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DARRELL HUCKABY: Life's pretty good out where the buffalo roam

I love coming back to Jackson Hole.

I don’t think I went west of the Chattahoochee River until I was 16 years old and The Bibb sent me to New Mexico with Jerry Aldridge, but I fell in love with the American West long before that.

Books. We always had lots and lots of books, and I read Zane Gray and Louis L’Amour and, of course, I watched every Western that came on television from Roy Rogers to “The Rifleman” and every cowboy movie the Strand Theater ever showed.

In a former life, when I was a history teacher, I used to play a word association game with my students when we studied the closing of the American frontier. They weren’t as well-versed in all things Western as I was at their tender ages, but they came up with some pretty impressive lists. Of course, I taught some pretty impressive kids.

Stop reading for one minute, if you want to know what it was like to have been in my classroom on those days, and list as many words as you can in the allotted time that run through your mind when you hear the term, “Old West.” When you finish, see how many of the following words are on your paper.

Cowboys. Horses. Indians. Guns. Saloons. Saddles. Sagebrush. Prairies. Desert. John Wayne.

Those are the top 10 — in order. Yes, I kept track. How many of them did you have? Well, I told you all of that to tell you this. The west never got out of my blood and as soon as it was financially feasible — which was a long, long time for me — I started visiting what used to be the frontier as often as possible.

My lovely wife, Lisa, and I took our three children all over the country, but our trips west, they all say, were their favorites. I say that you haven’t lived until you’ve pulled a pop-up camper with a Dodge Caravan to California and back, over a course of four weeks, accompanied by three prepubescent children and a menopausal wife. But that’s another story for another day.

I love the West. You get the point. Not as much as I love the South, but if someone actually did give me a home where the buffalo roam, I’d be OK with it. Texas is a special place to me — from Houston to Amarillo and from Fort Worth to El Paso and from San Antonio to Big Bend to Pecos — and all points in between.

Memories of New Mexico and hiking the trails in the Sangre de Cristo range of the Rocky Mountains will always warm my heart. I’ve done the touristy thing in Tucson, Ariz., and traveled through the Badlands of both Dakotas and traversed Yellowstone National Park three times. But I have never seen a place more beautiful than the Grand Teton Mountain range as seen from Jackson Hole, Wyo. And I am blessed to be corresponding from there right now.

The town of Jackson, itself, is worth the visit. Imagine Covington without the courthouse and a park in the middle of the square that is about eight times the size of our park. Put an archway of elk antlers on each corner and surround the square with upscale restaurants, gift shops and specialty shops and replace the Confederate monument with a cowboy riding a bucking bronco and you will begin to get the idea.

Oh, yeah. You’ll have to run a stagecoach around the square every so often and have gunfights out in the streets from time to time. I’m talking “High Noon” fast draw gunfights — not drive-bys. Now surround the town with rugged snow-capped peaks and the bluest skies and greenest ranges imaginable, and you’ll be just on your way to understanding.

Sitting on a rock beside Jenny Lake, seeing the reflection of those magnificently majestic mountains brings peace to my soul. Making a sudden turn in a vehicle, while driving slowly along the Snake River and spotting a bull moose standing in the wetlands brings joy to my heart. Sitting on the saddles that sit atop the barstools at the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar stirs my imagination. Breathing the fresh spruce-scented mountain air makes me glad that I am alive.

I don’t know how many trips I have made “out West,” and I certainly don’t have any idea how many more chances I might have to come here in the future, but I know this — I am thankful for Jackson Hole and if you’ve never had the opportunity to visit, I hope you do one day.

And, no — I do not work for their Chamber of Commerce. But I would be willing.