One of the great things about travel nursing is the flexibility that comes along with it, specifically in terms of scheduling. Each facility is different when it comes to how they produce work schedules (e.g. self-scheduling, repeating two-week schedules, filling in the gaps based on need), but once you know how they operate, you can use these to your advantage to make the most of your adventures. In addition, you can also use techniques specific to travelers in order to plan trips and getaways, including negotiating time-off during your contract when submitting for a position or planning trips before start dates/after end dates. I feel like this is much more superior than the alternative of rarely getting all of your vacation time approved while working as permanent staff or having to put in 30 years in order to have seniority and get the time-off you request. Recently, I was able to use these strategies and the power of trading shifts with coworkers to make it home for my sister’s wedding AND take the trip of a lifetime the following week!

Below, I’d like to share my experiences that I had in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, which would not have been possible if it weren’t for the flexibility that travel nursing allows me.

Backstory

A good friend from college, Shane, moved out to Jackson from Boston after college to pursue his love of skiing and the outdoors. He had been telling me to visit since he moved there over two years ago. I wanted to, but I just could never get the time off when I worked as permanent staff. Besides getting the time off, another obstacle is the relatively expensive airfare into Jackson due to only having a small airport and high demand to fly in. Until recently, I never knew my schedule in far enough advance to buy a ticket for a reasonable price due to the restrictions of staffing and scheduling. However, at my current assignment, they use a two-week rotating schedule, so I’m able to better plan out my time as opposed to waiting until just a few weeks out when the prices for airfare get jacked up. With that, I was able to book my flight and head out for a five-day adventure.

Day 1

After taking my flight from San Francisco to Denver and then connecting to Jackson, I was finally able to see what I had been missing for all these years (after I woke up from my nap of course). I could already begin to see the natural beauty of this place from the window of the airplane. It was unlike any other place that I have seen. The mountain range just erupts from the flat plains seemingly without warning. This first impression left me wanting to explore even more.

Upon arrival, Shane’s cousin, Aidan, who happened to also be visiting as well, picked me up from the airport around noon. Shane was stuck at work until later that evening, so it was just the out-of-towners for the afternoon. We dropped my stuff off at Shane’s place and then proceeded to hit the road. Aidan had flown in the night before, so he also had the morning to check out the town. While there, he got to chatting with some locals who gave recommendations of some key places to see. With this in mind, we set out.

To be honest, I don’t think we had as much of as a gameplan as we thought, but sometimes that makes the experience even better. To start, it was just us in the truck, admiring the incredible views as we drove along. Neither of us had ever seen such a beautiful place before. This was evident by our eyes being glued out the window and lots of pointing and “wows.” Much of the land was flat and untouched with grand mountain ranges in the distance. It took a little bit to gather ourselves and come to terms with the fact that we were there and not browsing a Natural Geographic magazine.

I’ll be sharing some pictures and videos from the trip. You can click on them to enlarge the album. Just keep in mind that these were all shot from my refurbished iPhone 5 from 2013, and that I desperately need an upgrade. Santa, I hope you’re reading this!

 

The first stop was Gros Ventre Road (pronounced “GROW-SHON”). From here, we just drove until we found a place to park and then explored the area, doing our best to remember the way we came. We did this for a few hours. As far as I’m concerned, we might as well have been on a different planet because I had never seen such a breathtaking place before in my life. 

We might have gotten a little lost. I’m not sure. However, to our fortune, we stumbled upon a cool spot with an abandoned cabin overlooking the mountains. All I could think was how great it must have been to wake up to that view every day.

 

Not too far from this spot were these other abandoned cabins. Actually, maybe they all weren’t abandoned and we were just trespassing because as we were leaving, some guys were riding up and turned down the path. Who knows? Maybe just some more adventurers.

On our way to find the main road, we found a Mormon ghost town. Apparently, it was a pretty sizeable community back in the day, but now there’s only have a few buildings (i.e. barns, homes) left standing. All of which were boarded up and locked so we couldn’t go inside. Pretty cool to see and read about on the placards, nonetheless. (There are tours that can take you around on a bus to see these communities for $100+ but obviously, you don’t need to spend the money to explore the land on your own)

After a good bit of driving, we found our way back to the main road. I mean, there are worse places to get lost. And if you don’t really know where you’re headed, are you even lost? Anyways, we headed toward Grand Teton National Park. It was starting to get late, and the sun was beginning to set, so we knew we had to make moves to squeeze in as much daylight as possible. We decided to explore String Lake and Jenny Lake. We even did a short hike (maybe a mile or so) through the forest and watched the sunset behind the mountains.

177
Jackson’s Antler Arches in Town Square at Sunset

The sun had just about gone down and we were trying to avoid finding our way back at night, so we head back to town to meet up with Shane for drinks. Aidan’s friend from college, Shayna, also met up with us. Shane and Shayna (both locals) seemed pretty impressed with how much we got to see that afternoon. We caught up for a little bit, then shipped it back to Shane’s for dinner where we had an antelope steak waiting for us. I had never had game meat before. Most likely due to not having the opportunity to try it, but also because I’ve heard from people that they don’t care for game meats. I was willing to try it because “when in Wyoming…”, and I’m glad I did! Very tasty! Shortly after dinner, we began to wind down because we had to be up pretty early for a sunrise hike.

Day 2

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t looking forward to getting up so early after having just explored all day following two airplane rides and a few days in a row at work prior to that, BUT the excitement of getting out there in the wilderness made it a little more bearable (no pun intended). This trip was also multi-purpose since it was elk hunting season, so Shane brought his gear so that he could show us the process and effort that goes into it all. I had never been hunting before so this was a first for me, and I was interested in the culture surrounding it. As I was learning, I was very pleased to find that there are very strict controls and laws in place for conversation purposes.

As we made our way up the hills/mountains (not really sure where one stops and the other begins), you could definitely feel the change in the altitude. The air was thinner and oxygen was harder to come by. It probably also didn’t help that we were lugging big packs and I was breaking in brand new hiking boots. For a large part of the climb up, it was dark so we navigated by headlamps. Just as the sun began to peak over the horizon, we luckily had made it to somewhat of a clearing to see the sunrise. That was a pretty cool scene to see so we sat there for a little bit (I used this as a moment to question why I let myself skip my cardio at the gym and catch my breath).

The rest of the hike was also very scenic. We also found TONS of signs of elk, but no elk. We must have just been missing them by a few minutes the whole time. I was okay with not having seen any because it was still a different experience than I was used to and it was great to get out there and start our day. For me, it was a successful trip.

We managed to make our way back to the car and set off on home. We showered up and relaxed the rest of the afternoon after grabbing some lunch. That night, Shane’s house had hosted a dinner party. It was a great way to meet a bunch of people and try new foods again. This time, we had duck, which I’ve had before (prepared differently), and goose, which was surprisingly very similar to a beef steak. I also met a guy who rode his motorcycle through North and South America and much of Europe for the past year, which seemed like an awesome experience. Nothing much more to this day. Just some drinks and good food.

Day 3

This was Yellowstone Day. I was super excited for this one. I had heard great things about this place, and I knew they all can’t be wrong. It was about an hour and a half ride from Jackson to the south entrance, which wasn’t bad at all. When we got there, it wasn’t too crowded, which was pleasant. Apparently, during the summer months, the park gets swamped by countless tourists and the experience can be overwhelming and frustrating, according to Shane. We were lucky due to the timing of our trip being in late October. It’s considered the off-season for this area which is fine by me!

We saw a good amount of wildlife on the ride in, including this “little” buffalo below:

We walked around the hot springs as we would come upon them. There were quite a few. We didn’t go to “Old Faithful” because the timing was off. We had just missed it. But that didn’t stop us from checking out all the other springs that Yellowstone had to offer!

Since it was pretty cold out, it was hard to get pictures of some of the geysers due to the steam. It felt really good to be in the steam though. Just like walking out of a hot shower. (Just don’t go diving in because you’ll melt)

On our way out, we decided to leave through the west entrance so that we pass through new scenery (i.e. Idaho and Montana). However, there was some construction going on so we had some time to kill until they’d let cars through. We decided to explore until the path was clear. We ended up taking what I think is a cool picture after a long fought battle with some rocks to prop up my phone and the self-timer.

Yellowstone National Park
Left to Right: Shane, Aidan, Tom

We were finally able to pass and began to make our way home, but not before stumbling upon of elk and some more buffalo on the way out.

 

 

On our way home, we passed through Montana and Idaho – both very beautiful as well. The skies seem endless. I don’t necessarily like going on car rides, but when you have those views, it’s really hard to complain. The ride home was somewhere in the neighborhood of two to two and a half hours. All things considered, I think we made pretty good time. Once we got to town, we went out for dinner and drinks. We each got and different meat and shared it because we couldn’t decide on one (and because Aidan ordered the last elk steak). We ended up having buffalo, elk, and fried chicken (super exotic, I know). After dinner, we hit the downtown for a fun Friday night to cap off a pretty well-rounded day.

Day 4

It was all aboard the struggle bus to start the day. We might have had a little bit too much fun the night before, but it wasn’t before too long that we were back on our feet again. Sadly, Aidan was set to fly out so we got an early breakfast, said our goodbyes, and explored the town. The town was on the busier side, especially for an offseason. I guess it was your typical town square with quite a few souvenir shops, jewelers, and restaurants. I ended up finding a hat that I really liked to remind me of the trip.

After our outing, we hit up the hot springs. These ones were safe to go in, unlike the ones in Yellowstone. They were located right on the side of the river bank. The pools were encircled by rocks in order to keep the warm water in and the colder river water out (I hope I’m explaining this well enough. I don’t have a picture because I left my phone in the car). It was so relaxing, and just what we needed after a pretty eventful couple of days. The warm water in the pools would migrate throughout the pools so it was a constant shuffle in order to balance the temperature; you would be warm but not to the point where it’d feel like you were “boiling in a pot of macaroni” (how I described it that day). I ended up taking a dip in the cold river just outside our pool, and that sure woke me up. A lot colder than I thought it’d be, but glad to say I did it.

Night Sky
Photo by Shawn Paone @shawnpaone & shawnpaone.com

From the hot springs, we drove back home, showered off the sulfur smell from the springs, and got ready for a concert/Halloween costume party downtown. The night was great, the band was super talented, and we had a nice time. When we got home and started towards the door, I looked up at the night sky. I guess I hadn’t taken much notice of it since I had been there. At first, it looked like any other clear night that I’ve seen before. However, I began to stare a little longer. As my eyes began to adjust to the darkness, the sky lit up! There were so many stars. More stars than I knew that we could see from Earth. Having only lived in metropolitan areas before, I guess the light pollution has always drowned out their brilliance. Luckily for me, in this moment, that was no longer an issue. Never before have I felt so insignificant. Maybe that’s not the right word. I’m not sure how else to describe it though. I found myself gazing upwards in awe until my neck got sore, but eventually, I found my way inside and into bed.

Day 5

The dreaded flight back to reality…but not before a five-hour layover in Denver. I did manage to get my one last peek at the scenery as I got on the plane though as my going away present (I thought I was recording longer but I guess I didn’t hit the recording button). I really don’t think I could ever get used to this view. I know I’ll be back soon!

Conclusion

Lots of great experiences from this trip: five new foods (antelope, duck, goose, buffalo, elk), three states (Wyoming, Montana, Idaho), two national parks (Grand Tetons, Yellowstone), hunting, hot springs, catching up with old friends and meeting new ones too! Thanks to the flexibility of travel nursing, I was able to make this memorable trip happen. I’m not done exploring this place yet though! I’m already working on filing my license for endorsement in Wyoming – just in case something pops up at the little hospital in town!

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