Olympic Fever

Barker-Ewing, Biathlon, History, Jackson Hole, Recreation, Winter Olympics

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I’ve got Olympic Fever! Up here in Jackson Hole, as the old joke goes, we have two seasons: Winter, and the Fourth of July. The warming climate has subtly altered this once-accurate description. We still enjoy just two seasons, but while Winter has become noticeably shorter, the Fourth of July has extended on both sides and is now known as Road Construction. (For those of you from more temperate climates who are wondering about the two seasons that remain: Spring in Jackson Hole is three days of mud, and Fall lasts about a week.)

Betty Woolsey, Olympian and Dude Wrangler

In truth, we do have a nice, long summer in this high mountain valley – long enough for our Barker-Ewing boatman to guide more than 200 trips each down the Snake River before low water and early sunsets bring the season to a close. But Winter comes early and it sticks around. Usually we have enough snowfall to start skiing before Thanksgiving, and in many years, spring “crust” skiing is still going strong in late May. These long winters have given many of us locals the chance to excel at winter sports. And with such an abundance of snow and cold, what choice do we have?

I was lucky to be a member of the Jackson Hole Nordic team in the 1970’s. Our training center at Trail Creek Ranch on Teton Pass was owned by Betty Woolsey, a legend in the valley and captain of the first women’s alpine ski team that raced at the 1936 Winter Olympics in Germany. Her generosity in sharing her ranch with local skiers launched the careers of many Olympians – including biathletes, Nordic skiers and Alpine skiers. (For those who don’t know, Biathlon combines cross-country skiing and target shooting.) Many more locals became members of U.S. National teams, representing America in non-Olympic years. …continue reading Olympic Fever

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

Where Are the Bodies?

Barker-Ewing, History, Rafting

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Deadman's Bar Skull
Where is my body?

In 1887, Wyoming Territory held its first murder trial on the heels of a triple homicide. The story of these gruesome murders and the subsequent trial are well known to Snake River boatmen. It’s how Deadman’s Bar – the spot where we launch our Barker-Ewing Scenic Float Trips – got its name. All you have to do is ask, and I’ll happily regale you with the tale. And if you don’t ask, I’ll tell you anyway.

I like to begin the murder saga just as I launch the boat, and wind it up as we round the first bend in the river. We’ve floating past a crime scene and into a beautiful vista: the view of the Tetons made famous by Ansel Adams. It’s a great start to our 10-mile trip on the wild and scenic Snake River through Grand Teton National Park. I rarely have the opportunity to field questions during these first spectacular moments – I’m navigating the current, scanning the bank for wildlife, avoiding submerged obstacles, and alerting my passengers to the first of many stunning photo ops. But, there are questions, and I’ve got some answers. …continue reading Where Are the Bodies?

Soft Gold on the Snake

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

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0522JournalTrapper-ThumbJackson Hole was the center of the Fur Trade for a short period in the 1820s and 1830s due to the abundance of beaver. This squat brown mammal (once decreed a fish by the Bishop of Quebec, to fit dietary law) was once abundant throughout North America. Fur trappers venturing west to collect beaver pelts (referred to as “soft gold”) pioneered many overland routes from the Mississippi River plains to the coastal reaches of California and Oregon before the shift in fashion from beaver felt hats to silk chapeaus ended the trade. Once numbering over 60 million, the North American beaver population had been reduced to an estimated 100,000 by the 1840s. (Don’t be alarmed: their numbers have rebounded to an estimated 20 million, and we see them frequently on our evening float trips down the Snake.)

Osbourn Russell, a fur trapper who worked along the Snake River in what is now Grand Teton National Park during the waning years of the fur trade left us with a lively diary of his adventures. This diary is available online, and like many first-hand accounts of the time, includes some fascinating editorializing and dubious “facts” about the place we know as Jackson Hole.

…continue reading Soft Gold on the Snake

Colter’s Run and other Tall Tales

Barker-Ewing, History, Jackson Hole, Rafting

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Artwork showing John Colter and Yellowstone GeysersBarker-Ewing boatmen are world-class storytellers. Whether we’re driving you up to the launch site in our shiny new vans or guiding you down the Snake River right through the heart of Grand Teton National Park, we’re never at a loss for words. Geology, natural history, wildlife, western lore and regional politics – we’re experts on a wide variety of topics, and take pride in our ability to weave a compelling narrative. The Mountain Men who frequented Jackson Hole in days of yore were terrific storytellers themselves – and famous for their tall tales. Jim Bridger spun a story about a Petrified Forest in Yellowstone: seems that he saw petrified birds sitting in petrified trees singing petrified songs. And Jim Beckwourth claimed to be able to track antelope by their smell alone. But John Colter’s run is a ripping yarn that just may be the most famous tall tale of all. …continue reading Colter’s Run and other Tall Tales