She waded slowly through the pool, algae clinging to her calves as she parted the tepid waters of Kelly Warm Springs.
These ponds, adjacent to the Gros Ventre River, were once a hotspot for bathers seeking a relaxing dip in geothermal-warmed waters. The experience even came complete with a collective of non-native, once domestic goldfish swimming freely and a view of the Teton Mountains to the west. But the fish have since been eradicated, and the pools closed to soakers in recent years. Warnings of what now lies beneath are posted along the banks.
Still, there she was, the woman who identified herself only as “Heather,” wading in the dangerous, mostly stagnant waters, yoga pants rolled above her knees.
When asked why she was disregarding the precautionary signs, which are also translated in Spanish, she gave a frank answer.
“This place still has great vibes. This whole place has vibes.”
And Heather ain’t wrong, at least to a certain extent. The springs lie within a unique area, one that the United States Geological Survey reports has an average of 1,000 to 3,000 earthquakes annually.
The frequency of these tremors alone are both puzzling and alluring, but it’s more than that. The greater area around Kelly Warm Springs provides a physical form to Jackson Hole itself.
Though the majority of the quakes reported by USGS lack the strength for their vibrations to be felt, the region’s rich volcanic and seismic history may be partially at fault for the more cosmic condition that lured Heather to wade through waters infested with the brain-eating amoeba, Naegleria fowleri, despite it being a potentially fatal move.
Heather isn’t the first person to submit herself to the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem’s natural elements and potentially lethal beasts in search of recreational rejuvenation and spiritual enlightenment, nor will she be the last.
Heather could be, quite simply, one of the estimated 2.6 million folks who flock to Jackson Hole every year from the far corners of the world in search of a higher spiritual connection, whether they recognize it or not.
From professional ski bums to camera-toting tourists; stalwart locals with generations of family history in the valley; Native people who’ve since been relegated to nearby reservations; or recent transplants with billions in their bank accounts, Jackson Hole’s has a long, sordid history of drawing folks into its grasp, and delivering to them transformative, spiritual experiences of the mind, body and soul.
Robert Coury found himself atop Snow King Resort on August 17 with tears streaming down his face. Cheers boomed throughout the valley below as he bore witness to the Great American Eclipse that attracted some 40 percent more folks to the Jackson Hole area than a normal August afternoon.
It promised a view of totality for anyone brave enough to deal with the historic crowds and the small town trying to deal with them, and it delivered. The eclipse was a spectacle, that’s for damn sure, and one that Coury, who traveled from his home in Sonoma, California, to witness, “wasn’t expecting to be as moving as it was.”
This was the third time that the wandering, pantheistic man with Roman Catholic roots had visited the Tetons.
“The sheer celestial power of being able to actually see the pinnacle of the new moon that day was mind blowing and sent shivers down my spine,” he said.
Coury, similar to many of those who trekked across the west to the remote Wyoming town for the cosmic experience, considers himself “quite spiritual.”
As a young teen who questioned the Roman Catholic Church and its lack of acceptance toward homosexuality, Coury began seeking out other beliefs that were less oppressive, and more compatible with his way of being and who he “knew myself to be.”
He lays claim, substantiated by his Instagram account, @spiritsearch, to “continuously searching for and acknowledging God’s presence in my daily life by practicing active mindfulness and meditation as well as attempting to live in a constant state of love for all that is around me.”
And while his eclipse trip proved to be his favorite, and most memorable, it wasn’t his only encounter in the area that proved to be especially moving.
“The whole of the Teton range has done that to me though, sent shivers through my body and caused the goosebumps to rise on my skin. The sheer elemental force of the area has been enough to keep me wanting to come back,” he said.
Its forces, namely those “of the surrounding wilderness that had an energetic and metaphysical effect on me. Some of the wild places out in the Teton range have proved to rank up there with experiences I’ve had in Egypt and on the remote island of Easter Island.”
It’s remote places, and the unique beasts that inhabit them, after all, that are responsible for the a recent rise in #animalmedicine on various social media channels.
In May of this year, a reiki worker used the hashtag #bisonmedicine to tag an Instagram photo of her son posed in front of a bison in Yellowstone, while checking off another national park from her bucket list and electronically laying claim to the healing properties of the iconic undulates. Bison are the most dangerous animal in Yellowstone by sheer volume of attacks and have caused two deaths throughout the years, the NPS reports.
Those numbers are higher than bear attacks within park boundaries. And despite any potential healing properties, spiritual connections to these animals or even the allure of the perfect vacation selfie provided by their presence, the park is rife with literature warning visitors to stay 25 yards away from them.
A recent spike in bison attacks, some being selfie-induced, along with the use of #antelopemedicine and #elkmedicine now have folks wondering what it will take to stop this spiritually-healing, physically-damaging behavior from trending with visitors to the area.
Coury and the bison-braving reiki mama are hardly the only ones who are drawn to Jackson Hole for its mystical properties. Just ask Carol Mann, Jackson’s resident clairvoyant.
Talking to Mann, even for the first time, is a bit like reconnecting with a childhood friend’s mother you’ve lost contact with. But, by virtue of knowing you in your most formative and often embarrassing years, she ain’t the least bit surprised by the personal revelations you’ve encountered as time has passed.
And if there’s anyone equipped and willing to speak to the cosmic nature of the area, you can reckon it’s her.
Mann is in the business of reading souls to the bodies that are inhabited by them from her office in Jackson Hole. Her services offer a look into one’s past lives as a way to make sense of their contribution to the present and the future through connecting to the wisdom of one’s soul.
Mann first visited the area around 30 years ago on a ski trip and felt an immediate spiritual connection to the place, she said, something that still stirs a warm sense of homecoming inside her whenever she returns to the valley.
Mann said that like her, folks have been flocking to the area for eons, and “none of it is random.”
Mann is a bundle of energy, information and enlightenment, telling stories of Jackson’s metaphysical draw as she plays with a decorative pumpkin on the patio area of Persephone Bakery during our mid-morning chat recently.
Jackson Hole has a “fairly active metaphysical community, though it’s not coherently linked,” she said.
Searching for the right words, Mann said that “a general consensus could be that earth is evolving. We’re invited to evolve with it or not. It’s a special place with enormous potential to roll with it.”
Perhaps some of that draw is related to the ever-changing atmosphere surrounding Jackson.
No matter where one falls on the spectrum of arguments about evolutionism and creationism, it’s hard to live in or visit the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem and deny that the Earth is evolving, rapidly changing and preparing to “upgrade her destiny,” as Mann put it.
Sure, the National Park Service may use a little different language to phrase it, but they buy that idea. And they sell it, too, on every totem of Yellowstone’s Old Faithful sold in the park’s gift shops. Perhaps some of the natural phenomenons surrounding the area — or perhaps just clever marketing — are what causes the spiritual draw.
Either way, one thing is for sure: Like a living, breathing being, the area surrounding Jackson Hole is constantly in flux, constantly changing. Breathing. Existing.
And that includes Yellowstone. Nestled atop an active volcano that last erupted some 174,000 years ago, Yellowstone’s “many hydrothermal features attest to the heat still beneath the area,” reads a Q&A on the Yellowstone website.
Two of the three major eruptions in the area during the last two million years earned the volcano its “supervolcano” status, or the capability of delivering upward of 240 cubic miles of magma when she blows.
A magma chamber that size is only 12 miles down, or roughly the distance from downtown Jackson to Kelly Warm Springs, and sits underneath Yellowstone Lake.
Studies from the University of Utah published in 2015 report a second, even larger volcanic chamber that, combined with the original one, would fill the Grand Canyon some 13 times over with magma.
In simpler terms, Jackson Hole sits damn near the center of a natural feature, complete with magma, that will have cataclysmic, destiny-upgrading effects on the Earth’s atmosphere when it blows.
As reported in a slew of recent news stories that sent the Internet ablaze, the ash alone from a Yellowstone supervolcano eruption would have devastating effects on life on earth, unless some force was available to rapidly clear it from the atmosphere.
“Nothing can be done to prevent an eruption,” according to the National Parks Service. “The temperatures, pressures, physical characteristics of partially molten rock, and immensity of the magma chamber are beyond human ability to impact—much less control.”
Or is it?
Not according to Bennie “Blue Thunder” LeBeau, also known as Rainbow Thunder Heart, an Eastern Shoshone wisdom keeper raised on the nearby Wind River Reservation.
According to LeBeau, accepting the inevitable eruption of Yellowstone’s supervolcano isn’t really necessary.
LeBeau, a Vietnam War veteran who possesses “ancient Earth knowledge and wisdom of Nature’s laws,” teaches folks how to use medicine wheels to heal the Earth’s most sacred places, the Grand Tetons being one of them.
And LeBeau would know about sacred sites in the region. The Shoshone had a presence in the area that lasted more than 10,000 years, which ended around 1868 when Native Americans were rounded up from the Teton and Yellowstone regions and dislocated to a reservation at the foot of the Wind River Range.
Prior to their dislocation, and still to this day, Shoshone tribal teachings tell that anything said in the shadows of The Four Grandmothers Standing Tall — the peaks most folks know as the Grand Tetons — is birthed into the world by way of energy vortexes.
Essentially, Shoshone teachings say that the Earth’s magnetic field is fed by opposing electrical currents at these sites, one current spinning right, and the other left, around a central energy that flows skyward from the Earth’s core.
“Whatever you put into the spinning energy, the thought, the prayer, intention or word, comes into being,” LeBeau said.
Flash forward a mere 136 years to 2004: LeBeau orchestrated a medicine wheel ceremony to heal the ever-growing bulge underneath Yellowstone Lake.
“The spirits and the ancestors came to me, showing many dreams and visions with instructions in the dreams of how the medicine wheel ceremony works,” LeBeau recalled. “A message came from my ancestors in dream time explaining the petroglyph drawing on a rock art panel located in New Mexico that taught how the medicine wheel ceremony would work to heal the Yellowstone super volcano’s seismic energy that was out of balance due to humanity’s thoughts, words, emotions and actions.”
So on May 8, 2004, LeBeau assembled thousands of people from across the world, and strategically positioned them at 19 sites from the plains of Nebraska to the Cascades Mountains in Oregon and Washington, creating a wheel around the Grand Teton that stretched roughly 1,200 miles in diameter.
The multicultural ceremony included prayer, drumming, singing, dancing and praise to the elements — earth, wind, fire, water and ether at each of the points, as well as at the center. The ceremony took two days, but it worked, according to LeBeau.
“The Yellowstone supervolcano went down. The caldera was healed,” he said.
The University of Utah’s seismic researchers may dispute his claim, though.
Still, it’s 2017, and she’s yet to blow.
RISKY, NOT-SO-RANDOM BUSINESS
There are even historical accounts of the spiritual draw of Jackson Hole, from the Native Americans who first inhabited the area on down.
The first summit of the Grand Teton, the highest peak in The Four Grandmothers Standing Tall, and one of the most iconic ridges in the United States, was claimed on July 19, 1872 by the climbing duo of Nathaniel P. Langford and James Stevenson.
Langford was an early explorer of the area and advocate for the creation of Yellowstone National Park, with business interests in the railroad that enabled it. He would later become its first superintendent.
Stevenson was an early geological surveyor of Wyoming. He now has an island named after him that rests atop the clamor-causing magma chamber underneath Yellowstone Lake.
Historians that have analyzed the duo’s retelling of the expedition, more specifically their sketches from the top, and suggest that the two may have stretched the truth about that history-making climb. According to researchers, Langford and Stevenson actually only reached the summit of a side speak, aptly named The Enclosure, a fortress-shaped blockade of rocks.
The Enclosure was likely constructed by Shoshone or other tribal groups from the area, possibly Crow, and used as a site for vision quests. Langford would go on a year later to presuppose the theory.
Langford, a Minnesota native, would visit Yellowstone only one more time after the trip that included an accidental vision quest in 1872, a total of two times in his five-year tenure as the park’s superintendent. But the second trip’s spiritual connection may be just as potent as the first.
In 1874, Langford was sent to the banks of the Gardiner River to evict a man named Matthew McGuirk, who’d set up McGuirk’s Medicinal Springs three years prior. With timber hauled on the first wheeled vehicle to enter what would became Yellowstone National Park one year later, McGuirk built a house, cabin, barn and — most importantly — bathing pools in the now popular “Boiling River.”
Langford ordered McGuirk out of the park, and his buildings were used as housing by military members, or the park’s first employees. McGuirk petitioned Congress on March 30, 1894 for reimbursement.
In McGuirk’s defense, C.M. Jefferies was deposed on March 30, 1894 by the California Notary Richard D. List as saying “I stopped at his place in the winter of 1871, treating for rheumatism; got relived in a short time.”
Jefferies goes on to say in his deposition what Heather at Kelly Warm Springs said some 123 years later. He’s not on the record as saying “vibes,” but he did substantiate their risky behavior as worth it by saying “a man took his life in his hand when he made a trip. As is well known, the hills and woods were full of Indians, and there was many a scalp taken on the trail…” shortly after recounting the effects of the pools on his rheumatism.
So while Langford may have successfully put a stop to the early privatization of the physical healing properties within the national parks in the area, he couldn’t come close to touching the spiritual healing properties of secret chambers located within the very mountain he was purportedly the first to summit.
CAN’T TOUCH THIS
There are unlimited amounts of journeys one can take when in Jackson Hole and the surrounding areas, but only one includes gold-lined chambers and jewel-toned robes.
The hike to the hundred-foot-tall Hidden Falls is 2.5 miles each way from the nearby Jenny Lake Visitor Center, or one mile if accessed by boat. It’s described as an easy, albeit rewarding, hike, with moderate trail traffic. Maps for those requiring guidance are available both online and at the visitor center.
Unavailable, however, are maps guiding visitors to a secret, crystal and gold-lined chamber situated behind the falls, referred to as The Royal Teton Retreat.
For the journey to The Royal Teton Retreat, visitors must call upon their merkabah, or what etherics who frequent the place refer to as a “divine light vehicle,” which is used to connect with those in-tune with higher spiritual realms.
They must also ask for a little help from Saint Germain along the way.
And most importantly, those gaining access to the retreat, which includes a 1,500 foot elevator ride, must also be asleep and/or in a meditative state after reciting a rather lengthy, very specific prayer to “beautiful beings of light.”
The elevator ride ends with being outfitted in a green, white and gold robe.
It’s easy to understand how Langford couldn’t squash the spiritually-transformative fantasies of the “Ascended Masters” and their followers, who visit this place. While he may have been successful in evicting McGuirk from his healing hot springs on the Gardiner River, it’s much harder to stop those on the quest for the Royal Teton Retreat.
Sure, the Royal Teton Retreat is technically within the iconic peak, making such a task more difficult than with McGuirk, but more specifically, it’s also in one’s head. The retreat is also only open twice a year on both solstices, when, according to a website that pedals a guided meditation to the place, “Cosmic Beings, Ascended Masters, Angels and representatives of the elemental kingdom meet to find ways of furthering the progress of our dear planet Earth.” They are available to dispense instruction relating to the journeys of souls.
Essentially, etheric followers of the Ascended Masters who visit this retreat aim to rectify any lingering karmic squabbles, old issues and current hangups that may be impeding the progress of their soul’s pathway.
In return, they look to quit the cycle or reincarnation and settle down as a being of light, much in the manner of notable Ascended Masters, including Jesus, Confucius, Gautama Buddha, Mary the Mother of Jesus.
It’s a lot to build a fence around and make sense of, but what’s most important to note is that The Royal Teton Retreat is the largest, most attended meditative hotspot for this etheric following, and outranks such other destinations on their list of 42 meditative retreats that are more widely-recognized for their spiritual promises, such as Tibet, Egypt and the Holy Land.
Carol Mann has something plenty more to say for the spiritual attractions to the Greater Yellowstone. The area (and, of course, skiing), after all, is what brought our cosmic lady to town in the first place.
“It’s a place of outsiders,” Mann said.
And she doesn’t think the draw of spiritual seekers, be it intentional or accidental, to Jackson and beyond is a trend that is going to die down. That is, at least, not until earth upgrades her destiny for good.
Still, as with bison selfies, and even infested warm springs, some of the most popular tourists activities — or spiritual experiences, rather — in the Jackson Hole area carry a hefty load of risk.
And whether one recognizes it or not, these risks and their payoff are directly connected to the elemental forces, their massive scale and how they come together in the area.
Whether navigating rapids of the tumultuous Snake River, skiing solo through untouched backcountry terrain, teetering above a geothermal feature for the perfect photo or breathing in the fresh air atop a classic Teton peak, these experiences don’t just encompass the four elements of water, earth, fire and air.
They’re spiritual experiences in themselves, unique to the area, ones that offer the introspective opportunities required for one to access higher truth and wisdom, and benefit Mann’s own practice.
“Even if people are drawn to the lifestyle of this place, it’s a lifestyle drawn to the alignment of natural elements,” Mann said.
“Think of yourself on the mountain or on the river,” she said. “These experiences are conduits for higher truth and wisdom.” This spiritual introspectiveness requires quietness and a closeness to nature, Mann suggests, neither of which the Greater Yellowstone region is short on.
So what is it? What makes Jackson Hole a not-so-coherently-linked metaphysical hotspot?
Simply put, it could be the place itself and the elemental forces that form it.
Or even still, it could be something else entirely..
“Just as love is hard to quantify, so is this. It’s bigger than the sum of its parts,” Mann said.
And folks sure do seem to love it here. PJH