River Guiding: it’s the best job in the world. I have been a River Guide on the Snake River in Grand Teton National Park for 25 summer seasons. I return each year for the same reason as all the other guides: I love it. Spending time outdoors, piloting a raft, and looking at the river, the mountains, and the wildlife just can’t be beaten. But I’m not special. Here at the original Barker-Ewing Scenic Float Trips, our current group of guides boast a combined 146 years of experience and has racked up more than a quarter of a million river miles between Dead Man’s Bar and Moose – one 10-mile float trip at a time.
Many of us spend our time off exploring channels that we can’t float during the week, or venturing into the high country. Yesterday after work, I hiked the short three-miles up to Taggart Lake in Grand Teton National Park. It’s close enough to my home in Moose to feel like my back yard, and I love to soak my feet in the clear, icy water. As I stood on a large boulder near the shore, I saw a group of shorebirds that I had seen on the river just the day before – their distinctive upturned bills marked them as American Avocets.
The American Avocet is a large wading bird with skinny long legs and webbed feet. It’s close to 18 inches in height with a wingspan around 28 inches. The Avocets black bill is pointed and curves up near the tip. Our birds were in breeding plumage, and the bright orange on their heads and necks was easily visible. After the breeding season, the orange color gives way to grey and white. Both males and females tend to nesting and looking after the young. The young quickly start feeding themselves and fly about four to five weeks after hatching. Avocets eat brine shrimp and insects along riverbanks and lakeshores, but global warming is causing wetlands to dry up, threatening these beautiful birds.
We glimpse Avocets, Snipes, and similar waders for a brief one-week period as they pass through our valley on their migratory journeys. This season, we’ve been lucky to also catch glimpses of otters, beavers, moose, bears, wolves, and even a mountain lion. It is a privilege to observe these animals in an untrammeled habitat, to witness seasonal changes along the “Wild and Scenic” Snake River, and to share this experience with our customers.