The Greatest American Invention

Barker-Ewing, Environment, Hiking & Climbing, National Parks

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Families are important. Vacations are important. Our National Parks are important. And taking our families on vacations to National Parks might be the most important thing we do. As a culture, Americans enjoy a “love/hate” relationship with our jobs. We value hard work and industry to the point that we as individuals feel diminished when we step away from gainful employment. For some, there is a perceived threat that our value as an employee drops when we take a break and a co-worker does not. It’s a dilemma – but there is scientific evidence that taking time off to recharge and rest helps us approach our work with energy, efficiency and creativity.

And it’s not just vacations we need. We also can help recover from the demands of work by spending time outdoors, preferably in a natural setting. Over the last few years, studies have shown that something as simple as a walk in the woods can improve memory and performance. Time spent in forest settings improves mental and physical energy, relieves stress and reduces inflammation. When woodland walkers return to work, they feel better, perform better, and even exhibit calm during their commutes. …continue reading The Greatest American Invention

Magical Mustelids

Environment, Jackson Hole, Wildlife

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Grand Teton National Park is home to many types of small mammals, including the Magical Mustelids. This family of fearless carnivores includes badgers, fishers, martens, mink, river otters, wolverines, and three weasels: the least weasel, the long-tailed weasel, and the short-tailed weasel or ermine.

A nice brown coat for summer.

The short-tailed weasel measures between 7 and 13 inches including the tail, and despite their diminutive size, they really believe themselves to be quite tough. I remember one little guy I saw while hiking with some clients along the river – he bravely held the trail against four much-larger mammals, and would not let us pass. It turns out the weasel symbolizes courage in many Native American cultures. Even though they are small and only weigh up to 12 ounces they will readily attack larger animals. They are effective hunters, preying mostly on mice and voles. (Researchers rely on the presence of weasels as an indicator of an abundant rodent population.) They are also terrific climbers, so our avian friends are not immune to their predatory survival strategies.

How does the little short-tailed weasel survive the long cold winters in Jackson Hole? Food, shelter, and companionship are critical. With their long bodies, low weight, and lack of body fat, weasels have some distinct disadvantages during the long winter months. They must keep warm by eating up to 40 percent of their weight every day, and may occasionally engage in “killing sprees” so that they can storing leftovers as a hedge against days without any kills. They use up a lot of energy during a hunting day, covering as many as three miles in their quest for prey. How does the Small-tailed weasel negotiate the winter landscape? …continue reading Magical Mustelids

Tiny Invaders

Barker-Ewing, Environment, Rafting, Recreation, Uncategorized

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f3167b23161a6d79c27bbe8902ac6b82Summers are warmer now compared to when I started rafting in the early 1980’s. And we have less water. To the untrained eye, Grand Teton’s Snake River looks fast and deep, but it’s deceptive. At Dead Man’s Bar, our float trip launch point, the river is confined to one narrow channel and moves along quickly due to an eighteen feet per mile gradient. Once the river starts braiding and splitting, the water gets quite shallow. At this time of year, we’re often navigating river flows that are around 3,000 cfs (that’s cubic feet of water per second). In contrast, during the spring snowmelt in late June, we might see flows of up to 14,000 cfs. Why the large difference? The Snake River’s flow is regulated by a dam built in 1916, prior to the formation of the park. The flows we see are maintained in a complicated balancing act between flood control to protect local subdivisions along the river, recreational needs in Jackson Hole, and agricultural uses in Idaho. …continue reading Tiny Invaders

The Same River Twice

Barker-Ewing, Environment, History, Rafting

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Ansel Adams took the high road.

“Don’t you get tired of doing the same thing over and over all summer?” I get this question at least once a week between May and September. And my answer is always the same. “No way!” Many of our Barker-Ewing scenic guides have spent multiple seasons floating the Snake River through Grand Teton National Park. I’ve personally logged more than 25,000 miles between Dead Man’s Bar and Moose – and that doesn’t even put me at the top of the leaderboard! It’s not that river guides lack imagination, or can’t think of anything better to do. It’s that we are living the sage’s wisdom: “You can’t step in the same river twice.”

The 2016 season is now less than a month old, and the river has already changed since our first trip launched on May 27th.  On one level (that’s a river pun – water level – get it?) the river’s depth and velocity have increased as the warm sun of spring melts the high mountain snowpack. During peak runoff, usually in late June and early July, I’ve seen the Snake rise six feet above normal levels and crest over its banks in the course of just a few days. In these high water conditions, our ten-mile scenic float trip can be as quick as one hour and fifteen minutes. In September, when the snow has melted and the summer rains have dried up, those ten miles can take closer to two and a half hours – and we may even scrape over cobblestones through particularly shallow sections. The same river, but different every day. …continue reading The Same River Twice

Wapiti Wilderness

Barker-Ewing, Environment, Jackson Hole, Rafting, Wildlife

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Olaus_and_Mardy_MurieI grew up in Jackson Hole in the shadow of the Tetons, and spent vast stretches of my childhood wandering the wapiti wilderness. I waded through Ditch Creek, explored the caves and crags on Blacktail Butte, and rode my little horse for miles across sagebrush flats. Lucky for me, my neighborhood north of town was also home to some of the most famous naturalists and anthropologists of the time: the Craigheads, whose decade-long study of Grizzlies in Yellowstone pioneered advances in wildlife ecology and conservation; the Laubins, who studied the lifeways of the Plains Indians and wrote several famous books about tipis, dances and archery; and Mardy Murie, considered by many to be the founder of the modern conservation movement; all lived within a couple of miles of my house, and were as much a part of my childhood landscape as the mountains themselves. …continue reading Wapiti Wilderness