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

Grand Teton National Park: The park that almost wasn’t

History, Wildlife

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Grand Teton National ParkIn addition to seeing amazing wildlife and stunning views, one of the things our guests always comment on about our scenic float trips is how much they learn from our guides about the history, geology and botany of the Park. So we thought we’d spend some time in our next few blog posts sharing a little about those things. Today it’s history.

We are incredibly lucky to have Grand Teton National Park. The formation of the park was one of the longest, most bitterly fought of all American conservation battles. It took 50 years and three separate governmental acts (holy cow!) whereas Yellowstone (the nation’s and the world’s first national park) took only two years from idea to reality.

The early years of Grand Teton National Park

As early as 1897, several proposals suggested expanding Yellowstone’s boundaries southward to encompass portions of northern Jackson Hole and protect migrating elk herds as well as including the Teton Range and northern Jackson Hole. Neither the Department of the Interior nor Congress acted on these early proposals. A small version of today’s park was eventually established in 1929, protecting the major peaks of the Teton Range and six glacial lakes at the base of the mountains. But much of the valley of Jackson Hole remained in private ownership so conservationists decided to seek private funds to purchase land in the Jackson Hole valley. …continue reading Grand Teton National Park: The park that almost wasn’t