The Last Day of Summer

Barker-Ewing, Environment, Jackson Hole, National Parks

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Equinox – 12 Hours of Daylight!

I just saw the last day of summer. I know what you’re thinking: it’s the Equinox – so didn’t we all just see it? That’s true, but if you work outdoors like I do, you don’t need a calendar to tell you when the seasons change. You just have to read the signs.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve observed the slow transition of the forest underbrush from abundant green to rustling, crunchy brown. I’ve seen the first splashes of yellow appear on a the scattered Aspens and Cottonwoods along the Snake River in Grand Teton National Park. And I’m waiting for the snow line to appear on the high peaks, and slowly descend to the valley floor with each new storm.

I’ve noticed the disappearance of the neighborhood’s Uinta ground squirrels; their mid-August vanishing act always catches me by a surprise. The annual elk rut has commenced – and many human visitors to Grand Teton and Yellowstone find themselves participating in this bewildering dance. Hunters start replacing mountain bikers and hikers in the backcountry, and the pace of life in the town of Jackson slows down.

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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

Whose Antlers Are Those?

Jackson Hole, National Parks, Wildlife

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Jackson Hole and Grand Teton National Park host annual animal and bird surveys – and the Christmas Bird Count was one of my father’s favorite events of the year. It seems as though birds and other residents of our ecosystem would be easier to spot in winter, when the seasonal background is mostly white and grey. You’d think that the mighty Bull Moose would be the easiest to spot. And they’re definitely here. Wildlife-spotters can find them around Blacktail Butte, along the Gros Ventre River corridor, and along the highway from the Wilson Bridge to Teton Village (an especially hazardous area for moose due to heavy vehicle traffic). But the Bull Moose, like many antlered animals in our neighborhood, wears a winter disguise.

Rare Video: Moose Loses an Antler | National Geographic

Flashback to 1992, when my wife was working in a jewelry store on the Jackson Hole town square. A visitor from some coastal city stopped in to shop, and commented on Jackson’s famous antler arches. “How horrible,” she lamented, “that so many beautiful creatures had to be killed to make those disgusting arches!” Eager to set her mind at ease, my wife happily informed this out-of-towner that members of the deer family – like elk, moose, and mule deer – shed their antlers after the fall rut and regrow them the following spring. This visitor’s eyes widened in disbelief. “That’s completely ridiculous. What kind of fool do you take me for?” Needless to say, she left the store empty handed. …continue reading Whose Antlers Are Those?

The 21st of August

Barker-Ewing, Jackson Hole, National Parks, Wildlife

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Eclipse Sunset

The 21st of August was a truly magical day in a valley that has its fair share of magical days. We see glorious sunsets, bitter cold blizzards, gale force winds, towering thunderstorms, majestic mountains, spectacular views of the nighttime skies, and a wide variety of wildlife and bird life. In short, it’s perfect here. And by what feels like dumb luck (though is actually due to the patterns of planetary motion), Jackson Hole and Grand Teton National Park won the cosmic lottery and were in the path of totality for the total solar eclipse of 2017.

Eclipse Totality

I’ve seen pictures of total eclipses through the years, and have heard about people who, having gazed upon the sun’s corona, make valiant efforts to see it again. And now it all makes sense. Totality was one of the most beautiful and peaceful phenomena I have witnessed in my first 56 years. In person, it defied rationality, and left me with a bewildered child-like longing for more. …continue reading The 21st of August

Long Hikes, Short Hikes, Birds, and Squirrels

Barker-Ewing, Hiking & Climbing, Jackson Hole, National Parks, Wildlife

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Marmot at Phelps Lake is one way of seeing squirrels.

Like many destination resort communities, Jackson Hole has its share of trophy homes, five-star restaurants and Range Rovers. But what makes this place a destination in the first place? Grand Teton National Park, mountains that look like mountains, world class skiing in the winter, abundant wildlife, wild and scenic rivers. And the folks who live here year round really know how to enjoy these amenities. From professional ski bums to recreation enthusiasts, Jackson is full of people who have logged their 10,000 hours in all four seasons. They climb up and ski down our biggest peaks, bike or ski the entire circumference of the valley, run rivers in the morning and run marathons in the afternoon. I know one local gal who, at age 103, still straps on her skis every winter!

Jackson Hole is a land of extremes populated by extreme athletes. But there is plenty of room in this valley for those of us who don’t care to push ourselves quite so hard. Perhaps we’ve allowed our level of fitness to taper slightly as we’ve aged, or we’ve devoted big chunks of time to other pursuits (like kids and commuting.) We might start our outdoor season with a short hike to Taggart Lake. Or a slightly longer walk to Phelps Lake. We put in time on the trails – just not at the Olympic level. …continue reading Long Hikes, Short Hikes, Birds, and Squirrels