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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Best Job in the World

Barker-Ewing, Hiking & Climbing, National Parks, Rafting, Wildlife

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American Avocets Taggart Lake

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 beat. 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. …continue reading Best Job in the World

Top 10 Reasons Why I’m Looking Forward to Floating Season

Barker-Ewing, National Parks, Rafting, Wildlife

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boat, guide, mountains

It’s been a long winter. Not that I’m complaining. Thanks to an epic snow season up here in Montana, I got out on my XC skis more than 100 times! But now that the snow and ice are receding, I’m ready to exchange my ski poles for my oars. The first Barker-Ewing Scenic Float Trips of 2018 launch on May 13th, and I’ll be joining the crew in just a few weeks, as soon as the school year ends. I can’t wait!

Top 10 Reasons Why I’m Looking Forward to Floating Season:

1.  High Water. The Snake River usually reaches peak flow in late June and early July. As snowmelt feeds the current, we’re treated to a display of the river’s awesome power as it carves new channels, erases islands, and dislodges huge chunks of the bank. Every day – every trip – is a completely unique adventure.

2.  Views. Our float trips travel along the base of the mountains right through Grand Teton National Park. The first rays of sunlight turn the entire Teton range pink. Clouds cast shadows, revealing crags and canyons. The setting sun creates a glowing orange backdrop. Seriously, could anyone ever get tired of this?

3.  Green. Winter white lasts a long time in this part of the world, before yielding to the earth tones of mud season. When the soft yellows of spring finally tint the cottonwoods and willows along the river, you know that green leaves can’t be far behind. …continue reading Top 10 Reasons Why I’m Looking Forward to Floating Season

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 Squirrel Highway

Barker-Ewing, National Parks, Rafting, Wildlife

The majestic Pine Squirrel

Three times a day from May through October, my fellow Barker-Ewing boatmen and I steer our rafts along the Snake River, from Deadman’s Bar to Moose, right through the heart of Grand Teton National Park. While journeying on this liquid highway, we are constantly on the lookout for the charismatic megafauna that use this same aquatic artery. We often get glimpses moose or deer hiding in the willow-shrouded banks or walking through the spruce and cottonwood forests that hem the river in place. On rarer occasions, we see bison, bears, and foxes.

Our rafts move fairly quickly, traveling with the current past banks and islands, so the wildlife we do see is usually on the large size. But the river habitat is teeming with hundreds of smaller species. We might hear a pine squirrel scolding us as we drift by its home, but we’ll rarely spot one unless it happens to be hanging around at the edge of the river. Boatman Hank McCurdy can identify dozens of birds by their calls, but that doesn’t make for much of a photo opp. And if you have shrews and pikas on your bucket list…well, you might as well forget it. …continue reading The Squirrel Highway