For the last several years, I have spent the early summer driving back and forth between my adopted hometown of Bozeman, Montana and my original hometown of Moose, Wyoming. I relish the opportunity to spend three to four weeks of the summer guiding rafts along the Snake River, and renewing my relationship with Jackson Hole – a place of immense importance to me.
These early weeks of summer are fun. The river runs fast. The nights are chilly. The wildflowers are abundant. And the moose and elk calves are taking their wobbly first steps. But danger lurks here, too. …continue reading Please slow down
“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
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?
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
I 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