DESTINATION: Jackson Hole, Wyoming
CLASS TIME: 5-6 Hours
The Grand Tetons tower over Jackson Hole, huge and snow-capped. Wild daisies sway in the breeze, horses’ flanks gleam in the sun – you know, all the stuff of great Western-themed wall calendars. Even the most amateur point-and-shooter (like me) could take a decent photo – but I’m here to "make pictures, not take pictures," says instructor Scott McKinley, who’s intent on teaching me the joys of offing the auto focus. I take forever tinkering with shutter speed, the aperture, focusing, finally snap, snap, snapping those shiny horses, a frothy stream, a few hundred bison. Most shots show up too dark, too light, not framed prettily. But the few that work thrill me almost as much as bison that sidle up six feet from my lens, so I snap snap snap slowly through the next day’s hike, the horseback ride, along the winding roads to the airport.
At Spring Creek Ranch, photographer Scott McKinley (whose work has been published in National Geographic, Audubon, Field & Stream) leads guests on a five-to-six-hour instructional photo safari at $150 a pop. You bring the manual-focus camera (digital is easier, so you can see your shots immediately), he offers patient one-on-one guidance, and Wyoming provides the scenery. Scott McKinley, 307-690-4885, wildexposuresgallery.com
Spring Creek Ranch offers a gaggle of quaint mountaintop log cabins with fireplaces, bearskin throws and flat-screen TVs. Rooms (from $175 a night) and villas (from $250 to $1,500 a night) boast postcard views of the Grand Tetons and the eponymous national park – some of the last unmarred wilderness in the U.S. Here, the air smells sweet from the sagebrush; coyotes howl the soundtrack; black bears still roam the mountains. Spring Creek Ranch, 307-733-8833, springcreekranch.com
You can grab a (free) Spring Creek shuttle downtown for restaurants and souvenirs, but the wild West is the point here: If you’re not a nature lover, Jackson Hole’s not for you. Spring Creek’s guided hikes ($50), wildlife safaris ($115-$150), star-gazing sessions (free) and horseback trips (from $40) are musts, but the resort will also book you for local climbing, paragliding, fishing, rafting and hot-air balloon trips, if you ask. A $250 visit with cosmic consultant Carol Mann will offer insights as to where your soul has been. (Mine has gone about its earthly business as a court jester, a troubadour, a political cartoonist.) Admit it … you’re curious. Spring Creek Ranch, 307-733-8833, springcreekranch.com
The elegant (but casual – you’re in Wyoming) Granary is Spring Creek’s lone on-site restaurant, with sophisticated iterations of hearty mountain food (Idaho trout, buffalo rib eye). Try the elk – it’s better than steak – and sit by the soaring windows. Or make the 10-minute trek to town, to buzzy little Trio for a killer buffalo burger, or to Rendezvous Bistro for the upscale comfort food and well-rounded wine list. Celeb-hunting? (Harrison Ford and Tiger Woods own houses here. … ) Take your camera to the star-magnet landmark Snake River Grill. And in all cases, make reservations. These spots pack up fast. The Granary, 307-732-8112, springcreekranch.com, Trio, 307-734-8038, bistrotrio.com; Rendezvous Bistro, 307-739-1100, rendezvousbistro.net; Snake River Grill, 307-733-0557, snakerivergrill.com.
No nonstop flights, but a number of airlines will take you to Jackson Hole via one layover. Bring an extra book-weather out West and cross-country flights are sometimes less than reliable.
You’re in cowboy country, so go ahead and bring the denim-just be sure you also bring layers and a warm jacket, as the mountains can be quite cool in the mornings and evenings. Good hiking shoes, pants that can take a little dirt, a good hat and bug spray are absolutes.
Back in Philly: Continue honing those photography skills at Fleisher’s photography classes (719 Catharine Street, 215-922-3456, fleisher.org), taught by professional photogs who will give you strategies for taking better pictures, Photoshopping your masterpiece, technical concepts and more. Tuition runs $225, and class fees are $35.