balance between nature and nurture. And for a town of such diminutive proportions that's better known for its high-octane winter sports than its sedate summers, that's surprising.

But don't question it; embrace it, and you'll be richly rewarded by this incredibly scenic little corner of Wyoming.

Jackson - the central town in the Jackson Hole valley - is tiny and encircled by the Grand Tetons, the youngest of the Rocky Mountain ranges, in what was once considered frontier territory. Yet one of the many myths it shatters is that size is an accurate reflection of quantity and quality. It's not.

Though the year-round population is a shade under 9,000, the spa choices alone are enough to make you do a double take: organic body treatments at the new LEED-certified (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, the ultimate eco-friendly accolade) Hotel Terra's rooftop Chill Spa; local ingredients like mesquite-tree powder, sagebrush and red-clay mud put to good use in massages at Spring Creek Ranch's Wilderness Adventure Spa, and the inspiration of nearby glacial lakes found in Vichy Waterfall Rituals at Solitude Spa in Teton Mountain Lodge.

For those wishing to delve into the more spiritual side of life, Carol Mann, a local radio host and reader of souls, will take your spa experience to a whole other level. Her hour-long "soul reading" is an eye-opening (and occasionally jaw-dropping) revelation of your current life's purpose, as well as an unraveling of past-life behaviors that carry over toward creating who you are today (for the record, I was a secret agent in a previous life and present at the discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb).

If your fears are less psychic than political, spending time in Cheney country - the vice president has a place in the area - you'll be shocked to discover that the valley is like a blue-state island in a sea of red-state dogma. A leaf through the Planet Jackson Hole newspaper gives an accurate portrait of this town's priorities: Right-to-life ads are far outnumbered by those for the Hemp Film Festival.

And that ethos is evident all over town: Living Green is a home-goods store full of clever nontoxic alternatives, Wilson Acupuncture and Healing Arts Center offers weekly Qi Gong classes for beginners ( drop-ins welcome and a steal at $12), and Jackson Hole Roasters - an astounding organic coffee roaster that also does mail order - brews the freshest single-cup java you'll ever taste.

Walking the central town square, passing through colossal arches of intertwined elk antlers - a backdrop for the requisite "ye olde stagecoach" ride - there is ample evidence of Jackson's Wild West history, like the hitching posts that still front the shopping arcades and the rowdy Million Dollar Cowboy bar.