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Home of the National Elk Refuge and Grand Teton National Park, Jackson Hole is one of the best places on Planet Earth to see wildlife in winter. This is not to slight nearby Yellowstone National Park. It’s just that the “hole” that is Jackson Hole concentrates a lot of animals in a relatively small, convenient space. So on a recent day off from skiing, my wife and I tried to see how many furry critters we could spot in one day.

bighorn sheep


Because we were staying at Spring Creek Ranch, which overlooks the town of Jackson, we took a wildlife tour with Kurt Johnson, Spring Creek’s chief naturalist. Armed with a BS in wildlife biology, an MS in natural resources and a van full of optical gear, Johnson knows wildlife better than Batali knows pasta.

Before we’d even left the ranch Johnson spotted some long-eared mule deer, including a 400-pound buck. Mule deer, like many animals in cold habitats, grow larger than their cousins in more temperate areas. But there are exceptions to every rule: We also passed a northern shrike, a tiny, innocuous-looking songbird that impales its prey on thorns until they bleed to death. Tough neighborhood.

Winter Vacations Without the Skis

Our first stop was on the eastern edge of the flat, rectangular National Elk Refuge,
where about 7,000 elk spend the winter. You see extremely healthy specimens here: elk cows that weigh up to 500 pounds and bulls of almost 900 pounds. Just 100 feet from us, a bull with huge antlers picked a fight with another bull. For a minute or two they banged heads, popping rim shots we could hear over the howling wind. But then, with the females long past their September estrous period, the boys suddenly forgot why they were fighting, and resumed grazing side by side.

elk fighting national refuge


To the north of the elk stood a few bison, notwithstanding signs indicating that this is an elk refuge. Johnson lends his clients binoculars and a telescope so powerful that we could see vapor from the bisons’ breath. Farther to our right, on a bluff near the road, four bighorn sheep watched us warily. That 200- to 250-pound animals with NFL chests can scamper up these cliff faces is an unlikely adaptation, but that’s why it works.

In less than an hour we’d seen four large mammals on our wish list, plus trumpeter swans and adorable Barrow’s Goldeneye ducks. “Think we’ll see any carnivores?” I asked. Johnson said, “Maybe.” Good answer.

Cozy Winter Getaway Ideas

He drove us to the Gros Ventre River, where two moose waded in the frigid water. I’d watched moose wading here in summer, green water dripping from their fur, but now it had started to snow, and these moose had iceballs clinging to their coats.

Moose weigh as much as 1,800 pounds. A huge bull moose rested on a bank near us, blinking stoically as icy flakes pelted its eyes. It’s their overlapping upper lips that make moose look dim-witted, but watching one of these hump-backed creatures wait out a squall, you understand its ability to survive without mastering rocket science.

moose gros ventre river snow


Our return route led alongside the refuge again. Suddenly, Johnson pointed to a coyote on the field. Coyotes are elusive creatures: We hear them at night near our house in Pennsylvania, and we find their scat in the morning, but they never show themselves in daylight. This one paraded right past us, offering as good a look at Canis latrans as you’ll ever get outside a zoo. It was a big one, too. “Coyotes are so large here,” said Johnson, “visitors think they’re wolves.”

A local had told us about a pack of especially ambitious coyotes that had attacked an elk a few days earlier. This coyote, though, trotted toward an elk that was already dead. Just as it got there, a bald eagle swooped down to the carcass. When the food is this good, the most unlikely companions will do lunch.

Our 10 Favorite National Parks

– written by Ed Wetschler, executive editor of Tripatini

During spring, when frozen fields evolve into painterly kaleidoscopes of color, certain destinations shine. While Holland is arguably the most famous spot for flower aficionados, with Provence, France being a close second, there are plenty of domestic destinations that can compete with the big bloomers. Here are a few of our favorite places to see roses and rhododendrons in the U.S., with bonus travel deals to match.

1. Philadelphia International Flower Show

The Philadelphia International Flower Show, the world’s largest indoor display of flowers, is a world-renowned affair (the show is even highlighted in that famous book, “1,000 Places to See Before You Die”). The event takes place each spring at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, which transforms into a wild array of eye-popping floral exhibits, featuring everything from fantastical arrangements to full-on gardens brimming with colorful blooms. This year, the theme is “Springtime in Paris,” and the show will take place from March 6 through March 13.

The Deal: The Windsor Suites Philadelphia is currently offering a special flower show package, which includes accommodations, two tickets to the show and breakfast for two, starting at $169 per night.

Philadelphia flower show


2. Yellowstone National Park

Carpets of wild irises, shooting stars, yellow violets, ladies’ tresses and countless other wildflower species take over Yellowstone National Park from May through August (head to the park in June and July to catch the peak). Expect rolling meadows full of flowers and shocks of electric-pink blooms growing from forest floors during late-spring and summer months. Take a ranger-guided hike to learn about Yellowstone’s variety of flowers from a park expert.

The Deal: Parade Rest Guest Ranch, which is located near the Yellowstone park entrance, is currently offering special spring rates for stays from May 20 through June 12.

 Flowers in Yellowstone National Park


3. Portland Rose Festival
Portland, the “City of Roses,” an urban center where pretty gardens seem to sprout on every corner, welcomes spring with its annual Rose Festival. This year’s celebrations take place from the end of May through mid-June. The high point of the whole shebang is the Grand Floral Parade, a must-see frenzy of floats, flowers and music. Other fun events include a rose lighting ceremony with fireworks and a heart-pounding dragon boat race on the Willamette River.

The Deal: The Red Lion Hotel Portland, which is located right on the Grand Floral Parade route, is offering special Rose Festival rates starting at $99 per night.

Portland Rose Festival


4. Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve

Vibrant orange, yellow and red blankets of poppies appear in the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve, located about a two-hour drive north of Los Angeles, in early spring. Look for blooms to arrive as soon as March. The peak period for viewing eternal fields of flowers generally happens in mid-April. The reserve has eight miles of quiet trails that are perfect for hiking, photography, wildlife spotting and picnicking.

The Deal: When you stay at the Hampton Inn and Suites in Lancaster, California (the city of Lancaster is next to the Poppy Reserve), save 20 percent on your weekend stay.

Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve


5. National Cherry Blossom Festival
Our nation’s capital transforms into a breathtaking blush-pink panorama of blooming cherry trees each spring. Thousands of trees popping with color near icons like the Washington Monument and the Jefferson Memorial make for stunning photographs. On top of that, the Cherry Blossom Festival features more than 100 performances and events — many of which are free — including guided tours, fireworks and even a 5K run. The festival runs from March 27 through April 11.

The Deal: Book a Cherry Blossom Festival package at the Melrose Hotel and get accommodations, dinner for two and a late check-out with rates starting at $156 per night.

National Cherry Blossom Festival



– written by Caroline Costello