Roaming in Wyoming | Driving the Rolls-Royce Cullinan Through the Wild Frontier
The Spirit of Ecstasy leads the way, both on-road and off, in the ultra-high net worth playground of Jackson Hole
With ‘The Road Less Travelled’, we aim to cover cars a little differently: putting them through their paces by seeing if they can handle a real adventure. This month, we’re sending the Rolls-Royce Cullinan around Wyoming, as motoring journalist Leon Poultney goes road-tripping around America’s ‘Cowboy State’.
Legend has it, the image that adorns the front cover of Kanye West’s latest album, YE, was captured on the rapper’s iPhone on the way to his exclusive listening party in Jackson Hole.
The shot, which has the words “I hate being Bi-Polar it’s awesome” scrawled across the front in green handwriting is underexposed and lazy, but the majesty of the Teton mountain range somehow manages to shine through.
“Downtown Jackson looks like a Hollywood set from a Western movie”
Questionable artistry aside, it comes as no surprise that Kanye decided to frequent the area to write and record his latest work, as Jackson Hole has long been a playground for the rich and famous.
Land here was snapped up by the John D. Rockefeller Jr. back in the 1920s and promptly donated to the federal government in order to conserve the stunning beauty in the form of a national park.
The result was bittersweet, with nature preserved from man’s desire to build but the price of land soaring to the point that only the wealthy could afford the scant percentage available to buy.
Numerous celebrities have homes in the area, albeit homes that sit empty until the desire to retreat to the tranquillity of the Wild West arises, and the town of Jackson, which is nestled at the foot of the Teton Mountain Range and the Gros Ventre Range, is popular with the jet set.
Walk around the quintessentially cowboy downtown area, which is flanked by some of the finest ski slopes in the country, and you’ll be taken aback by the number of exclusive art galleries and jewellers that sit behind Spaghetti Western facades.
With high end hotels and eateries nestled in the shadow of some of the most staggering mountain vistas on planet, Jackson Hole is also the perfect place for Rolls-Royce to launch the newest member of its family – and for us to put it through its paces.
A diamond in the rough
The average age of a Rolls-Royce customer is steadily getting lower and what was once the preserve of industrialists, captains of industry and the moneyed gentry is now equally coveted by grime artists, dot com billionaires and celebrities.
It seems obvious, then, that the manufacturer of the most exquisite and expensive cars on the planet would one day cave in to consumer pressure and unleash a decidedly en vogue sports utility vehicle (SUV).
But Cullinan, named after the largest diamond ever discovered, is not your run-of-the-mill family wagon. It boasts a price tag of around £250,000 (before you even look at the options list) and comes decked out with more opulent touches than a Tsar’s palace.
Touch screen entertainment in the rear, massaging seats, trick event seating that electronically folds out of the boot space, umbrellas in the doors and as much leather, chrome and wood on all surfaces as the customer desires.
It also silently wafts like the most sumptuous limousine on earth, yet packs the sort of advanced off-road technology that will see it dispatch of a double black diamond ski run without breaking a sweat.
The trip begins at Jackson Airport – a beautifully metal-clad structure that could easily be confused for an art gallery if it were not for the myriad private jets parked on the runway.
Downtown Jackson (Jackson Hole refers to the entire valley) looks like a Hollywood set from a Western movie, with the wooden boardwalks and shop fronts harking back to a time of trappers and frontiersmen.
Granted, you can walk into one of the many sporting goods stores and purchase some outdoorsy gear for a trek across the plains, but it’s more likely you’ll stumble into a Starbucks than happen upon a spit-and-sawdust saloon.
After a quick walk around the delights of downtown, I check into the jarringly modern Hotel Jackson, which is overshadowed by the ominous Snow King Mountain but packs plenty of style and sophistication (and rooftop hot tub) into its relatively small shell.
A battered body clock means I wake early, which gives me ample opportunity to witness the sun majestically rising from behind the expansive mountain range.
Humidity here is almost non-existent and an altitude of around 6,200ft above sea level takes a little getting used to, but laboured breath and chapped lips are soon forgotten as I get my first taste of Cullinan.
The imposing 4×4 pulls up outside the hotel and it’s unmistakably a product from the hallowed factory at Goodwood. But it’s not exactly the most beautiful machine in Rolls-Royce’s history.
An enormous front grille, bulging bonnet, raised ride height and extremely short overhangs aren’t typical of the company. But then this isn’t a typical Rolls-Royce.
Still, its sumptuous interior beckons me to clamber into leather-clad rear seats, which also come specified with beautifully finished stow-away walnut tray tables and entertainment screens.
With the soles of my boots buried into the deep-pile lambswool carpets, we waft majestically the Amangani Hotel, arguably the most exclusive boltholes in the area.
Tackling Snow King
Perched at 7,000ft above sea level, Amangani is surrounded by some of the most impressive mountaintops in the USA. Jackson Peak, Taylor Mountain and the brilliantly named Bacon Ridge are all in the vicinity, as is the National Elk Refuge that plays host to thousands of protected elks as snow blankets the plains in winter.
The Boy Scouts of America have owned a permit to collect the antlers shed by migrating elk since the 1950s, which are then auctioned off to local towns for use as art installations.
It’s not uncommon to walk through an arch made entirely of antlers in downtown Jackson, or dine underneath a sculpture fashioned from the bony extrusions.
After a hearty breakfast in the Amangani’s restaurant, which might just have one of the best views in the world, I am tossed the keys to a pristine white Rolls-Royce Cullinan and instructed to head to Snow King.
Popular with skiers in the winter, Snow King is a fairly compact mountain that belies its size – with some seriously challenging runs if you’re willing to explore.
But there’s no snow today, which means Snow King is the perfect canvas to test the Cullinan’s off-road abilities. With a simple press of the ‘off-road’ button, the gigantic Roller raises its ride height, restrains the 915Nm of torque delivered by the 6.75-litre V12 and engages all sorts of technical trickery to ensure traction is available at all times.
I must admit, it’s surprisingly eerie to be behind the extra-large wheel of a Rolls-Royce, surrounded by chrome, leather and hand-finished wood, as the Spirit of Ecstasy points skywards.
The wheels scrabble for traction at some of the steeper sections and I have to refrain from applying to power to avoid spraying an early morning hiker with shale.
We reach the summit of Snow King, as baffled dog walkers stare at the £250,000 vehicle perched precariously on the edge of the mountainside. Impressive doesn’t do it justice.
Following a faultless descent back down the trail, which expertly demonstrates the merits of the vehicle’s advanced ‘Downhill Assist’ mode, I hit Highway 191 and make a beeline for Moose, Beaver Creek, Elk and the Grand Teton National Park.
America’s speed limits are laughably low, but with signs warning to keep the miles per hour needle below 45, it feels like it could take all day to get to the next town.
Local police enforcement takes speeding extremely seriously though, and it’s not just to protect the welfare of Jackson Hole residents, but also to ensure the safe migration of animals from one habitat to another.
A quick glance down to the Cullinan’s beautiful digital dials, which are finished with polished chrome surrounds in order to instil an element of craftsmanship, reveals that 95 per cent of the engine’s power reserve is still available.
But while it’s tempting to floor the throttle, I keep the speed low. A collision between the 2.4-tonne Rolls-Royce Cullinan and an adult male bison could effectively reverse the earth’s rotation.
A slow cruising speed also allows attention to be shifted away from the linear road ahead and out of the large passenger window, which perfectly frames Grand Teton. It’s easy to see why Kanye pulled over to take a snap.
The 191 eventually leads to the Yellowstone National Park, which is often difficult to traverse at this time of year thanks to the regular flurries of snow that force many roads and passes to close, so I swing right towards North Breccia Cliffs and the quaint Turpin Meadow Ranch.
This small hotel and eatery is a Western adventurer’s paradise: horses roam free in the meadows, deer are often found wandering the area and main lodge boasts an open fire for warming gloves and boots, exposed beams and various hunting trophies fixed to the walls.
As someone who has devoured Cormac McCarthy’s epic Border Trilogy, I can’t help but picture the US Rangers of yesteryear stopping here to warm up following a punishing scalping mission.
Stepping outside just before sunrise the following day is enough to wake even the worst morning folk, as the temperature has plummeted to -12°C overnight.
The heated seats, armrests and steering wheel of the Cullinan are extremely inviting but the warmth and comfort soon dissipates as I arrive at the banks of Snake River.
In a final display of its off-road prowess, the plush Rolls-Royce effortlessly creeps over the rocky creek and delivers it occupants directly into a small wooden craft that will serve as our transportation from here on in.
The plan is to gently float down Snake River, which affords unobstructed views of the wildlife that frequents the area. Bald eagles sore across the piercing blue skyline, trout swim within reaching distance from the boat and the numerous dams and felled logs signal plenty of recent beaver activity.
Our guide for the day, who effortlessly manoeuvres the boat through rough rapids and shallow sections, confirms that both brown and grizzly bear sightings are commonplace.
There are signs everywhere warning folk to be “bear aware” and to ensure food is always locked in special bear-proof tubs. I suggest this is just our American cousins being dramatic, but I couldn’t be more wrong.
“We have had two bear attacks this month already. Both victims were hunters. One survived but the other one sadly died,” our guide explains in a sombre response to my light-hearted ribbing.
The area is beautifully unspoilt, and the strict regulations that forbid development have seen the reintroduction of previously rare and endangered species.
Wolves are now thriving, birds of prey are a common sight and fish are so abundant that Jackson Hole is now one of the most best places to go fly-fishing in the US.
It’s quite a day, in incredible scenery. But for all this faux Rolls-Royce owner is hardy and adventurous there’s nothing he finds more comforting than returning to the plush surrounds of the Amangani Hotel – or better still, the heated, reclined and massaging rear seats of the impressively capable and infinitely opulent Rolls-Royce Cullinan.
Do It Yourself:
Jackson Hole offers pretty much every action sport and activity going, including horse trekking, mountain biking, fishing, snowboarding and hiking. Check out Jackson Hole for details on rentals and where to book guides.
Where to eat & drink:
Jackson Drug, formerly a pharmacy dating back to 1914, is now one of the coolest places in town to grab a burger, hot dog, or one of the establishment’s legendary shakes and sundaes. Or you could indulge in a chocolate-filled pastry from CocoLove (115 W Broadway), crafted by pastry chef and master chocolatier Oscar Ortega.
As the sun drops behind the mountains, folks head to the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar for a spot of line dancing, a pint of tasty Jenny Lake Lager, and a perch on one of the saddle-themed bar stools.
Leon Poultney is a freelance motoring journalist based in the UK. Keep up with him on Twitter . His trip was hosted by Rolls-Royce.