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

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

Toughest Teeth in Town

National Parks, Rafting, Uncategorized, Wildlife

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The riparian bottomland habitat along the Snake River is home to a multitude of wildlife. One of the residents we often see is the beaver. There are two types of beaver in the world: the native North American beaver (Castor canadensis) and the Eurasian beaver (Castor fiber). Here in Grand Teton National Park, we often see beaver in the late evening. As our rafts glide by the river’s willowed banks, we can spot these charismatic animals sitting on the shore grooming themselves, gnawing away at tree branches, or splashing into the water at our approach. Pond-dwelling beavers build dams across small streams to create deep-water environments as protection from predators, and for ice-free food storage in winter.  Along the swiftly flowing Snake, our bank-dwelling beaver can easily flee their clawed and toothed adversaries by diving into the deep channel or swimming to the opposite bank.

Beaver on Snake River bank - Barker Ewing
Beaver along the Snake River

The beavers along the Snake fell Cottonwoods and Willows for food, just as their counterparts do alongside the beaver ponds. A beaver’s primary food source is the delicate layer of cambium between the inner bark and the wood. And since beavers can’t climb, down the tree goes. Just like pond-dwelling beaver, our Snake River bank beavers also use tree branches to build the domed home called a lodge. Pond beavers usually build in the middle of the pond for protection, while the bank beaver use the lodge to cover the den that they’ve excavated into the riverbank. …continue reading Toughest Teeth in Town

Nature and Literature

Barker-Ewing, Environment, Rafting, Wildlife

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When I was in high school many years ago, the local environmental education program offered some great courses to help students see, imagine and create connections between the classroom and the great outdoors: Art and Nature, Nature and Literature, and Nature and Photography. I remember taking a Nature and Photography one winter and delighting in the contrasts between shadow and light as I tried to capture drift lines, silhouettes, and the subtleties of the snowy landscape. Those early days at the Teton Science School were adventurous and illuminating, and many of us who passed through its wooded gates have moved on to careers in science, ecology and the outdoor industry. It part of the reason why I chose the river-guiding life 35 years ago – and why I’m still guiding today.

I was recently reminded of these formative experiences at the Teton Science School when I chanced across an advert for a master filmmaking class put on by the great documentarian Werner Herzog. Herzog’s required reading: The Peregrine, by J.A. Baker. Herzog talked about The Peregrine as the only book you’d need to become a great filmmaker. I’m always on the prowl for illuminating reading, and a huge fan of Herzog’s films, so I ran down to our local independent bookstore (The Country Bookshelf in historic downtown Bozeman) and grabbed a copy. If you are in Jackson, try the Valley Bookstore, or order a copy. …continue reading Nature and Literature