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?

When Interpretation Goes South

Barker-Ewing, Jackson Hole, Rafting, Wildlife

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When Interpretation Goes South

River Otter
Last seen swimming the “otter way.”

Over the years I have witnessed and participated in the famous Western propensity to spin yarns about almost any subject. “Where is the hole?” is our version of the age old Snipe hunt. And though tourists may expect some measure of abuse at the hands of “the locals,” I’m keenly aware that the captive audience in my raft is experiencing something truly magical for the very first time, and hopes to learn something from it. My job? I’m a Barker-Ewing boatman. Which means that, in addition to navigating the river safely, I’m also an entertainer. And a tour guide. And a teacher. And it serves me well to remember this.

I confess to having occasionally invented a tale or let loose a pun in a less-than-ideal situation – a habit I may have picked up from one of the many experienced purveyors of bad taste who ply these particular waters. If I’m lucky enough to spot a river otter from the raft, I’ll share loads of information about their habitat and behavior. But I also might mention that otters are rarely sighted, due to the meandering characteristics of this riparian environment. By which I mean that we’re floating one way, while the otters are swimming the otter way. Boom! Yes, puns are the lowest form of humor. And my poor captives never seem to see them coming. …continue reading When Interpretation Goes South

Wapiti Wilderness

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

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Olaus_and_Mardy_MurieI grew up in Jackson Hole in the shadow of the Tetons, and spent vast stretches of my childhood wandering the wapiti wilderness. I waded through Ditch Creek, explored the caves and crags on Blacktail Butte, and rode my little horse for miles across sagebrush flats. Lucky for me, my neighborhood north of town was also home to some of the most famous naturalists and anthropologists of the time: the Craigheads, whose decade-long study of Grizzlies in Yellowstone pioneered advances in wildlife ecology and conservation; the Laubins, who studied the lifeways of the Plains Indians and wrote several famous books about tipis, dances and archery; and Mardy Murie, considered by many to be the founder of the modern conservation movement; all lived within a couple of miles of my house, and were as much a part of my childhood landscape as the mountains themselves. …continue reading Wapiti Wilderness

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

It’s tick season!

Barker-Ewing, Hiking & Climbing, Jackson Hole, Rafting, Wildlife

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images-1It’s tick season!

This time of year, we welcome visitors from all around the country to beautiful Jackson Hole. And for those of you from the East Coast, the thought of “tick season” might be truly scary.

The good news: our Barker-Ewing scenic raft trips don’t travel through tick habitat, so we’re extremely unlikely to encounter them on the river. But many folks who float with us will also be hiking or biking in the woods around our valley, and should pay special attention to tick prevention. …continue reading It’s tick season!