Curse of the Amateur Tourist
// By Tim Sandlin // Illustrations by birgitta sif
Here’s what happened last summer. All those hundreds of thousands of people stuck at home for a year and a half decided to go outdoors. While Jackson Hole had Covid numbers as bad or worse than wherever they came from, four million folks trapped in rooms the size of a middle school coat closet said, “Let’s go to Wyoming. We’ll be safe there. No one gets sick in Wyoming.”
Tourists rained down on us like locusts on Utah. The town, the Park, even the National Forest were packed tight as Times Square on New Year’s Eve. (Slight exaggeration —ed.) Restaurant waits for a table stretched into the two-hour zone (Not an exaggeration —ed.) Three hours for takeout pizza.
The tourists didn’t complain. It was better than home. They were hot, smoky, and crowded, but they weren’t anywhere else that was worse.
Locals, however, complained. Vociferously. The us-against-them mentality ran rampant, like bedbugs through a preschool.
By mid-August, Roger Ramsey had had it.
“I’m going so far up the Gros Ventre River I’ll be in places no tourist has ever dreamed about. You want to come with?”
I said, “Let me find my shoes.”
We loaded up the Subaru and drove way back past the last campground where we saw campers from Texas trying to light a fire with nothing but lighter fluid and a log, on to an ancient quarry where a giant abandoned scoop rusted in the sun. High school partiers climb up to throw bottles into the bucket. Locals call it the Tetanus Monster.
As Roger and I bumped down the incline, expecting to find an empty vista with a river running through it, we came upon a subculture reunion of horrific size and shape. Two things dominate National Forest reunions: ATVs and guns.
Multiple seven-year-olds ripped through the sagebrush, screaming, chasing each other on their four-wheelers (which are not toys, by the way —ed.), each kid’s goggles were so crusted with mud they were functionally driving blind.
The women had that glazed facial expression you see late in the 10th hour of a bluegrass festival. Anyone from out of town would assume the Wyoming state flower is the used Pamper.
The sleeveless, neckless men took one look at us and headed for their arsenal. I don’t write detective stories so I can’t tell you the calibers and automatic versus semi-automatic details. They had targets painted like prominent Democrats nailed to the spruce trunks.
Roger said, “Survivalists,” and pulled at U-turn.
As we drove up river to the prettiest spot in Teton County, the Slate Creek waterfall, I mansplained the theory of the Amateur Tourist to Roger. (Can a man mansplain to another man, or without condescension, is it just talking? —ed.)
“Most campers pre-plague, if you can recall that far back, had been here before. They come every summer to the same campground, praying for the same campsite. Or, at least they’ve camped somewhere before. They know this isn’t Disney World where minimum wage minions pick up your trash. They know the animals are real. We never had a bozo punch a buffalo in the face until the last two years.”
“Happens monthly now,” Roger said.
“So, these dim bulbs trapped in a room with their kids decided to go wild. The West wasn’t won by a masked man.”
“You’re forgetting the Lone Ranger.”
“We got a load of urbanites back here have never smelled fresh air in their lives. It affects them like meth.”
Roger leaned over the steering wheel to look up the ridge behind the waterfall. “There’s a big wasp attacking birds up there.”
We found a skinny man in a Brooks Brothers suit down on the riverbank, peering into what I took as an Etch A Sketch.
“I got me a bald eagle nest.” He pointed to a TV picture on his screen. It showed a metallic thing stomping raven eggs. You could hear the adult ravens in the background.
Roger said, “If life is a roulette wheel, you’re the double zero.”
Suit guy got offended. “I chased a bear off an antelope this morning. Would have gone viral on Tik Tok if the antelope hadn’t died.”
I said, “We just drove by a bunch of women sunbathing naked about a half mile downstream. Why not send your drone there and stop torturing wildlife?”
“I’d rather look at naked women from on high than crack eggs.”
The guy grinned and commenced to twirling knobs and flipping a mechanical thumb. “I’ll be an influencer. Influencers collect groupies.”
We watched as the drone soared up and swooped toward the survivalist camp.
Roger said, “We need to move along.”
I said, “Yep.”
As we topped the rise, we looked back at the would-be influencer, walking downstream, staring into his screen.
“What do you figure the Proud Boys will do when a drone buzzes by?” I asked.
We heard a thunder of firearms.
“Shoot down the drone,” Roger said. “Then come looking for the owner.”
We crossed where the Gros Ventre tops out at a watershed and saw an unusual sight. Imagine a shiny white fish oil capsule the size of a humpback whale. (Too many metaphors in one sentence. —ed.)
“What the hell is that?” I asked.
“You talking about the topless supermodel in the hot tub on the roof?”
“The hot tub next to the helicopter.”
The helicopter pad lifted the helicopter magically from the back end of the RV. The side rails collapsed. The helicopter rotated back to front, freeing the blades.
A man inside flipped a thumbs up to the woman in the hot tub, who came out of the water, tied on the top half of her bikini, and strolled over to the helicopter. She got in, the helicopter lifted off, and flew away over the Gros Ventre Wilderness.
I said, “That’s not my parents’ Airstream.”
Roger sat there in obvious awe. “That’s a Furrion Elysium. My wife wants one. Three 75-inch TVs, an infotainment system, a fireplace, a wine fridge, and a smart toilet.”
My mind formed a picture. “What makes a toilet smart?”
Roger considered the question. “Hands-free wiping.”
“I’ll have to think about that one.”
We sat there till the helicopter disappeared into the Wilderness, then we drove in silence back to town.
(The Furrion Elysium sells for 2.9 million dollars, cheaper than the median price of a house in Jackson, and it comes with a helicopter. —ed.)