The Jackson Hole valley of today is a major hub of tourism in the American West: skiers in the winter, national park-goers in the summer and mountain lovers all year round. But its primary tourism draw—long before the word “resort” became associated with the peaceful Wyoming locale—was once its dude ranches. Back then, its cowboy bars served actual cowboys, its main street was paved with dirt and its vast expanses were more populated with bison than with people. In 1948, LIFE photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt captured the region’s quiet yet dramatic beauty in vivid Technicolor, preserving it—at least on film—for posterity.
For decades the amazing landscape of Jackson Hole has attracted visitors, but well before they arrived for the world-class skiing, or renowned Western art scene, or the national parks, people flocked to Jackson’s dude ranches.
The valley was settled like much of the West, by cowboys and ranchers. There were more bison than there were people in the area. The romantic idea of riding a horse below the stunningly jagged mountain peaks drew the area’s first tourists who came to stay at the region’s dude ranches.
Alfred Eisenstaedt, a LIFE photographer, represented the valley in 1948 when “cowboy” was still a common profession in the valley and tourists visited real working ranches staying for weeks at a time.